by 6M Africa Immersion team member Chelsey Morris
Sitting there on the concrete flooring in the large metal shack, all I could see was the brokenness. All I could feel was heartache. It was our first day working in the disabilities center, and I was sent to work with the children. Dinah, the owner of the center, started the ministry after her daughter (then diagnosed with Down Syndrome) passed away due to health complications. She felt that there was no place for children like her daughter, so she decided to do something about it and started a daycare center for disabled children.
Meeting all of the children for the first time was much more difficult than I had anticipated. Working with young kids has always been a strong point for me and something I genuinely love doing. So when I felt particularly lead to be working at the center, I remember asking God why He would send me somewhere that's usually so comfortable for me. Isn't this supposed to be a challenge? Shouldn't I be stretched in this time of ministry? I'm sure God had a good laugh at my prayers that day.
All the games, songs, jokes, and words of Afrikaans I've picked up so far are useless here with these children. Their physical handicaps make most common games quite difficult, and the mental disabilities make using even their own language a challenge—my English is just as unknown to them as Zulu and Sepedi are to me. Without my words, I felt completely useless. I sat on the floor, watching as some of the children spoke to me in their mother tongue. They wanted to speak to me, but I couldn't understand them no matter how hard I prayed to suddenly become fluent in Zulu. Looking around the bare room, I saw paraplegics who couldn't afford wheelchairs crawl around on the floor, throwing their non-functioning limbs around like they were worthless. I saw one older child beating on a non-verbal, non-mobile child who was wrapped in blankets and left to lay on a mat for hours at a time. God, where are You in this? Where is Your healing, Your justice, Your power? How can I tell them you love them, when I can't speak their language? What am I supposed to do here, God?
So that's where I got humbled—very quickly. God told me, sitting in a room of beautiful children—you love them with your actions and your heart to serve. You love them the way I love you; when you are broken and unable to understand My ways, I love you just the same. When you love them with My love, not your own, I will speak to them through You. Don't limit My love to your words. So, I started praying for ways to connect with them and to show them love with my actions. It was discouraging how slow the progress was at first, but little by little, things started happening. Or, maybe, I started to see things in a different light. Thanks to God, and a boy named Bugani, I had a change in thinking.
Bugani sits in a wheelchair, usually at a distance from the other children. He can't use his legs, and movement in his arms is limited. There is some mental handicap as well, but he can speak some and understand language too. I made my lap around the room, playing with one or two kids at a time. I finally made my way to the quiet boy in the wheelchair that no one seemed to play with. I took him a small ball to see how mobile his hands were, hoping to use whatever function he had to play a game. I didn't expect much, but he helped me hold the ball and moved his fingers to get a better grip. I started talking, assuming he didn't understand. When I asked him to roll the ball, he smiled at me and said "Bugani" and motioned to himself. Elated, I pointed to myself and told him my name. When he repeated it to me, my heart overflowed with joy. We connected on some level, and I was so thankful to meet this precious boy. We played with the ball and worked our way up to singing the famous banana song. He'll point to me and say my name, then I do the same for him. The greatest moment came for me last week, when I said goodbye to Bugani at the end of the day. He grabbed my hand, pulled it to him, and gave it the tiniest and most precious kiss I'd ever seen. That was my God moment. In that small gesture, in the way he is capable, Bugani showed me that he cared. Love was being communicated in ways so far beyond either of our understandings; but the message rang loud and clear.
It's week 5 now, and I no longer see brokenness when I walk into the daycare. I see joy, determination, and God moving in the smallest of ways. We're not on the street preaching to hundreds of people or converting thousands by the day, but God moves little by little in small-but-huge ways daily in the center. The language barriers aren't really barriers at all; our words are finally out of the way so that God's love is the only thing speaking through us.
The time at the disabilities center, with kids and adults alike, has been incredible. Please pray for this ministry as the adults make jewelry and crafts to sell, and as the children progress in their development.
Love from Olieven,
CHELSEY MORRIS is a member of Experience Mission's 6-Month Africa IMMERSION team. After spending time on the Navajo Reservation in New Mexico and Olievenhoutbosch, South Africa, her team has just transitioned to Namibia, stage 3 out of 4 along their six month journey. This post is a personal reflection, and the views expressed are her own.