A girl named Juliet

village girls and unaLast summer my 10-year-old daughter and I trekked halfway around the world to Mozambique, Africa. In the coastal town of Pemba, we stayed in the Village of Joy, one of Iris Ministries’ many bases throughout Mozambique. People from all corners of the world had found their way to this base, which provided support and assistance to the local community as well as a home and school grounds for hundreds of children who, for varying reasons, could not be supported by biological family members.

One of the missions of the base is to provide a meal to local children daily.  Children from nearby villages walked onto the base barefoot in the red Mozambican dust, the older with the younger in tow, carrying containers of varying shapes and sizes so that they could take their leftovers home to the rest of the family. One of these children was Juliet, a quiet 12-year-old who slipped her hand into mine and sat beside me with contentment while many of the other children climbed (quite literally) over my shoulders, yanked my straight, unkinky hair into braids, and grabbed wonderingly at the small digital camera in my purse.

I saw Juliet many times in our two-week stay as my daughter and I served food, but the last time she came to get a meal she had a baby boy wrapped onto her back. “Oh, is this your brother?” I asked her in broken Portuguese while she stood in line to rinse her hands with a pan of water.  “No,” she said, smiling shyly, “My son.”

When I go to bed in the evening and look out into the city-lit night, I am often reminded that there is a girl named Juliet looking up at a very different piece of sky that bursts with the clarity of flaming white stars above her home, most likely a simple hut that is shared with many family members. Thirteen now, she is too old to get a meal with the other children, but she has a child, a toddler now, who she will soon send in her place.

One of the inevitable outcomes of being “on mission” is that the lives and circumstances of our fellow brothers and sisters become undeniable. And while my two-week stay most likely did not make a statistically significant impact on the long-term availability of food or water or peace for many people, I am reasonably sure some children felt my love and the love of God because of my simple actions of service. But beyond that, I am ruined for living my ordinary-Iowa-life by the knowledge that a girl close to the age of my own daughter is raising a child of her own, that a boy I knew lost his father during the floods this past year, and that another 12-year-old boy we befriended was left to find food for himself and his brothers and his sisters while his father and mother worked far away from home for many days. Another conscientious young man who (anachronistically) has access to Facebook at irregular intervals is praying fervently for his school to be outfitted with one computer to enhance communication and education of the students.

This knowledge is as undeniable as my own infant crying for attention. And it begs for my response, mostly prayerful but sometimes monetary and practical. The G.I. Joe public service ads from the 80s quipped, “Knowing is half the battle.” In the case of my mission trip, knowledge has become a responsibility I’m wearing these days like a heavy jacket.

And I’m all right with that. In fact, I think maybe that’s how things are supposed to be.

-HW

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