You know the saying, “The more you know, the more you realize you don’t know?” Well I just have to preface the observation I am about to give with that. Okay . . . here is a cycle that seems to exist in some families in the most severe poverty: There is no birth control so parents have many, many kids. They were already living hand to mouth and struggling to survive at all. So the minute each baby is old enough, he or she works in the fields (in rural areas) or in the streets (in the city) to get anything to put in the mouth each day in order not to starve. Hard and desperate work easily starts at age 4 (I am not exaggerating). And then the cycle repeats: The parents are desperate to keep their kids alive but many children die. If a 13-year-old daughter can be married to somebody with a few more pennies than the parents have, she might “make it.” So this is what does happen and by the time the girl is 20 she now has four babies who are barely surviving off grasshoppers and things they find in trash heaps. And these are on days when the dad does find a way to make a penny in the streets. Then factor in an extremely low life-expectancy and parents not staying together and just imagine what kind of start kids have in life.
Written in December:
One of our neighbors is a woman who has no husband and many, many children, all with different fathers. One way to feed her children is to have a man in the house – a new man will come, maybe provide enough not to die of starvation and then leave. By then there will be another baby added. Nobody as poor as she is knows their age but it looks like she could easily have had her first child by age 14. I can’t even imagine what kind of situation she herself must have come from. She is quiet and sweet. She always smiles at me. Sometimes I look out the kitchen window and I see her pounding corn flour into chima. I never stop being stunned by how hard she has to work to produce so little and how many mouths she has to feed. Those days she is probably just happy to have corn flour.
When Victor began building the wall around the orphanage it became apparent that her property was bordered by ours on three sides, like a bite taken out of a square. Victor made a deal with her to buy her property (in order to make our wall straight) and then help her get a new house at a later time. We built the wall up around her so that her house is now inside the orphanage. This was almost a year ago and the house is still inside the orphanage today.
When Victor and I returned from the U.S. last September I was sitting outside under a tree one day, watching the kids play, and I noticed a few boys who are not part of the orphanage in the midst of a very wild soccer game. The tallest boy was playing very rough and I remember thinking I will be happy when the wall is finished and has a gate that will close so that bad neighbor kids won’t come in and mess up our kids’ nice, peaceful soccer games. Serving our neighbors and having programs for their kids is something that is important to us and we do have specific activities where the orphanage is open for that. But we can’t have free-for-all neighborhood play inside here every day. So after finding lots of extra kids in the orfanato Victor had several talks with our kids about other kids not being allowed and it stopped happening for the most part. But I kept seeing the one tallest boy (who is probably about 13 or 14) who had been playing soccer rough. I asked the kids who he was and why he was always in the orphanage and they told me he was Little V, the oldest son of the lady living inside the wall.
After that I would recognize Little V coming and going each day – to and from his house inside the orphanage. I don’t know what his mom does to get money to feed the family but I’m pretty sure that Little V spends every day in the streets doing any job he can find for pennies to get food for the family. When Sueli, our wonderful Brazilian missionary friend, came and did a week of Vacation Bible School for our kids, the whole neighborhood was invited and I noticed that Little V never missed a class, game or activity. He was always perfectly behaved and attentive too.
A few weeks later I was sitting in church – our little mud church down the road – and noticed Little V was there! I asked Victor about it and he said that one day Little V had just started going to church with our kids in the orphanage each week. I looked back at pictures I had taken at our church picnic weeks before and noticed him in many of them. Then (and I can not even describe how touching this was to me when I saw it) when it was time for the offering in church . . . okay in church here one child stands at the front of the church holding a little bowl and then the whole congregation sings while anyone who has any money and wants to give a tithe can dance down the aisle and put it in the bowl. So this Sunday I see Little V coming down the aisle of the church and dropping his offering in the bowl. This just floored me and I was overcome with emotion.
And then today – the day of baptisms – I see Little V in line to be baptized. I later found out he had become a Christian through the church, through living in the orphanage wall and had wanted to be baptized. He had gone through the baptism class and then here he was, walking into the water, taking Victor’s hand, professing his faith, being baptized in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and being dunked underneath the water. I was completely overcome with emotion again.
Now it’s later.
