My four-year-old niece prayed for me during my last visit home, “God, please help Wennie to look after the babies in Africa.” It is a fair assumption that I “look after the babies”, considering that I live in the midst of a 300-child centre and I do talk a lot about them to anyone who will listen. I spend time with the children of Zimpeto but that is not my official role – for me, being with the children is refreshment at the end of a long day or on a quiet weekend.
My main role is to look after the visitors who come to spend time with our kids and to experience the many ministry opportunities here. We receive more than 1000 visitors each year from all over the world. They play soccer, do craft, teach guitar, talk to, pray with and love on the children. For their two or three week stay, visitors pour into our kids the kind of focused attention that most of the resident missionaries, as much as we would like to, generally cannot.
My life in Mozambique began as a visitor to Zimpeto. Then when I moved here to live, it took me a day to travel but, in hindsight, a lifetime of preparation to get here.
I had spent much of my life turning away from the suffering of the poor, avoiding the horrendous statistics about child poverty and infant mortality, refusing to acknowledge how very rich I really was. Whenever a child sponsorship ad came on TV… cue soft music, zoom in on an emaciated little body, “For $30 a month, you can change Arsenia’s life forever…” I was one of those who could not watch.
I would shut my eyes tightly, reach for the remote and press any button I could find just to change the channel and avoid looking upon such agony. Then one day I stopped avoiding and began to look - to really look. I remember the moment. I made a conscious decision to see what my heart refused to acknowledge until that point. Denial was no longer an option. My own sense of helplessness could no longer excuse me from avoiding the truth. So I whispered, almost hoping my prayer would not be heard, “What can I do?”
In that moment, I stepped beyond helplessness and into a world of possibilities. It did not occur to me that I could make even the slightest difference. The problem was too big and I was way too small and inconsequential. Never did I think…
I was a visitor to Zimpeto for three weeks in 2006 and nothing has been the same for me since. I visited because I wanted to see. I wanted to feel. I no longer wanted to numb myself to the pain that others in the world were suffering. I wanted to confront my own sense of helplessness in the face of such pain and inquire of God, “What can I do? As tiny as I am, what can I do? You’re big, I’m not. You’re the God of the exceeding abundantly more than I can ask or imagine. So what can You do through me?”
Now I live in Mozambique. It was never part of the plan and I am still surprised that I am here. I laugh as I think of it! God has truly done “exceeding abundantly more…” and I am daily amazed.
Now I have the privilege of walking others through their oftentimes first visit to Mozambique and to Africa. I am one of a team that is building a bridge between worlds, walking brave souls back and forth as they negotiate this narrow way. I am very aware with each day that comes and each visitor I meet that it is impossible to step into this particular world, even briefly, without being changed deeply and forever.
The change works both ways.
The poor have no voice. They have no forum in which they can speak and be heard. The orphan, the widow, the sick and the outcast - they have no way to proclaim their needs in a form that will be heard by the rest of the world. They do not have the resources to change their circumstances or their future, no way to get their message through to a world that communicates via email and skype, cable television and Oprah. Their silence condemns them to unending powerlessness.
Perhaps, by welcoming visitors to this ministry, we can provide one small forum in which the poor can speak. 1000 visitors who pass through our gates each year hear the voices calling to them from the garbage dump, the hospital and the jail. They hear the stories of our children - the many, many stories of illness and abuse, of starvation and rejection. They stop long enough to listen and to learn.
Our visitors go into the community to pray for the sick and distribute food to the hungry. They cuddle the tiny malnourished babies in the nursery and visit the widows’ home while the old vovos – the Mozambican grandmas - tend their newly-planted vegetable garden. They watch the young mothers bring their newborns to the clinic for milk and they chat with the many lined up waiting for medical attention. They drive through the city and weep for the blind beggar tapping at the vehicle’s windows, palms turned upward and eyes cloudy and dull. They look away, deeply disturbed by the sight of the young woman dragging herself roughly across the busy road on her hands and knees, somehow waving two lanes of traffic to a halt as she crawls over the hot, potholed roadway.
When you come and you listen - and you hear - you empower the poor. By listening, you give them a voice with which they can share their needs. Then you take their message back with you. You go home and you pray. You stir others to pray, or to come, or to speak up, or to raise the finances so desperately needed here.
Through the visitors who come to Zimpeto, the voice of the poor resonates around the world.
I do not take care of orphans as part of my role here. I do not play with them each day or feed them or tuck them into bed at night. My role is to facilitate others to come and to see, and then to go home with a good report, bearing witness to the hand of God working for a nation in need.
I work as part of a team that brings worlds together, in the hope that one can support the other in ways that will change both forever.
For more information about visiting Zimpeto Children’s Centre, email firstname.lastname@example.org