October 8, 2013


This morning I wondered whether to writMilton 7.2kge today about one of Zimpeto’s kids... or about me.

Should I tell you about Milton, our newest nursery resident with his smiling eyes and gummy grin, or perhaps update you on the remarkable recoveries of Lucia and Judite after months of life-threatening illness? I could tell you about the seven-year-olds who’ve learned to somersault wildly from the top of the climbing frame into the sand. Or about Kessane – everybody wants more news on our pin-up girl who’s now learning to walk.Tiago and playground 287

Or, will I write about myself, Mozambique resident for more than five years now. Five years! I could write about the weddings I’ve attended, or the challenges I’ve faced, or the trips I’ve taken. The friends I’ve lost and the friends I’ve gained. Or about the latest life lessons I’m learning, of which there are so many...

And then I see it, and I am even more grateful for the years and the lessons.

The stories of Zimpeto’s children have became so inextricably woven now with the story of my own life’s journey that I can no MOZ Dec 06.Wendy Dion etc_edited-1longer write about “them” and about “me”. I have lost sight of whose story belongs to whom and I am, beyond words, grateful that our stories have merged to brighten the colours of my life. I have been adopted into a family and am an apprentice learning through the suffering and the victories of those with whom I have the privilege to walk through these years.

I shine brighter because of them, less troubled by the minutiae of each day, living more in that place wheMama 2re the little things count for little and the big things like life and death, happiness and grief, hunger , disease and healing are more sharply in focus, better informing my use of time and energy each day.

I look back on past blog posts and remember the lessons. I rejoiced during Raquelina’s short life even as I learned to keep my soul’s balance when mourning her death. As I wrote the narrative of Pedrito’s nights spent walking Maputo’s streets, I discovered cold depths of bitter, condemning Racquelina FBunforgiveness in myself for the adults stalking him through the dark. When Milagrosa and Inacio then Rejoice and others left us to join their newly adoptive families, I grieved for my own loss and discovered that, at the same time, I could rejoice with all my heart at their gain.

The stories I tell here are stories running the gamut of the soul’s possibilities: the heights of joy and the depths of grief, wounds of the past eased by future hope; lives miraculously saved and, more often than I could ever have Porta de embarqueimagined, lives tragically lost.

As I tell the stories of Zimpeto’s children, I am thankful that I am here and that my story is enriched by being a part of theirs. My story has become inextricably woven with theirs and produced a life I could never have imagined for myself.

I came here to change the world and have discovered that, instead, the world is changing me.

October 6, 2013



This is a repost of an article from 2008. Enjoy! (New posts coming when I sort out Blogger issues, I promise.)MOZ Dec 06.1 140


Yesterday the world was spinning faster than I had experienced for a long time. I am learning to say “espera por favor” with a smile. “Please wait…”

Needs to be met. Issues to be faced. Problems to be solved. Questions to which I must respond… now! Phones to be answered, again and again and again. There are days when I juggle three phones at once. I have learned to hold two conversations at the same time; after all, I have two ears and two hands.

Yesterday there were plans to be finalised, messages to be delivered, money to be sorted, accommodation to be organised, directions to be given, vehicles to be coordinated, transport to the airport for 37 people all at once… hugs, thanks, goodbyes… oh no, I forgot to find the lost suitcase! As the day progressed and the world turned faster and faster, my head began to spin with it. I wondered how to do everything that needed to be done without dropping theFrancisco and Lorenzo ball, my bundle or the many papers I was carrying around to reassure me that I was on top of everything.

I headed for the Baby House to deliver a message. The plan was to be in and out in a moment. No time for distractions or play or loving on babies today.

Within seconds, I’d delivered my message but Lourenço had spotted me. I began to back out the door. He ran towards me, gathering momentum even as his feet tripped over each other. He leaned forward precariously as I began to turn away, his arms wide and face beaming even as I thought, “I don’t have time for you today.” As he reached me, he fell into my arms and I instinctively swung him into the air. Somehow my day was hijacked by the smile of a precious babe.

To think, I almost missed it.

