A campaign for Forgotten Voices International.
Meet Neatness, age 14. Hear her story of courage, hope, and love. Neatness’ last words to us before we left her were these: “I hope my story helps thousands of kids, just like me, all around me.”
Neatness is one of the many children assisted by the Mtshabezi Mission National AIDS Programme, part of the Brethren in Christ Church – Zimbabwe.
Her name is Prudence. When I met her in January 2005, her eyes peered up at me. She couldn’t talk and she couldn’t walk. She was just 3 at the time, a frail, injured child with big eyes. I’ll never forget those eyes. I didn’t know what to do or say, but a friend of mine named Dale had been to villages like this before. He sat down next to her and passed her a bottle cap. The ground all around us was littered with bottle caps. Dale began to draw in the dirt. Prudence followed his lead, but eyed me up – uncertain of my motives and likely sensing my fear and insecurity…way out of my comfort zone. It was only my 2nd time to Zimbabwe, but first time really facing the fear of AIDS.
Her arms were frail, bony beyond description. Sores were all over her body, most notably her face. They even went into her mouth, covering her with pain that could not be washed away by the dirty water in the bucket next to where we were sitting. No food, but a goat, some chickens and a skinny dog wandered around us looking to gobble up anything remaining before others could find it.
Another friend named Trevor and I slowly sat down, too. We all began drawing in the sand with Prudence, which drew out a slight smile from her. She kept saying something quietly, something I never understood or asked about, too overwhelmed to try to know.
We had come to meet Prudence’s mother, who would die the next day from AIDS related illnesses. The flem in Prudence’s mother’s throat was so thick that she couldn’t talk to us, let alone comfort Prudence. Most of you know the story of Peterson (see fun video of him on Keyboard). Peterson is Prudence’s older brother (he was age 7 at the time of my first mtg Prudence), but it struck me today that it had been awhile since I had written about Prudence. I began asking myself, why?
There are many reasons why I don’t write about her much. Here are some.
I will never forget those eyes: every time I hear of a child die or a mother or father die in any of the churches we serve, I think of Prudence’s eyes as she peered up to me that first day. She was waiting for life to happen to her, facing insurmountable obstacles. Sometimes it is too painful to even think about those eyes, let alone write about the girl who grabbed my heart and hasn’t let it go.
She died. Over the past 8 years, I’ve been told that kids die all the time and that I can’t blame myself. I’ve been told that God knows her needs. I’ve been told that God’s will trumps all and I can’t linger too long on one child because I must be emotionally able to care for the thousands we must help in the future. But, for a long time, I never really bought any of those things.
We should certainly pray for less suffering, but we should definitely pray for more God. Perhaps that love can come through you and me? Her death reminds me of this often. You and I have a choice to serve orphans and widows or not.
So I sometimes I just avoid writing about her, too hard for many of you and often too hard for me. I chose to not act fast enough. Though I wasn’t fully responsible for her death, almost exactly a year after I met her, I WAS part of it. Those who heard and chose not to act were part of it. Like the characters who walked by in the story of the Good Samaritan… those who chose to do nothing… I did feel that I took my time deliberating on what is best instead of just acting out of love. I have felt guilt about this inaction, guilt I have let go of now. But, that feeling always prompts me to push back against our culture of needing to figure out everything before we do anything. Our fear of failure must not prevent us from doing what is right. As I say to our team all the time, “we must build our boat while we sail.”
I hate guilt ads and American hero messaging. I never want people to be guilted into giving OR believe that their gifts are doing the transformation alone. I saw the emotional power I held over people and it scared me. And I stopped because I felt like I was unintentionally guilting people or was leery of doing. I was too connected to not be passionate. Also, I always left Prudence behind and leave behind a network of churches every time I return to the USA. The work being done by brave men and women caring for children orphaned by AIDS is not to be underestimated or ignored. There is but one Savior. It ain’t me and it ain’t you.
We prefer happy stories. I found grimaces on the face of people I would share Prudence’s story to after meeting her, grimaces that often led to silence and looking away. People shut down or ran away emotionally. My goal in sharing her story was to spur people to act on behalf of other children orphaned by AIDS, but my emotionally charged connection to the story was achieving the opposite. I found that we like happy stories, where our donation makes things better instantly (or at least makes us feel that way).
