Growing up in the Australian sun with very fair English-type skin I have my fair share of freckles and moles of which I had 3 potentially dangerous ones removed. As a result I have scars. A visible reminder that I need to be careful when I go out in the sun, I need to cover up, I need to wear my sunscreen.
These scars are visible reminders. But I also have inner scars from wounds less physical, from times I have experienced situations I don’t understand, from hurts from broken down relationships, for times when I have felt betrayed, abandoned, rejected, unloved. These scars are deeper and much more painful. We all carry them.
And yet as I sat in a room of care workers this week in one of our communities, Mulenga, here in Zambia, and we talked about the scars we all bear, I heard testimonies from these care workers whose scars run much deeper than anyone should have to bear or experience in a lifetime- we were encouraged that our scars are actually reminders of how we have been healed by God. They are not left as reminders to bring up further hurt in us, but rather to bring hope to others as we show our scars to one another and tell what God has done in our lives.
As a part of my time in the community this week, I was able to do a community stay for one night in the home of one of the boys we care for in this community. I am always so humbled that these families open their homes and lives to us, as almost complete strangers, and welcome us with complete embrace.
(An entertaining side-note of this particular visit: In this community we wait until after dark to go to the homes where we will be staying to attract less attention. So when it became quite dark, we set off. As soon as I stepped outside of the house we had been waiting in, some kids IMMEDIETELY yelled out at the top of their lungs “Muzungu” – which means white person, to which one of the ladies I was walking with remarked “They can still see you!” – It made me laugh! White people kind of glow in the dark 😉 )
In the home we stayed lived 2 boys, Honest (17 years) and Joseph (14 years)*. Both their parents have passed away leaving Honest to be the parental father figure in this household to take care of his younger brother Joseph. Two things particularly struck me about these boys.
Firstly, how amazing Honest was as a 17 year old young man, who is sacrificing so much of his own life, desires and dreams to care for his younger brother, when every example in the community of men around him and pressure from his peers would be to throw in your schooling, become a drunkard and wallow in the hopelessness of the situation. And yet here is a young man, who gets up early in the morning, tends to his own home cleaning, washing dishes and maintaining the small garden of vegetables, goes out to find piecework for the first half of the day to raise money for school fees for himself and his brother and provide food for them both, then attends school in the afternoon (he is studying year 11 and hopes to become a mechanic when he finishes school), arrives home by 18/1830, and then completes a few hours worth of homework before heading to bed and starting all over again the next morning. His attitude towards life and his commitment to caring for his brother is a shining example in a community where good male role models are very much lacking. My prayer is that he will continue to be surrounded by people who will support and encourage him to continue to be this inspiring example.
The second thing that struck me from this visit was Joseph, thinking about the inner wounds/scars he is carrying. The default expression on his face and in his eyes is a vacant sadness, and yet when you could coach him to crack a smile, his face would radiate. I can’t even begin to imagine the inner scars he bears. The feelings of loss, abandonment and rejection at having lost both his parents at such a young age, perhaps the fear that maybe he would lose his brother too and be left completely alone, the burden of responsibility a 14 year old should not have to carry being responsible for cooking and cleaning a household and not having a mum or a dad to love, encourage, support, embrace, care for him. I can only speculate what he might be feeling from the expressions I observed on his face, but I am sure these scars run much deeper than I can even imagine.
And yet in the midst of this situation, it was beautiful to watch Sukai (who also stayed with me in their home) and who is one of our amazing African Leaders, be a mother figure to these boys. As we were cleaning the house and preparing breakfast in the morning when we woke up, Sukai sat with both boys individually for a time and spoke words of life and encouragement to them. She showed them love. That unconditional love of a parent to a child. The unconditional love that Jesus offers to us every day.
Our scars can remind us of our past wounds and hurts, or they can be reminders of how we have been healed, and can be used to bring hope to others. It is how we chose to see them and how we choose to use them. What will you and I choose today?
* Names of the children have been changed to protect their privacy.