The first house to open at the Tree of Life was named after Lahema. This is Lahema’s Legacy she left to the 12 children who live there now.
I first met Lahema in the summer of 2003 when we were putting on our annual Camp LIFE program, which used to be held at the orphanages, for the children at Yasheni Day-School Orphanage in Lusaka, Zambia, Africa. Our team was up front leading the life-filled songs for the excited sea of children, when out of the corner of my eye, I noticed a solemn little girl with a blank stare standing at the back of the concrete room – a shadow of a soul trapped inside a hollow body.
After the songs, I tried everything to bring God’s joy to this sad child. Hugs, smiles, love, and heart-warming words made no difference. She continued most of the week in a state that we so often see in Zambia called the “walking dead” – alive physically, but dead in spirit, emotion, mind, and even socially. When I found out her story from her teacher later, I soon realized why Lahema was devoid of any hope…both of her parents died when she was a young girl, and a few years later at the age of eight, with no one to look after her and protect her, she was raped. The Cry of Lahema was heard by no one.
It is a common myth in Zambia that if a man has relations with a virgin, he will be cured of AIDS. Therefore, young girls are frequently raped with no one to help them pick up the broken pieces of their shattered lives. This myth has had devastating effects throughout Zambia and has thrust the entire social structure of the country into a deep downward spiral.
Lahema’s frail, disease-ridden body was tiny. I could see her ribs very clearly and her wrists were as thin as they could be. She told me that year that she was sixteen years old, yet she looked like a fragile ten-year-old. The sad thing is that Lahema told me every year for the past four years that she was sixteen…every year I would ask her, and every year, she would tell me that she was sixteen years old. Poor Lahema didn’t even know how old she was…no one ever cared to celebrate her birthday or to even make one up for her. She was a dying orphan child who mattered to no one…
That soon changed when God sent us to Lahema’s “front doorstep” as we showed up with Camp LIFE at Yasheni. By Friday of that week, Lahema had received an abundance of love and her walls of numbness to the pain of the world finally came down. This precious child received Jesus Christ as her personal Savior and for the first time in her life since the loss of her parents, she began to hope. The Cry of Lahema had been heard by her Heavenly Daddy…smiles and joy replaced the pain and sadness, and true LIFE graced her face and heart.
I knew that God had done something very special that year to bond my life to Lahema’s. He had given Lahema to me as my true daughter in the faith, and our hearts had become supernaturally connected forever.
The following year when we came in 2004, Lahema’s heart was hopeful, and her health had improved, yet she was still very ill. You could tell that the light of Christ was shining through her, but she was still suffering from the devastating effects of AIDS.
When we returned in 2005, I was shocked beyond words when I first laid my eyes on Lahema! Her face was gorgeous…she didn’t even look like the same girl! Lahema gained a lot of very healthy weight and actually looked like a vibrant and joyful teenager. Wearing the clothes I had given her as a Christmas present, her beautiful face lit with joy was a sight to behold. I discovered that the USA had sent over $15 billion of ARV’s (Anti-RetroViral) to help relieve the suffering of AIDS victims in Africa. Praise the Lord that Lahema was one of the chosen patients to receive the free medication. Everyone who knew her from years past could not believe the change in Lahema.
In 2005, we taught the children to “Go Light their World,” and become the Light of Jesus to others. I personally watched as Lahema went around her community and prayed for God to heal other sick children and adults. The Cry of Lahema had been replaced by the Prayers of Lahema!
In 2006, we heard great reports that Lahema was doing very well health-wise. Two weeks before Lahema was scheduled to come to Camp LIFE, her orphanage director, Evelyn Mwenso, told her that she was going to get to see “Auntie Holly” real soon. Evelyn told me that her face lit up so brightly with a joy in her eyes that she will never forget, and that Lahema had literally been, “counting down the months” until Camp LIFE came again.
However, when the time was nearing for Camp LIFE to start, something very tragic happened that no one anticipated.
Lahema’s elderly grandmother who “took care of her” had gone off to the farm to find food and had given charge to one of her close friends to look after Lahema while she was gone. Well, on Wednesday Lahema started having breathing problems… somehow she found her way to the main hospital in Zambia, but when she arrived, they turned her away because they were on “holiday”. You see, in Zambia they believe that someone who has AIDS is already as good as dead. Besides, she was just a child, and a girl at that…and in a country that does not value females or children, one’s “holiday” is much more important than an orphan girl dying from AIDS, a disease stigmatized as a curse.
The following day, Lahema was still having breathing problems, and so Evelyn gave money to the grandmother’s friend to pay for their transportation back to the hospital. Well, just like the hospital workers, the grandmother’s friend thought, “Lahema is just an orphan with AIDS who was going to die anyway…why waste good money on her?” So, knowing she had her own mouth to feed, she simply pocketed the money.
And so, on that Thursday, my poor precious Lahema, too weak to stand any longer, laid down in the dirt, crying and praying for help, and with neighbors all around, staring and standing idly by, Lahema left this world.