Those stories of hope were there, but I’m left wondering why I can’t find a way to share stories of darkness that conclude as dark for the child or caregiver? If death is part of life, why can’t we find ways to act even as we mourn? After 8 years and 1,000+ home visits, I believe we must. Certainly I must if this calling on my life and our ministry is to be fulfilled.
There are others. But this is enough to say what I need to say now.
There are many reasons why I should write about her and children, even if it can be deeply painful. Those moments with Prudence and the pain in the eyes of people who heard me talk about her helped me see and understand that Forgotten Voices must be about the hope that surpasses our understanding. Our aspirations must be for restoration, even if we never get to see it for ourselves. That critical time with her in January 2005, looking back on it so many times, helped me see that hope was there for her. That pain and regret helped spur me to join with churches in southern Africa to start Forgotten Voices. Her eyes helped spur a network of volunteers in the USA to engage with the mission. A mission that is needed today, more than ever.
Local pastors stood ready to help her and Peterson. Yet, they needed our help to resource some of their aspirations. There are many other stories like Prudence’s that we know about and I need to keep writing about them, or risk becoming numb to the stats or consumed by running a nonprofit.
I am in this because I love children and I believe God has gifted us with an opportunity to create partnerships across people who commonly believe that hope in the darkness is there for children & churches impacted by AIDS. I’m thankful for your investment in us and look forward to sharing more and more about children & churches we love to serve.
Every Monday, I’ll share a story. I likely will share more than 1 during the week. It’s good for you and for me. Others on our team will also share (Remmy on Wednesdays, Ellen on Thursdays, Beki on Fridays).
But I don’t want you to just read them and be challenged by them. The work we are doing together with the church in Africa REQUIRES and YEARNS for us to do more. I’ll be sharing stories of children we know about, but have not served. We need you to share those stories because the opportunity for us to experience love of our God in the midst of suffering is real. The children, their eyes and names are real. We all will die someday, but together with the local church, I believe we can help children survive AND thrive through a better system of care that our ministry is working hard to equip.
We have a clear, powerful, deep and wide vision for our ministry that I look forward to sharing with you here. Prudence’s encounter with us continues to influence my leadership and our ministry. Through the pain, hope springs out to share God’s love.
I look forward to the journey of seeing, praying, learning and acting because God first loved us. Prudence taught me that.
Merry Christmas! The Hope of the world has come.
I never stop being struck by how incredible it was that Jesus was born and placed in a manger. The simplicity of it speaks volumes for the greatest story ever told. In that spirit, Forgotten Voices has been sharing simple reflections on unexpected hope in unexpected places. We have been sharing them all month long here on the blog, as well as in print. We believe in the reflections of the heart and telling the simple stories that should be shared.
As you gather with family and friends, know there are Forgotten Voices volunteers, staff, Board members and partners in Africa giving thanks to God for you.
On behalf of the children and churches we serve in Zimbabwe and Zambia, thank you and have a very Merry Christmas.
Ryan Keith, President
Discover stories of hope all advent long right here. Read 3 stories of unexpected hope in unexpected places by reading our Christmas 2011 Mailing. For many people the end of a year marks an opportunity to reflect on lessons learned. Today’s blog post is one of those for me.
This year, in some ways, I feel like I’m limping into the Christmas season, tired, weary, and emotionally empty, yet hopeful and exptectantat at Christmas. This has been a very hard year for me and many of us at Forgotten Voices. Children that we know, such Vuyani, passed away far too early in life. Dear friends in Africa lost loved ones and those losses impacted me profoundly. Dear friends in the USA experienced traumatic situations from loss of jobs to divorces to death. This year I got to experience, more than ever before, the reality that our ministry serves our supporters, just as much as it serves the chidlren and churches I love to serve in Africa. After nearly 8 years of leading our ministry, I’ve now sat bedside next to 100s of people dying of AIDS related illnesses, who either died soon there after or fought their way through to health for a short season more.
All of this adds up. One of the piercing realities of those bedside exchanges is the look in the eye of someone who is about to pass away. For most of the children and adults I have witnessed going through this in Africa, I am always struck by the look of regret — dying too young, decisions they wish they could do over, or simply wanting more time.