As I held him, he placed one tiny hand on each of my shoulders and turned his head, leaning his Lourencocheek firmly against mine. I felt his little body relax as he leaned against me. His breathing began to slow and deepen.

My day’s agenda faded as I held him close. I began to sing quietly to him, “Yes, Jesus loves you…” as his arms loosened and his hands dropped from my shoulders. The echoing noise of thirty children playing within the concrete walls of the Baby House faded as I focused on this one beautiful boy wanting a few moments of my attention.

Lourenço has no mother to rock him to sleep at night, no father to swing him high in the air and catch him as he squeals with delight. He has spent the first two years of his life without a family to remind him that he is loved and he is special and that there is Wendy Freddie Lourencohope for him to be all that he wants to be in his life.

Yesterday, for a few moments he had me. It is not enough but it is something. Somehow my heart was captured, just for awhile, by a toddler innocent enough despite his losses to still believe that a hug is enough. He stirred an instinct in me so viscerally powerful that it took my breath away. To hold an orphan seeking love is worship of the highest order.

And so I surrendered, my heart taken captive by the guileless trust of a child. Somehow he knew that, as he ran and toppled in my direction, my arms would catch him and lift him high. This babe who has no earthly reason to trust, trusted me. It is why we are here: to catch them before they fall and lift them as high as we possibly can, holding them there until they can soar on their own.

For a few moments yesterday, the world stopped spinning, my heart stopped racing and rest took me over. I breathed out the busyness of the day as I sang over him.  He was being filled and refreshed by love, Wendy Lourencoeven as his tiny body relaxing lightly in my arms was refreshing me.

I swayed gently and continued to sing as he leaned his head back and his eyes gazed at my lips singing life over him. My back found the wall and I slowly slipped down and onto the cool concrete floor, babe in arms. His eyes drooped and closed and he fell asleep. All the riotous noise of thirty children faded into the background as I gazed at his sleeping face and thanked God for reminding me why I am here – to stop for the one.

“The one” in this moment was a toddler needing a cuddle. Perhaps the one tomorrow will be a Mozambican tia needing a smile or a staff member a word of encouragement for all the work he does. Perhaps it is, as today, one of the 60 or so visitors wandering the Centre, their hearts being stirred for a harvest field so ripe that they can smell the richness of the crop as they walk through the MOZ Dec 06.1 359sand, praying and laughing and loving on our children.

Today, Lourenço’s soul needed refueling, as did mine. He reminded me to slow down, to breathe, and to stop for awhile. As he slept in my arms, I poured love into him with my touch and my words and my prayers. I quietly thanked God for these moments, for using the outstretched arms of a toddler to draw me aside from the busyness of my day, reminding me that He leads me beside still waters and He restores my soul. I could so easily have missed it. Even on the busiest of days, He is my Restorer - and Lourenço’s.

Half an hour later and the world was no longer spinning, my heart no longer racing and my head now thinking more clearly about the next steps to take in this day full of challenges. I whispered my thanks to this little boy for giving me more than I could possibly give back to him. I handed him carefully to a tia and slipped away, walking more gently now, back into a day filled with opportunities to serve, one person at a time, wiLourencoth a smile.

“…ask where the good way is and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls.” Jer 26:16


Oct 2013 update: Lourenço is now a healthy, mischievous six-year-old. When he thinks none of his friends are watching, he runs up to me for a hug in the playground but is way too cool for this when all his mates are around. A glimpse of this sweet smile always lifts my heart and brightens my day.

July 10, 2013



Earlier this year we heard that Eugenio was missing. Five years old, innocent, sheltered, no street smarts. He was gone. He was playing in the sand with some of his friends not farEugenio from his home and then he was gone.

For several years, Eugenio lived here at Zimpeto, first in the Baby House and then in one of the smaller dorms. He was content here with his twin sister and a dorm full of pre-schoolers and he was thriving. But here is never the best place to be amidst the whirlwind of 260 children when there is the possibility of being with family, and Eugenio and his twin sister went to live with their grandma and auntie as soon as circumstances allowed. They were missed here but they were now where they belonged.

