Today’s repost about my 2009 trip to Zambia deals with the power of touch…
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Just one touch…
I went into the missions trip to Zambia with no expectations. I’d heard the stories and seen the pictures of previous team members and how they’d bonded with the children. I’ve always had a soft spot for the littlest lambs, so I was excited about the opportunity to spend time with the children of the Hope Community School and Hope House Orphanage. But I’ve been a part of enough service projects to know that going in with expectations will usually leave you disappointed.
During our first days interacting with the children, I felt…well, I don’t know if I ever figured out exactly what I felt. I observed my teammates jumping in headfirst; playing with kids, hugging kids, etc. I admired that, but I just wasn’t feeling it. I think I was probably still suffering from a jetlag hangover along with trying to mentally come to terms with the fact that I was finally standing on African soil. Anyone who knows me would probably be surprised to hear me say that I felt like I was not in my element. Being around hundreds of kids IS my element and something I have plenty of experience with. Yet I just wasn’t feeling the emotional connection that my teammates appeared to be feeling.
It wasn’t until the next to the last day that I finally made that connection and had a “moment.” On this day, we split into three groups and went to each classroom to give inspirational speeches to the students. My group was the first to finish, so we spent time outside with the kids who’d been released from class. I spent some time with a small group of girls – three of them gravitated toward me for the rest of the afternoon: Elena, Grace and Juliet. (In the picture, Elena is in the pink, Grace is in the purple, and Juliet is holding the spoon.)
Juliet never let go of that spoon – and that in itself was just intriguing to me. These three little girls followed me around, holding my hands. It started off with just Elena and Grace, but Juliet eventually joined them. One of the first things you noticed about the students, from their physical appearance, was that some of them were obviously better taken care of than others. Clearly, this was the case with my three new friends.
During the medical clinic we’d run for two days, we’d been told a lot about the different diseases that the kids were probably suffering from – including ringworm. Many people might hear these things and then be afraid to touch the children, but I come from a different school of thought. One thing I’d done since we’d arrived was to be intentional about touching and hugging. (My love language is physical touch, it’s just who I am!) But on this particular day, while spending time with Juliet in particular…I began to think about what our touch really meant.
I had the feeling that most students like Juliet don’t get very many loving touches. So I felt bad because Elena and Grace had a monopoly on the only two hands that I had. So I made it a point to hold Juliet’s hand with a couple of my fingers. And as the three of us sat together under a tree – Elena and Grace holding on to the monopoly and sitting on each side of me – I extended my reach to include Juliet, who was sitting on the other side of Grace. I had the feeling that Juliet was used to being left on the outside…so I continued to include her in my touches.
Tonight, while lying in the bed, Juliet came to mind. I thought back to her eyes as she just smiled at me during the whole time we were together. As I type this, I remember when she leaned over and rubbed my hair, then said something in Bemba to Grace. Though she wouldn’t tell me what she said, I suspect she said something about how my hair felt like her hair. I remember Juliet clutching that spoon for dear life and suspect that it’s the most valuable thing she owns. As I reflected on my time with Juliet, I couldn’t help the tears that welled up in my eyes. And I chose to believe that my one touch would mean the world to her. (If you don’t think that one touch can change someone’s life, consider the Woman with the Issue of Blood.)
So I ask you, who have YOU touched today?