Birthday Week. Wow, we have had a great one – and it’s still not over! Three more days (and a few more stories). Our team has been full of inspiration and marketing ideas and benefit planning and wheels turning and as for me?……Reflection. I find myself in that place a lot. This week – I have found myself in Lietnom, Sudan. Where the villagers tell time by hand motions mimicking the position of the sun and goats and cows are used as the going exchange rate. Where you go to bed when the sun sleeps and wake up when sunlight gives way to the moon. Where the middle of no-where takes on a whole new meaning, and you never dreamed “no-where” could be so incredibly authentic in every way.
I remembered this week that the children rarely, if ever, celebrate birthdays. Most don’t even know their ages because they don’t know the day or even the year they were born. Even if they DO know their date of birth, I would scarcely say they remember it and, simply, do not celebrate it. Seems a bit self-absorbed to some. Personally, I’m a fan. But there are times when celebration gives way to necessity. When you are fighting to survive – some things get thrown by the wayside. Like the day you were born. Makes it even sweeter to think the Lord never forgets : )
Thinking of being under the tree in the village in Lietnom doing art therapy with children of various ages who were as dusty and dirty as I had ever seen. I remember stopping half way through our time and laughing and thinking;
“Seriously, Beth…..what the heck are you doing?”
At that moment, there were two goats behind me, an armed force person behind the children, at least three dusty naked kiddos running around my legs, and a village lady who just came out of her mud hut (tookle) with a dead chicken in her hands.
And I was supposed to grab these kids attention? To talk to them about their heartaches? Indeed……
Thank God for Emily and David! I had explained to the pastor of the church (which saying that actually makes me smile because the “church” is a large tree overshadowing numerous wooden benches surrounded by a wall of straw).
“We will one day have walls here” said, Abraham – the pastor. I believe him. Though I’m certain I prefer it much as it is – forever : ) I am sure when we get to the Gloryland we will all be worshiping Jesus without walls. Under trees. Yes, I’m sure of it.
Back to what I was saying….I had explained to Abraham that I wanted to break the children down into two groups. The older children the first day and the younger children the second day. I usually have 6 – 11 in one group and 12 and older in another. When I told the translators this, they just looked at me blankly. There where children sitting on the bench in front of me waiting to be divided up into older and younger groups. The translator grabbed one child who was tall and one who was shorter.
“You mean THIS size?” grabbing the shorter one on the shoulder
“Or THIS size?” grabbing the other one.
“Of course,” I thought…. “sizes – not ages, SIZES!”
“Uhhhm maybe this size and taller in one group, and this size and shorter in another…” Sometimes, you have to learn to pull things out from under the curtain on short notice. Or out from somewhere else ; )
We went on to talk of the pain they had been through during the past few months with the tribal fighting, the burning of their huts and the killing of their loved ones. Some had been forced to stay in the bush for days at a time until it was safe to come out. Some had lost loved ones very close to them. Others had just lost.
David, Emily and I handed out crayons and paper for them to draw their saddest memory. Their greatest heartache. And they did.
These children had never even seen a t.v. before, let alone anything “on” t.v. Probably wouldn’t know what one “did’ if they were to see one. But what they did know was how to draw a gun and a dead body and a burning home. That was their reality– and they didn’t need a t.v. show to bring it to life.
Michelle had some extra red hearts left over from an activity she did with the women (who, by the way, had walked up to seven days to get there. Some in water up to their waist). I asked if I could use them. I told them that they could draw God on their heart and asked them to picture their saddest memory. Inviting them to hold that heart up to their own and close their eyes - I asked them to picture God in their memory. Holding their hand. Being beside of them. And they did.
I go through this one part of the program that is my favorite of all. Makes my heart beam, actually. There is a verse that got me through some very dark times in life. IITimothy 1:7
“For God has not given me a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.”
I tell them that there is a strength that lives inside of them that no one can take away. No one. Man can burn their homes, kill their family, or force them to do things they would never ever normally do. But man CANNOT take away the strength that lives inside of them – unless they give it away. You see, I believe with all that lives inside of me that we do not loose hope. Hope can only be lost if we give it away. It’s a choice to believe. I tell them that we believe in them and that God believes in them. And then my favorite moment…….
I ask them to stand and hold each others hands as brothers and sisters in the Lord. As a family. And to repeat this in their native tongue.
“God will never leave me. God will never forsake me. God loves me.”
I wish upon wishes that I could recreate that moment for you. Children of all shapes and sizes and heights standing in Strength and Freedom and Hope.
Why do I ask them to do this? Why these words? Because if there is nothing else that is true. It is this. If our world crumbles down all around us and all that we believe is real fades away. If all those we think we can depend on leave or die or our homes burn and our dreams disappear – there is one thing we can know that will never cease to exist or go away.
Seeing the things I have seen in the past few years, I have had to look into the eyes of my God and ask:
“Lord – where are you in all of this? How can you allow this to happen? How can you not pour out your grace over these children? After Congo it wasn’t asking…..it was screaming. It was looking up to the heavens in utter confusion. As if your best friend just told you the most horrific crime they had committed. It left me dumbfounded and screaming and searching again and again:
God, where are you?
And in the quiet after the storm…..in being alone with my thoughts, I realized His answer:
My Child, I am here, holding their hand and crying their tears. Where are you?