Saturday, March 5, 2016

Plumpy nut... Sifa and Augie 2.0

The past 2 weeks feel like a year. It’s so hard for me to begin to think of what to write about Sifa and Augustine (Augie)… especially Sifa. Let’s recap. Mama Masika, a 4 time rape survivor, devoted her life to restoration of rape victims and their children (most of whom are born of rape). I went to visit them for the first time mid January. I was introduced to two babies who were found (no relation to each other) with the corpses of their dead mothers… two weeks after massacres took place in their villages. Masika heard about an attack, hiked up to look for survivors, found the kids and took them (Sifa and Augie) to the hospital. After one week, and not finding any surviving family, they were released to her, and that is where I met them. We don’t know their ages, their real names… we know nothing.

Sifa and Augie on Sunday, February 21st.

So what do I know? I know God has given me the capacity in my heart to love big, bigger than I ever thought possible. But these kids… whoosh! I can’t even… Maybe it was knowing their past, or I guess not knowing their past, that was so connecting for me. Maybe it’s the far away emotionless expressions they carried in their eyes; that void of hope and joy that drew me to them. A desire in me to see them restored to the fullness of who they were created to be.

I am not sure, I can’t even really begin to understand and at this point I don’t actually care. They are already so intertwined into my story, it doesn’t matter. Sifa faintly smiled in her sleep the day I took her to the hospital (February 19th)… I held that image in my mind for days because it gave me hope; this is not all for nothing. In her deep subconscious… somewhere in there, that small, brief smile showed me a faint glimpse of the innocent child who was still there.  She’s not gone.

I took this just after she had that slight 
smile, February 19th. She looked peaceful for the 
first time since I met her.

Whatever it was, they were on my mind night and day. I couldn’t close my eyes to sleep without seeing their faces. I love them so much. I woke up at 5 am every morning with anticipation waiting for the sun to come up so I could go to the hospital and see them. I wanted to give them their baths and feed them, especially Sifa. Augie was doing so much better than she was. She didn’t sleep easily or much; she was in so much pain. On Saturday (Feb 20th) I came to visit; Sifa had been awake for a while. Augustine was sleeping and Rachel was exhausted, so I took Sifa to give her a break.  (Rachel is Mama Masika’s oldest daughter, 28, who was staying in the hospital with the kids... all on the same bed).

Sunday before church, she reached for me when I came 
in and was actually making eye contact for a while. 

We went outside for fresh air, and as I sang to her, she fell asleep. Finally. After that day, she actually started looking at me and reaching for me when I came. This is a huge milestone for her. She did not engage in eye contact for a very long time. She would look off into the distance, and if you tried to move yourself to be in her line of sight, she would just keep looking somewhere else. She then started keeping my gaze for a second at a time when I sang to her or when I was talking to her. Eventually when I put her down, she started to watch me. Sunday was a great day, lots of emotional improvement and she even walked for the first time since they found her.

Augie too, was feeling better. They were both coughing less starting to show signs of being emotionally present. Monday morning was the same. I came back at lunch with one of our staff members to pray for the kids. We thought we saw a sly grin on Augies face at one point, as if he thought of something funny and curled up one side of his mouth. Sifa, although she reached for me, was slipping away again. By the time I came back later that evening, she was in critical condition. She had a high fever, her heart rate was so high the doctor could barely keep up the count… and she slipped back into her zombie like state of emotionlessness.

The nurse came to talk to us and prepared us for the worst, but reassured us the doctors would do everything they could. “It is in Gods hands now” she said. This is where my previous post came from. I love this little girl so much. I did everything I could to keep it together in the hospital, but I was dying inside. It was hard to watch them take her lifeless, but still alive body out of the room to the ICU, where I could not go. I was holding Augie, who was oblivious and just looked around with his adorable bottom lip popped out.  They both had been fighting for their lives since the day of the attacks. They were both emotionally and physically tired. Sifa’s body was giving in. I kept thinking, “ok God, this is it… do I really believe you. Do I actually trust you like I say I do”. I made a decision there; "Yes" I did. I would continue to pray and no matter what happened, I trust what He’s doing, because I do believe what He says.

Back to Rachel for a minute. Now, when I say staying at the hospital, please erase everything you know about hospital stays. The smell of a hospital; erase it. Hospital beds… erase that image. Cleanliness… erase it. Erase everything you know. They are in a community pediatric room. We tried to put them in a private room so they could have some quiet and maybe sleep better. But we were told they needed to stay with the other critically mal-nourished kids because they are all monitored the same and on the same feeding schedule. There are bugs. That’s all I will say about that. It’s not ideal, but it’s better than the rural hospital. Some of the beds have two mothers on the same bed. The room is full. When I come in the mornings, there are mattresses that have been pulled out into the middle of the floor so 2 of the mothers have a place to sleep. This was not an easy job and the responsibilities put on her were huge.

there is a camaraderie in this room. 
The women all become friends; I was fortunate 
to be included in it. Every time I came I 
received a warm "Karibu Muzungo" 
(welcome foreigner)... eventually, some of them 
started to call me Jenni. 