Within a few weeks of moving to his new house, Eugenio disappeared. When I heard that he was missing, my mind raced to all the awful possibilities. The most likely scenario was that he was wandering the baffling maze of sandy paths in the community, unable to find his way home. He lived in a house with no phone, behind a gate with no number, on a dirt track with no name. He had not lived there long enough to get to know the area around his house or to be known by the neighbouLittle boy one sockrs.

Or, had he joined the children playing in the huge open sewer pipes running along the main road where several had drowned the year before? Had he roamed onto the road and been hit by a car with the police having no way to find and inform his family?

Had he been taken without anyone noticing? Witchcraft is rife in Mozambique; child trafficking is common and often related to witchcraft. Last time I drove across the border to South Africa, my trunk was searched for children I might be smuggling out of the country to sell. Had Eugenio been taken out of Mozambique?

The family took his photo to the local TV station and, that night, his smiling face was seen in the living rooms of those Mozambicans who have electricity and are wealthy enough to own a television. This garnered no response.

By the time we at Zimpeto had heard of Eugenio’s disappearance, he had been gone for ten days. Ten whole days! He is five years old! Our team immediately began sending messages out across the world asking for prayer. A search party was organised for the next day.

The searchers were looking for a tiny needle in a hugeMOZ Dec 06.1 280, huge haystack. Where to begin? Several cars full of willing volunteers left the Centre early on day eleven. They went first to Eugenio’s home to talk with his family, then to the police station, to the local stores and stalls, and to all the neighbours’ homes. They spread out, covering as much ground as they could. They showed his photo to everybody but he had not been seen.

They prayed. And we prayed. And you prayed. Thank you for praying!

Around lunch time, a neighbour suggested a last-ditch attempt to find him: go to the local government-run orphanage: just possibly, if a kindly stranger had found him wandering the streets, they may not have taken him to the police station but to a children’s home and, just maybe, the children’s centre had not reported it.

Clutching at straws was all that was left to do... and clutching at straws succeeded.

After almost eleven days missing, our lostFriends 2 little boy was found. He was safe, fed, clean, healthy, and desperately happy to see his family.

We all breathed a heavy sigh of relief and, ever since, have been whispering prayers of protection over our 260 kids.

These children have already been lost and found; once in a lifetime is more than enough.

July 4, 2013


Yesterday a new baby arrived in the nurseryGeorgina 2. Georgina is fourteen months old and more toddler than baby. She was dressed in raggedy clothes, her face darkened by spending most of her days in the sun. She needed a thorough wash, a good meal and a new wardrobe.

This morning, her bright eyes shifted from one unfamiliar face to the next as she cried with all the strength her weak little body could muster. I watched her from the other side of the room, not sure whether she was used to white faces or if my appearance would upset her even more.

As I observed, I felt a twinge in my heart. What was that unfamiliar sensation beating dully within me?

I was happy that she was here, another precious little one to care for. Yet, even as I delighted in the surprise Kenssane homeof this new arrival, I felt uneasy. Something was gnawing at my soul – a jaded dullness that whispered almost imperceptibly, “Don’t fall in love again. You’ll have to let her go soon...”

Stunned by my own reaction, I looked at the other five playing on the floor. Kenssane, just home from the hospital after heart surgery; my heart skips a beat when I know I’m going to see her. Nercia, the brave explorer, who’ll chase me unsteadily around the room on her tiny toddler feet so long as she knows I’ll eventually snatch her up and swing her high above my head. Zecarias, dimpled giggler who falls asleep while sitting up and who loves loud, mesSheltonsy raspberries blown on his chubby neck. Aline, calm and gentle with a smile that lights up the world; she cannot crawl yet but can clap by threes. Shelton, confident and playful with those he knows but aloof observer when strangers are in the room.

Be still, my heart! These irresistible little ones have won me over.

On a day when challenges are rife and busyness is consuming, I’ll make a quick detour to the calm quiet of the nursery and catch my breath with pleasure as I walk in the gate. I’ll get down on the floor so they can climb all over me, dribbling andBabies and tias drooling, leaving tracks of runny noses on my clothes, pulling my hair, mussing me up completely and catching their fingers in my earrings. There is no better down-time.

