Sitting with a candle trying to type at night is nothing new in Zimbabwe. The power is on and off and completely unpredictable. Tonight the only difference is I am alone in a house… alone with the thoughts of the people I met in the last two days. On Sunday I went to church with Stuart, a church leader in Sakubwa, one of the poorest areas in Mutare, and the coordinator of the ministry to care for Sakubwa’s vulnerable children.
The first time I went to Sakubwa last year I met Agnus, a grandmother with fifteen grandchildren. They all lived together in one room measuring about 3 meters by 5 meters. The youngest grandchild, Valecia, left a permanent mark in my life. I called her the girl with a yellow hat because she wore all the clothes she had, including her yellow hat, to ensure nobody stole her only possessions. Her grandmother told me that if Valecia had one meal a day, then she had a good day.
The day I met her she smiled from the moment we met until I left. Now on Sunday at Stuart’s church, as I walked into the room I saw both Agnus and Valencia again. Agnus was now nearly completely blind and Valecia had stopped smiling. Both seemed happy to see me, though I sensed a hint of “where have you been?” in Valecia’s eyes when we looked at each other. I so wanted her to come running to me, but she didn’t. In fact I realized she was staring at me when I looked away but was determined not to make eye contact. What had happened to this seven-year-old girl?
The next day I met Grace, who is forty-five years old. She is bedridden and looking after 8 children, plus 3 grandchildren and another orphan. They, like Agnus, live in one room. Ferrai, Grace’s five-year-old boy, sat next to her, seemingly not noticing my entrance. Stuart asked Ferrai to stand up to show me all the sores on his body. I barely saw the sores as I stared into his eyes trying to find life.
I took Ferrai gently by his arm and pulled him really close to me. After many years working with sick people, I knew Ferrai was dying, and I know he knew it too. Giving money to his sister to take him to the hospital the next day was the only thing that helped me to eventually leave the house. Even so, I knew it was not what he needed. As we walked away from the house, I tried to reason how to encourage Stuart to love this child and not leave him to die alone when Stuart already has 200 orphans to care for and his own family hardly sees him. Stuart himself is trusting God for school fees for his children. Together we walked through Sakubwe as dusk set in. We didn’t talk as both of us wrestled with what we had seen in the last hour.
The question remains: are there enough people who care enough to be part of the battle with Stuart? Stuart has many reasons why he could choose not to do more. He lives in a country with inflation in the millions, he has a family to care for already, and he has no fixed income, just to name a few. But Stuart drew a line in his life; he read the signs of the times and he understood that the house is on fire and someone has to take action. Instead of a burden, this realization became liberty to Stuart and many others doing the same thing.
The secret that life is bigger than “me” is simple but profound, and can only be discovered when you take that step to do something big on behalf of someone else. I believe there are still enough people like that in this broken world…people that refuse to walk pass Valecia on the other side of the road. I think they are called “good Samaritans…”