“My! People come and go so quickly here!” -Dorothy, The Wizard of Oz
The 8 year old took my hand as we walked together across the playground of Phase 2; the boys’ side of Lily of the Valley Children’s Village. He didn’t know my name yet, but had already decided to be my buddy. During this, our first encounter, he wanted the answer to one question, “How long will you stay?” He knows we’ll be leaving, because everyone leaves. There’s a lot of coming and going at Lily of the Valley. The children have grown accustomed to it, and many take what they can get where the attention of adults is concerned. He’ll eagerly make friends, but he’s already anticipating our leaving.
As I reflect on the past six months, I think about how far AJ* and I have come. He drops by my office after school, sometimes with exciting news about his day at school, sometimes just to hang out. But then, AJ stops at every office with an open door; I’m part of his regular routine; part of his constant search for love and belonging.
At the opposite end of the spectrum is Emily*. Where AJ is everybody’s instant friend, Emily has never met a person that she’s not prepared to challenge. She customarily greets a newcomer by running past them, shouting a curse in isiZulu. She’s defiant, always ready to argue or fight, and doesn’t need anybody over the age of 12. But when she gets a time out, and she’s sitting with me in my office, I see a different side to Emily. She talks and talks; mostly about fighting, sure; but in spite of all her nine-year-old bravado, her fear and her desire to be loved quickly become obvious. She’s reaching out too; even while she pushes away. Emily has some strong and good qualities; she is smart and confident, is a natural leader, and has a strong sense of justice. When I tell her about her good qualities, the inner struggle is visible on her face. She’s eating up the compliments, but frightened to accept them at the same time.
Since before coming to South Africa last October, our desire has been to minister at Lily for the rest of our lives. That desire is driven by our belief that what the children here need most is permanence and commitment. The past seven months have shown us that we only had a hint of how profound that need really is. It eclipses everything else. Seven months in, we’re just beginning to get to know and understand these children, seven months on; the trust is just starting to grow. I suspect that many don’t really believe we’ll be coming back. And why should they? So many volunteers have come, loved them and left, and were never seen again. But I’m eager to get back; because I love this place and its children, because I see Jesus here, and his purpose for my life is here. I’m also eager to return because I want these children to see my commitment to them; I want the abandoned children at Lily of the Valley to know that they are not abandoned by God; or by me His servant.
When we return back ‘home’ to the US at the end of July, it will be to do several things. Ellie and Eden are both finishing high school in the next couple weeks and we will be bringing them back to start the next phase of their lives. Lori and I will be attending cross-culture training in Colorado for four weeks in the fall (9/22-10/18). And we will be seeking the remainder of our support so that Lori and I can return to South Africa as long-term missionaries. We now know better than ever how important that long-term commitment is.
We are so thankful for all of you who have made our first term at Lily of the Valley possible. We are thankful to so many of you who have already made a commitment to partner with us on a long term basis so that we can make a permanent commitment to serve Christ by serving the children here. Please pray for us as we prepare to return to the US for a season. Pray that God will lead us to the remaining supporters that we need to return officially as long-term missionaries. And please put us in touch with anyone you know who might be interested in partnering in this work. We will be visiting with families and churches from mid August until September 21; and then again from October 19 until we have the necessary support and can return to Lily.
On Wednesdays, Mike hosts assembly with all the children in the village. Assembly is a time for lessons, announcements, and a devotional message from our pastor. This past week at assembly, we introduced our new Operations Manager to the children. Thula told a little bit about himself and then invited the children to ask a few questions. The very first question – “How long will you stay?”
* names have been changed