I am drawing near the end of my first week back from Ludlati. At home, with my bride, I have an understanding heart and a listening ear. I love this woman. She "gets it". She understands. After all, though she might not have personally stepped foot on African soil, she was there in spirit with me, there in prayer. She loves these people, these children as much as I. She was literally holding together our lives here making it possible for me to be present with eleven others to reach across the globe to our Ludlati friends. She had no less a part in this story than I. I will be forever grateful to her.
What I encounter in the world, particularly at my work is another story altogether. I have been greeted with many a "Welcome Back! How was Africa?". Most making this statement assume I have been on some sort of organized charity work with a great many tales to tell of wild animals and exotic foods. Most are still unaware of where Swaziland is, knowing only it is on that "dark continent" but not quite north enough to be near the middle east. They are interested in the sights and sounds and sensationalist details of extreme poverty, but if I start to provide too many details, most start to shift uncomfortably or look around indicating they need to get back to work. This saddens me. It grabs at my heart because I know if they only knew what I knew they would be forever changed.
There is a scar on my left arm that is healing. It is about six inches long and was obtained while I was trekking the perimeter of the care point fence praying one morning. This was not a leisurely walk for the thorns; small shrubs heavily laden with two to four inch barbs throughout. They are everywhere. Continually they grab at your clothing, snagging you, holding you back, attempting to puncture the layers. Even with my good clothing, long pants, socks, good shoes and the like, it was work getting through the tangle and I failed to do so unscathed.
The older boys have cleared this scrub from the soccer field area but it is present just beyond the goal posts. I noted early in the week some of the boys who did not have shoes would share a pair, running up and down the field with only one shoe on. When the ball went wild and into the thorns, they would hop, one legged on the foot with the shoe, to retrieve the ball. Sad, but smart at the same time.
The thorns in this place, do not detract from the beauty of Ludlati. They do not impede the persistent care of the bomake. In fact, they do not even seem to impact the attendance nor the play of the children. They are simply part of the fabric of this place. There is a harshness in the jagged rocks and barbed thorns, but it is all woven together with the warmth of the smiles of children and the sounds of laughter, the bleating of passing goats, and the smell of the cook fire. Even among the thorns, there is a simple clean beauty in this place.
When I see the thorns, I am reminded of something else. I am reminded that though life is full of entanglements clutching and grabbing at us as we pass through, and though we will lose blood, sweat, or tears as we engage them, though we will feel the penetration of those barbs as we move through this world, we are not to shy away from them. If we do, we will miss out on the greatest of treasures. If we only love safely, if we only risk little, if we only live sparingly, if we only stay on the "safe paths", then we will lose the beauty of what God has in store for each of us.
When I see these thorns, I am also reminded of another picture. I am reminded of a woven crown of thorns, pressed down upon a bloodied and bruised head hung in exhaustion. I am reminded of a Savior, whose blood lost upon that crown was shed so that I, like my brothers and sisters at Ludlati and at home, would know true life forever with him. I am reminded that the One who beckons me to follow Him, to follow His example often leads through paths that are not "safe" or "comfortable" but rather through paths that yield worth and return in the effort. According to 2 Corinthians 4:17-18, His goal is not my comfort, but rather my greatest glory in Him. The great comfort is that He will always be with us.
The scar on my arm is fading. I pray that the manner in which I obtained that scar does not fade from my mind. I pray the conviction and the heart knowledge that burns within will forever remain and not be lost in time or distance. I pray that I will be able to share a portion of that knowledge for God to move on people's hearts as He will. As for me, I have found beauty in the thorns.