Visit 5 - Saturday, February 7, 2015
Today, Saturday, we had the extraordinary experience of watching a Zoe group at its first organizational meeting. We all had been prepared for a tough day. We knew these orphans wouldn’t be telling us their success stories. These would be children living on the very edge. Children with no parents, no food security and no hope.
When we all gathered at their meeting place, a huge Acacia tree near a school, we were a little surprised. There were several, about 8 of the 28, that were heartbreakingly thin. But, the rest were dressed pretty well and seemed to be in pretty good shape. It wasn’t until they shared their stories that we learned they had dressed in the very best they had or could borrow for this first meeting.
Previously, the chief of the village had invited the orphans of the area to learn about Zoe. The invitees were given a general idea of what Zoe was about and if they were interested they were told to show up at this meeting on Saturday. These 28 were interested. Many of them also knew Samson our friend from the first day who is a successful graduate of Zoe.
They introduced themselves and shared their living circumstances and the number of people that they had to provide for. Many lived with one parent who was ill. Malaria and HIV/AIDS are the main cause of death in this area so the illness of parents often means AIDS but there is a stigma so they don’t come out and say that directly. All of them had several younger siblings and sometimes a grandmother who depended on them for food.
They were asked to say the first few lines of the Lord’s Prayer, which they all seemed to know and they went through to the end. Reagan, the Zoe director for several countries, asked them to focus on the first line…Our father who art in heaven. He told each of them that they weren’t orphans because God, their father was in heaven and He loved them very much and he wanted a rich and full life for them. He asked how many of them had been called “orphan,” they all raised their hand. He said, “Now, remember to tell them you are not an orphan. Your father is in heaven caring for you.”
There was a visible shift in the group. They sat up straighter, they raised their heads and looked directly at whoever was speaking. Even though, they all said they went to church, they had not gotten the message that God was their father in a very real way. Reagan, then asked one girl to stand. She was by far the most fragile and the youngest. She was extremely thin and clearly malnourished. She had been sitting alone. He put his hand on her shoulder and asked the group, “What if you all succeed but Caroline cannot. Is that success for the group?” They said no. He told them to surround her and make sure that she also receives the success that they will receive.
They were asked to determine where they would hold their weekly meetings, to elect their officers including one person in the group to act as their pastor, and to give their group a name. They all went beside the school building to deliberate and returned in about 10 minutes. When they walked back, Caroline was encircled by the girls in the group. It was evident they had taken Reagan’s call to heart. They accomplished all the assignments: officers were elected, Tuesday is meeting day, the Baptist church in the location and the name is Karaba or blessings. The name was because the group would be a blessing to them. They also selected their “Uncle” or mentor for their group, our friend Samson, the graduate from the first day.
What an absolute joy it was to see him so proud and ready to take on this responsibility.
In this first meeting, they were also asked to draw the things that made them happy, sad, what they saw in their future and what their guiding principles were. They each shared those things with the group and we were all a little surprised to hear that church and prayer were on their happy list. I was skeptical of that one but staff shared that church is sometimes the only place in the community that they feel welcome. They were given the assignment to visit each other’s homes within the next month. They need to get to know each other and really understand their situations. It was pointed out that when you are desperately poor no one visits you. So this is an important step to building their community and to seeing themselves as worthy of someone’s effort to seek them out.
After the meeting we visited the home of two of the group. They were mud huts that provided only sleeping cover for the family. It was hard to imagine these eager young faces living in such raw and desolate places. It was also hard to imagine the depth of their faith that God would deliver them to a better life. They have so much to teach us about trusting in God’s grace.