This Christmas I have been thinking about the manger scene a little differently. Like many I see the shepherds who were watching their sheep by night, traveling across the fields to find a baby lying in the manger. I am imagining that they haven’t showered in awhile like you and I do (probably too often). There wasn’t time or they didn’t take it to prepare themselves to see the baby, cleaning up properly. They came expectantly, as they are, to see their King lying in a manger.
I think of the wise men, cloaked in royal cloth, also having traveled from afar. Imagine the smell when they arrived? While some of their gifts were likely pleasant in odor, I think I would rather have stood next to any sheep who happened to be there than the wise men. Even Joseph, for who knows how long he’d been near the feeding trough. Let’s be honest. Barnyard animals don’t smell that great.
But here’s the thing. They all came as they were to see their King. As we make final preparations for Christmas, my prayer through this advent has been that we don’t get lost in making ourselves and our world so decorated and wrapped and covered nicely that we forget to come before our God, just as we are.
This Christmas, may we come as we are. Pain and all. May we just come and worship our King.
God knows who we are and what is stirring deep within us, beneath the glow of our commercialized Christmas. In fact, he knows us so well that this precious baby Jesus was sent to take on our sins and offer us the free gift of eternal life by sacrificing himself (perfection on earth) so that we may have life and have it to the full.
Later in Jesus’ ministry, he tells his disciples, “let the children come” and to his followers they should have faith like a child. He wants us to just come. My daughter, Avery, often comes to me with snot running down her face, tears in her eyes. She just comes.
The thing I’m learning and the hope I’ve found in all the pain I’ve experienced in 2011 is that this is not for me to restore or fix. I certainly should ask for less suffering for the children we serve, but my heart yearning should really be to open myself to more God. We should pray for more God, both directly from Him and His use of us to be salt & light for our hurting world.
At Forgotten Voices we have an opportunity to help children today, children who don’t have the luxury of pretending things in their lives are fine. Their worlds have crashed down around them. Men and women in their communities, through theologically-sound local churches, know who these children are and what they need. The children are coming, just as they are to the footsteps of the church, expecting to be helped. Churches help orphans, for there is often no where else for them to go. Consider offering them a gift of a place to be, a hope to be found in their darkness. In doing so I believe you may discover hope of your own, as you watch God do more when you feel like you can do no more yourself.
-Ryan Keith, President
I meant to write this later today, but at 3am I was wide awake. At first I was really frustrated. When I went to bed last night, I went to bed thinking “it’s been one of those weeks”, I was exhausted, and I was going to be able to “sleep in” until 6am before an early morning meeting. Having a child has changed my notion of “sleeping in” from my college days of going to bed at 3am and sleeping in until noon.
I was trying to diagnose why I was up this morning at 3am!! I started to regret eating about half a pizza and some dairy queen right before bed. Perhaps that unwise move was the culprit. Then I started thinking about leadership things, like this little reflection I wrote at 4:10: “leadership is about living fully in the unknown, being ok with that when others aren’t, then leading boldly to where we must go.” I love how deep thoughts can come in waves, especially in the middle of the night (at least for me).
Then, probably like many of you who have had unexpected awake moments (hours), I started thinking about my long to do list for the day and what I could accomplish if I started to work NOW while everyone else was sleeping. How productive I could be!!
But finally, when I tried to calm my mind down and breath deeply, I got to experience rest anew. While I never managed to go back to sleep, I was thankful for God’s gift to me: experiencing my world at rest. My child breathing peacefully, a light sound I could hear after my mind quieted. No cars driving by my house. No ESPN playing in the background, repeating the news over and over. So I just tried to rest and enjoy a glimpse of peace in the midst of this chaotic Christmas world we have created.
Now as I write this, I think of what it would have been like to be just delighting in God’s presence, watching a baby, lying in a manger. Perhaps I would have been watching my sheep at night, enjoying the sky, when a star appeared, proclaiming the location of the King my people were waiting for — waiting for so long.
This morning’s wake up call started out with me blaming my choices, then me trying to figure out how I could do more with the new time I had found to work in the middle of the night, but then it happened. My gift from God. I found rest and peace while awake at 3am. Rest in seeing a glmpse of what God craves for us this Christmas season. Hope and peace through Him.
