I was in the rural village of Nyakach in Kenya. (How I got there is a story in itself, maybe I’ll tell you sometime.) I was with a mission team from my church, working with a wonderful organization called One Life Africa. Worship service in the village came to a close and all of the mzungu(foreigners) were approached by the villagers. As we exchanged smiles and pleasantries with the locals I was approached by a very young girl. She was around the age of 3 or 4 and wore a dark green velvet dress. It was a little strange that such a young child would so fearlessly approach me. The older children rub our arms and hair and laugh and smile as we play with them. But the younger children are usually very shy around white people. Not this girl, she came right up to me and lifted her arms up as if to say “up!”
I picked her up without hesitation. She wore the most solemn face. Everything about her looked sad and defeated. It broke my heart. I asked her what her name was in Swahili, but I knew she was too young to speak it. She could only understand her mother tongue, Luo. I asked the older kids her name and they told me it was Chantal. I talked to Chantal in English, even though she couldn’t understand. I told her she was beautiful. I rubbed her back. I gave her stickers. I held her hands in mine. I did everything I could to try and get a smile out of her. I wanted so badly to cheer her up. But nothing I did cheered her. Nothing I said brought a smile. I felt her sorrow in the very depths of my own heart.
She stayed with me for the hour we remained in the village. She wouldn’t leave me side. Most of the time she wouldn’t allow me to even put her down, and that was ok, because honestly, I didn’t want to put her down. Her presence meant the world to me. I didn’t understand why at the time, but I didn’t need to understand, I just needed to be with her.
At one point a very old woman approached me, she spoke to me in Luo. I have no idea what she said to me, but I gathered she was Chantal’s guardian. She pointed to the side of the church to motion that she would be over there if I needed her (I think…). This woman was clearly not Chantal’s mother, she was way too old. I wondered where Chantal’s mother was. Was she alive? Was she sick? Was the absence of her mother why Chantal was so sad?
The time came when our team had to leave. Every part of me wanted to stay. I couldn’t leave Chantal, but I knew I had to. I waited until the very last minute. Everyone else was on the bus when I finally approached the old woman and attempted to hand Chantal over. Chantal clung to my neck for dear life. She would not release. My heart broke as I pried her tiny hands from around my neck and handed her to the old woman. I held my breath so I wouldn’t cry. Chantal turned her body to face me, reached her arms out, and burst into tears. She cried bitterly as she reached for me. I turned away and got onto the bus. It felt like an eternity before I finally reached what little privacy I had in the form of a bus seat and there I wept.
That image has been burned into my mind for eternity. Chantal’s delicate arms reaching and reaching, using all her might to escape the grasp of the old woman. Big, wet tears streaking her cheeks. It crushes me every single time I think about it. Why would God do that to me? I had longed for children for 4 years. This felt like a taunt. I knew it wasn’t though. What did God want me to learn? Why did he give me this experience? I racked my brain for an answer, but I knew the answer would not come from me. All I knew at that point was that my heart was breaking. Why did she choose me? How did I feel so connected to her so quickly? Why did that experience have to end? I felt like I had so much love to give to Chantal, and yet I knew she couldn’t give anything in return. She could not even muster up a smile. But it was so evident she needed comfort; she needed to be held and loved without any expectation of it being returned. And for one hour I was able to give her that. I provided a safe place of love and comfort. For one hour I was a mother to Chantal.