Something feels just right about Sundays.
Sunday’s story is about the two neighboring communities Ten Thousand Homes currently works with.
In Mbonisweni, we host feedings at a local church – my church. Pastor Sthembiso is a shepherd, and the youth of the church come together to host the entire feeding themselves. Because of this church Home and the people who come to serve God in His house, the Mbonisweni feeding on Wednesday afternoons feels like a backyard family picnic. After two years of feeding every week, the peaceful and playful chaos of 200 children, laughing, braiding, wrestling, tree-climbing and singing feels like the deepest sigh of satisfaction and a time-tested seal that Hope and Church really works.
Dwaleni is different. Zionism, a version of Christianity that believes you have to consult the ancestors to get to God, and traditional witchcraft prevail. When you drive the winding, shack-speckled road to Dwaleni, you can feel the spiritual oppression hovering like a storm cloud. On Thursdays, we feed 300 children from a house donated by an American missionary who dreams of it becoming a house of worship. Dwaleni’s feeding is no family picnic… The children latch on to whoever will touch them, fight to lick the empty pots after the food is gone, and their version of “playing house” is a horribly violent reflection into what they are probably avoiding going home to.
Just a few miles apart from each other.
It’s been an uphill battle to build relationships in Dwaleni without a church.
And then God opened doors to an incredible family. I asked Mama Charity if I could be part of her family, and she said yes. With no previous framework on family, besides the one that beat her and abandoned her, she had no idea what she was getting into with me.
What started with a baby and a bath bucket in the back of a truck in October 2011, has become trust that defies shame, laughter that trumps tears, and a little crack in the door of Truth.
After 5 months of regular visits, health care, hide-and-seek, baby-kissing, snack-bearing, and rescue missions, Mama Charity asked to come to church with me. ABSOLUTELY!
And then she asked for a Bible in her language. YEEEHAWWW!
For the past two months, I’ve loaded…overloaded… the little blue Mazda with Mama Charity’s family of five, plus their cousins Nandi and Tommy, plus Busi and her baby. We roll that heavy car right over a mountain and into the yard of Mbonisweni Evangelical Reform Church, where everyone instantly feels at home.
Maybe it started as an exciting outing and a car ride.
|If you could see past Lifa's crazy-face from last week, you would count TWELVE in the Mazda!|
But then an elder from the church gave Mama Charity and Busi a bag of clothes for their children.
And Pastor Sthembiso welcomed them to the front of the church and blessed the children, calling them each by name and declaring the church would welcome and care for them.
Then God talked to me about Sunday Lunch.
Sunday Lunch is my new favorite part of the week.
After church, I bring that whole carload of perfection home with me, and we eat together. We break bread… cornbread… because something happens when you eat as a family.
|Given and Kevin|
It’s not a shuttle service to church. It’s not about beating the Bible into them and dropping them back off into their empty shacks with empty bellies. It’s about tasting and seeing that the Lord is good… about learning what His Family looks like.
The meal is not gourmet. And it’s the same every week.
It’s what I can afford to do every week, with hopes of inviting more as car-space allows.
Beans, rice, cornbread, juice and dessert – today it was peanut butter cookies.
It started as chaos – exactly what family looks like to two young, orphaned mothers. I was exhausted by the end of every long Sunday.
Last week we had a family meeting. I taught – and trusted God to translate the words they couldn’t interpret – about a family with boundaries, a family who takes care of what they have so they have more to share, and a family who works together.
Mama Charity hung her head in shame the whole time, expecting me to repeat the family stories she’s known before. “You’ve worn out your welcome.”
I’m inviting her into a Family that says, “You’ve been chosen for eternity.”
She leaned in, unable to hide her smile, drinking up foundational family words. There were new rules – she loved them. She wanted them. She needed them. She’s never known them, not a single boundary, and now is 22 with four children and paralyzed in her own fear.
I gave everybody a job.
Four-year old Charity carried the cups.
Five-year old Tommy carried the spoons.
Eleven-year old Nandi carried the full plates.
They cleaned and set the table.
We prayed together before we ate together around one big table.
A simple routine with the power to cut-off chaos and unify even those who’ve never known unity.
Something Family happened. Something they needed, wanted and that we were all designed for.
Can sitting around a table and sharing a meal together really silence the orphan cry – even if just for one day?
Can the spirit of adoption really be imparted, at least a little, through a simple meal served with love around a carefully set table?
|All Together: A previous week's Sunday Lunch with co-founder Micah Burgess|
I brought out basins of heated water, and we all washed our own plates.
The mamas washed the rest of the dishes and cleaned the kitchen while I held and kissed the babies.
|Tommy washing his plate|
It sounds like the sweetest story, tied up pretty with a bow.
It’s not. It’s me, still learning to live and the way His Family does, two overwhelmed mamas who’ve never even seen a functional family, and seven kids who speak no English.
|Busi and her beautiful baby girl|
Like every family, we have our moments… And so many more than that…
Like the one where I found all the kids locked in the bath house cackling and crying like wild hyenas…
Or the time I found myself playing Hide and Seek with Nandi and Tommy – and my team was the one with the baby whom I was feeding a bottle, a huge dog, two toddlers and a four year old whose pants can’t stay on when she runs - and who were all afraid of the huge dog…
And even that one time there was a DISGUSTING explosion out of Kevin’s backside that called for an emergency bath, load of laundry and sidewalk spray-down…
Um, and all those moments were just from today.
But, somehow, it’s still beautiful. And I’m still smiling. And overflowing with, “Thank you, thank you, thank you Jesus.”
Pastor Sthembiso wants to start a branch of our church in Dwaleni.
But first we have to find people, build trust, and look like a Church.
I think there’s something to Sunday Lunch.
I think there’s Church at that table.
|Lifa praying for our meal at a previous Sunday Lunch|
I believe God is laying a foundation for His Family – to live just like the original church. Can you imagine what kind of redeeming hope and desperate love can be birthed out of this church of orphans called Family?
Western Hemisphere, pray for Sunday Lunch as you wake up every Sunday morning. For joy to spring out of baby sounds and bodily functions, for contagious family love, and for a Story and Salvation sweeter than dessert to be consumed.
|Karabo and Charity|