Who knew that our way to the Congo would be through Kirksville? Only God.
The way each detail was orchestrated through so many people to end in those moments on July 19 were absolutely incredible. Bear with me – though this story is long, it is also deep. To appreciate the final moments, it helps to understand the weeks leading up to it.
Andres and his wife, Esther, are from the Congo. They won a “lottery,” (scam) that got them to the United States. Once here, they were subject to the demands of the person who had provided the “lottery.” They lived with him, obtained jobs and were forced to give all their money to him. If they did not do so, this man threatened to harm their three children.
One day, Andres was at Walmart when a woman, who he now calls their angel, (Jan) spotted him. She sensed that she was to help him, but wasn’t sure what he needed or how she could possibly help. It was raining, so she approached him to see what he needed. He responded, “Parlez vous franca is?” The incredible thing… Yes! She does indeed, speak French! (Is it any wonder they call her their angel?)
Thus began the relationship that became a sweet friendship. Over the next days and weeks, Jan gradually learned of the conditions that brought them to the U.S. and the complications of their circumstances. She immediately moved them out from where they were staying, and in with her. She worked tirelessly on their behalf, filling out necessary forms, interpreting and eventually finding them a small duplex that they could rent and some furniture to make it home.
Over two months ago, my friend, Dorothea and I began communicating about when Steve and I could go to Kirksville to visit her and her husband, Paul. We have known them for nearly 20 years, and though we don’t talk often, and see each other even less often, we consider them dear friends. We decided on the weekend of July 19 and 20.
Meanwhile, back in Salina, I had begun a journey to get rid of excess in a variety of areas of my life. My last blog talked a bit about the week that I limited my diet to 7 foods. As a result, Dorothea messaged me and asked me if there is anything she should cook or not cook while we were there. I explained to her that the food week was over but that while I was at their house on that Sunday, I would begin the week where I was to give 7 items away per day. I asked her if they needed anything or if she knew of anyone who did. Her response? Yes!
She told me a little bit about a family from the Congo who had begun attending their church. Dorothea sent a list to me that the church had emailed concerning their immediate needs.
Part of the list of requested items included: shampoo, bath mat, tp, bar soap, toilet bowl cleaner and brush, paper towels, hot pads, pots and pans, a set of drinking glasses, mixing bowls, mixer, utensils, salt and pepper shakers, canister set, 50 hangers, cleaning supplies and two sets of full size bed sheets.
I got so excited about the opportunity, I told the other 5 gals that are on this “7” journey with me. They asked if they could contribute items for us to take as well. In the meantime, we found out the ages and gender of their children and Esther’s clothing size. That was on Wednesday. I told them to have everything to me by Thursday, as we were leaving Friday at noon. All this (and more) was at my house Wednesday night!
One other thing we found out was that Esther’s favorite color was blue. These two dresses were also part of our offering.
When we pulled out of the driveway on Friday, the entire back of our car was filled.
We were not able to provide everything on their list, but we were amazed that between 7 of us (my daughter contributed a 20 pack of toilet paper and a set of full size sheets!) we were able to provide most of it from what we already had in our homes! None of us bought anything. We gave out of the abundance with which God has blessed us.
On Saturday, we had the privilege of visiting and meeting Andres and Esther and their 3 children! Once we unloaded the car we gathered in their living room, trying to explain through an interpreter, what could only have been arranged by God. We showed them where Kansas was on a map of the United States and for just a moment felt like missionaries to the Congo via Missouri. The children quickly spotted the box of toys and ran off to the bedroom to play. A few minutes later they returned. When they did, we all joined hands to pray.
Andres lifted his voice and began to sing strong and slow, “Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.” We joined our voices with his in worship. Eyes closed and tears fell. Voices around the circle waned as the emotion nearly stole our strength to sing. He continued leading us in a second verse in English… “Thank you Jesus, thank you Jesus, thank you Jesus, thank you Jesus.” He ended with a flood of prayer, all in French. Throughout it all, I kept hearing, “Merci, Papa”, what we knew to be “thank you Father!” Though we couldn’t understand most of the words he was saying, we fully understood his heart and spirit. It was strong in gratitude, full of adoration to the Father, and humble in spirit. Clearly, it was heartfelt thanks for Jehovah Jireh – the God who sees and makes provision, not just for the things that were provided.
Even as I write this, my words fall short in describing such beauty and I regret that there are so many pictures of the stuff. The stuff was simply the vehicle God used to allow us the absolute privilege of getting to meet this family. We would have certainly been allowed entry without it, but it was also incredibly fulfilling to get to be a tiny part of God’s plan in providing for them. The time that we spent with them was so pure, so holy and so beautiful that I could not bring myself to pull out a camera to try to capture in a photo what my heart will never forget. At the end of our time together, we took this photo.
After the worship had ended and they began to look through their things, Andres told Jan that it was Esther’s birthday. Jan communicated the message to the rest of us and we quickly looked through the bag to find the dresses that were given specifically for her. She held one of them close to her with both arms wrapped around it. She needed no words. Then we pulled out the second blue dress. As we held it up, she gasped and said, “I like!” A third dress also brought a tear-filled smile to her face.
I will not quickly forget that Saturday in Kirksville. I stood in awe of God’s plan. I was humbled that we got to be a part of it. I was reminded that although we think we make our plans, God always has a much bigger picture and purpose. This one had been in the works for two months. If Jan had not been obedient to that still, small voice on that one rainy day. If Dorothea had not thought of them when I asked who may need some things. If we had started our Bible study one week earlier or one week later… none of this would ever have happened. Dorothea and I thought we were planning what was most convenient for us as we compared our calendars. Only God knew that we would choose Esther’s birthday as the weekend to be there.
We returned twice to their home that day. Once to take medicine for their son, Israel and a birthday cake and roses for Esther, and the second to return Israel’s bike that Paul had taken home to fix for him. The next day when we saw them again at church we hugged one another as if we were longtime friends.
“It’s the joy of the small that can make life large and all wonder and worship can only grow out of small and humble things.” Ann Voskamp
I can’t say it any better than that, Ann!
Abundantly Blessed by His Goodness,