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.