This is the last installment of our intern, Amanda Pelletier's guest blog. Check out her first two posts if you missed them.
Our last day in Cambine we spent touring a local hospital at Chicuque, and yet again I was sobered by the luxury of public facilities we have in America. Though I mentioned it briefly in my first post, we discovered that the hospital struggled to maintain clean laundry and sterile equipment on a day to day basis - hand-washing all of the sheets and surviving off of a broken autoclave that can only run half the day. Clean laundry - something that is so accessible to even lower classes in America, produced a significant sanitary problem in Mozambique. And yet the hospital forged forward, putting forth every effort to heal the sick, care for the injured, and raise healthy babies in an at odds setting. As I said before, the faith of our Mozambican brothers and sisters amazed me - because even in this bleak situation, they remained hopeful and expectant of better things to come.
The next day the team left for the final destination - Sikeston UMC’s partner church, Mucocane. On our way we had the privilege of meeting both Ezequiel’s and Naftal’s fathers, stopping to see their childhood homes. Both fathers demonstrated, even in the timespan of ten minutes, the wisdom and faithful leadership that led both Ezy and Naftal to the sacrificial, selfless work they do today with MI. All of our hearts overflowed with love.
After a long drive on African roads, we made it to Mucocane and were greeted with the most life giving welcome I have ever experienced. You can check out the video at the bottom of the page, but as cliche as it sounds, no words or media can relay the harmony in that moment. It felt like the closest to heaven I’ve ever been, and I think all of the team members fought tears as we danced and clapped with our Mozambican brothers and sisters. It was an unreal, life-changing experience.
The next couple of days ensued with continued on the same path. Since Mucocane raised funds to build their own permanent chapel and construction began only weeks prior to our arrival, we helped the congregation move the bricks to where the construction workers could more easily access them. We also moved sand onto the church floor to create a foundation before the workers poured concrete.
Throughout this morning and afternoon again my own poverty was highlighted, as the women of the church cheerfully carried bricks from one side of the area to another, singing loudly and effortlessly balancing the twenty-eight pound blocks on their head. I struggled to carry one with my hands, and some women balanced two without significant effort. I studied them with disbelief - not only for their physical strength, but also their mental resilience, never once adjourning a complaintive spirit, or uttering a single discompt word.
When all the bricks were moved near the construction workers, our team long ago reached the point of exhaustion. But the women, again amazing us, wanted to celebrate with passionate song and dance. My team laughed in weary amazement as they encouraged us to praise our Lord through boisterous moves and song as we sweated in the hot sun. Our weakness was readily apparent, and not only in our dance moves.
Our last day with Mucocane was spent with many large events - a wedding reception for the newlyweds, the distribution of gifts, church, and a tree dedication. A short backstory - Deryll, better known as Papa Smurf by my teammates and myself, lost his wife Kim in a car accident four years ago. This was also the time Marty and Gina first visited Mucocane. When they heard the news of Deryll’s wife, they decided to plant trees at Mucocane in honor of her. Before Kim’s death, Deryll expressed interest in meeting his sister church Mucocane, but with the turn of events, the trip got postponed. This summer was his first chance to make the dream a reality, and the time the team spent there also happened to fall on the four-year anniversary of his wife’s death.
When we drove up that day, I sat in the car next to Papa Smurf. He’s a reserved man, gentle in his movements, his actions relentlessly displaying his selfless and sweet heart. He always waited patiently for the food to be passed to him last, he woke up hours before everyone else to not disturb anyone’s shower schedule, he focused every energy of being to the tasks Mucocane gave us to help build their church. I never once heard him complain. Both him and Marty presented a strong father figure to me, making me miss my own terribly while deepening my appreciation for them. I noticed from the corner of my eye his careful gathering of camera equipment in the car - a GoPro attached to his backpack strap, a handheld camera in the other. He didn’t speak one word, but he looked at the landscape with an intensity I hadn’t seen previously.
All of us were overwhelmed with the greeting we received, but it was with a greater earnestness Papa Smurf conducted himself, a gratitude for the people and land none of us quite harbored. When we set out on a brief tour of the church’s land, Ezy led us to a small fruit tree behind the parsonage. The air grew thick in the afternoon sunshine.
“Is this it?” Papa Smurf asked with choked words.
“Yes, this is it, brother,” Ezy replied, laying a soft hand on Papa Smurf’s shoulder.
