As you may have guessed, my African adventure is long over, but I'm going to be processing the experience for an even longer time! It's been challenging to wrap words around the second half of my trip...But I want to thank those of you who keep asking, who have encouraged me to try to find words to describe the emotions and experiences of six days and five nights on the side of a mountain with a pile of kids, a ministry known as The Mustard Seed orphan care ministry, and a woman I’ve come to know as Mama Julia.
Our story together begins a few years ago, on a November day in 2011 on my first trip to South Africa when the Barefoot Wanderer was preparing a house in which to begin married life. I was planning to visit a few preschools in the informal settlements of the area, but something went awry in someone’s schedule - I can't remember this detail, but I think I know the reason...it was God's plan! I ended up spending the day following in the shadow of a resolutely determined woman who walked everywhere and took Jesus with her. Yes, her feet were tiny, (size 4?!) but I’m not sure if I could ever truly walk in her footsteps.
I remember Julia’s honesty in describing her struggle in being willing to show the love of Jesus to a certain man…because she had tended to the burns of the dying woman he had ruthlessly tormented. “But what would Jesus do,” she queried with a sigh.
She was passionate about sharing Jesus, and concerned about discipleship in the lives of people who had begun to walk with God. She loved the children God had given to her…two biological children, and an adopted son whom she had found abandoned as a baby and a few extra foster children as well. A bond was forged between us that day, the short S. African woman in the (very small) sturdy shoes and the tall N. American woman in the size 11 crocs.
Julia’s new home was a tiny shack with a dirt floor and no electricity in a village desperately in need of Jesus. The rugged beauty that surrounded her in the region of QwaQwa stood in stark contrast to the abject poverty in which she lived and moved. She had so little, and what she had, she freely shared. Day after day, she gave herself away.
This was the woman with whom I was privileged to share life, up close and personal, for 6 days and five nights during my trip to S. Africa.
The Mustard Seed orphan care ministry has multiple layers of involvement in Mabolela village. First and foremost, Mama Julia wants to share Jesus. One way that happens is through the feeding program. Every afternoon, as school children return home and change out of their uniforms, they straggle or bound up the hill to Mama Julia’s house.
Some afternoons, Bible lessons or videos happen in the living room. Other days, Julia or one of the helpers provides an English education lesson.
The few toys are given a serious workout…
Wildly exuberant soccer games happen around the house before, during and after supper. Kids play with toys they've invented from what they find.
There. is. a. lot. going. on.
As dusk draws near, the kids hear Mama Julia’s kind voice reminding them that it is time to go home “if you are not staying here tonight.” She wants to be sure every child is home before the sun drops behind the horizon, (when it is suddenly very dark and not very safe.)
And that is when she knows how many children will be staying for the night.
Three boys join us for the weekend because the shack that they lived in has fallen down. No one was hurt, but now there is nowhere warm to sleep, and no way to wash school uniforms in preparation for Monday. Their mother is suggesting she will pull them out of school…“They can stay with us,” Julia tells her, and they arrive with their bright minds, quick smiles, and bags of dirty clothes. Julia stays busy at the washing machine on Mother’s Day, and when the clothes are clean… “Boys, the wash…” in no time, clothes are spread on the fence to dry. No one says, “We’re playing soccer now,” or “These aren’t my clothes,”…they all rally to the job at hand, and in a few minutes, the work is done.