by Mike Brower, Bheveni Carepoint 2010 Trip Leader
Often since our return to America from Swaziland I've been asked, "How was your trip?"
The answer is typically some form of "Good" or "Great!"
And that's the truth...but in so many ways it's not really the truth either.
The trip to Africa went extremely well. There were so many ways that it went good. We made the trek to Swaziland without trouble. Our team of seven found each other in Atlanta, arrived in Johannesburg with all of our luggage intact, met our contact from Adventures in Missions right on schedule, had zero issues with Customs Officials in any country throughout our journey, and none of our planes crashed in flames!
The technical parts of our journey, the travels and schedules and connections, went perfectly!
Had this been a dream vacation, or business excursion, we couldn't have asked for more.
But something more happened in our trip, something beneath the surface, a thing that was unexpected and without a nice little box for me to check off.
In the words of one of our team, I was "wrecked." I experienced a sense of brokenhearted living that I cannot explain. In talking about the mission, I can relay the experiences fairly well.
It's the transformation happening within me that is challenging to express.
On our first day with the beautiful children of Bheveni, we were able to bring new outfits for each of the children. This was something that we were so excited about. Delta had assisted us by waiving our additional baggage fees, allowing our team to transport 28 large suitcases from the United States to Swaziland. We carried many changes of clothes for the young boys and girls. Our goal was to have at least one new outfit for each, and thankfully we were able to have all that and more!
As the team set out the clothes and prepared for the children to come through, we were anxious about the hours ahead. Would we have enough clothes? Would we have the right sizes? Would the children enjoy these simple gifts? The questions came and went as the children began to arrive.
I watched the boys and girls begin removing their old, tattered, dirty clothing, be washed by members of our team, and outfitted with new shirts, shorts, or skirts, I was overcome with emotion. I could not stay in the room for long without tears welling up in me. I didn't want the children to wonder why the guy with the camera was crying his eyes out, so I'd wander out every few minutes. As the emotion would subside, I'd return to the scene of the cry for a few more minutes of torture in my soul.
What I saw in Swaziland didn't fit in my central Minnesotan box. I had an expectation of extremely different life, but I was not prepared for the dramatic shifts in physical poverty I would encounter. I was not prepared to see children barely old enough to walk wandering alone through the countryside. I was ill equipped for the barefoot masses, the distended abdomens, and the barren landscape dotted with homes that could not exist in my life in the States. What really rocked my world though was something I expected less than all else...the smiles.
On so many faces, and behind so many pairs of eyes, was an emotion that I couldn't make sense of. Joy. In the midst of the most limited existence I could imagine, I met grateful hearts. I saw lives torn apart by disease, divorce, and economic disparity, and so many of those lives were marked with joy.
It made no sense. I couldn't reconcile the extreme difficulties with the beautiful smiles. My breakdown was complete one afternoon as I noticed a young woman, perhaps eleven years of age, strolling to the outhouse. She appeared cautious. I saw her furtively glance about as she travelled the well worn trail toward a bathroom facility that most of us in America would be disgusted to visit.
And then it happened...my heart was in my throat and I couldn't stop tears from flowing.
This young woman jumped into a hole. I wasn't sure what I was seeing, but she casually jumped into what looked like a future, or possibly historical, latrine hole. As I stood in stunned observation, she climbed out of the hole carrying a crumpled up bit of cellophane plastic. My confusion cleared when it dawned on me...she had just found something suitable for her immediate need in the restroom - old, dirty, cellophane toilet paper. And with the realization, I was wrecked again.
It wasn't fair.
It made no sense.
What could I do?
I was lost in a swirl of tears, prayers, and once again...joy.
In spite of the overwhelming need I could see around me, I had an element of joy as well. I knew that I knew that I was smack dab in the place I was supposed to be. God had brought me on this journey so that I could see and know and be wrecked by these moments. There was no quick fix. There was not a three point, formula sermon that would bring hope, heal the hurts, and provide the kingdom of Swaziland with wealth and toilet paper. There was nothing I could do.
But I could respond with love. I could choose to be broken. I could choose to grieve with the grieving, I could laugh with the laughing, and I could cry with the crying. I could offer myself to those in need. I could be salt and light to the world around me.
I could be wrecked, but not destroyed.
I was reminded of Esther and her uncle's encouragement that she "had been made Queen for such a time as this." I had travelled to third world Africa for such a time as this. Not only could I encourage the children with hope and love, I could be transformed by their joyous, grateful hearts as well.
And so I prayed. I asked for God to work in the lives of these children. I asked that they far outlive the statistics. I asked that they be protected from the predators, human and otherwise, that are out to get them. I asked that they would know God's love in their daily lives. I asked that God would continue to work on their behalf...and that He'd show me what's next for my involvement.
And then I played. With the kids. I gave what I had. They wanted me...just me...to see them and give myself. My time, my smiles, my arms, and legs, and back. I became their "jungle gym" for awhile. I got down at their level and shared my smile with them too. And it was fun! We had a ball together. In spite of the difficult language barrier, and the disparity in backgrounds, and all the many differences in our lives, we connected for a time.
And it was good. Great even!
I know that there's much more that God is doing as a result of this trip. I know that the times of connection and play were not overly unique to many of the children. There is a consistent stream of American missionaries that flow in and out of the lives of Swaziland's children. For the children of Swaziland, "Hello" is often followed quickly with "Bye Bye!"
And I know that I was where I was supposed to be in that stream. I know that there were seeds planted in me, in the B-team, and in the lives of the children there, that are going to germinate and grow and produce good in all of our lives.
Statistically, most of the children I met in Swaziland will not live to see their thirtieth birthday.
That's horrible. Something should be done. I agree wholeheartedly. I'm trusting God to show me, or anybody, what the solution is.
In the meantime, I want to be about sharing life and love with these young people. I want them to know that whether they live a long while on this earth, or they are in the middle of the statistics, that they are valuable, lovable, and beautiful. They have much to give. I want to share in their joys, and help in their hurts.
My central Minnesota understanding of life needed to be wrecked. I'm so thankful for what was begun. And I'm looking forward to all that is ahead.
To read more of Mike's writings, both about our trip to Swaziland and life in general, visit his blog: http://www.mebrower.com/