|Letting His love...|
|and light shine...|
As for the tea itself, you could look around and see that the women planning it wanted to offer only the very best to their international sisters. I'm telling you - the food was luxurious and I'm afraid I loved every bit of it... At one point, the server standing next to me (who is several sizes smaller than I!) turned to me and said that when the native dress "fashion show" started, she thought she might eat a sandwich while no one was looking. She asked me if I thought that was okay but I'm afraid I couldn't answer - I'd already popped a chicken sandwich into my mouth and, like an anaconda, was trying to swallow it whole... Ha!
And as you can see from the pictures, the tables were beautifully arrayed - yet another way of saying, "We think all of you ladies are special and deserving of our very best. Nothing less will do..." Which I thought was so appropriate.
Except that there was one table that wasn't really elegant at all. Instead of beautiful tea things and gorgeous plates waiting to be carried to the tables, there were practical multi-color bags, plain woven baskets, multi-color place mats, and homemade beaded necklaces. And then, beside that table were two posters with pictures of children on them - children who were clothed and fed and who looked happy.
This display table actually highlighted a ministry called Lighthouse Children's Home; the items were for sale and the proceeds would go to help support the children in the photos. Some of the items were made by the children in Rwanda who live at Lighthouse and some of the items were made by two young American girls who have become "sisters" to our guest speaker and the founder of Lighthouse Ministries, Anita.
To start off, she was an orphan in Uganda for the first five years of her life. It wouldn't be until much later that she would discover who her parents were and to this day, she doesn't know when her birthday is. When she was a teenager, through the help of others, she discovered her biological family in Rwanda and lived with them for a time. However, she never knew her mother, who died giving birth to Anita and she never knew her father either, who was severely maimed during the 1994 Rwanda genocide and then buried alive and left to die. Clearly, her beginnings were tragic.
She lived in the orphanage for five years, at which time she was finally adopted. Unfortunately, she was given to an abusive family who only wanted to use her as a workhorse. For two years she was routinely beaten and tortured and sometimes went for several days without being fed. She never heard a kind word from her "mother" and didn't even know enough about "family" to understand that this was abnormal. One day when she had not been fed for several days, she took an egg off the family table without permission. For that "crime" she was badly burned on her arm and then tied to a tree and beaten with barbed wire. That night she was able to run away and at that point she entered a new phase of her life, becoming a street child in a third world country at the ripe old age of 7.
Sadly, no adults helped her. No officials reached out to her. Her young life's focus narrowed down to running with other street children and stealing anything she could find. In fact, she loved to steal because stealing meant she would be able to eat and survive for another day. She lived like this for several years and it was certainly not easy - even as a skilled thief, she often went to sleep hungry. But the worst was yet to come. When she was nine, two grown men raped her right in front of a store and no one helped her.
First the orphanage, then living with her abusive "family", and finally life on the streets - all of these things served to create an inferno of hatred deep inside her. She actually began to fantasize about killing people and small wonder....After a couple of years on the streets, a person took pity on her and arranged for her to go back to the orphanage but she wasn't the same girl who left it years earlier. Now, as she put it, she was more like a wounded animal who just knew how to bite and hit and basically strike out at anyone and everyone who came near her. She was trouble (with a capital T) in school.
Today she is a student at Harding University as well as the founder of Lighthouse Children's Home and perhaps most importantly, a loving mother to 13 homeless Rwandan children who are now... her children.
How did she go from hating everyone to loving these children?
The answer is Jesus.
Oh, she didn't meet Him in a vision or even at first on the pages of the Bible. She met him through the kindness of Christ followers, particularly through a teacher who took it upon himself to love her unconditionally when all she could do was respond in anger, fear, and mistrust. At this point she was living in a type of boarding school for high school kids and she struggled with asthma. This teacher would get up in the middle of the night and take her to a hospital - not a poor clinic but an expensive one, the best. He bought her clothes occasionally and told her frequently that he loved her. He required her to read The Purpose Driven Life and summarize one devotional a day for extra points.
None of this convinced her that he loved her. Nor did it convince her that she was lovable or even that love existed. Nor did it come close to extinguishing the anger raging inside of her. By this time she knew how to be respectful on the outside but inside she was still a wounded animal, distrustful and ready to strike out when threatened. And she still knew how to steal.