Sifa and Augie sitting on their bed back in the corner.

Rachel may be the strongest woman I know, literally. 

Tuesday morning the doctor allowed me into the ICU. She was stable; her fever had gone down, but otherwise she was the same. The doctor decided she needed a blood transfusion. She received an IV port in her neck, and a blood transfusion. Tuesday night Sifa was back in the community room. She looked so helpless and miserable. She could not move her head because of the IV, she still had a fever and was soaked in sweat. I would rinse a rag with cold water, lay it on her head and switch it out every few minutes. I laid on the bed with her for at least an hour singing to her, praying and changing her sweaty, hot rag out for a cold one.

4 IV ports in 2 weeks. Her tiny veins kept blowing.

Now I know I’ve said this before. Joy is a choice. When I see her laying there in pain, struggling to breath, I have a choice.  I choose joy. It’s not easy, but it gets me through the hard things. And I believe strongly that in the face of death, God shows us life. He has never failed to bring life and show joy to broken situations. I think for so long, I focused on the situation, not on the choice I have in responding to the situation and I missed out on a lot of joy.

Case in point. Monday night, after they took Sifa. I wanted to go home and cry. Instead I stayed to play with and love on Augie. He was sitting with me on the bed;I was talking to him and being goofy, probably more for my sake than his since I was still trying to hold it together… and he smiled. HE SMILED!!!! This is the baby I held, soaked in pee, at the funeral that had been emotionally detached since I met him. His adorable smile turned into laughing. As I got more and more excited for his smile and laughter, he laughed harder. We were all ecstatic! This was his first smile since he had been found. His smile... his deep, belly shaking baby laughter was a gift of love, joy, peace and hope in the face of the Sifa's uncertain recovery. This Hope I have is an anchor for my soul. I let loose. I cried anyway… tears of joy.

His first smile... (yes it's a girls onesie). I don't have the laughing. every time I started to film, he would stop.

Wednesday, Sifa was doing much better. She was sitting up again when I left her that morning. Later that evening after work… I walked into the room and as I walked over to their bed… this is what I saw.

this was her first smile...  it's a gift 
I was able to capture it!

I almost screamed. I’ve prayed for this moment since the first day I met her. I immediately pulled out my phone, took this picture through tears and then started to film. I was so excited… she too started to laugh at my excitement. I have never heard more precious or adorable sounds. EVER. These two babies laughing… it was unbelievable. UNBELIEVABLE.

Yes, we have matching dresses. They ran out of 
fabric for Augies shirt. So we are having 
another set made with different fabric. 

These kids are miracles. They should not have survived 2 weeks in the bush, alone, no food, no water, (by the way, “Mayi” which is Swahili for water, was the first word she said to me). They should not have survived the torrential rainstorms we get almost every night and the cold, wet chill of the mountains at night. They should not have survived the malaria and bronchitis with how severely mal-nourished and worn down their tiny little bodies were (Sifa, who is older, weighed in at a whopping 7 kilograms and Augie 8.5… they both gained a kilo the 12 day they were in the hospital). And I certainly don’t understand how they can survive the kind of trauma they've experienced.

Love is powerful. God is love.  So yes, God has given me the ability to love big… but these experiences, they stretch you. Every time He allows my limits to be stretched, my faith, my trust, my confidence... I end up feeling as though my heart exploded only to be made bigger to hold that much more the next time. This expanded capacity to love and be loved is not something I could have ever done on my own. This is all God.

 Sifa loves to play ball 

Augie loves to get belly szurberts... (don't 
judge me. I don't know how to spell that). 

Sifa and Augie were checked out of the hospital this past Monday. It was so bittersweet for me. I am beyond gratefully to God that they are healthy and so much better, and out of the hospital… but my heart aches because they are no longer just down the street, where I could see them when I want and spend hours with them each day. They are now hours away. Please, please, please continue to pray for them. They still have a long road to being fully restored to health. They are doing well, but not out of the woods yet.

Much love from Goma…

Augustine Masika before and after with plumpy nut 
all over his face! 

Sifa Masika before and after. Sassy, joyful and 
so incredibly beautiful

Plumpy nut heaven... Sifa and Augie 1.0

The video would have been longer, but I had to get Sifa more plumpy nut... :)

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Sifa... part 1

It's been a long past two weeks. I wrote this last Monday at the height of emotions. I will post an update in the next day or so to conclude what has been going on. 

