This question has been running through my mind non-stop since we returned home. I have so many stories from our time in Swaziland. So many amazing things to share. I have already written two blog posts that will never see the light of day, because God has impressed on my heart to ask the question, “What's the story?”
Not all stories must be told and others, well, they cannot be held back. They overflow like a fire hose filling a Dixie cup. Keeping them contained is just not possible. They must be told, because they must be heard, because God is in them and he is revealed in them and he is glorified in them.
For my wife and I, our few short days in Swaziland were, at the very least, an emotional roller coaster. They were filled with highs, beautiful top-of-the-world highs, and very gut-wretnching lows. After what seemed like days of travel, just arriving in Swaziland was a dream come true. The first day at the carepoint was… unbelievable. Even Mark and Alison (the missionaries who tend to Mkhombokati) were quick to let us know, “That never happens.” and “You just don’t have days like that.” I met a little friend who profoundly impacted my life, and later, we met our special friend and his amazing family. God was everywhere.
On Wednesday, I lay by my wife’s side in a hospital as she fought through pain and suffering. Convinced we were on our way home in a drastic and painful change of plans I packed our bags, and then I lay in our hotel sobbing in tears for the heart-breaking reality of what was about to happen. I said painful goodbyes. It seemed God was nowhere. I was broken. And then… as it was explained to me, my wife sat up in a hospital bed looked across the room at our sweet friend Tara, and calmly announced “I feel great.” To which, I understand, Tara replied, “No you don’t.” It was that unreal. While this experience leaves me with more questions than answers, I will choose, wholly and consciously to dwell on God’s mercy, love and grace in that moment, because despite the pain of that day… it ended in good news. It was our personal and painful black sabbath, but it led to a beautiful resurrection day. And, as he had always been, God was everywhere.
On Thursday, miraculously we were back at the carepoint. Playing with, loving, and enjoying these little faces. We spent the next few days able to enjoy every moment… because we almost didn’t have them. Everything was sweeter and more savory. Friday was amazing and Saturday, well, that was a lot like Tuesday. It was another big day.
There are so many stories, my friends. Things I haven’t mentioned and more depth to what I have. This is just a glimpse of what amazing things God did in just a week at Mkhombokati and what he has begun and continues to do there since we first set out on this journey some 6 years ago.
For now though, this is a story about how God brought me half way around the world for a hug.
That little friend I mentioned earlier that I met on our first day at the carepoint? Most of you will know him. I knew him before I met him. His name, is Thanduxolo. Thanduxolo is an extraordinary boy.
I met Thanduxolo on a Tuesday just after lunch. Alison had asked if one of us guys on the team could help her out, I eagerly accepted the opportunity not knowing that it was about to be one of the most important experiences in my life.
Thanduxolo has been very sick over the past year and has spent a significant amount of time in the hospital for surgeries and recovery. Less than a week prior he had been discharged from the hospital after being admitted for dehydration. This day he had somehow made his way to the carepoint. It was a surprise, not only because we weren’t expecting it, but because after seeing Thanduxolo you knew immediately just how difficult that journey to the carepoint had been. He is just slightly more than skin and bones and though he lives close to the carepoint I could barely understand how he had enough muscle on his body to make it there. He did somehow, but it had taken every bit of strength to get there, and now he could’t keep food down, could barely stand and certainly couldn’t walk home. That’s where I come in. I get to be the chariot ride home.
Carrying Thaduxolo home I had to do everything in my power not to think of what I was doing, or my little 5 year old boy at home or I was going to lose it. I picked up Thanduxolo, as I did I could feel my fingers slide in to the recesses between each of his ribs, I was acutely aware of trying not to break him. I lay him on my shoulder and he nestled, just like my son when he’s sick, into the sweet spot on my shoulder. He gently lay his head down and, just like any sick child, comfortably went limp and relaxed.
I was almost taken aback at his comfort with me, until I realized that it didn’t matter who I was. Whether he knew it or not, I became aware of it in that moment. It didn’t matter who I was, because who God had paved the way. Thanduxolo has been loved by the individuals of that carepoint through this whole process. The missionaries have followed him and loved him and cared for him. I was not a stranger because God has been showing love non-stop through these people. It was my turn to, in some capacity, be the arms of God to carry this little boy home.
In the song, “Hosanna” we often sing from time to time at Capital there is a line that goes like this, “Break my heart for what breaks yours… teach me to love as you have loved me.”
In those precious moments carrying Thanduxolo home my heart broke. It ached for his condition. It raged for the injustice of how much of his suffering was circumstantial and so avoidable. And it melted at the comfort of this child. It burst at the profoundness of this moment of being able to love him. It overflowed.
We arrived at Thanduxolo’s home. I placed him on the couch. He somehow managed to get all of us laughing involuntarily at his requests for chips and his disappointment at his empty piece of bread. He was funny. He made all of us laugh when it was the last thing we wanted to do. He brought joy through suffering. It was a moment I will cherish for so many reasons.
Days later on Friday, Thanduxolo was back at the carepoint and seemed so much better. He was walking and eating and it made my soul happy. I sat next to him as he ate an apple and pointed out his family running around the carepoint. We talked, enjoyed the sun and I got my first real glimpse into just how strong he truly is. In those few short moments, I saw another side of Thanduxolo. He began saving food for his brothers. Sharing his apple with his younger brother, Wakile. Placing food in boxes to take home. At the end of the day, as we prepared to take him back to his house, I saw him take control, corral his rambunctious and defiant little brothers together amidst the chaos and keep a watchful eye on each of them. I was blown away at the strength and love in this little boys fading frame. Sick beyond words and still pouring out, sacrificing, and loving.
I carried him over to be part of our team photo, and carried him back. We loaded up the van and finally, we loaded up Thanduxolo, his brothers and headed to take him home.
Just outside his homestead we unloaded. Tara, Alison, Cameron, myself, Thanduxolo and his brothers, along with Timothy made the short trek to his front door. As we walked together to his home, Thanduxolo wrapped his arms around me. Not limp like he had been just a few short days before, but strong. Thin and weak, but intentional and strong. I don’t know that he had any idea what he was doing for me in that moment or not. On some level I’d like to think that in that moment God used Thanduxolo to be the same thing in my life I felt God had used me to be in his just days before. As he reached around me, he clasped his hands and he tightened his grasp, and he tightly squoze.
If my heart had broken earlier, if my heart had burst earlier, it erupted in that instant. It shattered. Words cannot capture that instance with justice. I was reminded clearly and concisely, that despite our circumstances the most important thing for Thanduxolo was the most important thing for me. Love. To be loved. To feel love. It is the only thing in this world that makes everything okay.
Thanduxolo was God’s arms for me. As much as he needed to be loved, so did I. I thank God for that moment, it is not one I will soon forget, and for that little boy who, despite a difference in circumstance is so much like my son back home. Strong, joyful, and loving.
And now, here is the story: God loves ______. Insert your name. Insert someone else’s. It doesn’t matter, because the most important part are the first two words.
"We love because he first loved us…”
“For God so loved the world…”
“God is love.”
Peruse the Bible for an instant and you can’t miss it, but live life in this tragic and broken world, get beaten down by it’s realities and take your hands off of God for an instant and it is so easy to miss it. To forget it.
God brought me halfway around the world to be his arms and his love for a little boy. And he brought me halfway around the world to give me a hug. To remind me everything will be okay. To show me love.
I have so many stories to tell, but none will ever be more important than that of God’s love.