For precisely 27 days, I was taught how to love. By orphans, pastors, teammates, and even actual teachers. It’s so easy for us to say we love people, but do we really? Do we love them selflessly, sacrificially, and to no end? I think we know what this looks like less than we actually want to admit. I think it sounds pretty and so we like to think we know what it means, but really we’re not fooling anyone but ourselves. I want to introduce a few people I met who taught me what it means to love. Maybe by how they loved me or maybe by how they needed someone to love them. But regardless, each and every one of these people gave “loving people” a greater and more valuable meaning for me.
This is Vivian. She fades into the many faces of all of the kids at the orphanage school. It’s hard to stand out when you’re one in 60 something and every single child is fighting for the attention from the “mzungus” that you, too, crave from just any person at all. I didn’t specifically notice Vivian at the start. I didn’t notice her until the day we stayed past when all the “school kids” went home. I was sitting and playing a little game with some of the older girls that I unfortunately have forgotten the name of (and can’t find on the internet…) and I saw her watching us. So I motioned her over and pulled her playfully into my lap. She sat there, completely content, while I continued with a game at which I was already disadvantaged and now was attempting with a child on my lap. We giggled and she would hold the stones for me that I needed to keep. And then Miss Elizabeth came and sat down and told me, “She misses parental affection.” So there’s me, 20 years old and only gone from my life for a month, yet missing my mom and then there’s Vivian, 5 or 6 and just wishing, no, longing for a mom to hold her. For a dad to kiss her goodnight. My heart melted right then and there and I don’t think it will ever recover. I’ve just prayed and prayed since then that our great Papa would wrap her up in His arms at night when she lays down. That she would feel His presence and know that He is there for her. We are created to give and receive love. Vivian taught me to give love without holding any of it back. Because we just never know who we’re hugging, holding in our lap, listening to, or just sitting beside.
This is my baby. Her name is Blessed and she is 3 years old. She actually has a mom who I met once–the second day we were at the orphanage. Her mom’s name is Marielle and she is 17. She had baby Blessed when she was 13 and right now she is very sick. She has chest pains and is having trouble with her legs. She doesn’t actually live at the orphanage with Blessed. She is going to school in the slums where she is homeless and jobless, which I’m guessing Blessed is a result of the only way she can get some money. Blessed also had a baby sister before we got there. But the baby died around 2 weeks after she was born, only a few days before the first day we got there. Every time we went to that orphanage, I made it my point to love Blessed. Most of the time she would let me. Sometimes, she seemed like she was trying to get me to stop loving her. She mostly liked to sit on my lap and laugh and have tickle fights, but every once in a while, she would get mean and would pout and push me away and sometimes even cry. At first, my feelings were actually kind of hurt. And then I realized: The love that she does feel, she doesn’t even know what to do with. She has a mom but she comes and goes in the blink of an eye. She had a baby sister but she, too, was gone soon after arriving. She has 32 other “brothers and sisters” at the Havillah Home, but that’s a lot of attention to share. And maybe what breaks my heart the most is that I had to leave her. I don’t want to just be another name on the list of people she can’t count on to come back. But I can tell you one thing–while I was there, I loved her with all of me. I loved her even when she pushed me away. I gave her some space and then would go tell her that I loved her or gave her a hug. And she still has a very very special place in my heart. And if I ever have the opportunity to, I will go back to my baby Blessed, who taught me to love, even when the person who needs love the most doesn’t seem like they want to be loved. Because I can promise you, they do.
These two magnificent people were our contacts and hosts for the month. Pastor Simon and His wife Elizabeth are two of the most selfless, God seeking people I have ever met. They loved us so well. From getting up at 5 in the morning to make our breakfast and make sure everything is ready for the day, to taking us around to doctors’ offices and chemists (pharmacies) because we have malaria again. Pastor Simon has a church in Kiminini and loves and serves those people with all that he’s got. He and Elizabeth also have the orphanage school. They both have the most giant heart for orphans that I’ve ever seen. They are constantly giving to those kids. Elizabeth is a teacher there and spends her days from around 9 to 5 there at the school. She teaches, loves on, and provides for those kids who everyone else has just thrown out. She teaches them about their rights so that when she can no longer care for them, they know what they are capable of and that they don’t have to be forced back into the impoverished streets. These two also take anyone and everyone who loves the Lord and has no place to go into their home. Over the month, we probably saw 10 or so people in and out of that home just because they needed a place to stay. Not to mention, they put up with 8 obnoxious Americans for the entire month. If that doesn’t deserve some respect, I don’t know what does.
Team Overflow. This post wouldn’t be complete without y’all. I know that “preferring others” get tossed around like crazy on the race and sometimes it’s easy to forget what that really means. I’m not going to sit here and tell everyone that all month, everyone on our team loved perfectly. There’s no point in pretending that any of us have got it down. But we’re growing. Y’all are growing. As we learn about each other and seek to serve one another, we start figuring out how to love each other. How to put others first. How to love someone enough to give them that feedback we’ve been praying about even though it will be hard for them to hear. Or how to not give someone feedback we’re really itching to give, but would only put them down and would leave everyone feeling discouraged. It’s hard. It’s a journey. But I’m so glad I got to walk a month of your journey with you. I’m so glad that I got to see how messy it really is to live in raw community like that. But I’m also glad I got to see how rewarding it is. Thank you for letting me love and be loved by you guys. I am forever better because of each and every one of you.
I will never forget one day in Venezuela when I went to visit a family who had given us a lamb. I went to thank them and there I found out that they had a badly crippled child. I asked the mother, “What is the child’s name?” The mother gave me a most beautiful answer. “We call him ‘Teacher of Love,’ because he keeps on teaching us how to love. Everything we do for him is our love for God in action.”
-Mother Teresa in No Greater Love