When I was 14, I decided to officially say that I believe in God. Since then, I’ve had my challenges of learning to say that I actually believe Him. Learning how to have relationship with God is different than just saying “yes, I think He’s a real thing”. For most of my life, I cannot say I believed Him. I’ve tried to do a lot on my own strength and it’s not turned out for the best. Sure, something’s have turned out ok, but I can’t say for the best.

I can remember my 90 day review at SKB Architecture. I was so excited to work there. I loved it actually. But there was something already so deep in me desiring to do the work I do now. I just didn’t really know how to put the desire to words (and I certainly didn’t feel “good enough”). My boss asked me where I see myself in 5 years. I remember being thrown by that question, which came as a surprise to me… it’s a standard question. I don’t think I allowed them to know I was thrown. Since college, I remember wanting to live in the city and focus on design. Become a great designer. Not one of the great classics. But someone who was good at what she did; doing it with integrity and with joy. I remember “making a joke” and saying I wanted to be a professional friend after 5 years. I didn’t know then where that came from. I just knew that the question shook me and made me think… I know what I’ve always thought… but what is this other desire that I can’t describe.

Mama Zamooda. A real fighter

I didn’t know then how true that “joke” was. The desire to work with people in this capacity became tangible in Nepal. I knew there, that “this” was what I was meant to do. But how do I describe “this”… and HOW would “this” ever happen? I was scared at the thought of leaving behind the security of a paycheck. I was scared at the thought of not knowing what my life would hold “next year”… where would I be. What about insurance? My 401K? My Roth? My savings? These are the fears that tried to keep me from believing God. And really… when I think about it. Is there really any security in those things? 2009 was a rough year. So many friends were laid off. That could have happened to me. I am not guaranteed another paycheck. And now when I look around me, I realize more than ever that I am not guaranteed a tomorrow.

Teaching leadership class (in English)

Being in Haiti and now being here in Goma has changed me more than I thought possible. For one, who am I that God would choose me to do the work He has me doing? My life is a trail of disobedience and mistakes (especially my 20’s!). But, I can clearly see that pivotal night everything changed. Walking home from the metro, in tears, I remember telling Him… “If you’re real… if you’re really there and you do actually love me. You have to change this; take this situation from my life because I’m not strong enough to let it go on my own”. That night… the situation I am talking about was taken from me. Don’t get me wrong. It wasn’t peaches and rainbows. It hurt. Bad. Separating from the life I had made for myself so that God could start to give me the life He wanted for me was painful. I didn’t want that old life, but I was tempted to try to take it back because letting go really is hard. I am in awe at the realness of that night. At the swiftness of His answer… as if He was just waiting for me to ask. For me to make a choice.

Mama Kumeza, Mama Kabundo, Mama Ngalula and Amani. 

Taking that first step of believing God… by saying, “yes” to what I believed was God telling me: to get ready to leave my job. Feeling the heaviness of my possessions and yet wanting to hold on to them because they were mine. I bought them. I earned them. Such a battle between my heart and my head. But the freedom I felt as I let go. To hear God telling me to trust Him and trying not to think of all the “what-if’s”… What if He doesn’t do this and I look like a fool.  The freedom and peace that came with saying “yes” was more than enough for me.

That first step was the hardest step. But now, each time I say “yes” my faith becomes that much stronger because God keeps providing for me. He keeps doing what He says. Each time I think I am being lead to do something, especially a major decision, I have to think, “do I believe this is God or not?” and if I do, I have to decide whether or not I believe Him. “Yes God, I believe you will do what you say, no matter how crazy it seems”. Thinking that I would have a partner in all this, and then realizing that what was said to me; promised to me by a man, was not really there and then having to walk away. Missing my friends and family so badly sometimes I feel it on a cellular level. When friends and family get upset with me because I don’t write as often as they (or I) would like. Missing out on making memories with the people that I love; birthdays, weddings, just going for coffee or movies. Not being there, the separation. That hurts. But I believe that God will cover all of this, the sadness of missing memories and the loneliness with His goodness and joy. I have to make the choice to actually believe Him everyday. Sometimes minute by minute.

my nieces and I at our New Years celebration

When I learn the true story of the people I am working with and I can’t believe that such evil can possibly exist in this world. To know that a woman or a child feels utterly worthless in life breaks my heart. I’m not okay with that. Sure, it breaks a lot of people’s hearts and for different reasons. Mine breaks because I felt that way for most of my life. I did a good job of hiding it, but inside I was dead. That pivotal night I spoke of earlier was like (as clichĂ© as it sounds) rain in a drought. What was so dry and brittle became flooded with an indescribable refreshing sense of nourishment. It’s something that can’t be described; just experienced. Now I am devoting my life to letting people find their value in a loving God through relationship. Yes, I do a lot of administrative work, teaching English, teaching bible… monotonous or tedious things behind the scenes. But what I am really doing is building trust with the transparency of who I was and who I am now… to let you know that you are important me, but more so, you are important to God. I do this whether you believe in Him or not… because I do. I believe.

