I can’t tell you how many times in the past two months I’ve sat down to write these last few posts; to finish this blog. Mozambique was home to me. After feeling like a nomad and questioning whether I was wired to ever feel like I belonged anywhere, God took me back to Masana. It felt natural being there. After a year of absolutely nothing feeling natural, the sensation felt simultaneously strange and wonderful.
I love the Masana family with my whole heart! I miss them. I miss each and every one of them because I love each and every one of them. I miss long talks with Sarah and Felix’s loud contagious laugh. I miss creeping and cutting up with Edson and Neddy’s big hugs. I miss Maya’s grunts, Melina’s shrugs and Roberto’s big heart and awkward jokes. For a season I got to be a member of their family, and it’s impossible to just move on and forget that.
God was and is so generous to me for sharing them with me and allowing me to know and love them. Im forever humbled by how he spoils me with getting to know and love so many amazing people.
My second prodigal son mural for Masana serves as a sweet assurance from God. I didn’t prepare for it before I left the states, mainly because I didn’t feel particularly burdened to. If you followed my time while I was there, or have since read my posts from my time there, you’ll know that I didn’t rush with painting it either. I lived in Masana and enjoyed the ministry first.
On the flight over I started praying about it. I knew then that rather than a painting about earthly family’s being prepared to welcome these boys home, this painting was meant to be about their Heavenly Father holding and loving them, unabashedly and without judgement.
In that first week of just hanging out with the boys, I considered several of them to use as my model for the prodigal son. The first I considered, sadly ran away with a (large-enough) sum of money out of Melissa’s bag. This happened the night before we were traveling north to reunite him with his family. The second, whom I was rather close with, got an opportunity to illegally cross the South African border and find work there with another former Masana boy. In the end he ended up staying in Maputo. But, in the time he was away, I came to consider the third and final boy; the one in the painting today.
His name is Louis (pronounced loo-eesh). Louis is both hard to love and impossible not to love. It’s a strange paradox. He is 16 years old. Physically, he looks maybe 12. Mentally I’d say he’s a little bit younger than that. Louis is boisterous and goofy. My first time in Mozambique I actually planned my painting schedule around when he’d be there, just because his antics made it impossible to get work done. His best friend is Melina, Sarah’s oldest daughter. Their friendship is adorable to watch.
When I first got back to Mozambique I asked after Louis, but nobody had seen him for a long time. On a weekend where we were away, Louis showed up to church and the members there became very worried for him. That week Roberto found Louis and brought him back to Masana. Louis was and is very sick. Seeing the once healthy spunky kid, emaciated, silent and worn down… well, it’s hard to find the right words for how it felt. Sadness and compassion don’t seem strong enough. But the truth is, I’ve never felt a stronger surge of compassion mixed with sadness than I did when I saw Louis again. He was a dim shadow of the kid I had known less than a year before.
After some testing and numerous hospital visits we were able to begin getting him the treatment he needs. Masana took him into their temporary housing and began looking for a permanent solution/family to love and take care of him. The reception was less than encouraging.
In the beginning of his time back, it was little 3 year old Melina who first began petitioning for me to “pinta Louis”. This became her mission, to see Louis in the new painting on the outside wall. She told me. She told Sarah. She told Roberto. It honestly didn’t take much convincing, because we had all come to the same conclusion. I needed to paint Louis as the prodigal son.
When I finally came to that conclusion, I was instantly reminded of how this painting was meant to be about a Heavenly Father welcoming and loving his son, rather than an earthly family joyfully taking care of their kid. I teared up, struck with awe and reassurance by how completely all-knowing God is. When I was flying over the Atlantic Ocean starting to pray over this painting, God was on the streets with Louis. While the Masana staff was beginning the search for family to take Louis in, God knew already how his family would respond. The whole time I was preparing for this painting and working on it, God knew what its final significance would be. He knew the story we would be left with and who it would be about.
THIS PAINTING IS A REMINDER OF GOD'S CHARACTER, HIS OMNISCIENCE AND HIS HEART FOR US.
It is a picture of a Heavenly father’s unconditional love for a broken son. It is a picture of God’s love for the individual, His love for Louis.
Free will is such a tricky thing. I love the ability to decide for ourselves how to live ninety-nine percent of the time. But there’s that one percent where I really just wish God would intervene and not let us hurt ourselves and others. But partial free will, no matter how minute the limitation, is not free will.
God will not force us to do His will. It hurts him far more to watch these boys whom he loves, choose to live on the streets. It’s easy to wish in their cases that God was a father who powerfully went out, grabbed his sons and brought them home to Him whether they wanted to come or not. But that’s not the kind of father that God is.
For better or worse, Louis has free will. The people he has lived with on the streets and his family back home have free will. We have free will. While God will never rob us of our choice, He is: always present, always loving, always waiting and always willing to welcome us home with open arms. There is no offense too great or chasm too wide to prevent us from experiencing the fullness of the love and forgiveness of God, if we choose him. We just have to choose to him; choose to go back home to Him who loved us first.
Today Louis is still at Masana, needing a permanent solution. I would ask you to keep him and the rest of the Masana family and staff in your prayers. Pray for wisdom on their part to make the best decisions possible in regards to his health and future. Pray for strength, encouragement and support for Sarah and her family as they continue to give their all, to love and assist the street boys of Maputo everyday. Pray for the boys living in the house and attending the program at Masana to know God on deeper levels; to come to points of surrendering their will and their hearts to God. And if you feel so led, pray for me. That I may learn how to healthily continue to love and care for the mission and people at Masana without living in continued heartbreak for not being called there in this season. (The same request goes for Melissa Pierce as well)
If I haven’t said this enough, or don’t say it again, you are lovely. And I am honored to have shared this journey with you. I just have one more post (maybe two) until I can close the chapter on this blog and my incredible crazy year of missions with God! Love love love, MER.
I pace the small room in my mind finding ways to keep busy. I glance to the side and see Him sitting down watching me. He wants me to sit down with Him. I know that. I want to sit down with Him, but I can’t. I need to keep busy. We’re not where I want to be and if I allow myself to sit down next to Him, this will all come into focus. This will all become real.
I know that I’m here. I do. I know that this is now my reality. I glance back over at Him and still He waits. He’s so patient. I miss Him so much.
A few days ago I came home after a week of visiting friends and family in Georgia. I cried as I pulled into the neighborhood; the initial foreboding to a greater storm that was yet to hit. I spent the evening talking and laughing with my family. I seemed fine. I thought maybe I was.
As I crawled into bed that night, deja vu of countless nights in this room, before this year had ever happened, hit me like a strong gust of wind. It felt intensely familiar and I hated it. Tears turned to heavy sobs as I was overcome by grief for the people and life I’ve left behind. Eventually, I fell asleep in my parents bed as my mom rubbed my back and my dad held my hand.
All of the books and mental prepping in my arsenal could not save me from the deep sadness and loss I have felt in coming back to the states. People talk of my bravery and willful obedience in going out, but believe me when I say it took far more for me to come back.
He’s so patient as He waits for me. I’m not angry with Him. And He’s not angry with me. Though goodness knows we could both work up a case for why we’d be justified in our frustrations. Me, that He gave me a love for a people and life and then made me leave it all once I finally felt at home in it. And Him, that He’s invested so much time in teaching me to trust Him and His plans, and yet still I insist on hesitating as I cling to my owns dreams and wishes.
BUT I LOVE HIM AND HE LOVES ME.
I can never leave Him, and He will never give up on me. And so He waits as I pace, for me to come and sit with Him. I am ready to sit with Him. Grief and a broken heart take time to heal, but I will heal. I will be with Him, and I will heal. I will trust in Him, here and now, as I have in every other place and circumstance I’ve found myself in this past year.
Yes, I am different, but He is not. He is still good. He is still in control. I still choose Him. Wherever He has me, I will choose to sit and be with Him, and He will take care of me. That’s who we are, and it’s what we do. My God is a faithful, loving God. He is faithful in loving me.
Growing up I dreamed of Neverland. I daydreamed of taking care of lost boys and loving Peter Pan. I wanted to fly and dance and be brave. I wanted to take care of myself; to play at being grown up while still having all the fun of being a kid forever.
It’s not an uncommon dream. In fact I’m becoming increasingly convinced that the dream of Neverland is largely universal, whether people have heard of Peter Pan’s adventures or not. But Neverland, much like greener grass and that illusive pot of gold, is a fairytale.
The boys I spend my days with came here in search of their Neverland. Instead they were met with a cruel copy. Sure, they spend their days doing what they want with all of their friends. Nobody tells them what to do and they make enough money to get by (sometimes honestly, sometimes not).
But instead of bumbling pirates, they’re running from the cops. There are no feasts created by their imaginations. Rather, they scrape the rice pots from the lunches masana provides into plastic bags to eat for dinner later. And whether they go to school or not, all of these boys will eventually grow up.
This week I got to step into a new and unexpected role in the mornings at masana. Abigale, the US doctor who volunteers here left this weekend to go back to the states for a month. Earlier this week after learning that I wasn’t squeamish and am eager to learn new things, she took me under her wing and trained me to continue helping the boys while she is gone.
On Monday I helped in redressing a second degree burn wound. Last week while some of the boys were cooking their dinner over an open fire, one of them threw extra gasoline onto it resulting in another boy’s leg being covered in burns from ankle to knee. On Wednesday I held him as she showed me how to cut away the dead skin and detect and prevent infections in the blistered healing areas. Saturday when he came by I was able to remove his old bandages, clean his wounds and redress them entirely on my own. (Something I had no clue how to handle a week ago)
Tuesday provided a very different and much more impactful learning opportunity, both for me and (more importantly) for the boys. Masana was recently gifted a good sized set of HIV rapid tests. So in leu of classes Tuesday morning, all of the boys sat while Abigale talked to them about the truths of HIV, how to prevent it and how important it is for them to get regularly tested. At first all of the boys laughed at the idea of getting tested and didn’t want to think about it, but by the end of the talk, fifteen teenage boys agreed to get tested throughout the remainder of the day.
Fourteen of these boys tested negative. Considering the odds we were so so grateful for so many negative results. But, one tested positive. One scared teenage boy who was planning on going home this next week, tested positive for HIV, and just like that, his life will never be what it once could have been. Doctors are confident that there is a cure to be found for HIV, but for now, he will have to live off of medication provided by the US to keep his body healthy. If he still chooses to go home, he will have to tell his family of this taboo illness he has contracted since he left them. If he doesn’t, he won’t be able to get treatment, his health will decline and eventually it will fail him.
My heart hurts for these boys. The choices they’re making now, the kind of problems they are being faced with, would be devastating for many adults. Whether they create their difficulties or not, they’re still just kids. They’re kids who chased a daydream and found themselves trapped in a nightmare.
The longer they’re out here on the streets the more comfortable they become with the lifestyle. The more they adapt to this lifestyle, the harder it is for them to go home to their families. It’s a vicious downward spiral, leaving many unable to get out. While I can tend to wounds, I cannot fix this. I cannot heal the deeper hurt. I cannot make them go back home. So I pray. I love on them and I pray. I joke around and tease them and I pray.
I pray that they will not become hardened by this life and the disappointment of their dreams. I pray that they will not be enticed into the lifestyle that is so common among them, and for those who are already in it, I pray for the desire and strength to get out. I pray for homes eager to welcome them back, and the desire to return to them. I pray that God miraculously bring good out of this in each of their lives. I pray that they come to know God intimately for themselves. I pray that they know they still have hope, they can still have a better future. I pray that the enemy stop winning victories in these children’s lives. I pray that they see his lies for what they are, empty promises and dangerous traps. I pray that they stop giving into the easy temptations haphazardly strewn around their feet. I pray for supernatural protection, physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually. I pray for redemption. I pray for restoration. I pray for God to have his way.
Last week we had children’s day, a national holiday similar to Christmas here in Mozambique. For the day we took over 50 street boys to the local water park. The day was fun and carefree. The boys were goofy and hyper, like any other kids would be if they got to spend a day at the water park with all of their friends. During that time it was easy for me to forget the lives that these boys live every other day.
When we got back to masana after a big tasty lunch, the younger boys lined up and received presents filled with radios, flashlights, tee-shirts, snacks and candy. A little bit later the older boys lined up to receive the same presents. What I didn’t realize at the time was that the leaders were giving the little ones a five minute head start to get as far away as they could.
With such a wide range of ages on the street, it makes sense that hierarchies are formed based off of strength and age. The younger boys are often beat up and robbed until they hit their growth spurt and get to shift roles. Thus the head start to get a chance to enjoy or hide their gifts before the older boys caught up.
The other day as I was sitting with a handful of boys while they ate their lunch, something expected happened, and then something unexpected followed.
One of the little ones sat down with his milk, rice and fish. Before he got a chance to eat the first bite, the bigger kid next to him (with a bit of a nasty streak) reached over and grabbed a handful of rice and dropped it onto his own plate. The little boy reacted by immediately reaching over to grab his rice back.
The expected ensued.
A plate was flung in the air. A cup of milk knocked over. The little boy ran. The bigger kid followed. One bigger kid tried to hold the other off. He pulled away and caught up with the younger. A loud smack, a sharp cry and the little boy was left standing amidst scattered rice, hurt, hungry and humiliated.
The bigger kid was sent away for the day and the little one sat back down at the table with no food or drink.
Then the unexpected.
One of the older boys I’m closest with took one more bite of his fish and then casually passed his nearly full plate over to the wounded kid. He bashfully started eating. Then some of the other kids picked up his empty cup. One by one, four or five different boys poured a little bit of their own milk into his cup until they all had the same amount left to drink.
There was no show to their generosity, no expectation on his part. It was just genuine brokenness being met by genuine understanding and love.
It’s so easy for the world to look at these boys and see young addicts and thieves, hopeless causes. But when you take the time to get to know them, when you watch them when they dont know they’re being watched, sometimes they surprise you. Sometimes they teach you. There is so much good to be fostered in these young kids. They aren’t hopeless causes. They’re just lost boys, learning how to interact with the world and each other under terrible circumstances