We sat around a table… a recent high-school graduate trying to find where she fits in this world, a pastor’s wife with two little ones living in a partially completed home, and me, the fair-skinned Texan who doesn’t speak the same first language.
We ordered two milkshakes and a cup of tea.
We are getting ready to work together on a deeper level and reach out for more in the community they call home. It started with just a few ideas on how we can love together. How the church can be the Church, whether we are driving in from the Ten Thousand Homes base or walking in through the community that’s always been home.
We agreed on these things:
There are no orphans in the Church.
There are no widows in the Church.
There are no sick, no hungry, no thirsty.
And then it got personal.
I pulled out my notebook and said, “Ok, where do we start?”
The milkshakes and the cup of tea were almost finished, but we were just beginning.
Almost in unison, we nodded our heads and said, “Esther.”
|Esther with her babies at Sunday Lunch last month|
Esther’s life story is one of abuse, being orphaned, being sick, and being overwhelmed by her children that she struggles to care for. She has been completely rejected by all surviving members of her family; mental impediments that have left her repeatedly victimized to sexual abuse and disregard; she has no place to call home and no will to live.
It’s easy to write her name in the notebook. And to nod over milkshakes and tea.
But, when all the babies are crying and dirty, and a mother just can’t respond…
When you take them to a social worker, and she just shakes her head, says, “This is a disaster,” and then stops answering your phone calls…
When you try to supplement her food supply, and somehow the kids are still hungry…
It gets ugly. And putrid. And disheartening. And feels like a viscous cycle on repeat.
So, “What about Esther?” I asked.
Esther has never been into town for a milkshake or a cup of tea.
And no milkshake and no cup of tea could restore hope, health or her future.
But these women who were from the same place as Esther, and who bore the hope, health and inheritance of Christ, started telling stories. They talked about how Esther used to care for twins in the church before she had her own. They talked about how she was capable of caring for them. They said that, in their culture, people believe that if you have twins, one should probably die – almost like it was ok to lose one child because there is another one. When God gave Esther twins, they were all sick. And no one thought the babies, maybe not even Esther, would make it.
We look at her now and the see 20-month old twins with severe emotional and physical setbacks. One has just learned to walk; one to crawl; and they are saying their first words.
The women I sat with leaned over the table like they were telling their best-kept secrets, and I heard the first words of hope I’ve ever heard from a local South African about Esther:
“God trusted her with those twins. He knew she could do it. And one day we want to see her in her own home, with her own yard, walking around watching her children play.”
Before I could finish paying the tab, the girl who prays for direction and the mom who longs for rest had planned the most extravagant surprise birthday party for Esther.
Somewhere, in the middle of those milkshakes and that cup of tea, the purpose crossed over from survivor love to extravagant love.
From weariness to whimsy.
From the vantage point of desperate need to that of abundant riches.
The three tired women who had arrived in my big red Condor, reloaded as giggly schoolgirls talking about baking cakes and bathing babies. I asked them how we could keep from getting weary of doing good. The answer was obvious to them:
More milkshakes and tea.
Tell the stories until they change.
Drink the Truth, and then go live it.