Thursday, January 19, 2017

The wall of WeVana

I've been thinking about that wall. The wall in Musha WeVana. We usually build walls to protect ourselves, to hide what's ours, keep people out. We build real walls of brick and mortar, and we build walls of fake smiles, immunity, silence, "I"m tough," and "Don't bother me." I blame no one for building a wall for protection (I've built them for years), but it's incredibly inspiring to see a wall that protects AND simultaneously allows children to be vulnerable in sharing their wildest dreams. 

Zimbabwe was a trip that, frankly, almost didn't happen for me due to what could have been serious health problems for two grandparents and due to my ability to take amazing gifts and opportunities and turn them into points of stress and anxiety. (Shall I dive into that topic at another time? Maybe, but here's a glimpse into my psyche: I left Brad home for nine days with our four kids. Four kids 5-and-under. The words that carried me through Clementine's long adoption journey rang true again as I left for this trip: "Don't dig up in doubt what you planted in faith." I had to trust that they would be fine and Brad's sanity would remain intact while I was away [and while my mom, 90% of our childcare bullpen, came with me]. He basically had to kick me out the door to catch my plane.)

I didn't--still don't--feel worthy of experiencing Zimbabwe and its people in all of their joy and optimism. The gift of the invite took me by surprise. I had nothing to offer. But for some only-God-knows-why reason I said yes, and I used a large chunk of the money I've earned through hours and hours of working from home to hop on a 16-plus-hour flight to the "house of stones" and the most friendly people you'll ever meet in your lifetime. That money, by the way, was money I maybe should have saved to ensure that my kids can do a few fun things and eat something besides peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for the rest of their childhoods before we have to start selling our body parts for real money to feed them.

But, as I'm learning, that money was never really mine to begin with. What we have was given to us for a purpose. (Also another topic for another time.)

Through prayer and chocolate, I pushed my anxiety aside in the hope and belief that God had a plan for this trip, and now it is with humility and excitement that I introduce you to Musha WeVana and the inspiring, difficult work that is done there for vulnerable children.

We stayed at the home of Pastor John and Orpah, local leaders in Zimbabwe who continually lay down their lives for the children of Musha WeVana and for their church congregation. (John and Orpah were first introduced to me in Doing Good Is Simple, written by Help One Now founder Chris Marlow. Get it on your nightstand for an enlightening, encouraging and challenging read. Also, props to Orpah for being the kind of pastor's wife I aim to be. I immediately had to write Brad a letter committing to pray and encourage more. Ministry is hard work, and he carries the heaviest of burdens with the best combo of humility and strength, but I fail to tell him that as often as I should.)

Pastor John and Orpah (Photo cred: HON)

Pastor John's congregation began financially supporting Musha WeVana, a children's home, when it was struggling to cover costs at the height of a national financial crisis in 2009. Because of the generosity of the people of Pastor John's church, numerous children were clothed, fed, and held close in a time when parents died, struggled to feed other children and cast them away in hopes of something better for them. (I will pause here to say that it is TRAGEDY that parents have to choose which children to feed or even keep in their families. This is a reality that is far too common. Orphan care that seeks to prevent orphans in the first place is the very best kind of orphan care, and Musha WeVana is that.)

Pastor John's church stepped up for them. These were not rich people with money to spare; however, they realized the importance of the mission, thus living out the words of 2 Corinthians 8:2--"for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part."

They became partners in this great mission.

Pastor John's church is still doing this today, giving out of their abundance of joy, and around 80 children are currently being cared for through the work of Musha WeVana, Pastor John and Orpah, their local church, and the Global church through Help One Now. 

I have mentioned the joy of Zimbabwe, the welcoming spirit and the happy hearts. Nowhere is it more evident than it is at Musha WeVana. On that first bright Saturday morning, the kids spilled out of houses, nooks and crannies to greet our van, eager for more adults to hold them, take their pictures, and tell them they're beautiful. House mothers welcomed us and our muddy feet into homes they'd just mopped, and they proudly smiled and showed us the rooms of "their" children. Light spilled out of their gleaming eyes as kids showed us how to play their games and drew in the dirt outside.

Nearly 80 children are organized into family groups with house mothers, homes, clothes, and beds of their own. They're given freshly prepared meals, a place at the table, an outlet for dreaming. All of this is provided for them so they will not just be products of "institutionalization" for the rest of their lives. They truly do have a hope for the future, and that's evident on the wall of a home in the community where they've written their biggest hopes and dreams. Within the walls of safety and protection around the community, this wall stands as a beautiful representation of hope, and their leaders are doing everything in their power to provide them with the support and resources that are needed to help them attain their goals.

This is not an orphanage where babies no longer cry because they've resigned to the fact that no one cares about them. House mothers care for children like their own, and a married couple works with the children to be sure that children see a godly marriage played out before them and have easy access to a father figure. Older children carry young ones on their hips and wipe tears and help babies to not be afraid of strange white women (us). This is no institution, and this is why it's a cause worth supporting.

We worked a LONG time for that smile. 

On our first day, I met the boy I call "Pastor." His real name is Simba, and when we asked him what he wanted to be when he grew up he immediately said he wanted to be a pastor, which struck a cord with me because I am married to one. Over the next days, it became clear that he was already a leader in Musha WeVana...young kids seemed to look up to him and he stepped up to draw pictures of American flags, Zimbabwe, maps, and animal prints. He even led them in a spirited and ambitious version of the Dab. We were told that he sometimes preached at Musha and even while we were there I heard him quote scripture with authority and conviction for which grown men, 40-year vets of Bible Study, would have envied.

