a real day in south africa

when simon peter saw this, he fell at jesus’ feet. “go away from me, lord,” he said, “for i am a sinful man.” – luke 5:8

seems counterintuitive, eh?

just when peter knew that he knew that jesus was lord, he told him to get away from him.

but it makes sense to me.

i was at the nazareth house in cape town. i’d flown across the continent of africa and the internet then pointed me to this place to meet children who live in an orphanage because they are disabled.

abigail, faithful to their value of hospitality, took a morning to show me around. i met a boy who’d been there two months and had taught himself to walk because he understood it would get him more attention. i met a mama who told me her brother has down syndrome and so this place is special to her heart.

i walked on their lawn.

i sat in their chairs.

we passed by the teenagers’ house and loud singing rang out through the open windows. abigail looked a little flustered as she explained that much singing took place in the houses.

i looked in and saw a dancing circle of mamas and children laughing, heads lifted and hands beating on their own chests to the rhythm of the songs.

but still, i stayed.

why was i there exactly?

i have a lot of friends who love kids in far flung places on the globe, that was probably a factor. i work with deaf people and understand their lack of access, so that may have played into it. i have a daughter with down syndrome and have heard the history of how neglected institutionalized living kills the soul, that was likely in the mix.

but notice what all these reasons have in common.

me, myself and i.

how hard it is for one human being to get out of their own context.

i sat in a circle of nine wheelchairs on the medical wing. six women called mamas cared for the children and i watched.

i asked if i could do anything, but everything was done. they asked me questions and i gave them answers and finally, they gave me a job to do.

“massage his feet and sing to him.”



not intimidating at all.

i carefully took off shoes and braces and socks and found well-loved skin like 24 karat gold in my hands, maybe the softest i’d ever been privileged to hold.

they gave me massage oil and watched me as i sang into the smiling face of this young boy with the movie star dimple. it got so quiet and i realized every mama in the place was seeing me on display then, just like i’d gone to see them.

there i was naked and exposed, as all of them had to be in front of me.

i sang another song and then one of the mamas spoke up.

“i like how you sing. so softly, so sweet.”

and then i noticed the drum in her hands.

while i had been singing the mamas had gathered rattles and drums and were waiting to really start singing. one of them began and in a loud, clear voice sang,

lord jesus, you are wonderful!

immediately the other women responded in kind with drumming and singing and they worshipped for about five or six songs.

they sang over the children of jesus’ kindness, his patience, his goodness and his glory. hallelujahs mixed up with african lyrics from all the various tongues spoken in cape town.

they sang to the children whose faces lifted and lighted up, drums came close to wheelchairs and they laughed, so delighted.

they worshipped and i looked down at the wheels on the clean floor and wondered how exactly my life had brought me right here.

i sang along so as to not seem so out of place.

i tried not to move too much, like a person who happens upon a deer and doesn’t want to scare it away.

i looked around unbelieving, like a person in the bible who says, leave me lord, for i am a sinner.

slowly, slowly the singing died down and the children were happy and the mamas went on to their next tasks. they told me that they hold the hope that the children will all walk again and so they massage their muscles every day to keep them strong.

i can attest to their faithful love.

i’ve seen it with my own eyes and held it in my own hands.

i packed up my things, said my goodbyes and nearly ran back to my car.

then i drove up the mountain and stared out over the whole of cape town and wondered at my own response to flee. i still don’t quite understand myself, the how and why of going there or leaving.

but i do know this, some people are comfortable with a lot more of the presence of god than others.

like the great divorce describes, i am not quite real enough to stand it. but there are those living that do, that can.


and when they are revealed in glory, i hope maybe one or two of them might remember me.

learn more about nazareth house by clicking on this sentence.

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