The weird things is that none of this mattered to her teacher. Like Jesus, he just continued to love her and provide for her. And she just continued to go her way, shellacked heart and all. Until one day she found out from the other students that when she was away from the dorm, this teacher would go over to her bed, kneel by it and pray for her. Her teacher was kneeling beside her empty bed and praying for her??? Her teacher was doing that???
Eventually, over time, she began to seek Jesus simply because her teacher asked her to do so and because she was sick of hearing "Jesus" all the time! She finally thought, "Okay! I'm going to seek this person and figure out for myself who this Jesus is!"
Clearly, when she found Him, she found a whole lot more than she expected. She found Family and love. A love that she could receive and in return, give. She found a Companion who would never hurt her, betray her, or leave her. She also found that He is God, He is sovereign, and that, because of Him, all her past suffering had a purpose - a purpose that would come to fruition at some future date. Wow! This former street child had a future! Amazing!
And oddly enough, that future hinged on the horrible things that God, in His sovereignty had allowed her to pass through as a child. As she put it, how can you even know how to approach a street child if you have not passed through the experience of being a street child your self? How can you really reach out to someone who is abused if you have never been abused yourself?
After coming from such a horrendous childhood, this beautiful young woman stood before us today and said clearly, without any hesitation, that everything God allows, He allows for a purpose. She basically told us that the pain of yesterday (and today) holds the promise of tomorrow ... if it is allowed to rest in the Creator's hands. And then she reminded us that in Ephesians 3 there is a promise that we can put our finger on - or as we say here in America - a promise that we can "take to the bank". That promise, as Anita puts it, is that God can do "much more" - more than we can ever think or ask or even dream. That is our God. Then she proved it by giving us several examples of how God has enabled her to do His "much more", including making a film of her life story and providing a home for 13 former street children.
In short, she gave us a lot to think about.
What resonated with me from her whole story was that first of all, Jesus was the difference - He changed her life from night to day. Secondly, her transformation didn't begin with Jesus walking off the pages of Scripture into her heart - her journey didn't begin with VBS, a Bible class, or a video even though all of those things are good.
No, Anita's story started with Christians who were willing to take time for an angry, hostile, almost savage girl covered in dirt and scars, both visible and invisible. And it came to fruition under one teacher who showed this dangerously angry spitfire of a teen day in and day out, month after month, that he loved her without expecting anything in return.
As I was driving to the International Tea this afternoon, I was praying that the international ladies would feel the joy and the love of God as they interacted with the Christian women who would be helping them and serving them. I don't know if that happened or not but I do know that I definitely felt His love and His joy as I experienced the privilege of mingling with these beautiful ladies from other lands. Their smiles I won't soon forget, nor their graciousness as I clumsily served tea, spilled water, and tried to grab plates that they weren't quite finished with yet!
I wasn't surprised at the joy I experienced being around the ladies at my table. However, I was very surprised to be lifted out of my elegant surroundings, totally caught up in Anita's vivid tale and the horrors that it evoked. I've dealt with angry, dysfunctional kids during my years in teaching but until today, I never really understood why they made "poor choices" that, in my eyes, only made their situation worse.
However, even beyond that "aha" moment (which came about 30 years too late), I had to wonder... If I met an Anita in the making today, right now, this very minute - would I be the one person to extend love to that hostile child day in and day out, giving verbally, tangibly, emotionally - without reserve and without asking anything in return? Would I be the one to extend the love of Christ month after month without seeing any results for what would probably seem like forever? Or would I give up and say, "This kid is hopeless!!" or "I'm tired of pouring my life, my money, and my time into this ungrateful kid's life!"
And perhaps even more to the point, would I be the one to kneel beside an empty chair or bed and pour out my heart to God on behalf of a kid who literally hated me?
Today, a young woman named Anita, a true Christ follower, made me think.
And I'm thinking still..
Would I be the one???
Based on my past track record, I would have to say "no".
It's late as I finish this blog and my knees are not in the best of shape but I promise you - before I go to bed tonight, I will be on my knees, even if for just a short time, and I will be asking God to bring to mind the Anitas of my world who have a future and a hope, simply because He lives. And He loves. Through us who follow His Son.