Location: Bulembu, Swaziland
Twenty hours of flying and six hours of driving, we had finally made it. My feet hit the ground and joy overcame me. Hope seemed to rush into my heart, restoration resounded in my mind, and a smile crept upon my face despite my eyes screaming exhaustion: I was in Bulembu. Before arriving to this miracle of a village, I spent my days dreaming of what it would be like as my heart fell in love with a place I had never been. The reality of walking the same streets where little joyous feet pounced and played every day because God had rescued them from disastrous circumstances was overwhelming. All of these emotions flooded me and I had only been there for a maximum of two minutes. It seems that I can only adequately use words to describe the first two minutes, but I will attempt to share a few key moments as best I can.
Bulembu is a village focused on orphan care, but it is different than other “orphanages.” It is home. The children were absolutely incredible, as they would line up just to hug your leg or give you a simple, yet abundantly meaningful, hand squeeze. However, it was the staff in the town that really shook me. Their service resembled the true meaning of humility. Everything they did was for the children. I mean EVERYTHING! Their hearts were fixed on God in such an unwavering fashion that love radiated from them in every encounter. I asked one man, James, how he coped – because being a missionary was not an easy, glorious task – and he confidently responded, “Maddie, I get up every day at four a.m. and pray. I depend on God for everything. I am nothing without Him.” This was the first lesson I learned during my time in Bulembu: dependence on God. I started to ask myself these types of questions: “Do I trust God enough to empty my bank account at His feet, give up the very thing my culture chases after every day, and believe that He will be my provider? No.” “Do I even trust God enough that He will provide food on my table if I were to give up my own for those who have none? Honestly, no.” “Do I trust God enough to give up water for someone who otherwise would have to walk miles for it? Well yeah, but as long as I had some left for myself.” Frustrated at this point I asked, “GOD DO I EVEN TRUST YOU AT ALL?!” That night I opened up my Bible and read in Luke’s Gospel “The Cost of Being a Disciple” and was lovingly convicted by the cost of following Jesus with everything I have. My resources, my money, my gifts, my possessions all belong to HIM! When I lay all I have at His feet, the cost might seem great, but the reward is eternal. God teaching me this in the beginning of my trip was an absolute necessity to sustain me through my next greatest lesson.
During our time in Swaziland, we traveled to a village called Lavumisa. This is where it gets more difficult to describe. Lavumisa is the poorest village in Swaziland. They have little to no water in the river they use due to being hit incredibly hard by the drought. Sickness, poverty, and broken families are visible to the naked eye, yet God is moving in mighty ways through an incredible, faithful pastor with a laugh that spreads joy like a wildfire. We assisted them in the medical clinic and saw many difficult things. The hardest of which came when a small, eight year old girl walked in. She was the most beautiful little thing with big brown eyes and a perfect round head. We watched eagerly, prayerfully as she was tested for HIV so desperately believing that there was no way she could be positive, but she was. I finally lost it. I walked outside and wept, unable to look to Heaven for answers because I was so broken over this. I knew in my mind that Swaziland was heavily affected by HIV/AIDS, with the highest rate in the world, but to see it with my own two eyes attacking such innocence, such perfection drew me to the floor questioning God begging Him to take it from her. I finally came to the feet of Jesus and began to recite what I knew to be true of God. “God you are a good father who never will forsake your children. You are a loving Father who will work all things together for those who love Him. You are a victorious Father who defeated sin and death for us. There is nothing in this world that can separate us from your love!” I felt His presence come over me in this moment and He reminded me that she was His princess. She had a crown placed upon her head. She was seen and known by Him. He loves her. I saw what true dependence on God meant in this moment. It didn’t always mean sacrifice. Sometimes it simply meant to know Him intimately. When tragedy strikes, we cannot lower what we know about God to match our pain. Instead, we are to give our pain to Him remaining steadfast on His foundation and believe in faith that what the enemy intends for evil, God is going to use for good. When I think about that precious face, I still cry and pray every time, but I am comforted in knowing that no matter what her outcome is on this earth, her outcome in Heaven will be eternity with her loving, gracious, almighty, powerful, healing, and good Father. I find refuge in depending on knowing God personally and this trip taught me how truly desperate I am for His presence.
I am not quite sure how to conclude. I could write a thousand page book on Bulembu and all its treasures. To sum it up in a few sentences, understand this: no matter how tragic, horrible, miserable, sinful, and absolutely broken this world is, stay intimate with your Heavenly Father and know Him personally. I have seen His power displayed in transforming a hopeless nation, so you, my dear friend, are not too broken for Him to heal. His love is sufficient to sustain you and give you more than you can ask or imagine.