Each and every baby who has passed through the nursery has captured my heart, all twenty-something of them in the two years I’ve worked there. All it takes is a glance to draw me in. I cannot walk past them without a touch or a word. I can’t think of them without smiling. I cannot be near them without running my hand over a head or squeezing a ticklish thigh or kissing a cheek.

I work in the nursery only six days a month and yet it’s a highlight, a pleasure I look forward to and a break from the other jobs I do here. How blessed I am.

As I watch Georgina, I ponder Nursery 14 Feb 013the weariness within me and I think of all who’ve left the nursery. Five have returned to their extended families or been adopted; what a happy ending for them but a little part of my heart goes with them every time. Fragile Raquelina died after only a few months, never quite gaining the strength she needed to survive a desperately rough start to her life; I eased my grief by pouring extra love into her twin, Francisco. Most of our former residents now live in the Baby House: even though it’s right next door, my heart breaks a little everFaustinay time they leave.

Today I am thankful for the chance to stand back and watch. I realise that the repeating pattern of “catch and release” has left me a little weary yet I am at peace. I think of Silvia and Xadraque, of Sheila and Inercio, Kerone and Faustina and all the others who have won my heart so easily.

I know that, by the end of tomorrow, the weariness will have been overcome by a toddler’s need for love and I will have given my heart all over again, irrevocably and completely.

April 10, 2013



It is the first Sunday of the month and several Iris Ministries churches have gathered together here at ZimpeWomen capulanasto. It is also Women’s Day and the church is noisy and full to overflowing, bustling with movement, music, dancing – and joy, oh the African move-your-feet, clap-your-hands, sing-out-loud joy! Le le le le le le le!

The first Sunday of each month always reminds me of the bigger picture of life here in Mozambique. You see, I live at a children’s centre behind guarded gates and high walls. Zimpeto’s 260 kids get three square meals and two showers a day and new clothes when their old ones rip; they receive an education; they grow up amidst the love and support of a community of believers. I live in a comparably well-off bubble slap-bang in the midst of a community so poor that many people right outside our well-guarded gates eat onlladies church weddingy one meal a day.

On the first Sunday of each month, the “real” Mozambique visits for the morning. I sit near the old vovos – the grandmothers - in their traditional, vibrantly-coloured capulanas and head scarves, looking so much older than their years.

I cuddle a little girl on my lap whose skirt is held up with a safety pin and whose knees are scabby and weeping. Her big brother, perhaps nine or ten, stands next to us, his smile bright and his eyes sparkling with good humour even as his light hair and dull skin wordlessly reveal his malnutrition. While the music plays, his ripped, buttonless shirt flaps open and faGuitar and dancinglls off one shoulder each time he copies the vigorous slide-stamp-clap movement of the older boys near him. As the dust clouds rise from their feet and beads of sweat are flicked away, he pulls his shirt back on, determined to keep up with his heroes, the big boys in their big boy shirts with their big boy haircuts. Everyone needs a hero.

The longer I live here, the more desensitised I become and the less I notice the poverty and its attendant suffering right on my doorstep. I no longer rage loudly at the injustices surrounding me but simmer quietly instead. Perhaps I have run out of words. Perhaps my heart grew weary from feeling too deeply, too often. Or perhaps, somewhere along the line, I decided to stopsick woman 2 feeling because it was too hard.

A year ago I used to pray each Sunday with a young woman who was too sick to sit up in church. She would drag her emaciated body onto the back of our flat-bed truck, ride to church with others from the community, make it in the door then lie down, having expended all her strength to get there. Each week I would sit on the floor or on a bench and pray with her, flicking the flies away and desperately pleading for healing and life to flow back into her wasted frame. It has been a year now and, somewhere along the way, she stopped coming. I didn’t notice until today. How could I not notice?

