Below is an email update I received from the Zakariasen family, some folks I know who are missionaries in South Africa. They help run Bethesda Outreach, a community growing in response to the AIDS epidemic there and statistics like these: there are currently 11 million orphans in the country; by 2010, there will be an estimated 40 million orphans. Bethesda is an intentional, holistic community designed to meet the physical, emotional, and spiritual needs of some of these orphans.
The Zakariasens have seven kids, one or two of whom are adopted, and they gave up the comfort and relative ease of life in this country to pour themselves out for little dark-skinned kids most of us would rather not think about. Their email says a lot of what I’d like to say a lot better than I can say it. Read their words, glory in the Gospel, and let God poke around on your heart with a stick until some coldness and indifference ooze out…
Dear Friends and Family,
We are grateful for your prayers as we seek to make a difference for Christ here in Hammanskraal, South Africa. There are so many physical needs starring you in the face that one’s heart could easily become callous. You cannot do it all, and when the cries and needy eyes are denied their plea, a hardness can occur, maybe as a way to cope with one’s inability to respond. The cry of, “They need the Gospel first”, which is true and destiny altering, could also be a salve for the conscience to not reach out and respond as Christ would have us do – with literal food and clothing and compassionate care.
Last Sunday as we returned home from church we rounded a bend in the road to see a large group of people from the village standing solemnly by the side of the road. The body of a small boy lay partially covered by a green blanket in the middle of the road. He was twelve years old and had been playing by the side of the road with his brother, age 10, when a taxi had struck him. The mother just sat cradling her only remaining son. The funeral was yesterday. We stopped by and brought some meali meal, vegetables, and fruit as well as a card from the Bethesda staff. Our Bethesda mission statement does not cover these type of needs, but our Christian mission statement does. What a joy to respond in love to the least of these. It is not a hardship or trial or sacrifice at all but an extreme joy. It is loving Christ and being obedient to Him.
Kevin received a call from a lady in the village of Stinkwater who knew of a man who was near death from AIDS. He needed to be put in a hospice for better care but they had no means of transportation. He helped load the man into our combi, skin and bones, and watched as the entire family said goodbye with tear-filled eyes. The man died two days later in a hospice run by a Christian lady. We are reminded that each opportunity we have to share Christ out of the joy of who we have become in Him should be spontaneously and readily taken – for we know not if God will change a destiny through His Word through our mouths.
Four more children were placed with our houseparent couple Prince and Faith Mashaba. Kevin, along with the Mashaba family, had the joy of picking them up in their small village house and bringing them to their new home where each child now has a bed of their own (and not a piece of foam on the dirt floor to share ) and, above all, people that will love and care for them both physically and spiritually. These were the children of the grandpa who begged us previously to come and take the children so they would be cared for properly. Though it has taken a couple months to permanently place them as they lived in another province, we sought to be totally compliant with the governmental laws, working with social workers to make sure we are above reproach in responding to their need, and sometimes it takes longer than we wish. We learn to lean on God.
Some may wonder, in light of the orphan population at present, why we are not inundated with orphans and, in fact, taking in far more than we currently have (21). The fact is, we know of between 40 to 50 personally that need care NOW. So, why are we not taking them in? The answer is – because we really care for kids! We care so much that we are not content to just take in the vast numbers and run ourselves in the ground caring for physical needs like feeding and clothing hundreds with a limited staff. We care so much that we don’t just want to throw ourselves out there and not do what we do with deliberation, quality, and integrity. We want others to see, not just man’s response to a need, but an imitation of a God-like response, which is evident in every letter of His Word and in every flower in the field.
Though meeting this growing orphan need is progressing slower than anticipated, integrous groundwork is being laid for a ministry that will have eternal impact years down the road. Initial groundwork of any quality endeavor often takes time. Our ultimate desire is that we, even above caring for orphans, reflect the character of our God in all we do.
Here is a note from Luke, our adopted son from Brazil:
Hello. My name is Luke and I am seven years old. My birthday is in November and then I will be eight years old. I like my new bed here in South Africa. It is a bunk bed like the Bernstein Bears’ bed. I got saved last month and now I have Jesus in my heart. Dad got me a new remote control plane when he was in Durban last week watching Ben run in a track meet. Dad and Mom have been very busy the last three months, so we are driving down to Cape Town on Monday for a family holiday. I hope we can see some whales in the ocean. Thanks for praying for our family.
Serving the King with Gladness,
Kevin, Sarah, Ben, Nathan, Caleb, Luke, Cortney, Jacob, & Josiah
[Note: I added the bolding within the letter. I thought these particular thoughts were especially important and worth a little emphasis.]