One day towards the end of Camp LIFE during week seven, I was hurriedly walking into the main hall to look into the situation of a child who needed to be attended to. On my way in, I happened to glance to the left at the children sitting at the nurse’s station. The glaring look in one of the little girl’s eyes made me stop in my tracks and just stand still. I seemingly forgot what I was doing and went over to her. As I looked into her eyes, the Holy Spirit impressed upon my heart that there was a precious little girl dying to be set free, yet at the moment she felt trapped and had no desire to live.
Her name was Emma…I went over to her and kneeled down on the floor in front of her chair. I quickly asked the nurse what was wrong with her (normally children have colds, malaria, or HIV, but, the words that came out of Emma’s mouth when my Zambian friend Vera asked her what was the matter were plain and simple… “I’d rather die than go home. . .please don’t make me go home…I just want to die before you send me home.” Listening to those words as they came out of a little 12 year old’s mouth just pierced my heart to the core…why ever in the world should a 12 year old have to feel that way?? I will never forget the hopeless beaten down look in her eyes as she looked down at me from her chair. I reached up and put my arms around her,looked at her straight in the eyes and said, “Emma, Darling…do you know what?? God has given me the biggest present today! Do you know what He did?” She just stared at me with a blank look and said nothing…”He decided to bless me with bringing YOU straight to me!” I had tears in my eyes as I was speaking to her, and suddenly a little smile began to seep out from the corner of her mouth. With those simple words, sweet Emma realized that she was someone special. I quickly went and got her some food, then picked her up, sat her in my lap, and just started gently rubbing her back.
I spoke more with Vera about her situation, and what I found out almost shook my sense of understanding as to how there can be SUCH hatred and evil in the world…Emma is twelve years old and her life story is heart-wrenching. Her father died when she was just a young toddler, and her mother fell into a deep depression…she began to drink heavily and has remarried twice since then. Her mom makes Emma do all the household chores and requires her to take care of her two baby sisters (they are 3 years old and 1 year old). She used to have a little brother, but when he was four years old, he died in Emma’s arms while she was taking care of him during the day. He died because they had no food and he was sick, and Emma didn’t know what to do except just hold him…of course, Emma was blamed for it, too…she was only 7 at the time…oh, can you even imagine?!?! Her story gets worse…For no reason at all, Emma is constantly, brutally beaten to the point of near death over and over and over again. She once was even hospitalized for three days because of the heavy beatings and immediately upon her return home from the hospital, shewas beaten AGAIN! If she fails at doing any of her chores, her mother will put Emma into the corner and throw hot knives at her that she heated in the fire. Looking at her sweet little body, I noticed she had deep scars covering her arms and legs. She is regularly sent late into the night to buy cooking oil and if she refuses to go because she is scared, again, the life-threatening beatings come. Emma explained that she and her sisters rarely get food to eat unless she goes out to beg…I noticed that she hadn’t yet eaten her lunch for the day and she said she was saving it to bring home to her little sisters…heart-breaking! To add on top of that, her mother leaves the house all day long and most of the night as she makes her money through prostitution…her step-dad, however always seemed to make it home after the children were asleep and has repeatedly raped Emma night after night since she was eight years old when her mom married him. In effect, little Emma has been likely being infected with so many diseases that her mother was getting through prostitution…how terribly sick of a situation she was in when we found her…Emma has been forced to grow up way too fast and has faced greater difficulties in her twelve short little years of life than many age-old Americans put together!
Emma and I became fast friends and I had a bag of apples, bread, and milk packed for her to take home at the end of each day of Camp LIFE so that she could have her own food at lunch. She was soaking up the love that I had given her, and it seemed as though I had found myself an automatic new little side-kick! Everywhere I went, there was Little Miss Emma…She always found my lap during all the skits and large group teaching time…I just loved watching the transforming power of Jesus Christ sink deep within her heart and soul…by the final day of Camp LIFE, Emma was a bright-eyed, joyful little girl…She learned that “The Lord is Her Shepherd” (our theme for Camp LIFE 2008) and that He will always take care of her. When Friday came, I couldn’t bear to tell Emma goodbye, so I told her we would come visit her the next day on Saturday.
Two of my good friends Joy and Stephanie came with me the next day, and we decided to have a little fun outing with our kids! We pulled up to Kamanga Community School (where the children go to school) and were planning on going into the compound to find Emma…but lo and behold, from seemingly nowhere, Emma appeared and practically ran me over, she was so excited to see me! The phrase that we hear and say so often, “we are the Hands and feet of Jesus” really is so true…It was like Jesus through me was Emma’s lifeline that she was clinging so tightly to…
We quickly found Joy and Stephanie’s kids and took them all out for a little surprise to go get ice-cream and “softies” (cokes) at one of the main outdoor shopping malls in Lusaka…the kids were so happy just to be on the bus with us and to see us outside of Camp LIFE on a Saturday. When we arrived at the shopping center, their sweet little eyes got SO BIG! There was a giant bounce house that they got to play on, and when I brought out the ice-cream, their little faces lit up so bright, you would have thought we had just given them the best present ever! Isn’t it great when kids just get to be kids!?!? Oh, I love it!
Well, the morning quickly turned into the afternoon, and soon, we had to take the kids back home…the really hard part. Before we parted ways, I had one last special blessing for Emma…I pulled out a pretty little rhinestone cross necklace, fastened it around her neck, looked her in the eyes, and said, “Sweet Emma, I want you to always know that no matter what you may face, God will always be with you…whenever you get scared, just hold onto this cross, pray to God, and He will comfort you.” Emma was SO happy and just kept holding onto her new treasured necklace. We said our goodbyes, and when we got back in the bus, all three of us had tears flooding our eyes and streaming down our cheeks. Our darling little kids who we love so much were back to their lives and we were going back to ours…as we were driving away, the incredible contrast in the way people live from one side of the globe to the other became so perplexing to me. I feel so blessed in my life to have a loving family, a nice Thanksgiving meal, a wonderful job and a home to live in…so often when I see the enormous contrast between my reality and think about the reality of the lives of millions of suffering children in Zambia, the Lord graciously reminds me of that challenging verse, “To whom much is given, much is required.” That truth keeps me humble and focused on doing everything I can (in His Strength alone) to continue being the hands and feet of Jesus to these little ones.
The time I spent with Emma remained in my heart and mind even throughout the next week.…I had been praying for her and for the Lord’s provision and protection over her life. When Thursday rolled around and my friend Joy returned from our evangelism day in Kamanga (I was in a different compound that week), she brought with her crushing news about my sweet Emma. Joy told me that she was walking through the community and passed by a girl on the side of the road completely stoic and void of any life. (Normally when Camp LIFE kids see us again, they jump and smile and smother us with hugs)…but Joy said she almost passed her by and didn’t recognize Emma because after only 4 days back at home, she had hardened back and all the love and joy had drained from her face…Emma’s new bright green Camp LIFE jacket, her new tennis shoes, t-shirt, and bandana had all been taken away from her by her mom…As she spoke those chilling words, I couldn’t bare to hear that my precious child was suffering through so much…sometimes, the reality of what these kids face is SO hard to bear….I left the room and ran to go find our director (Greer Kendall) to see what could be done. I wanted Emma out of her situation so badly, I would have done ANYTHING to set her free! We talked it over, and Greer quickly agreed that I could go pick Emma up on Saturday and temporarily move her to our LifeVision Boarding Homes. (Family Legacy has a boarding school for teenagers who are in 7th grade and higher, and even though Emma clearly doesn’t fit this category, something HAD to be done, and so the decision was made!)