Indifference is grey. It is dull and tasteless and it is deceptively powerful. I need the sharp stab of conscience to move me once more, to guide me, to have its painful way in the apathetic corners of my heart. If not, what am I doing here?

I want to carry with me always the jagged painWomens Day 1 I feel as I look around me now. This is my church. This is where I come to worship. It is a gift I cannot fully fathom. This is a world so different from the one from which I came. God, keep my heart soft to the needs around me, to the suffering of my brothers and sisters as I serve You here.

The music ends and we all sit, my young friend with the buttonless shirt fingering my shiny new silver watch, entranced by its glossy exterior and by the hands moving within. To me it is a cheap watch, to him it’s worth a fortune. He glances at me with a huge smile, expecting me to pull my hand away. I don’t, and he is thrilled to be able to run his finger gently around the smooth glass. We both laugh and my heart begins to feel once more.

Suddenly there is a crash from the rightBoys will be boys as a bench collapses under the weight of too much wriggling. A bunch of children roll harmlessly onto the floor and onto each other, arms and legs flailing. Each looks around for someone to blame and, finding no one, they all laugh and shove until they’re told to settle down and find new seats. I laugh with them.

Two teenage girls from the community are called forward to sing. The African harmonies in their song make my heart sing with them. The beads in their hair click rhythmically as they sway, singing unaccompanied and with perfect pitch, the rhythm starting at their toes and working its way up until, towards the end, their whole bodies are moving, their eyes closed and their arms DSCN4147raised in worship. It is a loud, exuberant peak, a holy celebration shared even with those of us who do not understand Shangaan. When the Spirit moves, language is no barrier.

And then it begins... Pastor Nico calls all the women and girls forward: it is Women’s Day, after all. The littlest girls rush to the front, vovos help each other off the floor, missionaries line up, the teenagers shuffle, embarrassed, and the visitors glance around, wondering if they’re included. I feel drab and dull in my black blouse and dark denim skirt as I kiss on both cheeks one of the vovos dressed in diverse patterns of greens, blues and reds. I wish her a “feliz Dia das Mulheres” – happy Women’s Day! I’m proud of myself for saying it so fluently in Portuguese then remember that she only speaks Shangaan. We smile and hug, sharing the language of celebration instead, our womanhood bonding us despite differences in age, cultuWomens Day 6re and language. Oh, and the colour of our clothes.

All the men and boys form two lines facing each other along the front of the church, then out the front door, up the long footpath and in the back door. They raise their arms and hold hands to form a tunnel, the littlest boys reaching to raise their arms as high as they can.

The music plays, the drums beating out a rhythm as my vovo friend sways in time, elbows bent, her arms swinging steadily as if to propel her forward. She bends low to walk into the tunnel and I follow.

Hands touch our heads as the men pray for us, hands on our backs and shoulders, hands pulling us forward, hands pressing us through. This is no time to be sensitive about one’s personal space. I feel my hair clip fall and don’t care: there are some moments in life when messy is good and this is one of them. My back aches from bending low as we pass the small boys, laughing as they mess up my hair on purpose. I laugh with them.MOZ Dec 06.1 362

It is hot, sweaty work, making our way through that long, long tunnel. It is loud and joyous as we stop and start, shuffling slowly and getting completely mussed up. As we exit, everyone is laughing, hugging, kissing cheeks and high-fiving (yes, even here).

I sit down, still chuckling at the chaos and the noise and the bodies bumping up against each other and at how untidy I now am, and I’m thankful. Perhaps this morning is a gift to remind me that, while sharing in the suffering of others, one must remember to also share their joys.

We celebrate together and perhaps the bright, colourful, patterned clothing of the Mozambican vovos can teach me a thing or two about the colours of life here.

Perhaps the joy of dancing through a tunnel of hands fills them with the strength they need to get tTwo handshem through another week and, as I dance with them, my heart feels strengthened once more.

Perhaps they need my laughter more than they need my tears and this is a gift I can give while, together, we sway to the heartbeat of the African rhythms of life.

