Today was a day full of changed plans and it was amazing. The morning started out with 22 team members lined up in various assembly lines to put together birthday gift bags. Whether we ran out of a particular supply, were making several hundred more gift bags than originally anticipated, or were even having to account for space in the van for ourselves and the added supplies, I watched our team change plans on a dime and make it work. We first went to Caring Heart Orphanage where each day this week we encountered hundreds more children than we had been told would be there. What we saw today were only about a hundred kids; the others had gone out into the village to work as it was the weekend. We had planned a birthday celebration for hundreds but no one was home! While our incredible leaders came up with a new game plan I was able to tour the campus. I found the clinic where Nurse Rosa eagerly gave me a tour. In the back room two children, about nine years of age, were being treated for Malaria. They had IV drips and Rosa told me about their symptoms and how much they had cried yesterday. Today, however, they were smiling and much better. The best part though was seeing them tucked so safely into brand new sheets, with the thick blanket pulled up to their chins. Even in their sickness they were so very happy for their new bedding. As we prepared to depart, to go to Africa Greater Life, Pastor Paul prayed over us with the children who were present. Then he asked the children to pray over us. Several of us were moved to tears as the soft voices of these children, arms raised, murmured their blessings for us in their own language.
When we arrived at Africa Greater Life we were greeted with smiling faces, all of whom have become familiar and known to the team. It was amazing to watch the children gravitate to the team members to whom they had become most comfortable, as a child goes to their parent. Hand in hand we filed into the chapel and worship began. After listening to the children sing stirring songs I had the blessing of presenting the worship message. I spoke about creation and about how God created them wonderfully and in His image. That led us to the birthday celebration, for which we explained what a birthday is and that it is the day God created them. Many of the children did not know when their birthday is, only their birth year, but they all delighted in celebrating their creation! First the children received Bibles, being called one by one by name. To many of these children, this Bible is literally their sole possession. I was filled with awe and joy as I watched the children disperse with their new treasure, flip through the pages, and smell the fresh ink. And using a pen they received in their gift bag, each child wrote his or her name in the front cover of the Book.
Also in their gift bags were hand mirrors. I saw excitement and wonder as these children gazed at themselves. There are no mirrors for these children or photographs of them. They don’t get to stare into their own eyes and memorize their sweet smiles.
After the celebration we had the opportunity to sit with the children with their new goodies. I spent some time with a few young boys talking about their new Bibles and reading scripture to them. I was able to take my worship notes and show them where in the Bible I found the message and I gave that note to them to use as a bookmark. One boy I spent some time with was nine year old Ezera. I was amused that first he wanted me to write my phone number in the front of his Bible. I drew him a smiley face and wrote a note instead. And he really wanted my sunglasses but rather, I gave him my peanut butter crackers and an empty Ziploc bag. Finally he told me that he wants me to sponsor him. I asked him what that means and he told me he wants to come to my home and he asked me about my boy. It struck me how tangibly these children understand that there is a different norm than that which they know. At least this boy understands that sometimes someone could come and take them home. All I could do was explain how happy I was that I got to spend this week with him and how glad I am that he can know Jesus’ love every time he sleeps in his new bed and reads his new Bible. I will pray for Ezera that someone who can give him a home will find him one day.