What did I do? I loved the opportunity to stand and talk (or sit and talk!) with Julia. We correspond frequently through facebook, but that is not the same as laughing together over a cup of coffee, or standing quietly, trying to absorb the injustice that is “reality” in the lives of some of these children. So, we talked. A lot. About heavy topics and about silly crazy things. I felt privileged to live in her world for just a little bit, to eat pap and beans, to live right there on the side of the mountain, and to wake up under four inches of blankets on cold, cold mornings. (It was winter there, no heat, tile floors, single pane windows, frost. Brrrr.) Thank you, thank you kind person who donated a household supply of the warmest, softest blankets ever.
Finally, after a mad scramble they were shined and polished and packed and ready for school.
One of my jobs for the week was to organize the library. I found a wall of lovely sturdy shelves filled with random stacks of donated books. Coloring books, math skills workbooks, health references, Mammal guides, and Afrikaans texts waited to be turned, sorted, arranged, and re-shelved.
Many times, when helping as a volunteer, one must just pitch in and do what needs to be done. But occasionally, the need at hand and one's gifting seem to be running on parallel tracks, a perfect match. This was one such occasion. This room was an book-loving organizer’s dream job, and it was all mine.
During school hours, I used the beds as my grand central station of sorting. When the boys poured through the door after school and found the mess, their faces were a study in silent amazement. They didn’t know what to think. I promised restoration by bedtime, meaning the beds would be accessible and book free, but, wow, I made a mess in there. I think I spent 6 or 7 hours in that room on Friday, and most of Saturday as well.
There were moments when it was clear that I was sharing space with boys…I found this scenario Sunday afternoon.
But, by the time I left on Tuesday night, the room had become a functional library where kids could find a few reference books to help with homework projects, chapter books for a quiet afternoon’s pleasure, or Bible lesson helps for teaching the village children.
Mama Julia talked about trusting God, no matter what happens, and the children listened attentively. "You can always count on Him, lean on Him." Their eyes spoke volumes…they wanted to believe it was true. When your house has fallen down or your beloved Granny is dying, it's important to know where to turn for unfailing help. These kids are finding The Mustard Seed Ministry and Mama Julia...and Jesus.
We took a break for a few minutes of lively play (some combination of soccer and basketball) plus laundry and bean stirring, then gathered again for a story and prayer. How they prayed!
The best find: jigsaw puzzles, lots of them. So, when the rain began to pour, jigsaw puzzles became our afternoon obsession…one after another was pulled from the cabinet, assembled and reassembled.
It was a mom’s dream scene, kids sprawled everywhere, working together or alone to put every piece in place. Some of the kids had never “puzzled” before, and it was a joy to teach them how to look for edges or a certain color or piece. My “translator” slapped the pieces in so quickly, no one else had a chance. So, when he had finished and moved on to the next challenge, the other kids simply started over. So much focus and chatter and laughter and learning was happening in that room, spilling onto the floor, wherever there was (or wasn’t) space.
And how they wanted to be noticed! Like kids everywhere,
they needed to have someone say,
“You are amazing.”
“Look at you.”
“You did it.”
And for one rainy afternoon, I got to be that person. I won’t soon forget the voice that said, “Come!! one hundred pieces, finished!! But, only 99…"
That’s when I knew I’d be leaving pieces of my heart at The Mustard Seed ministry.
I had come to deeply love these children who had so little, yet seemed to live with such wholeheartedness.
I was moved by their resilience in the face of terrible trauma, by the way they just kept doing life, entering into activities with gusto and delight.
I was touched by their appreciation for simple joys and their willingness to make do. I heard/saw no complaints about simple food, perhaps because most of them were simply hungry and glad to have something to eat even if it was pap and beans, again, even if it was one jelly sandwich for lunch, again.
In fact, I think we had more fun without the electricity, because (like children everywhere) this gang likes to watch too much tv…and that wasn’t an option! Everyone sat close, in the circle of light, and played Old Maid or chess, or put puzzles together…or some combination thereof! The laughter warmed us, and smiles lit the dark places.
And then it was time to go.
There were hugs and a pile of precious notes and cards, and tears, and more hugs. As darkness fell, I was bumping down the rutted road, out of Mabolela village. I remembered a conversation with one of the girls earlier that afternoon:
She: So, you are leaving today.
Me: Yes, I am.
She: And when are you coming back?
Me: Well, I don’t know, but I really want to come back.
She:Hmmm, well I am pretty sure that it should be sooner
because we are going to miss you.
Yes, dear child, I feel that way myself.
I’m leavin’ on a jet plane, don’t know when I’ll be back again…
In a love filled house
on the side of a very high mountain,
where Smallest One searches for lost puzzle pieces until he finds them,
I've left pieces of my heart.
And if I'm ever going to find them,
I'll have to go back...
and I am pretty sure that it should be sooner.