April 4, 2013


When Binario asked me to photograph his wedding to Valine, my first reaction was one of excitement. I had been wondering how I could bless these two young people and I now had the opportunity to give to them in a way I’d not expected. These “kids” who grew up here at Zimpeto own very little and, of course, we want to bless them however we can. The week before, we’d invited them to Home Group to surprise them with wedding gifts: the most practical, useful gifts we could think of. Tupperware, glasses, pans, mugs, P1350769 2and cash – metacais – stuffed into the pots and plasticware.

To photograph their wedding was another opportunity to bless them. I could give them a gift that will last a lifetime. So I said yes, enthusiastically and with great assurance. Then I thought about it and the anxiety began, the “what am I doing” moment (a whole day, really) of thinking, “This is the most important day of their lives. There can be no do-over. What if something goes wrong? What if...? What if...? What am I doing?” The excuses flowed and I was ready to pull out.

I have photographed a lot of kids and animals and weather; flowers that will grow again next season; suns that will set again tomorrow; views from a flight that I’ll be taking again soon. I have never photographed a wedding, not officially. So, to be the one person, with the one dodgy camera, documenting the one special day, with no chance of a repeat performance, felt like too much of a stretch for me.

I’ve photographed lions from four feet away through a window unwisely cracked open. I’ve snapped birds in trees while I lie flat on my back in the grass, whales from a shifting boat deck, dolphins from the slippery rocks as the waves crash around me. I’m the one climbing up onto the table at the school reunion to get the shot with the light just so. When I want a good photo, I commit. And I’ve ended up with some great snaps over the years.

I’ve also gone to Niagara Falls without a memory carP1350518d in my camera. I’ve toppled face-first into the sand while trying to get just the right angle of a toddler playing. I’ve almost fallen off a bench in the middle of church, a couple of times now, as I photograph over the heads of the tall people in front of me. The last sunrise at which I aimed my lens, I ended up backing into a four feet deep ditch, having to claw my way out by digging my fingernails into the dirt and crawling on my stomach. Maybe that’s when the sand got into my zoom lens.

I photograph instinctively then edit, edit, edit. I am no technical expert. What if the conditions are too difficult for my limited knowledge? What if it’s too sunny, or too cloudy, or too wet or too dry? Again I thought of cancelling. Did I mention that my Portuguese does not yet include terms such as “bouquet”, “registry” and “can you all do the hokey pokey now”?

My camera is eight years old and the flash doesn’t work properly. I have three batteries, none of which last long and sometimes die completely in the African heat. Occasionally the zoom lens doesn’t zoom – a minute or two of gentle manipulation helps. I’ll be saying to the groom as he holds his bride aloft in his arms on the beach as the tide turns and the sun disappears quickly below the horizon, “Hold that pose... just another minute... hold it...”

I was now on an excuses bender. I thought about my feet. Mozambican Church can be too long for me, let alone a Mozambican wedding. It would begin with the civil ceremony at the registry office in town, move to the park for photos, then to the beach, out to Zimpeto for the public church ceremony, and back to town for the evening reception. My feet ached and the rest of me panicked just thinking about it.

I looked at my calendar and saw the busy month I was heading into. The wedding day came sandwiched right in the middle of three weekends out of five that I was working. Now that right there is a good excuse. All my reasoning was fair and understandable. Then I began to think of the joy of the day and of this young couple’s trust in me, my abilities and my camera that, to them, was really fancy. And I thought, “If I don’t do it, who will?” I knew, aside from technical disasters, I could do a reasoP1350469nable job. I’m no pro photographer but I could turn out some sound, if not dazzlingly amazing, shots. The bride and groom would like the results. It was, after all, all about them.

When did taking photos at a wedding become a huge faith step, akin to quitting a job or moving to another country, or actually getting married? I realised I was - to use a well-worn psychological term – totally freaking out. I would do this, I would do it as best I could, and I would trust God with the results. God cares about such things! Now... just breathe. And go clean the sand out of your camera.

So, it would be me and my faithful, battered old five megapixel, 12x zoom Panasonic (yes, I hear you photographers chuckling). I cleaned and wiped, flicked and fiddled. I massaged the stiff lens mechanism, I laid hands and prayed. I truly did. I packed, repacked, unpacked and packed again. And the more I prepared, the more excited I became at the possibility of giving a gift to this young couple that would make them smile for years to come.

