Updated: Jun 20, 2021
Dedicated to my two older sons, Todd and Blake, who gave me wings to go love another…
“Don’t you think you’re too old to do this? I mean who traipses off half way around the world on their own?” Mom asked.
I was gob smacked! It absolutely never occurred to me that I might be “too old.” Turns out I wasn’t at all.
After a devastating marriage, the divorce being the easy part, I had decided that I could either sit around and continue to feel sorry for myself, or, get up, and get going, and do something I always knew I was destined, yes called, to do. Even as a young girl I was enthralled devouring anything I could find about Dr. Albert Schweitzer or Dr. Livingstone. I read once that Dr. Schweitzer had an organ brought to Gabon and I used to dream that I could hear it playing in the jungle. It beckoned me, and beckons me still, reinforcing that God’s call is irrevocable. It isn’t a passing fancy or desire. It lasts for a lifetime. So, when I was asked to consider the “Dark Continent” after I applied to World Vision, I was in! There was no hesitation. This was way overdue.
I clearly remember the first sight of Africa. I sat bolt upright in my seat, looking down through the treetops, with my nose tight against the plane’s windowpane so no one would see the tears running down my face, my heart whispering, “Sorry, Lord, that it has taken me so long to finally come here, to come home.” I was certain I had come to my destiny. It wasn’t just a place on a map. I had denied this inner voice for far too long. Here was my opportunity, my second chance to get it right. How many people can truly say that? I was filled to the brim with such humble gratitude, in disbelief that I was finally here.
I searched the sea of faces in the small airport in Harare for someone carrying a sign with my name on it. Finally, there she was, Jennifer, my team leader, a young university student from Ontario. With great relief, after flying alone half way around the world, I hugged this stranger who had come to welcome me. That first trip through the city was so new and exciting, but a bit unsettling, too, as she asked me to place my purse in the “boot” and lock my door after I got inside the car. There had been several robberies recently, she told me, as thieves smashed car windows while unsuspecting drivers sat idling at the robots (traffic lights) simply waiting for the light to change. Securing my things and myself became a habit in no time at all. Although it was Sunday afternoon, I was busy looking at very colourful people walking everywhere alongside the roads as Jennifer dodged the many car-eating potholes that threatened our journey. And the sky, the sky was so very, very tall!
We arrived at a gated compound of several houses. We parked inside, got out to retrieve my luggage from the back, then wound our way along a path through such amazingly large, sweet smelling vines and flowers to what was to be my home for the next 2 months. That little World Vision house, tucked away from the world, really quite quickly became sanctuary. Here I met Emilda, our house girl, who took care of our every need. With great reluctance, I allowed Emilda the “privilege” of caring for me until it was explained how World Vision was training her here for future domestic employment. She and her children had walked miles and miles in desperation into the city from a deeply rural area hoping to escape poverty and abuse. This lovely young woman quietly went about her duties each day with a certain alacrity often smiling and sometimes singing as she worked. There was simply no way I could ever comprehend what this training and security meant to her. She was learning how to operate a range, cook meals, clean and do laundry. Ironing for her seemed endless because every single item had to be done to kill the possible tsetse fly larvae.
Jennifer showed me to my room and said I could rest after my long journey, but how could I rest? I was in Africa! My dream was now reality and I was afraid that if I slept, I would awaken from it. She said they usually went to an Anglican church service on Sunday night and asked if I’d like to come along. Yes, of course I would!
Now, if you are a sceptic, you may wish to skip the next few paragraphs. Or, you may simply be curious, but whatever your stance, this is the truth about my first heavenly confirmation that I was indeed in the right place, at the right time.
I soon learned that a family from Britain was pastoring that church and they were about to leave to go back home, as I remember. The minister’s wife was leading this particular Sunday evening service, which was in part at least, a fundraiser for a new set of drums for the church. Several things struck me about this event, my first real African service here in Avondale, Harare, Zimbabwe. Being an avid black gospel music lover for years, coming here to its “source”, was one primary pleasure I was really looking forward to on this trip. Although I did enjoy the music that night, I distinctly remember thinking that a more indigenous version was yet to come. This was just the appetizer. I guessed that this was rather an upscale, middleclass church where the whites sat on one side and blacks on the other, co-incidence, I’m sure. They had a time of greeting one another at the start of the service, everyone friendly and smiling, but I longed for more, whatever that was, I wasn’t sure. I admit that I don’t remember the sermon, but I do remember that it focused in on my favourite verse Philippians 3:14, “Forgetting the past and reaching into the future, I press towards the mark of the high calling…” Then, the pastor’s wife made a truly touching appeal after which she prayed. This was not the typical Anglican service that I had ever attended at home. It was more charismatic, and to me, it felt more personal and intimate. This surprised me, but her prayer surprised me even more. She said that suddenly she felt that she needed to tell someone there listening that God was saying He would settle his or her dilemma. She said she felt this person had just arrived from a long journey, perhaps even from overseas, and God was saying that He was to be the one to make things right, that he or she must let it go. She was earnestly appealing to that person to do just that, whomever it was.
I had been struggling with a legal issue, which would have affected my children and I greatly, before I came here. Someone had hurt us deeply and I needed to forgive. The lawyer had pressed me for a decision before I left, but I said I could not answer him yet. I would try to give him my answer as soon as I returned. Here it was, and I knew it! I did let it go, and God has proved faithful that it was indeed the right decision for my sons and I, despite pressure to the contrary from concerned family and friends.
I never told that pastor’s wife that she had been speaking directly to me, but God knew. I learned a huge lesson that day. Ongoing forgiveness is required, both when you are the perpetrator, and even when you are not, which is often much harder.
Life quickly became a series of awesome learning experiences with visits each day to the orphanage. Feeding, bathing and playing with the children there helped us process this new culture in every aspect, at every turn. Even on the lengthy, daily drive to “work” through the city there was always a new sight or sound or smell. I had never appreciated our own laws regarding emissions until I found myself in this city where the fumes continuously brought on headaches. And people, such crowds of bustling, vibrant, colourful people everywhere walking, many chewing on short cobs of corn anytime during the day, or on bikes, everyone seeking something desperately it seemed, perhaps food or work, or both …. Teenaged boys especially, were literally in your face, swarming you for blocks, asking for “paper”. If a local person “rescued” you, offering an escort beyond the crowds, then they, too, would ultimately ask for “paper” money. I was staggered yet strangely, not annoyed.
But it was the children of Chinyaradzo, the sweet, sweet faces, the outstretched arms of longing and pleading that, from that very first meeting, latched onto my heart and soul never letting go, never. With new additions to the orphanage almost daily, for a wide variety of reasons usually all associated with HIV/AIDS, some so very sick, and some so very destitute, and some so very sad, and some so very normal, how can a heart remain in one functioning piece? I cried for the first week, until I realized that there was a job to be done. My common sense and reason kicked out my sensibilities, and forward I went, upward and onward into the fray. Amazingly, gradually, I began to see the situation a bit differently, or at least with some perspective, or, maybe I simply realized one has to switch perspectives in order to become mobilized. This was a place of tragic necessity, it’s true, but it was also filled with the normal playful sounds of children, and the children needed us.
This is where I met Jacob…..
Note: you can learn all about our adventures in Africa by becoming a member of Aging with Ardor! Click here: