Written and submitted by Robin Wallace Johns
When I phoned Cyndi, our Ad Council Chair, to inquire about hosting a small group of African children, I got her answering machine. I just knew someone with a bigger house had offered, and we had not made the team. When Cyndi called back and asked, “Do you want girls or boys?” I felt like we were the finalists for a million dollar prize.
From the minute we drove up to our Grassland on that sunny Saturday and glimpsed our classrooms filled with very dark-skinned children doing their schooling, the children of the people we had helplessly watched suffering on the news all our lives, my eyes sprang a leak that grew in size as the weekend progressed. They had come to us. We could reach out and touch them. At last.
But it was they who touched us.
They lost no time in greeting us with hugs and gentle, “Thank you, Auntie’s” and an unashamed appreciation that took our breath away. Whatever little game Marli, Whitney, Jacqui, or Gabriel offered to play, or song they offered to sing, they applauded with laughter and joy – no whining, no tattling, no sassing - just pure, unadulterated appreciation.
When I drove their precious teacher, Perpetua, and our little charge of three to our modest home, the three of them said in unison, “You have a nice home.”
I felt almost embarrassed, like they were patronizing me. (That was before we saw the video in church, of their small mud huts – you have to bend your head to get inside.)
They drank our water like it was a milkshake. (Our plain, unflavored water. . . Except that it was cold . . . and clean.) They received the supper like it was a feast. And every time we turned around, there were those enormous, brown eyes looking up at us and those soft, little voices, “Yes, please.” “Thank you, Auntie.” “Thank you, Uncle.”
They prayed as easily as they breathed. When I passed their room on Sunday morning, Pamela was kneeling in prayer, calling on her Father in an audible voice, while the others got ready around her. “O good Father . . . o good Father . . .” her soft voice would say over and over.
They graciously carried their own dishes to the sink and washed them. They made their bed. They offered to carry my bag.
Lost for words, we watched them, these offspring of Royalty, imitate their Father at every turn.
Sunday morning, when we stood in the sanctuary, and I saw America’s front rows lined with Africa, my heart felt like it would burst. You could almost hear the heartbeat of the King.
Our worship was holy, our fellowship sweet. Our love offering was unprecedented. How could we thank them, this poised, little procession, for what they had brought to us and our children?
As they sang and danced on our platform, my eyes searched desperately for three little faces in that sea of matching clothing, short haircuts, and long limbs. There was our Pamela in the back, belting out her praises to her King, our gentle, soft-spoken Pamela. Here in the front was our youngest, Diana, with her round, little cherub face. Where, where was Justine? The children told me later - over on the bongos was our Justine, with that irresistibly cute smile, I’m sure, that spreads from ear to ear, beating the life out of those drums.
After little Derek left the choir and eventually ended up in Gabriel’s lap, I looked at them sitting there, five and ten years old, the little, dark hand resting in the light one. I knew it doesn’t get any sweeter than this.
Gracefully, they had moved into our lives that short weekend, and gracefully they left us standing there, our hearts chasing after them.
Our children wept. So did we. (Yesterday morning, very early, I stepped off my couch and got on my knees. “O good Father,” I heard myself say, “O good Father . . .”)
We did not want to sleep Sunday night. Whitney sat up late with Gene and me, reminiscing fondly our memory-filled weekend. And when I opened my Bible, there were their beautiful faces looking back at me. The little girls that I couldn’t tell apart just twenty-four hours before had managed to distinguish their little individual selves in our memories forever. I marvel at how different their features are now. I studied each of their sponsor sheets. “Poor.” “Poor.” “Very poor.” I read that each of these three had one living parent. So they could never be ours in the way I longed for them to be. We could help sponsor, maybe even do holidays, and we could share in their futures in a marvelous way. But I could never tuck them in each night and tell them how beautiful they are and shield them from the world of danger and poverty they are going back to.
Yet, for one weekend, they were ours. One profound, storybook weekend. Royalty came to Bear Creek. And showed us what it’s supposed to look like when we live in the Courts of the King.