Papa Smurf let out quiet sobs, his shoulders shaking as his hand reached out, gently holding the leaf between his fingers. We stood to the side, witnessing a raw, exposed moment filled with a multitude of emotions.
“You know it’ll be four years tomorrow?” Papa Smurf told us, his eyes never leaving the tree.
“Yeah, we know,” Gina replied. “We’re so glad we’re here for it.”
After he requested we take his picture with the tree, the team moved onto the rest of the day’s events. The next day, however, a truly breathtaking moment occurred when the District Superintendent visited Mucocane for special events. When Ezy reminded the sister church of Deryll’s wife, they insisted on a tree dedication ceremony. Desiring to wrap their American brother in love and support, they planned for the District Superintendent to lead a short message and prayer for Papa Smurf, commemorating Kim’s death. Following the surprise wedding reception that included an impressive cake, the DS and pastor led the congregation to one of the trees they dedicated in Kim’s name - a flourishing mango tree near the old church structure.
The entire group circled the tree, forming six or seven rows deep. Papa Smurf stood near me, hands tucked one over the other in front of him, his sunglasses failing to cover the silent tears streaming down his face. The DS stood near the base of the tree, addressing the crowd as she slowly circled to lock eyes with every side of the crowd. She talked about how respected and loved Kim was, she highlighted the faithfulness and steadfastness of Papa Smurf through the years - how he remained strong in the Lord and what a beautiful testimony his life presented of the Lord’s comfort and grace. She declared that this tree stood in honor of Kim and his faith, pointing to the delicious fruit it would soon produce, representing the yield both Kim and Papa Smurf’s life generated for Jesus’ kingdom.
Concluding her message, the DS led a prayer for Papa Smurf, requesting each of us to join hands. It was a beautiful moment, unity crossing cultures, language barriers, race. And it was so genuine, so heartfelt that you could feel the congregation’s love radiating in the tightly packed circle. I looked up as the prayer ended to see Papa Smurf’s shoulders softly shaking, quietly wiping away the tears falling down his face. An elderly man from the congregation then stepped forward unexpectedly, asking Papa Smurf to step into the middle of the circle. He reluctantly agreed, walked forward and placed his hand on the trunk of the tree. And then the man filled the settled silence with a bold, smooth voice, the entire congregation joining in, singing a warm African melody, the kind that stirs the innermost parts of your heart. As I hummed along, holding tightly to the hands around me, I fought back my own tears.
Tears for Papa Smurf’s hardships. Tears for his resilient strength. Tears for the immeasurable love of Mucocane. Tears for each person I met in Mozambique and Malawi. I looked at the faces around me, and I cried. I cried for the beauty of every second spent here. For the injustice endured, but also for the unstifled joy. For the far surpassing, unparalleled love of our gracious Father, who opened my eyes to this love that extends to every crevice of this Earth.
My last eight days in Africa were filled with inside jokes and sobering realities. We saw souls filled with abundant life and souls starving for it. We contemplated why God placed us where He did - why is it that we were born in the United States, an undeserved privilege from the moment we emerge from our mother’s womb? Why do people struggle so much here? What are our responsibilities for the advantages we have?
I thought of the children at the orphanage, abandoned by their families, their parents truck by HIV/AIDs, children who would never know what it felt like to grow up with a mother who holds you when the world seems too much, who would never know the soft, steadying hand of a father’s touch. I thought of the seminary students, who prepared to lead the church despite the obstacles they knew lay ahead of them. I thought of the indescribable joy of Mucocane, the deep bond formed there that I would never forget. And I just wanted to scoop them up and pack them in my suitcase home, I wanted everyone at home to see, to taste, to feel what life is like here, to grow in relationship with the magnificent individuals I interacted with over the course of my six weeks here. Because I knew, even then, that not many at home would understand this. They wouldn’t know until they experienced it for themselves.
There is a striking gap between American and Mozambique culture - each with pros and cons, life-giving and inessential characteristics. American poverty is real and alive, with 16.2 million children living in households that lack the means to get enough nutritious food on a regular basis. But Malawi is currently the poorest country in the world, and Mozambique closely following - with one-third of the country’s population chronically food-insecure. Our needs are real in America, but they are more often life-threatening in these African countries due to corruption, drought, and lack of development.
My team talked about this one night before dinner, trying to come to terms with transferring all the needs we saw here into some tangible way to help when we return home. Because what you do with all the things you see here when you return home matters most. It determines whether you’ll let the trip genuinely change the course of your life, or whether the suffering you saw overwhelms you into passive apathy. The difference is insurmountable, and critical.