No one on this earth was willing to listen to the CRY OF LAHEMA, so her Heavenly Daddy just leaned down, gently picked up her suffering and disease-ridden body, and took her home into His loving arms, forever freed from abandonment and stigma, safe and secure from all evil, loved so purely and deeply, and never to cry again!!
Lahema’s funeral was unlike anything I have ever experienced. We drove for miles and miles on this narrow, bumpy road with only little hills of dirt flanking both sides, endlessly in every direction. No neighbors, no friends, and no relatives apart from her grandmother were in attendance that day. This child was hardly loved at all. But her orphanage director, my Zambian friend, a few old ladies and I trudged through the troughs left by removal of dirt – a maze around mounds. There were no gravestones, no pretty trees, no green grass, only seemingly tens of thousands of mounds everywhere. At the plot, the old ladies just wailed and wailed in this odd kind of song that wasn’t really a song…more like deep moaning sounds.
Three people were called upon that day to lay flowers upon her grave and were considered the most important people in Lahema’s life…her grandmother, her orphanage director, and me. I had bought two bouquets of flowers to put on Lahema’s grave at the entrance to the graveyard, and the men who sold them to me were arguing with each other for my business.
What is wrong with this picture?!?! No one seems to care about life of a child in Zambia! Flower vendors at the entrance to a graveyard are fighting over a two dollar sale…virtually no one shows up to a funeral for this precious child…the main hospital turns her away because they were on “holiday”…neighbors just stand and stare as a little girl dies right in front of them…and an old woman pockets the money that could have meant the difference between life and death for her best friend’s granddaughter.
This is by far the hardest thing I’ve ever had to deal with in Zambia…Lahema’s grandmother told me that every day, Lahema would go out and pray for the sick people like we had taught the year before. Goodness, an orphan child with AIDS praying for other sick people…how much more pure can a child be? And when she was the one who needed prayer and attention, no one cared to help her. Poor Lahema, who was “counting down the months” until Camp LIFE, missed it by just one week…the good news about all this is that she was ushered into the most glorious place anyone of us could ever imagine! Heaven is infinitely greater than Camp LIFE, and she is finally in God’s warm, loving, and embracing arms.
After the funeral, I took some food to her grandmother’s mud hut and sat on the dirt floor with about ten old ladies who were still crying. In the midst of all our sadness, I told them there was Good News and that they could see Lahema again. They all looked up at me with confused looks on their faces, including the woman who had pocketed the money.
“God loves you all and offers you the free gift of Eternal Life if you will simply open your hearts to Jesus, who is the only One who can save you from your sins. God forgives and forgets every sin…All it takes is simple faith and you can see Lahema again,” I said. Right then and there, on the same day we placed Lahema’s body in the earth, ten wrinkled old ladies prayed and accepted Jesus Christ as their personal Savior. Lahema’s life and her passing into the next life were already making a difference. Maybe Lahema was now crying, not for herself, but on behalf of those still here.
Lahema was my favorite little girl in all of Zambia. Her life gave me a beautiful picture of God’s awesome power to rescue a dying soul and bring her to life again in all the fullness of HIS joy.
When I heard the news of Lahema’s death, I cried and cried and cried…I cried like I’ve never cried before, and I still cry when I think about her sweet and short-lived life. I have had her picture on my desk right next to my computer since 2003 and I look at her beautiful face every single day. Not a day goes by when I don’t think about my precious child.
I really miss Lahema. I thought about Lahema and prayed for her all year long, and then I was all the way over in her country on the other side of the world and just one week away from seeing her beautiful face one more time. It nearly crushed me. But, by God’s grace and strength, I have made it through.
On the night of Lahema’s death, in the midst of my pain and tears, I heard the Lord tell me to transform Lahema’s Cry into Lahema’s Legacy by raising funds to rescue so many other children just like her. Specifically, God gave me a vision of building a house in Lahema’s memory at the Tree of Life Children’s Village. Part of our vision at Family Legacy is to build 50 homes, which will rescue a total of 600 children from the cruelty that surrounds them. Had Lahema been born in America, promise and hope would have filled her days and her life would have known relative safety and opportunity. But, sadly, Lahema was not born in America…she was born in Zambia… a land of great pain and sadness where so often the cries of a child are never heard.
And so, in honor and memory of my sweet Lahema, I set out to raise money to build the first home at the Tree of Life children’s village so that 12 children could be rescued from the horrific abuse and abandonment they have lived with in their short lives. Through God’s mighty hand, He provided abundantly and we opened Lahema’s House at the Tree of Life in May 2009. Since then, God has blessed over 250 children with new homes on this beautiful land. And it all began when God shined His light on the Cry of Lahema and used her legacy to restore His Kingdom to the children of Zambia.
Living for Jesus and Running towards the Goal,
“Never again will Lahema hunger; never again will she thirst. The sun will not beat down on her, nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be Lahema’s Shepherd; He has led her to Springs of Living Water. And God has wiped away every tear from Lahema’s eyes.”