We had a gigantic storm and everything was amuck in our village. There were lakes and rivers everywhere, electricity was on and off, and everything and everyone was soaked and would suddenly be having a freezing, wet night after it being swelteringly hot every day before. Everything in the orphanage was soaked and flooded. Amazingly our neighbor’s little mud house inside the wall was still standing but the roof was pretty messed up. As we were cleaning up all our stuff I could see them struggling to dry out their things. I knew there would be no way they’d be able to come up with a way to eat for the rest of the day and I decided I wanted to take them food for dinner. Then I thought it should be like the best food that I had – I could just make a big meal and Victor and I could eat a little for dinner and give the rest to them. Looking back, this probably wasn’t the best meal to them – but to me it was, so I made my favorite – my mom’s Mediterranean chicken with black bean couscous (yes – they have all the ingredients for that here). But just as the last light of day was fading I saw the mom and kids trekking out of the orphanage with bundles of their stuff on their heads. Victor said their house was too messed up to stay and they had gone to find a place to sleep with relatives.
I saved the food for them and then the next night, after it had been dark for several hours, Victor told me that the mom had not come back but just the kids had returned for the night. I put the chicken and couscous in a big bowl and went outside. It was pitch black and everything was super muddy. There was no electricity in their house so I was walking towards total darkness. When I got closer to the house I called out, “Excuse Me?” a few times. Then I heard tiny little children’s voices and then the one responsible for the household – the one in charge of all these little kids and babies – came out to the door. It was Little V and I was struck by how young and little he is – he’s just a baby – but he’s the man of the house – left alone with all these littler babies. I could just imagine all the littler ones being scared alone inside the house and all looking up to him to protect them and take care of them. And look how little HE is!!! And his little voice was so small too! I was even crying when I walked back to our house, thinking about all those little kids in there and how Little V can’t even be scared because he has to be the one that comforts all the littler ones!
Written this week:
Now it’s finally time for this family to move out from inside the orphanage wall. Last week Victor met with the mom and some relatives about finally getting her new place. When I think about Little V – how he was drawn to the God through the orphanage and what life has been like for him since they have been inside this wall . . . well to get to my final end (or I guess I could say beginning) of this story – when Victor discussed completing this deal with this family last week, the last thing he did was invite Little V to enter the orphanage. Victor said the look on the mom’s and relatives’ face was like Little V had just won the lottery.
If anyone thinks Little V isn’t the right kid for this orphanage because he has a mom – think again. One - in Mozambique you can’t exclude non-orphans from orphanages because everyone knows that there exist some kids with two parents who have it worse than you could ever imagine. There is nobody in worse poverty than this child. Number two – I at first worried like what will the younger siblings do without Little V, their protector? Then I remembered – those kids have a mom – she will have to be their care taker. A 13 or 14-year-old boy is not supposed to be a single dad for half a dozen younger children! And then I really realized what this will do for this family. Little V will start school, he will get an education, and by the time he leaves the orphanage he will have a real job where he will get a real salary. If he comes up in the orphanage he will probably end up making over 100 times more per month than everyone else in his family put together. He will be able to help his mom and younger siblings more than they could have ever fathomed. And three – we are now going to be raising up a kid right from this village. Our other children come from other neighborhoods or villages – this child comes literally from actually the land now inside the orphanage. All the neighbors see we are taking the poorest of the poor and turning them out like a whole other class of people – but none have yet come from under their feet. This one has. And then four there is God. See – there are hundreds of kids in this neighborhood and hundreds of kids that our kids go to school with. The kids have endless friends outside the orphanage that they can run around and play with. Many of these other kids could be a bad influence on our kids. But this one – Little V – instead of him looking to pull friends in the orphanage away from things here – he wanted to get into the thing that we all revolve around, which is God. He didn’t pull our kids into mischief, he followed them to church. It’s amazing.
Okay – in reality – this kid has been running around any way he wants, making money to support his family everyday – having the weight of the world on his shoulders with the responsibilities of an adult and the freedom to find any way he needed to get money to survive. Realistically this will probably cause him to struggle at some points down the line. Filipe came from living on the streets two years – he has some crazy episodes that are consequences from that. It will probably be the same with Little V. Please pray for this child. Today was his first day in the orphanage and I think it was pretty overwhelming. I think they gave him like three pairs of pants and a belt – he gets a bed, has three meals a day, isn’t in charge of five small children, doesn’t have to carry water for the whole family, I mean I could go on and on for several pages – the difference between yesterday and today is like more drastic than when I moved here from Seattle! He’ll start going to school, he’ll have several hours each day where he can do nothing but play . . . !
By the way – Little V’s name is Victor. I just decided to call him Little V because I don’t want to confuse anyone when I talk about him or my Victor.
I hope you can even a little bit see this kid how I see him. I guess when you see the situation of everyone around us outside the orphanage it is too much (the poverty our neighbors live in). Taking one kid (from right here) and giving him every opportunity we can – this is the whole point of the orphanage – to turn the “needs help” into “can help” – physically and spiritually.