I don’t know about you, but for me there are so many different images that come to mind at the mention of an “orphanage.” Whether you imagine Annie singing ‘It’s A Hard-Knock Life’, Oliver Twist ‘…Picking a Pocket or Two’, or you envisage those big teary eyed children on TV; we each have an image we concoct when we hear ‘that’ word.
In the many months that I looked forward to my fall trip to Project Samuel Zambia, I spent countless hours dreaming and wondering just what this orphanage would feel like. I’d seen every picture I could possibly get my hands on, I’d asked every question I could come up with, but there are some things you just have to feel and experience to truly understand.
As we stepped out of the vehicle that first night, even before I’d had the chance to meet the amazing people, there was a peace that covered the Project that made me breathe deeply and instantly feel at home. I guess I’d had a fear that things might feel stark, or institutional. I suppose I’d questioned what the kids thought of this life; if they were happy, if they felt part of a family and if they had what they needed. I’d wondered about their relationship with Jesus, if they truly knew and loved him.
I learned that while the kids at the Project have been through a lot; they are resilient and full of hope. They miss their parents, yet don’t feel displaced, because they have a new family at Project Samuel. I watched them honor, encourage and include each another in ways that just melted my heart. I learned that the house moms are strong women, with amazing stories of their own, who feel privileged to work for Project Samuel and with the children. I learned that poultry farming is a science, that goats reproduce like crazy, and that vehicles seem to always need repairs. I came to understand that having power and water is a question mark from hour to hour, that owning textbooks is a privilege, and that with twenty-four kids someone always seems to want money for something!
As I neared the end of my stay and shared with the children that I’d be leaving on Friday, sweet Hope’s response is one I will never forget. “But Aunty Kim, Zambia doesn’t have Friday’s. Here it goes Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday!” Oh how I wish that she could have been right. These precious children, and this incredible ministry, so full of love and promise, have certainly stolen a piece of my heart. I feel honored to have been welcomed in and look forward to what God has in store for the future!
Over the next wonderful month I loved spending time with the children and getting to know them. Some of my favorite times were at the end of many days as the gorgeous African sun dipped low in the sky, and the heat finally started to fade. I’d put on my running shoes and head out with the most wonderful joyous companions. As we ran from village to village, or through the bush exploring the grounds, the kids would often break into song. Or we’d play silly follow-the-leader games and giggle until we had to stop running because we were laughing so hard. I also just loved spending time with the house moms, getting to know them and hearing their stories. I love good food and quickly took to nshima, their local staple dish. Even better though was the porridge they make with peanuts, and I’d often sneak off with a spoon to join in the laughter and delight that seemed to always be found in the cooking hut.
I guess what I’m saying is that I saw a family and was warmly welcomed by them. I saw a group of people after God’s own heart; a family God has brought together who trust him to provide each day and who are working life out together one day at a time. They are not a family with two children, a white picket fence and a dog, but a family with a chain-link fence, twenty-four children and a monkey they most certainly are. That’s right…they actually have a pet monkey…but that’s another story!