By playing photographer, I was able to document the wedding of two of Zimpeto’s own. They both grew up here. They’re theP1350810 first two to marry “within the family” and they are both very special, gifted young people who love God and each other.

To think, I nearly missed it. I had the honour of witnessing each step of this long, wonderful and very Mozambican day. My camera worked (mostly), the photos turned out (generally), the bride and groom were blessed (totally) and I had the time of my life.

March 8, 2013


It has taken nearly two years for me to write about Helena. Delightful, feisty, joyous, moody Helena, with a smile as big as the sun and a loud laugh that always held mischief in its depths. Last week at our missionaries’ home group, we talked about disappointments we have faced here in Mozambique. Of course, Helena’s story came up.

It is time her story was told.Helena

Helena (centre, above) was becoming a beautiful, bold, dare I say mildly defiant young woman who, at the age of twelve, was a favourite with many of our visitors who loved her strength. Me? Well, I was sometimes quite intimidated by her – such chutzpah in a child is a sight to behold.

Helena came to the Centre as a baby and those who were here say her smile was as bright then as it was as she grew into womanhood. Her mother and grandmother had both died and the only family she had left in the world was her great-grandmother. The men of the family were gone.

First in the Baby House then the girls’ dorm, Helena was thriving here at the Centre. This had been her home for all except a few months of her life.

Then, in May 2012, she became sick. She was taken to the hospital with fevers and head pain but received no diagnosis and was sent home. The next day, she was sent back to the hospital as the pain worsened and the fevers would not break. Again, she was sent back to the Centre. By this stage, the nurse missionaries here had informally diagnosed cerebral meningitis but were not equipped to treat it. So, to the hospital she went again and, this time, a misdiagnosis of pneumonia, a useless prescription and still no hospital admission.

Helena grew sicker by the hour and her pain grew worse. She cried her way through the days, dozing often from the illness’s effects and sleeping fitfully through the nights. Her body dripped with sweat, eyes squeezed shut, hands tapping at her head in a futile attempt to chase the pain away.

By her fifth trip to the hospital, Helena was in agony, suffering indescribably. She was slowly dying before our eyes. There are no words to express the agony of a child in unspeakable pain or the depths of despair we felt as we watched her.

I live in a developing nation which, by its very nature, has some growing up to do. Mozambique still has a long way to go to mature her systems and structures: healthcare is improving by the year but it is not yet what we from “developed nations” (such a dryly arrogant term) are used to. Every now and then estrangeros, or foreigners, must tackle the great divide between “developed” and “developing”, which is confronted most desperately in the area of healthcare.

This time around, we were fighting a life-or-death battle for one of our children. The divide was just too great to negotiate.

On her fifth trip to the hospital in a week, Helena was finally admitted. She was officially, and accurately, diagnosed this time around. Treatment began. Too little, too late.

A few hours later, Helena’s carer (employed by the Centre to stay with her in hospital) phoned, desperate. Helena’s chilling screams could be heard in the background as the tia pleaded over the phone. “I need help! I can’t control her. She’s running around, she’s making no sense. She won’t stop screaming!” She cried into the phone as Helena continued to shriek hysterically.

Within a few hours Helena had fallen into a coma. Not long after this, she died.

There are no words, no neat explanation to make us feel better, no closure to be had. I had touched her face, wiped her tears, held her clenched hand in mine. I’d cried and begged, demanded, pleaded. So many of us stormed Heaven on her behalf. Yet still, she died.

Now, almost two years later, this helplessness continues to jab sharply at my soul. I want it to stay sharp. I do not want closure. I need to stay stirred up, to remain angry in the face of such injustice. I want to remember the depths of helplessness that left me speechless as I listened to her desperate whimpers. I want to stay unsettled. Perhaps that jagged frustration within will press me into action and chase away the shadows of complacency that try to disempower us all.

