That’s right, folks … it’s happened. On April 8th, I officially crossed over into middle-aged territory. Yes … old balls, indeed. The big THREE ZERO has come upon me. And I couldn’t be more depressed. Ok, I’m just kidding. I’m only a little depressed …
In all honesty, even though it lacked the typical fanfare associated with such a milestone, I had a wonderful 30th birthday. I imagine that, if I had been back home, the celebration would have been a big event, highlighted by making dolla bills rain in the clizzubs and supermodels flanking my side, pouring me Cristal. But I digress… Instead, I was here in Zambia with my wifey and my Hands Family, celebrating the momentous occasion missionary-style. In other words, it was simple, heartfelt and involved very little money! Needless to say, I thoroughly enjoyed the day and felt very loved and appreciated.
The day started out with Diane surprising me first thing in the morning with her birthday gift to me – a birthday video which she created herself. The video was comprised of pictures of our time so far in Africa and included short video clips of family and friends back home (and in South Africa) wishing me a happy birthday. It was amazing to see our journey over the past half-year displayed in memorable photographs, combined with messages of love and well wishes from the people closest to my heart. I didn’t cry or anything (come on … I don’t cry … I work out!) but by the end of the video, I was definitely touched. I can’t really explain the emotions other than to say that I felt incredibly blessed.
The day then continued with a visit to one of our communities, Mulenga, where we hosted a team from Greenfinch Church in the UK. Normally, I would be less than enthusiastic about having to “work” on my birthday but I couldn’t have asked for a better way to spend my big day. We met together with the care workers in Mulenga (whom I have come to know quite well now) and split off into groups to do home visits – visits to the homes of children in our CBO program, to the homes of sick patients in the community that we care for, and to the homes of some of the care workers. After a few hours, we met back together as a group and enjoyed a good ol’ African feast of mielie meal, chicken and vegetables that was sponsored by the Greenfinch Team. Sure beats my daily tuna sandwich! I was my usual gluttonous and disgusting self – profusely sweating, while bits of food found themselves stuck to the side of my face and my hat, devouring my hefty portion while everyone waited for me to finish – but, hey, it was my birthday! We then debriefed our home visits from earlier in the day and shared stories from each home that we visited.
Something truly amazing happens during home visits. I don’t know how to really explain it. The visits are heart-wrenching enough on their own but, when you take that story – the story of some of the most marginalized and vulnerable people in the poorest of the poor communities – and share it with people who share the same heart and love for them, there’s something incredibly powerful about it. It’s a message of resilience overcoming brokenness, hope in the face of hopelessness and love that knows no boundaries. It’s like God is moving through each word that is spoken, each story that is shared, and reminding us that these are the very people that Christ will build His kingdom upon.
Another birthday surprise was in store for me at the end of the workday. Diane had spent the day at Kachele Farm (Hands’ main hub in Zambia located 40 minutes from Kitwe) working on finance stuff, as she usually does. Typically, she does not return to Kitwe until 4:30 or 5:00 pm. But for this day, she made sure she returned to the Service Center before we were scheduled to come back from Mulenga (maybe a little too early as she ended up waiting for us for 2 hours!). I sensed something was up when we pulled up to the gate outside our office complex and Towela, who was driving, opened up her door and ran out of the car. As I expressed my confusion, she couldn’t look me in the eye but hastily blurted out, “I have an emergency! I have to go to the bathroom! Bring the car in!” Interesting that she couldn’t have waited the extra 10 seconds to park the car. Also interesting that, as she ran through the gate, she turned towards our office, rather than towards the bathrooms, which are in the opposite direction. She’s so cute. As I pulled up to our office, I noticed the office door was closed, which it never is. How very peculiar ... At this point, I figured I was in store for a … “SURPRISE!!!” As I opened the door, I was greeted by Towela, Mary and, of course, the mastermind behind it all, my lovely wife, all wearing party hats and blowing noisemakers in my face. The office was decked out in balloons, music was playing, and chocolate cake and Sprite (what a weird combo, hey?) lay waiting for me on one of the desks. Diane lit the candles, I made my wish, and I blew them out … kind of (the candles had some sort of weird, mystical technology where the flame would repeatedly re-light itself despite being blown out).
|Birthday cake with voodoo candles!|
|Three to the Zero!|
|The party didn't end for Clement even as he was going home|
Everything about this moment was so special to me. Here I had my small Zambian family – Towela, Clement and Mary (Blessings was out of town) – celebrating my birthday with me hours past their normal workday in our warehouse-like office, with chocolate cake and Sprite (again, weird combo!) purchased from Shoprite (an African grocery store chain), in a little surprise gathering put together by my wife that worked so creatively within our means to make this day extra special for me. This, my friends, is as simple as it gets. And I wouldn’t have traded it for anything.
It’s weird how things work out. God has obviously led me to Zambia, to Africa, at this time in my life for a very specific purpose. I am seeing things and experiencing things that have changed and will forever change me. I have met so many people here that will forever hold a special place in my heart. In the past, I spent so much of my time wishing away the present, anxiously waiting to arrive at some undetermined point in the future when I would have everything together, where I would feel like I was living life the way it was meant to be lived. Now, as much as I am able to, I’m choosing to embrace my present and enjoy every moment of it (even if it means entering into a new decade!). I’m not saying that I no longer experience anxiety about my future. In fact, I think it’s part of my DNA. But, in spite of my constant worrying and fears about what lies ahead, God somehow led me on this crazy journey and I am strangely at peace with it.
If at any point in my past, you had told me that, at 30 years old, I would be a missionary in Africa, earning $0 income, married to a Vietnamese(!) girl AND not playing in the NHL, I would have called you a liar. A dirty, filthy, rat liar. Yet, here I am. It is nothing even remotely close to what I had planned or envisioned for my life … and, yet, I feel like I’m living the dream. With God leading the way and the love of my life by my side, I have everything I need and, for that, I am very thankful.