By Dara Hillstrom
“My prayer is that God will wreck you this year, that He’ll change you; so you will not to be able to settle for the things of this world.”
These were the words given by George Snyman, founder of Hands at work in Africa, as I was starting out a one-year commitment with Hands back in 2008. I had no idea what that meant at the time but I knew I wanted it. I knew I wanted to gain a better understanding of the things that break the heart of God. Little did I know that this was the start of something that would turn my world upside down. It was over the next few months that my eyes were opened to God’s heart for the poor, vulnerable, orphaned and widowed. I started to see that on almost every page of the Bible these things were mentioned. This must mean that it’s of highest priority to my heavenly Father.
Fast-forwarding a couple of months, I was in Mozambique doing a home-based care visit with the local Hands partner association. On my very first visit in Mozambique I met a little girl and her sick mom. The 2 ½ year old girl bounced around in her tattered yellow dress with joy contagious, despite the grim circumstances. Her name was Nede. I left that visit thinking, "what a sweet girl." But, that’s all it was, an unfortunate situation.
Soon, her mother would become more ill and unable to take care of Nede on her own. I started spending time every day playing with and loving on Nede. Every day when I walked into the fenced area where Nede and her mother were staying she would run to me, trying to outrun the other children. With her arms extended she would say, “Sista Dala, Sista Dala!” Soon the other children would just call for Nede when they saw me coming. Every night after Nede was asleep I would go sit with her mom to pray, read scripture and just be together. She was little more than a skeleton not even having the strength to walk and eating only bites. Our communication was limited but I always knew my faithful visits were meaningful. No one else visited her—no family, only a few other people from the mission.
Shortly after Nede’s mom passed away. I still remember walking down the dirt road to bury Nede’s mother so vividly. I thought, “Nede’s another number, add another to the orphaned children in Africa. She’ll likely be walking this road burying someone else’s mom someday soon.” I looked around at the other girls from the mission, knowing some of their stories—all broken, hurting, longing for the love of a family. I was convicted. I can leave Nede to this destiny or I can do what I believe God is telling me to do.
As I was preparing to leave Mozambique in 2009 I was indeed “wrecked.” I was deeply challenged by scriptures such as James 1:27 that say
“pure and lasting religion in the sight of God our Father means that we must care for orphans and widows in their troubles, and refuse to let the world corrupt us.”
One night very late I was awake praying about Nede and different scripture verses just kept coming to me confirming how I should spend my life—James 2:15-18, Matthew 25:35-36, 40; Isaiah 58:7; Luke 3:11; Hebrews 13:2; Psalm 41:1. I had the conviction that I could either take responsibility of some of what I had seen over the year, or I could walk away and hope that someone else takes care of it. I then spent the next 13 months in America praying and searching for what it was that God would have me do with this “wrecked” heart of mine, especially for this precious girl who had stolen my heart, Nede.
During that time, I would dream about Nede, lay awake praying God would maintain a bond between us. Having left her in grim circumstances I would stare at this picture of us:
Her eyes, filled with so much pain and hurt at such a young age, but her vibrant personality and her contagious giggle, would not let me rest. In early 2010, God and my family would say, “It’s time you go fight for your child.” I left my only sister in the hospital about to burst with quadruplets that would be delivered 6 days after I departed. But, as they did everything possible to save their children, I needed to do that for mine.
Now, I have been back in Mozambique for 28 months. Nede has been in my custody for more than 2 years. We’re working through a challenging adoption process but I remain confident that the scriptures stand true that “he who began a good work in me will carry it through to completion.” Philippians 1:6. God has used Hands at Work to transform my life—to change me from being a product of my own culture to desiring to be part of making the “kingdom come” with my life. I continue to learn what it means to die to self, to take up His cross and follow him, to sacrifice my hopes and dreams for “one of the least of these.” (Matthew 25:40)
The past 2+ years have been anything but easy. Despite this, even on my hardest days I can honestly say that there’s no other way I would like to spend my life than on behalf of Him who gave his all for me. I worship him as I care for His little ones, both in my home and in new communities Hands at Work is supporting in Mozambique and throughout Africa. The sacrifice hurts a lot, but if sacrificing is written on many pages of the scriptures, isn’t this where I should be? Is this not where my heart, time and energy should go? I believe so. And in the meantime, I have a beautiful girl who calls me mommy.
You can follow my journey through my blog: www.thereforego.blogspot.com