Enjoy your day. May you find rest today.
Every month, before the 10th of the month, TEN TOGETHER posts a Bible Study lesson on www.TENTOGETHER.org. This helps groups remain united in God’s Word, grow together, and grow independently. To view more studies, visit the campaign website.
Bible Study Lesson 6: How has the TEN TOGETHER campaign encouraged you to be united?
Roots: Together, read Ephesians 4:1-5:
Unity in the Body of Christ
1 As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. 2 Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. 3 Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. 4 There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to one hope when you were called— 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism;
Trunk: “God sightings” – How have you seen unity work in your group? In your community? Are there times where people in your group have felt the presence of God, the Holy Spirit, in their daily lives? How are we united in Christ?
Limbs: Encourage everyone to attend a Christian celebration event. Decide how your group will celebrate Christmas. How can you be united around the greatest story ever told??
Leaves: How has TEN TOGETHER encouraged you? What have you learned?
Video update: Send in your personal video testimonies to email@example.com or drop us a blog post at the same. If you would rather us not share your name in the post, just say so and we’ll just share the lesson with others. Thank you!
Anyone who knows me at all knows that I LOVE talking, or rather listening, to strangers in all sorts of places, particularly when I’m traveling. I’m not an in your face talker to strangers, but rather an observer of people who may need to chat, then asking how they are doing. That’s why I love meeting people in airports, on trains, etc because you are next to people going somewhere or coming from something significant…they generally have a lot on their mind and often don’t have anyone to listen.
One of my best friends in the whole world loves to ask people how they are doing when we are together, get little response, then watch me ask the same person the same thing, then me receiving a profound or personal insight in return. I’m not bragging here, because often those moments lead to tough conversations, heavy burdens to pray for, and deep insights into the hearts of people who are looking for someone to listen to them. But I am really thankful people keep talking and I’m listening.
This year, more than ever before, people have been talking to me about 2 themes: 1) I’m searching for meaning in life; and 2) My family is struggling in this market.
In the last 2 weeks, several people have cried telling me they can’t give to our ministry any more. People are writing asking me to pray for job losses, pay cuts, or pending layoffs as Christmas approaches. I feel for people and am hyper sensitive to the realities facing our supporters in the USA and the children/churches we love to serve in Africa. Both are real and traumatic.
So, why do I keep asking for $$$ in this down market? There are 3 primary reasons.
1) God has given us a clear vision for equipping local churches in Africa to stand in the gap for children who have lost their parents and are extremely vulnerable. AIDS is complicated. I believe our model of partnering with community leaders & pastors from solid, theologically sound seminaries in Africa is the best return on investment for orphan care. I believe we are extremely good at what we do. I’ve been fortunate to study with some of the best minds and change agents solving the world’s most difficult problems. What we are doing goes toe to toe with the best ideas out there. I believe it in my soul. At times like this, we all need something to believe in. I believe in Forgotten Voices, not because I helped start it, but because I’m wholly dedicated to something that’s actually working for children and for those who give.
2) God calls us to look after orphans. I recently had the chance to talk with a woman in Zambia caring for 8 kids alone and just took in several more children orphaned by AIDS. This lady has nothing by the world’s standards. When I ask her how I can have a heart like hers, she says, “Hug the children, love your God and trust that He knows your needs. That’s it.”
3) I see that our ministry’s requests for funding helps others experience love anew. This year especially, through giving to Forgotten Voices, God has provided soooo many opportunities for people to rediscover priorities they had forgotten, restore marriages that were broken, spend more time with their children, watch less TV, and even some cases of choosing to not inflict pain on themselves any more after reading stories of unexpected hope through our ministry.
I wouldn’t ask if I didn’t believe in it. I love people too much. I keep asking for money because we need it to bring hope for children who need a champion. The more times I ask the more people get to experience the deep love that comes from watching hope stir deep within the darkness, growing and growing to bring light and life to children. I started giving to save Africa. But our ministry, through your gifts and the children we serve, has saved me.
When I ask I know I will get a lot of nos. But even in my ask, like now, I pray that the way we ask shows we are listening to the unspoken yearnings & realities we all share as people. Merry Christmas.
