Chris Bedford is Senior Pastor at Greenfinch Church in Ipswich. A team from his church recently visited the Chilabula community in the Copperbelt region of Zambia and this is his story:
I guess there are just a few moments in life when something strikes you so hard that you feel totally powerless and useless.
Cue day 2 of my fortnight in Zambia, visiting homes in Chilabula, the village that our church has “adopted”. The harsh realities of everyday Zambian life hit me today like a runaway freight train.
Several homes had been visited the day before and already today – what was immediately noticeable was that there was a distinct lack of young men everywhere we went. All the families visited were led by women and the 20 to 45 year old men were simply missing. There was talk about how many had been lost to illness (no-one ever mentioned “HIV”).
It had the potential to be overwhelmingly sad and yet somehow it didn’t hit home that hard.
Then it happened. Having walked quite a way through the bush we arrived at a clearing where a typical African house was located - straw roof, mud walls, surrounded by a sandy, barren area. On the sandy ground lay an older man, unkempt and distinct for wearing a huge thick coat despite the fact that we sweltered in the 33 degree heat.
He sat up but wasn’t for talking much. This part of his story was that he had been left to bring up 4 children, despite the fact that he blatantly struggled to look after himself.
Two of the children were being “sponsored” by our church so a worker was dispatched to find them.
Duly they trooped in to the clearing.
Just that morning we had played with kids who looked the same - no shoes, ragged clothes, but who played with great joy and gusto and huge smiles. These 2 were different - shoulders slumped and deadpan faces. They sat down and we tried to engage them in a game of “catch ball”.
Eventually there was the merest flicker of a smile from David, a 6 year old boy. No more than a flicker and yet enough to stir hope in me for him.
Stephen was a different story. Just 3 years old, his face never changed. It is hard to describe – it was sullen, fearful, confused, even morbid. There was nothing that was going to crack this face. Nothing.
Then the harsh truth emerged – his mother had died 3 months ago – leaving him with 3 older siblings and a grandfather.
How does a 3 year old even begin to comprehend where mum is, who will take of him, where his next meal is coming from? Perhaps even worse, where does he get hugs from and who kisses him goodnight?
I could try to rationalise it by acknowledging that we help provide food, education and medicine for Stephen but it makes no sense when you look into the eyes of a confused, frightened, lonely child.
Stephen broke my heart.
Can we stand by and simply watch this happen? As Matt Redman wrote “there must be more than this”.
Mark 9:37 (The Message). (Jesus speaking): “Whoever embraces one of these children as I do embraces me, and far more than me – God who sent me.”