Learning "this little light of mine"

My latest struggle…

I have fallen so in love here. Yes with the country. I easily love places, as cheesy as it sounds, our world is so beautiful! I love people easily too, yes, this is also correct. But I have truly fallen in love with a person in a way that I am not sure what is happening to me. She is just a baby. Probably 2-3 years. She doesn’t talk to me. Actually, today she said “mayi” (Swahili for water) and I almost fell over from happiness to hear her sweet voice for the first time. She didn’t look at me for the longest time. Now I only keep her attention for seconds at a time. But there is something about her that is different than every child I’ve ever met. I want to take away the pain I see in her big, beautiful, empty eyes. (Not in a savior complex way. I'm very careful to guard myself from and check that kind of mentality). I want to make everything in her world ok. Yes, this is the case with many hurt kids and people, wanting to make it ok for them. But with Sifa, there is a passion to fight and pray for her that is stronger than what I’ve ever felt before. I want to see her fat and sassy and laughing and running and playing with other children. I want her to know that what has happened to her; what was meant for pain and defeat WILL turn to joy and gladness... God loves her and wants her to have hope for a future. Because He has hope for her future.

Sifa, Saturday afternoon, February 20th
Sifa means "glory" in Swahili

 Augustine (Augie) and Sifa... He sleeps, she really doesn't
Finally, she sleeps...and he's so chill!

In these past few years, the stories that I’ve heard... I think it would be easy for me (or anyone) to think God is not real, or that He is sitting in a recliner, feet up, eating chocolate and watching Golden Girls. But, I’ve seen too much redemption from such desolation for me to think there couldn’t be a God. When I meet a woman with 3 kids who has AIDS, contracted by her unfaithful and deceased husband… the 100th woman who has a child from rape, has been disowned and is terrified to tell her child for fear of the traumatization and stigma that child will carry… the 100th young woman who had a child when she was just a child herself because of rape… the woman who has had more than a dozen fistula surgeries because of the gun shot/stick put in her vagina after gang rape- and who lives with daily chronic pain, but carries at least 30lbs of water on her head each day, to her house while singing.  The young boys who have been raped and beat for sick pleasure… The women who prostitute because they think they have no other option or because she was stolen and forced. Having found the body of a young street boy brutally attacked and beaten beyond recognition and left in the road like a banana peel that was thrown out the window. This would make it easy for me to think- “how can God be real… or even loving”. The truth is now, I’ve simply seen too much to not believe in Him.

Mama Maylinna 

One of my favorite quotes came from a fictional book (The Shack) I read when I was living in that empty place. God is having a conversation with a father whose young daughter was kidnapped and murdered. As interesting as this book is theologically… this one thing has stuck with me all these years. God says:

“just because I work incredible good out of unspeakable tragedies doesn’t mean I orchestrate the tragedies. Don’t ever assume that my using something means I caused it or that I need it to accomplish my purposes. That will only lead you to false notions about me. Grace doesn’t depend on suffering to exist, but where there is suffering you will find grace in many facets and colors”. 

Meeting young men who have learned they were born of rape and then going through the phases of shame and anger only to choose life. Who choose not to let that be their identity, rather only part of their past. Mama Masika, her daughter Rachel (who is living on one hospital bed with two babies since the 19th of February, in a roach infested community hospital room), Desange and Michelène at Masikas. The mama’s who work here at UJN in the daughters of Congo program, the boys in Haiti who have chosen to leave the streets… so many people have shown me the grace of God. Their lives are redeemed and transformed because of the love of a God whom I choose to believe every day. Not just believe in Him. I believe Him. 

Michelene from Mama Masika's... so strong. 

My boys in Haiti, who I miss every day...

He said go to Goma, Congo. Not just the country that is coined the most dangerous place for women, but the exact region, and most people think you’ve gone mad; I believe Him. When He says He will protect me; I believe Him. When I cry myself to sleep at night because Sifa’s physical body is getting weaker after her emotional capacity had gotten stronger. I choose to believe Him. This is my choice. I am not saying this or working to change your mind (for those who don’t believe). I can just try my best, even though it’s not easy, to live like I really do believe what I say I believe.

Sifa and me shortly before we took her and baby 
Augustine to the hospital on February 19th.

With all of this said. Thank you to everyone who supports me. Many of you who support me do not believe in the God I serve. And many others who support me do not “believe Him” although you do believe in Him. I thank you all, no matter your belief, for putting your confidence in the faith I have for The God that I am devoting my life to.