One of my teammate’s, a wise man who has travelled in the US and abroad, told me something I etched into my mind and on my heart. He told me right now I am a bonfire raging 20 feet tall, flames reaching up into the sky threatening to set every inch of my surroundings on fire. But when I return, this fire will slowly die down to embers, embers I can let burn out or throw on someone else to start another fire. The choice is mine.
Last week, I shared a portion of my story with you about my first two weeks in Mozambique. If you missed it, I encourage you to get the lowdown before you hear about the conclusion of my trip.
During my last week in Mozambique, I met up with a wonderful team from Sikeston UMC, better known as the Fun Church (the name holds true).
I remember how thankful I was to be joining with a team once more. As we raced to the airport, I wondered what the team would be like, if we’d get along, if they’d relish their time here as much as I did. In the beginning of summer, before I left for Malawi, I met the team leader and his (new!) wife - Marty and Gina McReynolds. The rest of the team were strangers, or soon to be friends, as I liked to view it.
We watched them descend from the airplane one by one and walk across the small landing strip to the patio where we waited. They looked exhausted, and my heart went out to them, remembering the nearly forty-eight hours of travel my team and I endured on our way to Malawi five weeks prior. I remember standing there, in disbelief that the summer passed so quickly, wishing time could slow to a crawl for the next eight days. I was a little shocked, not believing that after all of this time - a good portion of which was spent alone - I still didn’t feel ready to leave. It struck me how strange it is, this idea that a foreign place can begin to feel like home in so short a time.
After the whole team made it (two got left behind in Maputo, due to logistical issues), we began our journey to Cambine Mission Station where we’d be staying for the next four nights. Cambine is a unique place - a vast area of relatively rural land encompassing an orphanage, a university, a secondary and primary school, as well as a seminary and numerous houses, some of which host missionaries. As we drove Mozambique’s main paved highway, I watched the curious, awestruck faces of my new team with amusement as we passed through palm tree forests, busy markets, and villages. Question after question poured out, and I found myself able to answer a few, realizing how much I learned since I arrived five weeks ago. I suppressed laughter, because I asked nearly all of the same things, word for word. I am eternally thankful for the grace and patience of my hosts.
When we arrived at Cambine Mission Station, it was my turn to be amazed. The palm tree forest was thicker here than anywhere I had been, and I stared out the window with watchful eyes as we passed the various buildings we’d be spending our time in during the next four days. When we arrived at our guest house, all of us emerged from the car with smiles, smitten by the 1940’s yellow, two-story building in front of us. It appeared our time here would be cozy and relaxing, the rooms furnished with African blankets and blue mosquito nets overlooking the breathtaking grounds of the mission station around us.
Our first day we spent touring the facilities - graciously guided by Julio, the Cambine Mission Station director through the seminary and the University. Although the University has not opened yet, our team walked through the administration building and listened to the dreams the people of Cambine have for the school. We walked past the remains of the original seminary library - a building burned down during the Civil War. We visited the secondary school - a place thriving with teenagers playing basketball, learning English, and acquiring occupational training in resourceful subjects such as carpentry. We walked past the dorms, also built in the 1940’s - one of which was the residence of the first Mozambican president, Samora Machel, who was well respected and loved by the majority of civilians. We met seminary students and attended their daily 7:00 A.M. devotional before classes begin each morning - even having the privilege to hear Ezy’s niece preach a message to the congregation.
The day we visited the orphanage was one of the hardest days of my summer. We decided to stop by for an hour unannounced - say hello to the kids, get a brief tour of the facility, and set up a time later in the week where the team could distribute the gifts they brought. I think each of us had different expectations in our mind of what a Mozambican orphanage would look like, but after we visited, I’m sure all of these expectations were turned completely on their head.
Cambine Orphanage houses 64 kids - ranging from birth to eighteen plus. Four women work full-time there - washing, cleaning, cooking, and caring for sixteen children respectively. The facility has a multipurpose room, a small playground, agriculture fields, girls and boys’ dormitories, a well, showers and newly constructed buildings that parallel a small home where groups of kids stay with one woman, the ‘mom’ and form a family.
