I saw and experienced Jesus that night in a way that I have never seen or felt before. That little boy sleeps on that cold hard floor every night. Broken, painful sleep is his normal... Along with a constant lack of food that is and will be his life for however long he gets. But he wanted to care for me...
Kalende is a deep rural community in Zambia that is essentially a lot of huts scattered amongst the bush. It is so isolated that the children have to walk 2-3 hours each way to high school - if they can afford it, which most can't. There are no shops, taverns, community halls, etc. Nothing! It is just an area of bush where people, who became unemployed when a copper mine closed a number of years ago, moved to because they could not afford to pay the rent and stay in Luanshya.
We were in Kalende for an overnight stay. Night was coming and John, one of the careworkers, was walking Daytona and I to where we were staying with an orphan and his grandmother. On the way Daytona asked if the grandmother spoke English. Negative. Did the orphan speak English? Negative. Hmm! I was starting to wonder how this was going to go.
We arrived at the grandmother's home and were greeted effusively. She wrapped her arms around Daytona and welcomed him with a warm "hallelujah" and "amen." She then turned and did the same to me. I was hit by a blast of alcohol breath. Oh oh! Not only did she not talk English but she was also rather inebriated. Turning slightly desperately to our careworker he rapidly preceded to inform us that she was delighted to have us stay then turned on his heel and disappeared into the coming night.
Daytona and l looked at one another and then plunged in. I drew a female figure on the ground, my wife, and then three girls and a boy figure, my children. My conversational repertoire exhausted, I started to conclude it was going to be a long night. Fortunately, Daytona had some basic Bemba so he was able to get a little more conversation across. We also discovered that Sebo*, the orphan, spoke a little English so we had another little conversational lifeline.
One thing did become clear - we were sleeping in a little four-sided structure that looked like it would fall over if the breeze got over 20 km/h. The larger mud house was defunct because of a dilapidated thatched roof, so this was it - a 2 metre by 2 metre plastic-sided hut punctuated with holes.
The time for sleeping had arrived. So all five of us, along with a young cousin who had materialized out of the night, trooped into the hut. A few towels and some scrappy blankets on the floor. That is what we were sleeping on. Grandma lies down close to on one side of the hut, then the two boys alongside her, then me, and then Daytona against the other wall. Beside me is little 11-year old Sebo. Once we were all lying down he got up and spread a blanket over Daytona and me with the tiniest bit left over for him and his cousin.
So now the task of trying to sleep. I can't move or roll and the ground is HARD. I survive about an hour before the pain in my shoulder and hip gets too much. I rotate marginally to try and get some relief from the pain, but there is no room. We are sandwiched in shoulder to shoulder. That was the story of my night – snippets of sleep and PAIN. I long for the dawn but it seems never to come.
About 11pm, a man comes along the trail talking loudly. He comes up to house and converses loudly through the wall with Grandma. It seems as if he is drunk and asking her for alcohol. After a brief conversation he disappears into the darkness. I am glad for the little chain on the door. At least it is something.
But here is our God moment. I am lying beside little Sebo and I suddenly feel his little arm come over me. What is he doing? And then I realize. He is checking that I am covered by the blanket! Right throughout the long cold night he did that. As the hours ticked by every now and then I would feel his little arm come over checking the blanket edge and ensuring it was fully wrapped around me. I would lift it back to try and put some of it over him but then he would gently return it and wrap it around me again.
And it was COLD. By 4.30am Daytona is shivering uncontrollably beside me and I realise that he is feeling the effects of the cold wind on his back through the paper-thin wall. I am worried about hypothermia for him. But Sebo… All he has is a little t-shirt and threadbare shorts.... and he was giving his blanket to me!
Right through the night he cared for me in that way. And then I realized. Lying beside me was Jesus. Jesus in that child as he shared the only thing in his utter poverty that he could bless me with.
That night I saw and experienced Jesus in a way that I had never seen or felt before. Sebo sleeps on that cold hard floor every night. Broken, painful sleep is his normal... Along with a constant lack of food that will be his life for as long as he gets. But he wanted to care for me...
My heart broke that night in a way that I have never experienced before. Jesus is there in that poverty. Each night the cries and pain of Africa rise to the Father's ears in heaven. He waits and longs for us to care. Somehow I cannot be the same after that night.
By Timothy McLaughlin
*Name has been changed