Unbelievable. I only came for one you know, maybe two. Well, these darling boys have captured my heart and I haven’t been able to leave them. And God hasn’t told me it’s time . So, here I still am, a few more years than I’d planned, loving life, loving God, loving my darling boys.
Ten “Take-Aways” from Ten Years
Unlike a mom who looks at her newborn child moments after birth, I didn’t kn ow the moment I saw Pedro that he would change my life and heart so dramatically. He was one of many, many precious boys in our center who clamored for my attention, calling out “Mana Laura!” whenever he saw me and running up to take my hand and be content to just walk with me. He was six years old. He was gorgeous. And although I didn’t know it that moment, it didn’t take me long to realize he had stolen my heart and he became my constant companion. I could write books about Pedro but suffice to say that although I could never adopt him, he was the son of my heart, God placed him there just as surely as he places a baby in a mother’s womb. My love for him is deeper than I have ever loved anyone else. I am so grateful for the gift of Pedro in my life – he is the child I came here to Mozambique to find.
Eight years later, in September 2010, I lost my darling Pedro in a drowning accident. He was 14 years old. It was excruciating and I feel his loss every day, keenly. My heart has never hurt like that before or since. But God, in his mercy, reminded me that while my heart might be broken, it is not dead. And I can trust him to repair it in a way that, while it may be forever marked by my grief over losing Pedro, it is still capable of being vibrant and full and loving.
God is responsible for the results, not me.
About a year or so after Pedro’s death, I had what I have since called a mini-breakdown. One night, while carrying a bowl of apples out to the dining room to the boys (about 35 of them), it all became too much. I turned around (with the bowl of apples still in my arms) and went back into my room and broke down. I ranted and raved at God as I have never done before or since. I poured out my heart full of grief over Pedro, full of frustration over too many boys and too little of me, over my inability to fix them, and really isn’t that God’s job after all? After about 30 minutes of that, I decided to go walk on the soccer field to try and calm down. I did apologize to God for being so disrespectful but in a calmer manner, told him everything I had said – shouted actually – was true and exactly how I felt and what in the world could we – He actually – do about it? He reminded me that indeed it is his job to “fix them” so to speak and my job is simply to obey him. I cannot be everything they need. But I needed more than that. I asked God, “what exactly is my legacy here, what AM I giving these boys?” He was so gracious in his response – “these boys know that they are loved by you . . . and that is no small thing.” I’m so glad in my imperfect, not-enough-of-me way, I can love these boys and leave the results up to God.
Precious Thabo is the first boy I met personally with such visible suffering. The effects of abuse and neglect were obvious on his precious little body, so thin at 8 years old and weighing 23 pounds. But what a champion spirit he had! What a love for life and for people, what curiosity and love he contained in that frail little body. Ultimately, in spite of our efforts and his determination, his body could not recover and he passed away. He was the first person I knew so well to suffer from the terrible disease of HIV/AIDS. It was no longer a statistic or an idea or something happening to someone else, it was a disease stealing the life away from someone I loved. I am so grateful to be here in Mozambique loving on all my boys, sick and healthy, thin and chubby, neglected and loved. But what a unique and rare privilege to be one of the people chosen by God to love and care for Thabo in the way he should have been by his family.
In my ten years here in Mozambique, I have never ceased to be amazed at God’s amazing provision for me (and my boys!) through the generosity of people: friends, family and strangers as well. I have been the recipient of some amazing “big gifts” – like $1500 from someone I didn’t even know! But I’ve also been blessed by many, many small gifts that all add up to regular provision. One precious woman started out supporting me with $2 a month! She told me she has on her fridge that she is trusting God to give me $5000 but she didn’t hesitate to start small. (she’s up to $16 a month now!) It has taught me to trust God to bless people with “big gifts,” even sacrificially, but also that no gift is ever too small.
I never knew I was courageous, I never thought of myself that way. Not too long after I moved here to Mozambique, a friend was telling me what she saw in me and one of the first things she said was that I was courageous (thank you Kelly O’Delly!). I was so surprised. Reflecting upon that, I realized if you had asked me to list ten positive qualities about myself, courageous wouldn’t even have made the list. And yet, I realized, it’s true, I am courageous. Moving to Mozambique isn’t the first courageous choice I’ve made and it won’t be the last. It may though be the biggest. But then again, maybe it won’t! You never know what is in store with the Lord!
I’m made of clay and I break, sometimes easily.
So although I’ve discovered I am courageous, I have equally discovered that I am God’s chosen vessel, but made of clay, meaning I can break. And will break. And crack. And chip. I am weak and it is only in God’s strength that I am made capable to serve him and serve others. So I trust God and I take risks and I move forward and learn and grow. But I also get angry and sad and lack faith and run and try and hide. I offend others and get offended. I am in no way perfect. And God knew that when he sent me to Mozambique. And he chose me to go anyway. How lovely.
If you want to help people in need, it is messy, not neat and tidy, nor smooth and easy.
One day I was lamenting how hard it is to help people. How confusing it can be to make the right choices. How frustrating when you try and help people and they don’t want to change. How flat-out annoying it can be to give of yourself and have people treat your offering like it’s nothing, or worse, like it’s never enough. I was driving home from the city in traffic mulling this over and I heard God very clearly speak to me, saying, Laura, if you want to help people in genuine need, it will always be messy. People whose lives are neat and tidy don’t need your help. So, you need to decide, either you want to help people and therefore, you’re willing to get messy, or you can choose to stay neat and tidy and the easy road – but you’re not going to help very many people that way. I am so grateful God challenged me in this. I still sometimes long for things to be easy and tidy but more than that, I long to help people who need it.
I used to know so much more than I do now!
I recall a conversation I had with a couple other missionaries a couple years ago. One was newer and said “I realize you have to be here a year or two to understand the culture.” The other gal and I, who had each been here several more years, looked at each other then turned and replied to her, “you have to be here a couple years to understand that you understand NOTHING about the culture!” Now it’s not as cut and dried as all that, learning happens along the journey, it’s an ongoing process. But each of us found the idea of it true – that it takes a long time in a new culture to realize how little you actually know because things are so different that you cannot grasp all that you have not grasped! Similarly, in areas beyond the new culture of Mozambique, I have discovered that I have far more questions than answers at this age than I ever used to. I am still opinionated, still a thinker and like to analyze and critique. I hope that never changes actually. But I am much less certain of my conclusions than I ever was. I have began the discovery of just how much I don’t actually know. And I’m learning to be ok with that.
My Darling Boys
Lots of them! In fact, lots of them at one time! I haven’t been able to figure out how many darling little boys have passed through my dorm in the last nine years I’ve worked in it. I know it’s been a lot though. And each one is unique and lovely and deserving of so much love and personal attention. Deserving of more than I have been able to give them and yet, it has been my privilege to try. I have to trust that God has multiplied my efforts and filled in the missing spaces for each one of these precious boys’ lives. As much as I have loved them, it’s so cool to remember that God loves them so much more and is ever at work in their lives. My Darling Boys are His Darling Boys as well!