I wish Helena’s story was the only one I could tell. It is not.

I am here, living in a developing nation, and it seems a powerless offering in the face of overwhelming injustice. Ironically, it is the very helplessness I feel that keeps me here, determined that, somehow - God only knows how - I could see change. Sometime, some way, in the future, just maybe...

I will not taint her memory by trying to explain why this would happen. To a child. To one of ours. She was meant to be safe here, saved from her suffering, given a bright future. Yet still, she died.

Sometimes the world is a dark place and injustice seems to have the final say.

In the face of such helplessness, all I know to do is release her to her Heavenly Papa’s arms. I cannot even ask “Why?” These moments and this release are too deep and her precious life too sacred to ask questions.

Sweet Helena, we were privileged to love you for a season. Sleep well, at rest in the forever peace of Heaven’s arms.

February 21, 2013


I live in a room. It’s not a house, it’s a room withP1190893 a bathroom and a bit of extra space in the back. Calling my room a “home” sounds just a little grand but my home and I have delusions of grandeur and we’re happy with that.

Don’t get me wrong, I love my room. I’m a bit of a homebody and the introvert in me finds rest and restoration in my own personal space. I’m grateful for it and I like being in it. From the outside it looks like a concrete block. On the inside, it’s very me: all whites and beiges and just a touch of purple, with clean lines, gently wafting sheer curtains and no clutter. I’ve been able to make it mine and it feels like a sanctuary, a retreat right in the middle of the busyness of this amazing, crazy place in which I live.

I’m thankful and just about every day I breathe a sign of pleasure in my little home. I don’t hanker after very much more than this. Ah, sweet contentment!Jan 072

So, when I came to Sydney in December with the promise of a place to stay and a car to drive, I expected a bed, a set of keys and time to retreat for a few weeks from the daily grind.

How fully and completely did I underestimate the goodness of God and the generosity of friends. I could not have imagined such blessing, let alone asked for or expected it.

I arrived in Sydney after a 14 hour flight from Johannesburg, welcomed by my parents at the airport. They drove me straight from the airport to the home I’d been lent by friends who were overseas. Food, water, shelter, a soft bed for the night – these were my expectations.

Oh my. Speechless doesn’t cover it.

This frazzled, jetlagged, crumpled missionary gal with the Mozambican dirt still stuck between her toes lugged a battered, half-empty suitcase up the steps. I’d brought with me one book, one pair of shoes, a few clothes that would be thrown out Balmoral 037before I left, and the magical three-monthly deworming pill in my bag for my first night in civilisation. Some things follow you wherever you go.

Six months earlier, when I was planning my time away from Mozambique, I’d quietly pondered with God (I wouldn’t even call it praying) that I needed a real rest – a holiday that only feels like a holiday if I can see the ocean. But that costs money and I don’t have money for such luxuries these days. I also processed (I don’t think I was whining but, well, perhaps just a little) that I missed swimming, one of the most relaxing pleasures of my life where my body suddenly wakes up and says, “Hey, we’re on holidays – woo hoo!” I whispered it all to God and left it at His feet.

Now, here I stood, mouth agape. I was standing in front of the most beautiful house, next to the most beautiful pool, looking out on the most beautiful ocean view I could imagine. Beyond my wildest imaginings, this place would be my home for the next three weeks as I rested and prayed, read, spent endless hours looking out at the view, saw friends and family, ate good food, dreamed new dreams and – swam!

God surprises me often – He is so good to me. This time around, He blew me away with such perfect generosity to this Aussie gal from Mozambique who is just trying to do life with Him the best way I know how. He gave me “exceeding abundantly more than I could ask or imagine” and, in the midst, He gave me rest.

Now that I’m back and sitting in my little room, mYacht race 110y Mozambican home, with a fan blowing at me on high speed in opposition to the heat and humidity, with children playing outside and with music blasting loudly from somewhere nearby, I am at rest still. I was blessed beyond measure with a palace while away, and I’m blessed to be here, living the dream one day at a time, looking forward to the adventure each day brings in the perfect will of God.

Now, what will I dream about next?