Today as I drove into the township there was a buzz of activity. As I passed by the usually empty World Cup soccer practice stadium, I could hear a local pastor shouting out his encouragements to his congregation on the loudspeaker. The ladies were crossing over the street to the water pump to do their washing. The children were playing in the street with the bread loaf packages filled with air -instant soccer balls. The little Down’s Syndrome boy was standing waving to us with a huge grin on his face. That was about all he had on – as usual. I had not seen him in a month or so and he had grown taller.
As we walked up the dirt hill I saw children shoveling up the rubbish into the front part of an old tube tv. I wondered if they were doing this to clean up the neighborhood or if they just enjoyed having something to do. Either way, the place was getting cleaned up which was a rare sight! As I rounded the corner behind the house, I saw one of the neighborhood boys about 11 years old scrubbing the stairs that lead up to the toilet. Wow, two sets of children cleaning today.
Many of the Sunday school children had already gathered to play at our door. They were always there waiting, hoping that we would come. I had been away for several weeks and I felt like I was returning back to where I belonged. I had missed being here and seeing these kids!
Eventually we had about 20 kids come to join us as Antonia began to sing the zulu hymns. She is a member of our church who owns the house in Clermont where we meet. After a few songs, she leads a prayer. All the children have their hands folded and their eyes closed, except for little Kwanda. He is always busy and into something and the local ladies call him “naughty.” His sister who is about 10 is his caregiver. His mom is not around and there is an aunt in the neighborhood, but this 10 year old girl is the mom. I feel distinctly called in Clermont to focus on Kwanda and these little ones. To hug them, smile at them and recognize that they are full of life and zeal and have no one to direct where it should properly go. I look around at the children and what they are wearing. Their clothes are tattered and too small. Kwanda has on pants and when they fall down I can see some semblance of underwear- the top elastic waistband and the bottom part around his legs, there is nothing there covering his bum in between.
Another little boy about 2 years comes in part way through the lesson. He has a huge grin and seems very curious. Immediately all the children start gagging and holding their noses because he stinks so bad. Apparently he needs his nappy changed. Antonia opens up the door to air out the room and we continue on. I am teaching the lesson of Jesus’ first miracle, when he came to the wedding feast and turns the water to wine. We have appointed two children to be the bride and groom and all the other children pretend to be the guests. They come one by one to wash their hands in a small tupperware container in water that has been fetched from down the hill. I ask them to imagine these are huge waterpots that could hold the amount of water in a bathtub.
They all sit back down and we tell them that they are at a big feast and there is an abundance of food everywhere. We give them 2 biscuits(cookies) today and their eyes get big as they usually only get one. And they usually have to wait until after class. They eat and eat and as I expected, it becomes a big distraction to the lesson. I tell them that at a wedding feast people would be talking and laughing very loud and I ask them to do this. They look at me as if I’m crazy! I laugh and laugh and finally a few them start smiling and one older, clever boy catches on and begins to laugh.
Once we calm down the crowd then we tell them about how we have run out of wine! We ask if anyone knows how wine is made. One boy says he has seen it on tv, but cannot remember where it comes from. I take a picture off of the wall of a bunch of grapes and put it on the floor and stomp it – telling the kids that that is how you make wine. They don’t seem to believe me. Out comes grape juice I say. Then you put it into a glass bottle and put a cork in it and then you wait and wait and wait, sometimes for years. I pull out the memorial wine bottle and ask them to smell. YUCK they say – doesn’t smell like grape juice! We talk about what a miracle it was for Jesus to have made wine not from grapes, but from water, not in years, but in seconds and not just any wine, but the BEST wine that they had tasted! How generous is our Lord Jesus!
We finish up the lesson by coloring in a page about the story. The kids are all over the floor coloring – there are no tables to use. They enjoy it and take great detail to finish their work. My 7 year old son is excited to be here and wants to serve up the juice. He used to complain every week we would come – it’s dirty mom, they smell, I don’t like it here. Now he comments that he’s sad how torn their clothes are and wonders if they have enough to eat today.
At the break when they are playing he comes to get me because little Kwanda has fallen and hurt his nose. “I didn’t touch his blood mom, I came to get you.” They learn early here about the hardships of life that HIV brings. Poor little Kwanda is there bleeding and I think, wow, I don’t have any gloves either. It’s just a little nose bleed, so I quickly get my hand sanitizer, kleenex and bandaid, which is all the semblance of a first aid kit that I have on me. Note to self, get a first aid kit and gloves for the car and the building. I say a prayer asking God what I should do, then come around to help. Antonia has already started cleaning him up. Once again the situation is resolved by God for me when I ask. I say a prayer of thanks and think about this little boy and how there is no mom to kiss his hurts.
We get ready for our main church service. The regulars show up and we have 6 including Cam and me. He has brought Siphiwe, our teacher from the Bible Education Centre to give the talk today. Then 2 more visitors come in. The little boy with the stinky nappy decides to join us again. He seems to have been changed, so sitting by him is more pleasant. He chooses the chair next to me and climbs up. My son is sitting on my left coloring, so I give the other boy some colors and he enjoys them. I notice he has on 2 different shoes and that his hands are extremely dry and cracking- almost looking like an old man’s shriveled hands. It makes me think about how fast aging comes to those who are impoverished and neglected.
He is surprisingly quiet through the talk until he yells out Unkulunkulu! Someone was reading a passage from the Bible in zulu and said unkulunkulu, the zulu word for God. Wow – He was listening! There goes God confirming my theory that children in the service always pick up on something! One of the gogos (grannies) behind him whacks him on the head to be quiet. “Shame,” I think – I love what he yelled out! He eventually wanders back outside as our meeting draws to a close. There are many songs, prayers and encouraging passages of scriptures read. Most of our attendees have just returned from our annual Bible conference so we are especially enthusiastic.
As we turn to welcome our visitors that have come in, I meet a lady with a gorgeous baby girl on her back. Emmanuel, one of the members, tells me that she is the lady that lives next door whose husband is bedridden by AIDS and that she is very sick from it. They don’t have money to feed the baby and have been giving her mealie meal (corn meal) in a bottle with water. There is a great misconception here that the mothers with HIV cannot breastfeed their babies, so they go uneducated and in fear and aren’t able to feed their babies properly.
As we gather around her to assess her situation I am amazed at how big and heavy this problem seems and then with all of us working together in multiple languages, from multiple experiences, backgrounds, countries and cultures, we are able to come to a good plan of action for her. The other visitor that came today gives her 10 rand for taxi fare to the government social services office. Cam has recently worked with this office in another case and is able to save her 300 rand (3 days wages) for an unneeded taxi fare back to zululand. I offer to get a food parcel and can of formula for her and Funo offers to bring it back by and help her fill out the forms. The neighbor friend that attends her church originally found out her problem and has been buying formula for her out of her much needed money. When we leave there she is encouraged and relieved and not only have we helped her for today, but she has a plan in place to get help for the future. Our new visitor now tells me she is a certified HIV educator and wants to come back to this community and run classes. All of this in about 10 minutes – my head is in a spin.
It is amazing when we see how so many things come together if we are just willing to ask God to guide us. As I was going into the store to buy the formula, I run into a sister from another Durban meeting. We chat for a moment and I tell her about my amazing morning and she generously offers up a donation to help with the baby’s formula. WOW – God is definitely providing. As I drive home I think about how much being a part of Clermont has changed my life. How I came here out of a sense of duty to help them and how God has touched my heart and the hearts of my children and brought us joy and peace from our time spent here. I think about the passages we read in church this morning from Hebrews 13.
“Keep on loving each other as brothers. Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it. Remember those in prison as if you were their fellow prisoners, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering.”
I immediately think of the passage in 1 Corinthians 12:24 “But God has combined the members of the body and has given greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it, if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it. ”
I rejoice in you Clermont – thank you for a God-filled day!