One word stands out for me as I reflect on our team’s recent experience at our CarePoints in Swaziland. The word … presence.
As a church we have been sponsoring the Enaleni CarePoint since 2008 and Bhobokazi since 2009. I have always been aware of the value that the kids and the HopeChest/AIM (Adventures in Missions) staff and leaders place on a church’s visit to their CarePoints, but this year that awareness became something we felt and experienced in a deeper way. Some of this may have been due to us cancelling our trip in the spring and the deep reassurance our Swazi friends felt when the trip was back on for the fall. But after 6 years of leading a team, I saw with fresh eyes the difference our presence makes.
As part of our preparation for this trip, we went through a video series produced by Lifechurch.tv and hosted by Brian Fikkert called “Helping Without Hurting. One concept stood out for me: “If you were to ask a group of people in a developing country what they need most from your short term mission team and if they were really honest in their reply, they would say, “We just want to hang out with you all week.” Hang out? Just be together?
Often people ask, “What will you be doing in Swaziland?” “What are you building?” “What will you accomplish?” The answer “we are going to hang out with our kids all week” doesn’t seem to meet the expectation of what the inquirer was hoping to hear. How do you capture the power and the success of a team’s presence at their CarePoint? Well, you have to look past the project and into the faces and eyes of the people.
The smiles on the kid’s faces couldn’t have been bigger than when the guys on our team chose to become human jungle gyms, hanging out with the kids like they do at home with their own children. In those moments we saw the power of a “daddy’s presence” to those who are fatherless. Then there were the expressions of joy in kids’ eyes when they received some extra attention and encouragement during times of painting, creating, knitting, or playing a game. How many kids walked away each day with their hearts a little lighter because someone traveled thousands of miles just to be with THEM? We can’t underestimate the power and value of these simple investments!
Our presence made a detectable difference during the two massive birthday parties we had for the children. There was excitement on their faces when they were about to receive birthday gifts from their special friends at Riverwood Church but there were even bigger smiles when we sang, hooted, and hollered for them as they blew out their birthday candles. This presence made a bigger impact than any gift ever could have.
Presence is not only important during times of celebration but also in times of pain.
We visited the parents of one of our Enaleni kids who had passed away earlier this fall. Six of us sat in their home, listening to their heartache, to their stories of their son, and sharing stories of our own of what S’petho meant to each of us. We gathered to mourn at the gravesite. We prayed. We cried. But we were together.
Then I experienced a very personal encounter with the power of presence. Before the trip, my family and I chose to sponsor another child – a 3-year-old girl at Bhobokazi. From the moment I picked her up and held her in my arms on the first day of our visit, a tight bond was formed. She became so quickly attached, she wouldn’t let me out of her sight for a minute. I found out later that her mother was gone; no one knew for sure where she was. Her father worked as a driver and was rarely home, leaving the 14-year-old brother to watch over her and the other siblings for days or weeks at a time.
This little girl had no mom to hold her, to comfort her, to help her feel secure simply by being present. Now I’m sitting 14,683 km away from her, the CarePoints, and all our Swazi friends. However, the power of presence continues. They are all so very present in my heart, which causes me to daily enter God’s presence, praying for their protection, help, and reassurance that He is with them. Each time I pray, I thank God for the CarePoints, the shepherds, the bomakes (wonderful ladies at the CarePoint), and the HopeChest/AIM staff for the presence they provide on a continual basis. And, I thank God for the power of connected lives…the power of presence.