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.