We purchased our third Sunshine House a year ago. At the same time, we were finalizing the registration of our foundation with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Mozambique. We received our approval in December 2018. We rejoiced because we now would be able to work with Social Action for Women and Children to receive orphaned children into our homes. We met with the director of Social Action in February and received her approval to receive children. We shared with her our vision and requested children aged 7 or younger, as we wanted young children whom we could shape and transform. We were excited and ready to fill the beds in this third house. But…Mozambique being Mozambique, February became March, March became April, and on it went until we found ourselves in the month of September and still without children and our house still empty. I was in despair and wanted to scream, “There are 2 million orphaned children in Mozambique, can you not just give me 4???”
Social Action finally contacted us a few weeks ago and told us they had 3 little boys for us!!! I was over-the-moon happy…in fact, I cried! As we looked into it, they were very slow in sharing any details with us…the age of the boys, their grade in school, their names, etc. We had no information. Until the day they unloaded on us that the children were much older than what we requested- a girl of 14 and two boys of 12 and 10. Our response was, Nope, Nope, Nope. Again we explained to them why we wanted younger children. As I met with a case worker at their offices, she folded her hands and begged me to consider these three children. She said that as soon as she heard about them, she thought of our foundation and believed we were exactly what these children needed because we would provide them with a family. She pleaded with me to just go and “have a look”. I pictured myself doing this and regretting it…how can you go “have a look” at three orphaned children and not bring them home with you? But I agreed to go see them.
The children lived in Manhica, a two hour drive from our home. We traveled there on Friday, September 6th- me, Amade, a manager at our Sunshine Nut Company, and Marcia, our local contact at Social Action. We met up with the case worker in Manhica. She took us to the children’s home. It had belonged to their parents and now was theirs. We pulled up to a very small cement home with a battered front door and closed up windows. Inside I could see a little boy sitting in a plastic chair with his head down on the plastic table in front of him. As we got out of the car, adults and children began to assemble in the yard of this home, everyone curious to find out why we were there. The little boy in the house came outside. He sat down on the front step of the home with his back to us. He refused to look at us or speak with us.
Meanwhile, the curious neighbors began telling us about the children. Their remaining parent, their mother, had died two years earlier. Since that time, the older girl cared for her two younger brothers while continuing to pursue her education. She was now in grade 8. Neighbors occasionally brought rice for them to eat, but they had little to share because they themselves are poor and have very little for their own families. The house had no water or electricity. The only furniture the children had was a plastic table, a plastic chair, and a grass mat to sleep on a night.
They had one pot to cook in and one plate from which to eat. The older girl and the younger boy had remained in school. They said the girl was very responsible and helpful. Yet “this boy”, they said referring to the little guy on the front step with his back to us, he refused to go to school and was a thief, stealing various things from the neighbors. At this point, he began to cry. And at this point, I had had enough of the neighbors’ input. “This boy” had a name, Vicente, and he had feelings, which were being sorely abused. I asked Amade to take Vicente away and speak to him privately. When they returned, Amade said Vicente was crying because he was afraid we were there to take him away. He had been threatened that a home would be found for his older sister and younger brother, but that he would be taken away to a center for troubled, problem boys. He said he would not leave his family.
Amade and I went around to the back of the house to talk privately. This is when the younger 10-year-old brother, Helio, came home from school. He came out back to talk with us. The whole time we talked, his hands trembled with fear and he could hardly look us in the eye. We asked him to call Vicente to join us.
We shared with them who we were, why we were there, and what we had to offer to them. All day, I had been praying for God to give me a sign that it was His will for us to take these children. As of yet, I was not feeling anything either way. We had been with the boys for an hour and I was starting to panic as I had one of those, “God! I asked You for a sign and I’m not getting one!” talks with Him. It was imperative for me to know that these children wanted to come with us and that they were open to receive what we had to offer them. I did not want to take older children who did not want to come, would run away, or cause problems. I told the boys that we did not want to take them away from their home, that it was their choice to stay. I asked them if they wanted to come with us. Immediately, with not even a second of hesitation, the older boy, Vicente, looked up and into my eyes and said, “Quero viver no seu crèche” (I want to come live at your center.) It was the first time I had had the opportunity to even look into his brown eyes. Helio immediately followed his brother, eagerly looking up into my face and repeating the exact same words. My heart began to move… a little. I began to have hope. I looked at the boys and shared with them that they would not be living at a center; they would be part of a family now.
Amade suggested we pray with the boys before leaving. We were in a circle, Amade directly across from me, each of us with a boy on our right and on our left. Amade put a hand on each boy’s shoulder. As we closed our eyes to pray, I glimpsed each boy putting an arm around his waist. I then placed a hand on each boy’s back, and I felt one little hand slip around my waist from the left, and one little hand slip around my waist from the right. Tears filled my eyes as I knew I had just gotten my sign from God. These boys not only wanted to come, they were open to receive. The difference in the boys' demeanor from the time we met first them until we left only an hour later was incredible. They went from being resistant and distant to happy and hopeful.
We said goodbye to the boys and headed back to Matola. We did not get to meet their older sister, Virginia, because she was at school. I had to laugh to myself to imagine what stories she would be hearing when she returned after school to her brothers.
