It is love in the simplest form that touches our hearts in the deepest way.
“Open your hand Mana Jez”, says the little girl in front of me, “I have something for you.” I hold out my hand and she places three little stones in my palm. “They are important. You must keep them safe,” she says through a shy smile.
“Oh! Thank you, Joelma!” I exclaim, my voice full of emotion as I struggle to hold back tears. I scoop her little form into my arms and squeeze her tight. “Good bye, my beautiful girl.” Holding her at arms length, I meet her deep eyes one more time. “Até próxima,” I whisper. Its the Portuguese way of saying “I will see you again.” At this her face breaks into the most beautiful smile. She turns and quickly disappears into her Dorm, leaving me kneeling in the sand.
This photo holds far more then just 3 stones. The significance is in her simple act; the deep love it demonstrates. Joelma is a little Mozambican girl living in an orphanage amongst 270 other children. At five years old, she is blessed to live in an environment where her needs are met. But besides her clothes, she has few personal possessions, and nothing she can give me. Nevertheless, in response to the love she received, she was compelled to find me a goodbye gift. These three stones symbolize the love shared between us. They are proof of the Father’s love flowing to His children. Just a moment of individual attention was enough for Joelma’s thirsty little heart to be filled with the unconditional love of her Father.
The first time our lives crossed was when, as a gap year in 2018, I volunteered at Zimpeto Children’s Centre. Mozambique became my home and relationships were built that would last forever. The months flew by and before I knew it, my year was up. Leaving the centre was extremely difficult; but I held onto the peace of knowing that I had faithfully served in the Lord’s will.
Seven months had passed when I was presented with a surprise invitation to visit Zimpeto. I was overjoyed with the opportunity to visit the people and nation I love. Every moment of every day was filled life and love. But two weeks dissapear quickly. I was dreading the thought of having to leave. How would I say goodbye again?
The Gifts Continue:
It’s the afternoon before I leave and I’m sitting on the swings with a few of the children. One of the teenage boys presents me with a gift wrapped in old paper. It’s a white T-shirt decorated with the names of the children I love. Who knows where the shirt even comes from? But oh, how special is their intention to make me a gift! My heart is deeply touched, and I barely make it to my room before the tears come.
For the remainder of the day, children form all ages find me to give me handmade cards, necklaces, and bracelets. They tell me they love me and will miss me; that I must journey with God as He will take care of me.
After dinner, I go to the girls dorm to say goodbye. Through smiles, hugs and tears of love, the girls too begin to bring me goodbye gifts. One gives me a colourful patchwork bag. The first bag she ever made. For four years she has hid this bag safely in a box under her bed. Neither of us can hold back the tears.
The goodbye hugs are filled with emotion, as I am given other special little items treasured by their owners. At first I didn’t want to accept these gifts. How could I? These children have so few personal possessions. What they are presenting me with is among the most special things they own.
But how could I not accept them? They are offering their most prized possessions to me to show me how they love me. These are tokens, physical objects to demonstrate the love we share.
The Final Gifts:
The last gifts I receive are photographs. Individually, three different children bring me their photographs. These photographs are special to the children because they are rare. Those who do have a photograph, only have it because it was hidden to be kept safe.
“No, I cant take this,” I try to explain, “It’s your only one.” “I want you to have it,” each one replies, “I want you to remember me.”
In knowing I was only visiting for two weeks, I had asked the Lord to please love through me in a way only He could. For His love to touch their hears in the places where they needed to be touched. For the Holy Spirit to lead me to the one sitting amongst the other ninety-nine.
Why did so many children feel compelled to give me goodbye gifts? I never gave them anything. I had nothing to offer. All I could do was love. And then I realized, as if it was the first time my eyes were opened. “The Lord has loved these children through me!” He did a miracle work and somehow each child received the truths of “I am noticed. I am an individual. I am important. I am worth Jesus dying so I could receive the love of the Father.”
We are just like Joelma with her 3 little stones. We have nothing other than our impure hearts to give to the Lord. But because of His unconditional love for us, the Creator of the Universe values our hearts above all else.
Joelma asked me to keep her stones safe. The truth is that Jesus died in our place; and He is the only One we can trust to keep our hearts. It is Jesus who heals the orphan spirit. He healed mine and now I can see nothing more meaningful and important than bringing the love of God to those who are hungry for it.
The Father is reaching out to the orphan spirit of this world. He is reaching out to the abandoned and lost. He is meeting hearts where they are and carrying them home into His love. And He is doing in through us!