Myself and "Pastor "Simba. 
And there's Blessing, whom I affectionately referred to as Little Stinker because he was a mess of a boy. He walked over to us with a sad face and acted like he was having the worst day of his life, only to spin on a dime moments later and start running around, poking us and making weird noises into our ears and then sprint away with this big ornery grin spread wide across his face. He was a stinker, and he reminded me of a few little stinkers I happen to know very well in Missouri.

And Nancy, who CRAVED attention and hugs and screen time to see pictures of our world. :o) Who can blame her? It's what most kids her age want.

And there's Ortrude, a bright (in every sense), ambitious college student who was concerned for her country and for her future attending college. She explained the politics of Zimbabwe to me while asking about the political climate in the US and lamenting the upcoming elections of Zimbabwe (that's a story for another day, too). She smiled as she told me her hopes, and when she was called in to help distribute school uniforms, she nodded and went to help, knowing that others had helped in the same way when she was young.

Ortrude, smiling in red, with her friends at Musha WeVana.

We helped distribute school uniforms, backpacks and shoes, and I have never seen kids so happy to be getting school supplies to return to school.

And there's Talent. A grown man now, he was abandoned three times before the age of two. (I will be sharing a video of his story as soon as it's ready, and you don't want to miss it.) He told our Help One Now trip leader that he recently had a dream in which he remembered that many years ago, as a child at Musha, he was writing down his hopes for the future. His dream reminded him that it was Musha supporters that allowed him--even asked him--to dream of his future. "That's why I have a thought for my future," he said. He is now attending college and playing in the band at Pastor John's church.

That brings me to my next point of admiration: The local church. I've already mentioned that Pastor John's church financially supports the work of Musha WeVana, but they don't just throw their money at the problem and wish it away. They warmly invite Musha WeVana kids to church (and the kids will walk long distances in the rain to attend). They pray for the children daily. Several church members are board members for Musha, and many use their talents and skills to serve the needs of that community in some way. 

We attended church on Sunday, and along with the beautiful genuine worship we experienced, my favorite part was that children--all of them, orphan or not orphan--were prayed over by the whole congregation. What a gift. They were held close while words declaring them to be special, loved, cherished, created in God's image, planned, and worthy were prayed over them in ways they could hear, feel and see. The local church has stepped in to love these children in little and big ways, and I was happy to witness just part of their commitment to caring for the vulnerable and cherished.

If you know me or you've read this blog before, you know that I will not paint a pretty picture without telling you about the dirty paintbrushes. Like most stories born out of hardship, Musha has gaps that need to be filled, small hearts that need a great deal of mending, some resources that are still out of reach. And like all great leaders, Pastor John and his people dream big and work hard to meet daily needs. The big dreams come with great vision and wisdom, but they also come with big price tags. His church supports Musha as well as they possibly can (and even more than one would ever think possible), but they are also building a new church building, one that will also serve as a hope center for their community to meet the needs of vulnerable families and individuals in crisis (with the hope of preventing the creation of more orphans). They're stretched thin. Through local support and the financial support of Help One Now and its donors, they're able to help provide for minimal needs, school uniforms, food, shelter, beds and workers to love well. And they do all of this REALLY well.

However, they are dreaming and praying for a vehicle to help find and reunite vulnerable children with their families, take children to school in he rain, bring children to church, and seek medical treatment. They're also dreaming of hiring a dedicated social worker to help children deal with the trauma of losing parents, being abandoned, being abused and gearing up for a hopeful future. They need a new gate, safety equipment and first aid kits. Kids need new shoes. (I can't keep up with the eight growing feet in our house, and I have no idea how they keep shoes on 160 feet!) After years of providing safety and security to hundreds of kids, their houses need major maintenance. (Don't judge me for noticing, but there were some big smells, ok? They're doing the best they can, but even bleach and a tank full of Febreeze won't cover the years of water damage and decay. They need some structural help to get buildings water-tight.)

Help One Now works best through child sponsorships and partnerships. Right now they have around 75 sponsorship slots filled with 300 remaining. (HON uses a 5x sponsorship model for orphans. Read about it here.) With help from Pastor John's church, that means Musha WeVana is operating at half of its optimal budget. They have hopes and plans for the future that include community development and empowerment to projects, all of which will make their community of Marondera and Musha WeVana itself stronger from all angles. Think about what they could do if they were 100% funded!

This is where YOU come in. Sponsorship is $40/month. I realize that's just a drop in the bucket for many of you, but that requires our family to let go of something we enjoy. Forty bucks is two after-church meals at McAlister's for our family (because of the free kids meals on Sundays...boomtown). We have let go of that in order to help one now. For you, $40 might be 8 Starbucks coffees or a nice shirt. Some of you might have to join together with your friends or City Groups (I'm looking at you, Hill City) to make this happen. DO IT. (I might even be able to persuade Brad to shave his beard for your sacrifice to sponsor a certain number of kiddos. Win-win-win!) Can you let go of something to help give hope to Musha WeVana?

Please visit the Musha WeVana sponsorship page to see those bright smiles that shined back at me last week in Zimbabwe. Read through their bios, see what they hope for. Pray about your possible commitment to them. You will find the kids I spoke of above on this page, and if you are looking for a certain type of child with whom you can connect, let me know and I can direct you. 

This will not go away. Don't look to other people to do this work. Become Gospel partners (conveniently Daniel spoke on this last Sunday--Phil. Part 2), people who give generously and joyfully because Christ's love compels us to build the kind of walls that protect and nourish dreams for the vulnerable and (all the praise hands) the formerly vulnerable.

(Read more about this trip from the perspectives of my friends Jenny and Vickie here and here. I haven't read them yet in order to keep my perspective entirely authentic, but I am 99% certain their posts and pics will be 199% more awesome than mine. You're welcome for the tip.)

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