For the whole weekend, I could not stop thinking about these three children and God’s goodness in connecting us with them. By Monday morning, I was ready to drive back to Manhica and bring them here, but Social Action had documents to prepare to enable this to happen. We made a plan to fetch them on Friday. That day could not come soon enough. We were all excited…me, Amade, Don, and the woman who would now be their new mom, Ilda. Ilda was actually giddy with excitement!
We arrived at their house on Friday to find the children dressed and ready to go. A small plastic bag held their only worldly belongings. Their grandmother and an aunt were present at the home along with a mix of community children and teenagers, who were there to see them off. It was a pleasure to meet Virginia. We knew the boys wanted to come, but we didn’t know how she felt. She greeted us…a kiss on the cheek and hug confirmed she was ready to come as well. Her eyes were bright with happiness.
We began by signing documents with the children’s family members that gave us guardianship of the children. The aunt and grandmother shared their appreciation of the help we were offering. The grandmother’s main concern was that she had made sure the children always attended church and asked us that if we could, would please keep them attending. She was overjoyed to learn that it is our priority to raise the children knowing God as their Father, Jesus as their Savior, and the Holy Spirit as their counselor. She had us all join hands as she prayed a blessing over us and the children.
It was time then to say goodbye and climb into the van. The children got into the van so quickly that I didn’t even see it happen! I climbed into the back seat with them, trying to avoid being hit by their little flailing arms waving goodbye. The van door shut, Don began to pull away, and Vicente, the older brother, who was sitting next to me, literally collapsed into his lap and sobbed.
He was not crying because he was sad. He was not crying because he was happy. He was crying tears of relief to be leaving this life behind him- a life of being unloved and suffering from hunger and illness and a lack of basic necessities. His sister, Virginia, sat next to him consoling him as Helio looked on. I pulled out a bag of stuffed animals I had purchased earlier, and like a miracle cure, the tears stopped and smiles spread across all three faces. They clutched their stuffed animals to their chest as we continued our journey to Matola. Along the way, we treated everyone to a KFC takeaway meal- the first of many new experiences for them. Their eyes were wide with excitement and appreciation.
We could not have arrived at their new home at a more perfect time as our other Sunshine children had just gotten out of school and were passing by. They looked beautiful in their school uniforms, shoes, and book bags.
As Virginia, Vicente, and Helio got out of the van, the children greeted them with hugs. Their new mom, Ilda, came out of the house, giggling as she embraced each child in a warm hug. We brought them in the house and showed them their new bedrooms. They were overwhelmed to see beds and laid on them to see how if felt to be on a bed- another experience they never had.
We continued the tour around the house- they were captivated by the television in the living room as well as the refrigerator in the kitchen. But the biggest curiosity of all was the toilet in the bathroom!
We then left them to get acquainted with their new mom, Ilda, and their new sister, Nina, Ilda’s daughter.
Since Friday, I have returned to the home every day to check in on them. Every day, I see children who are happy happy happy. When I arrive, they come bounding out of the house like little puppies. They hug me and take whatever is in my arms to carry in for me. They pull out a chair for me to sit on. Their faces are shining and their eyes are bright. And to be totally honest, the one I see the most change in is Vicente- the one who sat with his back to me that first meeting. The one referred to by his neighbors as “this boy”. The one whose eyes were filled with fear and anger. Now, he smiles continuously and is so affectionate.
We were blessed to be able to get the two boys enrolled in school immediately. Helio has continued on in grade 4 and Vicente has started in grade 3 because he stopped going to school when his mother died. The day before they started, we did our back-to-school shopping to outfit them with a uniform, shoes, book bag, and materials. There are no words in the English language sufficient enough to express the awe and pride in their faces as they tried on their new school uniforms.
It was then that we discovered they had only the very worn clothing that was on their back, and they did not even own a pair of underwear. So we stopped by another store to get them some clothing. They started school the next day. As they were walked to their new school, both boys were beaming as they said that they would get the highest grades of all!
We are still in the process of getting Virgina enrolled. She is in high school, and it is not as easy to find space. We just got the good news yesterday that she was accepted at Escola Maria Ana Mogas- a private Catholic school that we have a great relationship because of the teacher training programs we have conducted there for the past three years. Virginia is beyond ready to start and asks us every day if she can go study yet. We will take her next week to get outfitted for her uniform and then she can begin!
As I try to close this story, I really don’t even know what to say. Maybe I don’t need to say anything at all. Maybe as you have read my feeble attempt to share the story of these three children, you have gone on the emotional journey I have been on. This whole experience has taught me yet again that our plans are not always God’s plans and that His ways are higher than our ways. I am ashamed to admit that I was not interested in taking these children into our Sunshine family because they were not what I had envisioned. They were not cute, pudgy little toddlers, as of yet unspoiled by the ugliness and harshness of life in Mozambique. God had another plan for us and our Sunshine family. He brought me a teenager, an almost teenager, and a boy. These children have been set free and are now filled with hope by the security, stability, and opportunity they have before them. They have embraced their new life with exuberance and gratitude. I am filled with awe of God’s goodness. I am thankful that I did go “have a look”. I now look forward to seeing these children realize their God-given potentials. Virginia wants to be a police officer. Vicente wants to be a doctor. Helio wants to be a teacher. And me…I am deeply, deeply humbled to be a part of helping them make their dreams come true.