Sunday, August 19, 2012

Of Such is the Kingdom of Heaven

We arrived carrying clothes, food, tools and disassembled bunk beds.
Elders Stagg, Billings and Smith had been working on the beds for a couple months.
Sister Billings & Sister Stagg had sewn darling outfits for each child.

When we arrived, we were given some very sad information.
Philomene's daughter & her husband and their three children
 had been visiting from France for the previous two weeks. 
Just the night before, he had suddenly collapsed of a heart attack and died.
The boy & girl in dark blue and the girl in purple are her grandchildren, 
who are obviously grieving, as Philomene cries.  But, notice all the other children.
Most don't understand, but they know that Philomene is sad and so they are, too.
We asked her if it would be better for us to come back another day,
but she said, "No.  Seeing all the children receive these
wonderful things will make me be happy and forget my sorrow."
Blessed are the little children, for of such is the Kingdom of Heaven.
Every time we go to the orphanage,
I realize anew why the Lord said we should become like them.

This young girl was just a neighborhood child and not part of the orphanage,
but she latched unto me as soon as we got out of the parked car to walk down the little lane
and then stayed close when we got to our destination.

Her clothes were dingy, worn and ragged.  She seemed very interested in me.  

I tried to convey, by taking time with her, that she was important.
I think her interest was mostly because I was white, but she also seemed to be studying
me as a young girl might check out another female's style or makeup.
As with all of the children whose paths we cross, 

we hope something we say or do helps them know they are a child of God.
With Fils (our translator), Sister Billings is helping Philomene dispense the clothes.
In front is Jonathan's sister.  They have both lived at the orphanage all their lives.

She started crying when we first arrived.  She'd been so sad about the death,
and then seeing all the things we'd brought for the little children, touched her.
She didn't realize there was a dress for her, too, which made her cry even more.

After her tears came smiles as she joined her brother, Jonathan, for a picture.

A group picture with some of the kids in their new clothes.

A similar picture, but I LOVE to see their smiles, again!
Though this orphanage is poor as poor can be,
we have seen how little that matters,

 because there is LOVE here.
Philomene loves the children and they love her.
They also love each other and help each other.
That is the way it should be in every family
If it's not, I guess we could start (with ourselves) to change that today.
The wonderful miracle is that we were all "communicating" here!
(Smiles, holding hands & hugs go FAR in making friends,

even when you don't share a common language)
These two darling girls are being adopted this month by a family in Utah.
The husband and wife sent a picture of themselves holding a sign saying,
"We love you.  From Mommy and Daddy"

President Lono of the Kimbanseke Stake, came to comfort Philomene & her family.
He is talking to Arnold about the braille "impression-printer" & paper

the Staggs had found for him.

President Jameson is explaining to Arnold, in French, about another gift for him.
(an audio narration of the Book of Mormon on CDs, brought by the Staggs.)
Arnold has been a faithful member of his Aaronic Priesthood
Teacher's Quorum in his ward and will no doubt serve a mission
 suited to his abilities some day.  He will continue to bless lives.
When I told him that we would get him a CD player so he could play the CDs,
his eyes got wide & he happily asked a very logical question... "When?"
Two weeks later we were able to purchase a radio/CD player
and have it delivered to him at the orphanage.
Another good man is "Big John".  He translates for Julia, who works
with  an adoption agency in Utah & travels to this and other orphanages often.
I promised him that I would make sure to show his cowboy belt buckle,
which was given to him by the Hatches (the Mission Office couple we replaced).
Brother Hatch was a rodeo bull rider, so maybe it's a prize.  John is very proud of it.
He also has a heart of gold and told me, "I am not wealthy and I cannot do much,
but this is something I can do (translating) to help these children."
Isn't that amazing insight and wisdom.  How often do we think we cannot "give"
because we do not have money?

This little spit fire of a girl was adamantly trying to tell me something in Lingala.
 (I can say "Mbote" (hello) and "Mundele" (white person),  
but that gets me only just so far in a conversation.
She raised her voice and repeated her comment, with animated gestures,
not comprehending why any ADULT would not be able to understand her.
Shortly afterward, she & the other children broke into a sponaneous song & dance.
They were all making dance moves to an African chant and having a fun time.
I tried to upload the video to YouTube, hoping to put a link on the blog.
After 18 hrs. the video had only uploaded 70% so I gave up.
You will have to use your imagination as you look at the next few photos.

