Time and time again, I experience first-hand that all people want is to be noticed and to know that someone cares. This is true throughout the whole world, not just here in Mozambique.
This was our third Saturday of feeding the children in the Matola-Santos community a meal. This month we started out small, feeding the 39 children in Berta's Project and inviting in about 40 children from the community. After taking care of the children in Berta's Project, we invite the community children to come through her gate. They wash their hands, receive their meal, and settle down to eat it. After they are done eating and the plates are collected, I sing with them, share a Bible story with them, and send them off. Our goal for our first month was to get ourselves organized and everything running smoothly. Next month, we will increase the number of children we invite.
Last week I told them the story of how God created the world. This week, I reviewed it with them. We reviewed what God did on each day and added in hand motions to help them remember it. I would show out (in Portuguese) and they would repeat after me: Day 1…God made…the day and the night. Day 2…God made…the great big sky. Day 3…God made…the oceans in one place, the land in another place, and the plants. Day 4…God made…the sun, the moon, and the stars. Day 5…God made…the fish (and we made fish faces, which made us all laugh hysterically) and the birds. Day 6…God made…animals and people. Day 7…(whispering) God rested (and we snored, making us all laugh hysterically again). They did not just repeat these phrases, they screamed them out with enthusiasm. I believe the entire population of Matola-Santos learned along with them. We had a blast!
At the end, we were exhausted. They were all sitting on the ground as I stood before them. And then…my world was wrecked. A little girl in a torn yellow shirt and pink tutu, stood up, came to my side, looked straight up into my face and clearly stated, “Mama Terri, eu te gosto.” (Mama Terri, I like you.) I melted to my knees and told her that I liked her as well. She wrapped her skinny arms around my neck and hugged me tightly, not letting go. As she did, the 41 children assembled before us began to cheer loudly and clap their hands. In this culture, it is not accepted for a grown person to cry, but I could not help myself. I cried. And I cried. And the more I cried, the more they cheered.
I cried because this little girl felt God’s love. I cried because this moment would not have happened without my husband I having taken a huge step of faith to reach out to these children. I cried because these 3 little words and this hug made all the years of sacrifice and tears worth it all. I cried because so many family members and friends support our work financially and through their prayers. It is because of them that I can do the work I do here, and they will never have the joy of having a little girl look up at them and say, “Eu te gusto,” and be able to feel her arms wrapped around their necks. I cried because many of the 42 children with me don’t have anyone in their lives who tells them that they like them.
Once I finally collected myself, and the little girl let go of my neck, and the cheering died down, I stood before 42 children with the biggest grins on their faces. They were elated. They touched me deeply, and it thrilled them. We sang “Jesus Loves Me”, I prayed for them, and they were dismissed to go home. As they filed out the gate, each and every child made their way to me, arms outstretched to receive a hug. Even the older 14 year old boys came for a hug! They wanted to be loved as well. I could hardly contain my emotions. After the last child was hugged and had slipped out the gate, I shut the gate and saw Berta looking on. She was grinning from ear to ear, having witnessed what had just happened at her project. It was good. So very very good. And it was all God.
So for all the children who had full bellies yesterday and felt the love of God, I want to tell each of you reading this story, “Nos te gostamos” (We like you). Imagine our arms wrapped around your neck and consider yourself hugged!