Although Cambine is considered one of the best orphanages in the nation, the reality of the situation punches you in the gut when you walk onto the campus. The buildings, though sturdy, are in poor condition compared to US expectations. The furniture sparsely fills the debilitating rooms, and children play and mingle unattended. Babies lie in cribs alone in a house, young ones sit hours without having a diaper changed. The four women are stretched thin - working to serve more than eight times the amount of children an average American raises. Though adequately fed, the children starve for physical touch - when the team spent the afternoon there, all of us held a child for an extensive amount of time. I connected with a little guy named Arlindo, who I held for over two hours - he would squirm out of my arms, start to walk away, then come running back again - reveling in the human touch he was not accustomed to receive.
I begrudgingly left the facility when the team called for us to leave, my heart breaking knowing the children would continue to yearn for simple human touch. How can God’s people live like this everyday? My stomach churned the rest of the evening, unsure of what to think of everything I just witnessed.
In my moments reflecting on the orphanage, I realized what it lacked and why it was so glaring to me. Laughter. Smiles. They were absent from the children living there. Their wide eyes soberly met my own, unblinking, unwavering as they examined me. No dancing occurred, no laughter ensued unless spurred by the presence of foreign toys the team brought. Their eyes were lifeless, devoid of something foundational they desperately needed. I thought back to Malawi, where the girls who had been horrifically raped, exploited and trafficked. Their eyes shone with laughter, their smiles some of the most radiant I’ve ever encountered. Even as they worked they sang and danced, and they seemed to find joy in anything they did. Why? I asked myself. What is the difference here? Both groups of children endured unspeakable horrors, but both facilities looked so different.
I went through the obvious - a smaller staff to resident ratio, poorer facilities, an older program. These didn’t seem to be the issue, though, so I kept thinking. And I realized. Every evening, the house mother and social worker at When the Saints sit down for an evening devotional with the girls. Every evening, the Gospel is being preached, digested, and comprehended by each girl. They pray together, learn together, process together. And every night at Cambine, the women work to cook food for sixteen children, they make sure each is bathed, they help with homework, they clean the living areas. And before they know it, darkness falls, the kids need to go to sleep, and there is no time, no energy for the Gospel to be preached. The only time the kids hear the word of the Lord is on Sunday when they attend church. And that’s the difference.
This amazed me. I found it hard to attribute the issue to one specific thing, but when I sat down and thought about it, it actually didn’t surprise me. Hebrews 4:12 says, “For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” When the word goes forth every evening from faithfully committed women of God, it transforms the broken spirits that enter into the When the Saints home. I witnessed three girls who entered the home angry, afraid, and hardened to everyone around them. They had been forced to have sex with ten men a day in a bar they were trafficked in, and after being rescued, were brought to us to begin their restoration process. They didn’t want to engage with anyone. And within four days, their personalities completely turned around. When I left Malawi they were laughing, dancing, smiling, and they all gave their lives to Jesus Christ the night before I departed. The oldest girl embraced me as I said my goodbyes, whispering, “Don’t leave, this is your home now” in Chewa, their native language.
The orphanage needed the joy of the Gospel and needed it desperately. Though construction was underway there, no matter how nice the facilities are, the environment is, the food supply is, if the Gospel isn’t being preached regularly - something is going to be missing. True healing will fail to happen, and the facility won’t reach the transformative power it has. The word of God is alive and active, desiring to move in the hearts of His people. I believe He desires to move at Cambine - if we can find a way to give Him a chance to.
Come back next Friday to learn about the last few days of my trip! I’ll discuss what visiting a Mozambican hospital is like, our visit with my team’s sister church - Mucocane, and share about the special events that went on while we were there. As always, thank you for reading.
Break my heart for what breaks yours.
When I was sixteen years old, this was my daily prayer. It was the year my hunger for Jesus ignited, the year I ached to know Him on a deeper level. Although He took a while to begin to answer me, the Lord transformed my life and understanding of Him, and I’m writing this post to tell you how.
This summer I spent six weeks in Africa. The first three I worked for When the Saints in Mponela, Malawi - a non-profit whose heart is to offer healing and new life through Jesus to those enslaved by sexual exploitation. They aim to set both the oppressed and the oppressor free, a radical, Christ-centered mission. The second three I spent in Mozambique, working as The Mozambique Initiative’s intern to collect stories and photograph members of the covenant partnership that forms the core of this ministry.
When I landed in Mozambique, my heart was filled with the love from the people I had the privilege of working with in Malawi. I anxiously anticipated reuniting with Ezy - MI’s Mozambique representative, and couldn’t keep a smile off my face as we caught up on the drive back to a hotel, my destination for the night.