When John first told her that he wanted to take a picture,
she put her hands on her hips with a sassy smile.

But, then she went even further... with a full "model-pose!!

Here's she's making some hip-swivel dance moves.
This sparked all of the other kids to come over to dance.
Then, Jonathan & Arnold started leading them by clapping in rhythym
and singing an Africa chant which the children repeated & danced to.
They all enjoyed this unplanned entertainment, as did we.
The dancing raised the spirits of Philomene's granddaughter, 
and Jonathan was able to be provide further distraction playing this hand game.
So  many times, I've noticed how he & Arnold show care for the children and others.
Right after this, I tried the game with him, too (and did badly!) That made her laugh.
She, her brothers and mother have now returned to France.
They aren't members of the Church, but  because they had enjoyed attending here,
Philomene's son-in-law told the family, the night before he died,
that they could find an LDS Church back in France.
I noticed President Jameson was just standing with a bed  part,
so I asked him what he was doing.
He said that the other men told him to "hold this and stay right there",
He said, in his wonderful self-deprecating way, that he suspected it was because

 the best contribution he could make was to keep out of the way

The kids loved watching the six bunk beds being put into the rooms.

Some smaller size bunks were made for the younger children
and larger size bunks for the older ones.
Children who were peeking in to watch, kept running away & then back to George,
 after he started a game of "Gotcha!" with his collapsible measuring tape.

The Staggs (far left & right) first invited George & me to visit the orphanage.

They have just completed their mission this week and returned to Oregon,
but their good works will live on in the lives of these and future children.
Elder & Sister Billings (Construction Training) have picked up the torch
and were instrumental in leading construction of bunk beds and sewing new clothes. 
These children and adults behind him were passersby who sometimes paused and watched.

You can also see some more of the interested adult neighbors.
We hope it is just harmless curiosity, but sometimes it's with envy or theft in mind.

President (his real name) and Cedrick were two of Elder Billings' graduates.
They voluntarily came on this day to help reassemble the bunk beds.
How many young men would be willing to give up a Saturday to help children?

This little fellow suddenly began crying
and no one could figure out why or help him stop.
We finally learned that his mother had gone shopping & he was crying for her.
(African "orphans" sometimes have a parent who simply can't care for them)

But, soon all was well.  George has an amazing ability to calm fretting children.
On the other hand, I have a tendency to make them cry harder.
When given permission, the kids squealed & scrambled onto the first bunk. 
They were so excited!  
Their previous "beds" were mats on this dark & dingy concrete floor.
Philomene told them to wave & say "Thank You!"
She NEVER neglects to instruct them in good manners,
but their smiles are reward enough.

My little shadow and some other neighborhood children
joined the children of the orphanage for a little visit.
(you can tell which are which by the new clothes)
In the background is President Lono, who stayed despite a busy schedule.
As we were leaving, this little neighborhood boy, tried to let me know
 that HE knew some English.
The "thumbs up" seems to be a universal symbol.
As I tried to get a picture of all of them, they kept crowding right up to me.
With rudimentary French & hand motions, I was finally able to get them to "stay".
Not to be outdone by the first little boy,

they all showed me that they, too, knew "thumbs up".
For most children, it is intriguing and important to shake a mundele's hand.
Some want to see if the white rubs off,

some simply consider it good luck or a rare opportunity.
And SOME, when the opportunity does come,

decide at the last minute that it is just TOO risky!
The neighborhood mothers thought it was hilarious that I was teasing their kids...
The kids started saying "Mundele!" I pretended to misunderstand them and said,
"NO! ... You are not a mundele!   I am a mundele!!"
In this picture, some are playing a sort of

"Come Near Bravely & Then Run Far Quickly" game.
Children are wonderful!


  1. I posted a comment yesterday. I don't know what happened to it. This is my favorite post so far. I love that even when they are dealing with a personal tragedy they still show their appreciation for the clothes and beds you guys brought them. I love the smile you see from the adults and children alike. I hope you are able to do more things like this in the remaining time you have in Africa. <3 it

  2. Not sure why your 1st comment didn't post here, especially since it showed up in my gmail inbox, which I almost never check. Anyway, I'm so happy that you enjoyed this one. It's probably 'cause you have such a tender heart for children. But, then again, who couldn't love these little ones. Two weeks after these pictures were taken, the men completed some picnic tables w/ benches so they would have tables at which to eat. They've been delivered. Little by little their lives are being made better. We will go again.