You can give to Forgotten Voices online or by mailing a check to Forgotten Voices, 1215 Gettysburg Pike, Dillsburg, PA 17019.
This Thanksgiving my heart was full knowing Forgotten Voices was in good hands while my family celebrated a holiday not celebrated in southern Africa. Today, I want to give thanks to God for an amazing man in Africa who daily provides leadership on the ground. Please join me in praying for Remmy. -Ryan
Remmy Hamapande, Africa/Zambia Director, Forgotten Voices
Remmy Hamapande is a highly respected servant leader among the many communities to which his ministry extends.
Originally from Livingstone, Remmy gained valuable business experience working for Barclay’s Bank, before moving to Ndola to pursue God’s calling towards theological education. He is a 2007 graduate of the Theological College of Central Africa (TCCA).
Remmy joined Forgotten Voices International as the Zambian Program Director in 2008. He communicates with and visits church-lead projects throughout Zambia which are in partnership with Forgotten Voices to care for children orphaned by AIDS. With his business skills, Remmy helps our partners create sustainable solutions within their individual community. His unique combination of business savvy and a pastor’s heart enable him to serve as an ally and advisor to Zambian churches, and a representative of these churches to the broader Forgotten Voices family. In 2011, Remmy became Africa Director, overseeing our operations in Africa.
In his own community, Remmy serves as Associate Pastor of Children’s Ministry at his local congregation. He also recently served as Chair of Christian Education for Zambia by the Zambia Brethren in Christ conference.
Remmy is the proud husband of Irene (also a TCCA graduate) and uncle to Giney, whom he and Irene are raising. Amongst all his other responsibilities, Remmy is also the chief cook in his family, making sure a good meal is waiting on the table when the busy women in his family return from work and school each day!
Reflecting on a visit to see a church distributing school supplies and fees, Remmy writes,
“There is nothing that satisfies my heart [more] than seeing these little ones smile again and look into the future through an education you are helping them receive because of your help. Remember, God will never ‘..forget your work and the love you have shown Him as you have helped His people and continue to help them’ Hebrews 6: 10.”
Watch a video about Remmy from Ryan, President of Forgotten Voices.
On an evening earlier this week, my 1 year old daughter, Avery, and I were playing in our living room. I had just returned home from a painful and overwhelming day at work, immediately on the heels of a long series of travel to tell the story of Forgotten Voices. For some reason Avery and I were not connecting. Though I had my tea cup and I was serving tea to a host of invited stuffed animals, I think she knew I was still traveling in my mind. Thinking about the children who were suffering that night because we lacked money. Thinking about the challenges faced by supporters losing jobs or suffering from pay cuts. Thinking about a whole number of things not related to tea parties with Avery and her stuffed friends.
Then a burst of joy hit me in the heart. I looked at the loving way Avery was serving tea to her pink pig, occassionally lifting the spoon to offer me some. So generous. So patient. She knew I wasn’t there, but still offering more. “Tea. Dadda. Tea. More.”
God is kinda like Avery. Or rather through Avery, I often get to see a glimpse of God. Infinitely patient with us, offering us more of Himself when the cold shoulder is more of what the world has to offer.
As I took another sip of Avery’s fake tea, I experienced real joy and the delight of our God. I started laughing, as I felt the embrace of my God. Avery, seeing a change in me, flopped down on my stomach, giggling too. As she slobbered all over me, giving me kisses and her cute little hugs over and over, I was thankful in a profound way for all the little ways God pours out love on us.
In our busy and preoccupied world, it is sometimes hard for us to be still… to give thanks. I know our partners in Africa and my daughter Avery continue to teach me the value of being still to see and experience unexpected hope in unexpected places.
Know that on behalf of our partners in Africa and the children we love to serve, I’m thankful for your investment in our mission. Today and tomorrow on Thanksgiving may you experience the love of our God. May you find rest and joy in His embrace. Be still and give thanks.
I love you and am thankful for you.
This month at TEN TOGETHER, a campaign to support Forgotten Voices, we are focusing on clarity in the midst of chaos. Through the monthly video, a church volunteer named Desire challenges us to create God-centered environments to make sure the team is functioning clearly to share God’s love and service. How does this happen? Explore this month’s study to learn how.
Lesson 5: How can you serve with a God-centered spirit?