Red dirt breezes, preschool play sounds, a freshly swept yard, and a pot of beans cooking on an open fire in the heat of the day. I love walking into the Dayizenza CarePoint site. There’s something so right about the instantaneous welcome of a full-body dust film, tiny little thumbs shooting in the air waiting to meet yours, and the most beautiful-hearted, happy mamas who spend five days a week giving of themselves to feed their community.
Chris started this project from the ground up with these women years ago and has a special place in his heart for them. When we enter the Dayizenza CarePoint gate, I watch the warm breeze blow fresh vision and deeper purpose into my handsome husband while he cracks jokes with GoGo and plans playgrounds with SesEdith.
It feels good there. They love so deeply and so fully. No matter who you are or where you come from. I can’t help but snap photo after photo of the loving, the loved, and the to-be-loved. There’s a Kingdom being built up and dished out in that yard.
Every once in a while, though, there’s a day when I don’t take pictures.
Last week, we went to visit the mamas in the middle of the day. All the kids were still in school, and the mothers cooked, chatted and giggled. It was a hot, hot day, and we noticed a little boy sprawled on a mat in the sun with a gob of tissue in his hand. Chris asked who he was and if he was sick. He offered to take him to a clinic because the little guy, who couldn’t have been more then 3- or 4-years old, was not looking well. The mothers said that he was ok, but his nose had been bleeding so his family had left him there to be cared for during the day.
The women didn’t have to think twice about making space for a little guy who needed a little extra. It’s just who they are. Those are the moments that make the sweetest pictures.
But something was missing in that photo.
It was a picture not to be taken that day.
Chris was worried. He kept asking, checking, seeking information about the little guy. My husband wanted to help the little boy. He wanted the ladies to do something for him. But as far as the mothers could see, this little one was fully loved and cared for by them because he was there amongst them. When you’re with them, you’re part of them. That part of the culture is beautiful.
However, another part of their culture is the reality that, if a child is not your own flesh and blood, the same standard of care, maternal instincts, and even basic needs to protect someone’s life do not apply. Life is certainly valued, but someone else’s only takes second place to yourself and your family. You respond to a need with what’s on hand and otherwise don’t interrupt the smooth and steady flow of your day. And it’s not because you don’t care. It’s because that’s the way it is and the way it always has been.
It’s a survival instinct. But we weren’t made to survive. We were made to thrive.
We walk a fine line everyday, not wanting to replace their standards with ours, or expecting them to care in the exact ways we do. We are here to find the pictures, the fingerprints of God, in the midst of the strengths and struggles of different histories and lifestyles. We gather up all of God’s images to captures an image of the true culture of the Kingdom of God.
Some things are done differently in their culture, and it doesn’t make it wrong... but it sure does feel different. And then sometimes, you get down, get dirty and disciple because the Word of God makes it clear how Heaven’s culture would respond.
It was time for us to leave on that picture-less day, and the boy still lay there seemingly unattended. He was under a blanket, wearing a jacket and the blazing sun was shining right on his sweet, sweaty face. The ladies insisted he was ok. He was not ok. Not because I have a first aid pack with all the finest products or because I would throw all those clothes in my washing machine right away.
Not because I think their love is broken. But because God loves that little boy enough to give up His Boy for him and would want somebody to bend down over that body and give of theirs.
We grew up in a culture and families that showed us how to do that.
They did not.
They needed us to be the picture that day, not to take one.
Past time to go, I sat on the ground with that boy and pried the tissue out of his hand as I checked to make sure his nose had stopped bleeding. He was dehydrated and hungry beyond the ability to move or speak. I pulled his mat into the shade, took off his jacket and wiped the sweat away from his body. I spoke soothing words over him as I cleaned off his face, and told him what a handsome young man he is. The ladies watched, first only noticing that I sat down completely undignified-like on the ground in my dress. Finally, they started to see there was more to the picture than the extra laundry I would have to do when I got home. They watched my hands on that tiny, sweaty body. They watched me change his circumstances, and they heard me speak over him.
And then I invited them in. I told the ladies they needed to give him food and water right away. They had a full pot of warm food already prepared, just waiting on the kids to get out of school. And fresh running water from the well on site. It had been accessible and available all day, but they just never thought to change the order of the day. They would have certainly fed this boy when they fed the others. His urgent, critical need in that moment was just another urgent, critical need amongst the hundreds of other people, stories and households’ they knew about.
It only took a moment for the air to change though. Suddenly, their eyes were opened to this beautiful boy. They brought him food and water, and they happily and lovingly fed him. Because it feels good to do good.
These mamas are made of love by Love Himself. And they love to love.
Just days before this day, I had asked SesEdith what she would learn to make her life better if she could only learn one more thing in her whole life. She leaned in and from the deepest place in her, she replied, “Teach us how to take care of our children. Our own children and other people’s children. Teach their parents too. We don’t know how. There are so many parents that are so young, and they never had parents. We don’t know how.”
You can LOVE swimming, but never take a swim lesson or be taken to the water. You have to see the water, and then you have to dive in.
You can’t be held responsible for what you’ve never seen and never known. But we are held responsible for what we don’t show, don’t do, and for our tiptoeing around other people’s values as to not cause a ripple or make a wave in life as we know it.
We aren’t made to take pictures of hopelessness and despair for shock value or to make ourselves feel guilty for that $5 latte.
We are made to be the picture.
You don’t have to be in the middle of Africa’s HIV orphan crisis to bend down, get dirty and be the love people need to know about. You’ve seen. You’ve known.
Some days, stop and take a picture. Most days, stop and be the picture.