A day and a half later we headed to the first church on our schedule. Officially on my own, my nerves rattled with every bump of the pickup truck. My pale skin shined a little brighter in the sunlight and my twenty-one years of age seemed accentuated by the bright yellow college t-shirt I wore. Could I really do this?
Soon we came upon Bethel UMC, a thriving congregation that meets inside a building formed out of zinc sheets, inside of a larger, permanent brick chapel under construction. The local members raised funds and began construction for the new chapel entirely on their own.
A group of people waited outside for us, and they warmly welcomed Ezy and I with handshakes and hugs. I entered the church and was quickly directed toward a seat in the front. It was 8:30 in the morning, and the building appeared empty. Believing it was going to be a smaller service, I settled in. Voices from outside trickled in - I saw a group formulating through the glassless barred windows, who then began the procession into the church with vibrant song and dance, slowly filling in all the rows of benches that lay empty minutes before.
It was my first Mozambican church service, and I embraced every second of it - the six hours of song, dance, and preaching feeling only like two. I heard the congregation sing “Happy Birthday” to one of its members, I listened to multiple, beautiful solos, and I introduced myself. The last hour I interviewed and photographed the pastor and three members of the church, and it was then the Lord began to expand my understanding of the remarkable faith of our Mozambican brothers and sisters.
Throughout the next two weeks, I heard stories about men who led and provided for their families at the age of thirteen; leaders told me of their firm belief in the Lord’s provision to not only supply a secure worship structure, but also to provide basic needs such as food and clean water for their congregation. I met mothers who cooked, cleaned, and worked for their entire household, their husbands passed or living in another city with a new family. I spent a day with the most grateful and joyous teenagers whose parents passed away from HIV, I interviewed churches who sat on cinder blocks every Sunday, the sun shining directly on them just to hear the word of the Lord. Church after church, person after person, my own poverty became increasingly apparent.
In America the ease of autonomous lives distracts us. We forget to talk with God unless we need something from Him. We pursue success, power, and popularity over an intimate relationship with Jesus. We don’t see the immediate need for Him because overall, most of our basic needs are supplied for. Depending on the Lord for our next meal is unfathomable to us, faithfully serving the Lord while a sixteen-year, brash and violent civil war wages around us is impossible to even imagine.
The more churches I visited, the more the Lord began to show me something if, I’m being honest with myself, I didn’t expect God to teach me in Africa.
What breaks Jesus’ heart isn’t simply the material needs and deep levels of poverty that persist across the world. It isn’t just corrupt governments, evil government leaders, societies devoid of the Gospel. It’s also the way we knowingly turn away from Him, depending only on ourselves; giving Jesus all of our second thoughts, but never our firsts. It’s believing the stories the digital and social media websites tell us on a daily basis. It’s conforming to the materialism, the idolization of success, speed, and compartmentalization that twists its way into so many hearts today.
In Africa I saw gut wrenching sights - dirty, hungry children; women prostituting themselves to put food on their families’ tables; hospitals without the capacity to provide something as simple to America as clean laundry and sterilized medical equipment.
But I also saw how the people in Malawi and Mozambique have a relationship with Jesus I’m not sure I will ever have. They understand what it means to hold nothing back from the Lord, and I witnessed the difference that makes in humility, in trust, and the way they love and serve one another. I saw their unashamed, unreserved praise to our Father, the intimate bond that shone through passionate song, dance, and prayer.
And I realized it isn’t simply the unjust environments and institutions breaking the Lord’s heart, but it is likewise, and perhaps even more so, the apathetic, pacified Christians that devastates Him.
You see, I never felt despondent in Africa. There were moments I became overwhelmed by the intense need of many situations, but overall, what comes to mind when I look back is laughter, dancing, singing, and exceedingly abundant hope and joy. When I came back to America I saw mentally, physically, and spiritually exhausted individuals running themselves ragged for their jobs, for the ideal physique, for the ostensible image of a perfect life. I became discouraged. For I now knew the better story - the secret that our culture never seems to uncover or understand - that giving up our idols, our complaining and gossipy habits, and our self-dependency reaps greater stability, joy, and peace than we could ever imagine.
I think part of me knew this before I left America, teachings I sat in had emphasized the Lord’s disgust with America’s characteristic indifference, but those sermons never fully pierced my inner being. I didn’t embrace it, didn’t own it yet. I didn’t understand or believe it impacted our Father’s being.
Five years ago I asked Jesus to show me what breaks His heart. Five years and three countries later, and I think I’ve begun to find out.