So, God gave me the opportunity this weekend to immerse myself in the culture group here known as the refugees. Who is that group? It is a set of people who have left their country to come to this country to stay for a time period and to be kept safe from harm and to have their needs taken care of by this land. Here, if you immigrate from a country as a refugee, you don't stay in the general public initially- you go to the camp. Some of my students that attend the school here are from the refugee camp and have made conscious decisions to trust the Lord for their provision. In trusting him, they have come to the Nazarene Theological College of Central Africa for a time period for education.
Why did I go to the camp? Well a few weeks back the college chaplain, Rev. Phiri mentioned he was asked to do a wedding there. As a nosy US person, I thought whoot, I am gonna do this! I said I would like to go and in so doing I was allowed.
Saturday morning I got dressed up. Dressed just like I would in the U.S. because it was a wedding. When we arrived there was no big barrier, there
were no tents, there were not people waiting in and outside the gates,
it just seemed as though we stumbled upon a large subdivision. We crossed some rather rough roads in the camp and arrived at the church. A wedding of a couple I did not know and I was being allowed to go. Rev. Phiri had called ahead and so they knew I was coming. This man, Abusa (Pastor) John was to wed someone he loved, Miss Nadine! Abusa is over the Church of the Nazarene in that camp. He is a delightful man. Then, we spent the next nearly four hours in worship, in prayer, in the ceremony of this couple. Part of the tradition here is that the bride and groom are stoic. They come in and it is more like a funeral dirge than a wedding of two people who love one another. They look so sad and withdrawn. They look forced and scared outta their minds just as they are marrying. Then as he pronounces them man and wife and they move forward to the hall they look happy!
After the ceremony we went to the house of the Uncle, I believe, of the bride. There, we went into their front room...about the size of a U.S. laundry room. About twenty five of us joined them there. The family, Rev Phiri, two students from the camp who went with us and helped me immensely with translation. Instantly, the bride was smiling. She was happy. She ousted her new husband and asked me to sit with her as her sister. She said, you are my sister. That was about the extent of the English she spoke during my time there. In that room, we were served a great feast. We had rice, nsima, fries (a big staple here, not wimpy fries either), hard-boiled eggs, set atop a slice of tomato, served on a bed of coleslaw, there was fried bird necks (maybe ducks), some sort of meat ribs, yummy tomato sauce, and ICE cold Fanta orange soda. First it is a ceremonial handwashing, they bring you a basin of water and then they run it over your hands to clean them. This is so beautiful and I think it is a kind way to welcome people. A prayer over the meal and then we shared. Oh my, never in my life did I think I would eat the neck. When it comes with the turkey I THROW IT away! But alas, it was perfectly crisp and a delightful treat on my palate. We spent so much time enjoying this meal and sharing fellowship with the company. I would have been lost were it not for my student Elysee who helped with the french/swahili translation.
Then we went for pictures. They take pictures at a beautiful place, somewhere lovely. We ended up at a school area, taking photos. It was of key importance for her that I be in so many of the photos. Really felt like the old song, I'm so glad I'm a part of the family of God. I was her family for this moment in time, it was such a beautiful thing in my life. Words are not there, speechless over this...
Then, we drove to a nearby area. We were not really driving for any specific reason, other than to assess this area. The area is called Dowa. As we were about to pass a hospital I said, oh let's go in, I would love to see it. The care made an immediate turn. We walked around the wards, they are all individual buildings...we ended up in the children's ward. They allowed us to come in. The smell in the air was burnt skin. As we walked, we saw each child. The first ones we spoke with were in a roomed off area (the wards are really just 45 beds stacked in a room by disease type). This room contained two children and three women. The two children had severe body burns. The type that children do not usually live through and end up with many grafts and repairs. It was beautiful how God allowed us to pray with them and one child, Lodita, the mother allowed me to touch it's head. It was a sense of the fact we are all mankind, we speak in different tongues and we look so different, but we are all human with a heart. Our hearts beat the same way in all bodies (or they should) and it was such a moment in my life I will never forget. I do not think that child will ever forget the moment the mzungu came in and touched them either.
The reception was wonderful, I could go on for ages, but alas, I just tell you this. God is ever changing our hearts and lives. He moved me beyond words this weekend. A trip to the camp has left me with new vision for life and new passion for these people. The people of the warm heart of Africa, Malawi.