I will do a mighty work in you; not you for me. I hope you learn to rest in the truth that I love you for who you are – mine – not in what you do for me. So, come as you are and see anew the unexpected love all around because my love for you knows no end.
As Forgotten Voices approaches 10 years as a non-profit, we are thinking about what it means to stop and see the unEXPECTed around us. While we expect God to provide for our needs, He is constantly surprising us with his unEXPECTed LOVE. This post will also appear on our blog.
January 2005: Peterson teaches me to love well.
Two hours removed from the closest city of note in Zimbabwe, I skipped down a dirt path to let my 2 traveling partners know I had just pooped behind a rock (boys will be boys). It was my 2nd trip to Africa, but I was beginning to feel at home.
Little did I know what was ahead. Looking back at that day, I’ve learned I was trying hard not to feel more because, honestly, I had felt enough that day. We had visited many people, all cursed by HIV/AIDS and all in need of greater love than I could offer them.
Over the next hour or 2, I would watch a dying woman younger than I am now grunt gestures of love in the direction of her worn out, bone-tired parents caring for her and toward her 2 small children. I had never seen people so poor, let alone about to die. Phlegm in her throat made her unable to offer words of comfort to children who had clearly experienced more pain in their lives than I likely ever would in all of mine to come.
Watching from afar in two different places, Peterson (7) and Prudence (4) fearfully surrounded their mom, almost standing guard between their mother & death’s request to take her away. Yet, they were helpless. She would die the next day.
I have grown to loathe the expression: “I have no idea.”
As a child, when requests from my sisters or parents like, “do you know where my keys are?”, “I have no idea,” would be my response. Over time, through faithful correction from my father to consider the possibilities instead of dismissing the need, I grew to loathe hearing myself or others say, “I have no idea.”
But here I was, with absolutely no idea what to do next.
I had come to offer hope and love. I came thinking God would use me to be the expected source of love for the hurting and orphaned. Yet, death won the race that day. In the middle of a village, in southern Zimbabwe, far from my home and any known comforts, I stared at death, life, and love in the face with no idea.
I wanted to provide love, but I would soon find it through Peterson’s love for his sister.
I have told that story hundreds of times and may one day return to that here, but for now, I move on to the next day. After hearing the mother had passed, the 2 Zimbabwean pastors who took us around invited us to return. Drawn back to the place’s humbling effect on my perspective, I desired to observe it all anew.
As we passed through the intricately constructed gate, a blend of wire and sticks unlike any job I’d seen back home, I saw our little friend, Peterson again. The morning sun cast a long shadow on this 7 year old, making his frail and timid body seem larger than life if you didn’t look him in the eyes.
God was with him. He just had to be, right?
After death is when reality hits. What would happen to the children? Who would care for them? Where was the help? How would this work out? Where do I fit? What can I learn? What joy or hope or love can be found here?
Yet, God was with him. He just had to be.
I had come to provide hope, but I felt hopeless. A 7 year old child, left with a 4 year old sister. For reasons I won’t fully understand, for almost 12 months after, they would be left alone – with their grandparents thinking that best.
Both kids were born HIV+, leaving their bodies at a fraction of fully developed. His sister was even more under-developed, unable to walk or talk.
He carried her for a year.
For 12 months, Peterson carried her on his back for about 2 miles to the local hospital, dropped her off for physical therapy and speech coaching, and continued on to school. After, he would pick her up, and then tend to the goats, work the fields and do his homework.
Why? Because that was where he was and how he could love her with what he had to give. God was with him, every step of every day.
Despite his heroic efforts, Prudence would die about a year after their mother. She was simply too weak. Through it all, Peterson demonstrated faithful, unEXPECTed love to many who saw him. God did a mighty work through him.
We are asked to love with what we have, no matter how little we may think we have to give. We are asked to lean in, love deeply, and to do so faithfully, even when it hurts. But through it all, we are loved because God loves us – wherever we find ourselves.
While it is incredibly sad what happened, Peterson’s faithfulness and our friendship that was birthed from tragedy gave birth to a vision. His faithful love and my helplessness caused us to look to local pastors, who wanted to equip family members to care for him but lacked the resources to do so. I didn’t know how to help, but they did and would. I wouldn’t have found him, but they already knew him.
It also helps me see anew that when we see the “poor”, we should not dismiss them as a burden for our generosity to fix. To love well and be surprised by the unEXPECTed is to trust that no matter what you see with your eyes, God is there. Always. I’ve unexpectedly met him through a little boy, who loved and lived more by age 7 than your or I will in a lifetime. He has taught me to love well.
If Peterson can get up and take care of his sister, I can do what God has asked me to do today. If Peterson faithfully walks lonely roads, I can, too. Along the journey, every person we meet is not a burden, but a reminder of God’s love before our eyes.
Dear Tired, There is no journey where you walk alone. God doesn’t ask you to be God. He asks you to be faithful. His love for you is all around, often in the unEXPECTed.
I’m thankful for the talented eye of my friend, Krista Guenin, who took more pictures of Peterson in 2007. She reflected this week on lessons she’s learned from Peterson:
“Part of what is so brave and wonderful about that boy’s spirit is that he was not completely crushed. He survived so much horrible loss and could easily have given up on life and let this disease take him… but he has LIVED. He has lived through all of this pain and suffering, he’s survived, he kept going to school, kept believing in his future… and that is a big part of what makes his spirit so remarkable. He didn’t give up on his sister when his mom died, and he didn’t give up on himself when his sister died. He’s bravely faced more than most of us. We freak out when we’re stuck in traffic. We want to die when the waiter gets our order wrong. We grumble & complain about EVERYTHING. But Peterson keeps going… how incredible is he?!”
NOTE: You can see more of Krista’s photography at kristaphoto.com. Please also take time to check out Untouchable, a documentary she helped create, which tells the story of precious children who also have lived through trial and have much to teach us. Thanks, Krista!