There are days when it’s hard to be here, when life is Just Plain Tough; when the noise of 300 kids feels too much to bear, when another worship band practice strikes up in the church at full ear-splitting volume, when someone in a house nearby starts drumming and goes on for hours, when the visitors are playing “Spoons” at midnight. Again.
There are days when the heat saps my strength and my head spins from dehydration because, once more, I forgot to drink water. On a hot day, drinking is a full-time occupation.
There are days when the sand thrashes my face like hot pins in the wind and all I want to do is go into lockdown behind closed doors. Even then, somehow, the sand finds me, covering everything indoors with a layer of dirt: plates, pillows, books, the lot. At the end of a windy day, even my bed needs to be brushed down before I climb in.
There are days when there is no running water because the bore has run dry and, once more, I’ve forgotten to refill the five litre spare bottle I keep stashed away. There are days when the electricity goes on and off again and again, which means the fan goes on and off. I’m happy to live without electricity except when my fan is plugged in.
Last week I had one of those days. I felt sorry for myself and did not want to be here. I cried. I hid myself away. I threw myself a massive pity party and I whinged and whined to God. He didn’t correct me, or discipline me, or tell me to just get over it. Neither did He pander. He heard and He answered, by giving me just what I needed: perspective, revealed in the form of two tiny lives.
Late in the week we heard of a baby out in the community who was desperately ill, whose family could not care for her. They had reached the end of their ability to cope and had nowhere else to turn. The team that investigates potential new admissions visited the home, met the family, saw the baby, and knew she needed to be here.
Then, somehow, red tape wrapped itself around the process and her arrival was delayed.
She died over the weekend.
I was angry. I was devastated. I sobbed out the sorrow and the fury at such injustice. I raged at Heaven and at the God who let this happen. Just a few more days; she needed just a few more days...
I really can’t say if she would have lived, had she come to us sooner. I didn’t meet her; I don’t know her name, her age, the colour of her eyes. All I know is that, for one brief moment, we were receiving a new baby into our care and she had hope. Then she died.
I found no peace, heard no gentle words of comfort. My heart was shattered and I felt more helpless than I have in a very long time.
Then we heard of another baby needing help. All went smoothly, no red tape tangle this time and she arrived yesterday, four months old and 4.6kg. She is small and malnourished but otherwise healthy. Her name is Nercia. She is here and she is beautiful. She is alive. And her eyes are bright, sparkling, deep dark brown.
God heard my cry – my whining about the discomforts and the inconveniences of life here – and He answered by bringing perspective to my week. We fight many battles and some we lose. The only way to keep going is to keep perspective, rejoicing in the battles we win and quickly releasing the ones that defeat us.
So, now, when I am tempted to throw myself a pity party, I think of Nercia and of other battles won for the lives of Zimpeto’s children. I think of Sina who was close to death as a newborn and is now a healthy, confident, opinionated seven-year-old ready to lead the world. Yuran, labelled a hopeless case by another children’s centre in Maputo, now chatting to anyone who’ll listen and walking with only a slight limp after five years of therapy.
There are also many success stories among the young adults who spent their growing-up years here. I think of beautiful Valene and her fiancé, Binario, who both grew up at Zimpeto and are now planning their wedding. Ramito, humorous and intelligent, now studying in the US. Mpedge who saved up through many years of working for pocket money in the Centre’s gardens: he paid his own way through driving school and has just received his licence, his doorway to potential employment.
And, every day, I think of Milagrosa: her name means “Great Miracle”. She was found a year ago in a rubbish skip in the city. Yes, she was thrown away with the garbage. God saw her and He saved her. She was found by a passer-by who heard her crying and brought her to Zimpeto where she thrived in the nursery. She grew strong, ate fussily, giggled often and began to walk. Just a month ago, a visiting family fell in love with her at first sight and adopted her. Now that’s what I call a great miracle!
Every one of Zimpeto’s kids, whether babies or all grown up, is a miracle, a success story beyond our understanding. God is raising the poor of this nation from the dust and is giving them, one life at a time, a future and a hope.
So, on days like this when the wind whips the sand into a blinding cloud and the water stops flowing through the taps, when the fan goes off and I feel like one more drum beat will rob me of my sanity, I think of Milagrosa and Nercia and of all the lives we have been privileged to love.
We don’t win every battle but we’re winning more with each year that passes. I am so thankful that I get to be a part of this extraordinary adventure in a place where miracles happen and dreams, so very often, really do come true.