I’ve known for a long time that there was a person at Unity who worked in Mozambique. Doing something with orphans. You know, on a mission or something. Noble work and very nice, of course. I liked to think about the church sending some pennies on my tithes over there to help her cause.
But you know. Africa. Mozambique. A mission and orphans and HIV/AIDS…Africa. Such a huge and tragic place at the moment. How do you even begin to start thinking about it?
And Mozambique. Nice word (Moo-zzzam–BEEK!)–you could dance to it, in a chant—but who even knows where it is? (I bet some of you do here, because you are very smart readers, but mostly, we don’t remember geography in places that have no immediate meaning to us.)
So, a couple of weeks ago, I arrived and sat at my usual place, on the aisle, in a particular row. A woman came and said, "Oh, just let me move these things," and I was embarrassed to realize she had stashed some things under the chair in front and I hadn’t seen it. Pretty, well tended. Dark hair and good clothes and sparkling eyes. Apologizing profusely, I moved over.
Of course she turned out to be the woman in Africa. The "missionary." Sort of not what I was expecting, and when she spoke, she was even more not what I was expecting, and cut right through a lot of my defenses without a single plea to the emotions, just these simple stark facts and a wry sense of humor about her "call" to go to Africa.
Call. Well. You know. That’s pretty extreme stuff.
Except, that’s what I’m always telling writers to listen to, that whisper of spirit calling them to writing. Not by accident, on purpose, to do specific work.
And again, she disarmed me, talking about that call a few days later at a concert CR and I attended to help raise money for that far away land that still had no face except hers. A face that was very like all the faces in our gatherings. Well tended. Vigorous Colorado folks, living the good life.
She said with laughter in her voice, that she was there one morning, in Woodland Park (a very beautiful spot) with her house with its beautiful views of Pikes Peak, and her good shoes (she stuck one out to show us) and writing in her dream journal and doing a little yoga (and CR nudges me) and she said she walked into Starbucks one stunningly beautiful Colorado morning to order her 3.50 caramel macchiato and looked over at the New York Times. The headline said, 12 Million Dead of AIDS in Africa (or words to that effect). And she looked at her macchiato and thought to herself, "we said we would never let 12 million people disappear again," and went home and started packing her boxes.
A few weeks later, she was studying Portuguese and off on her call.
It’s like…you know–you–going to Africa to work with orphans. Like me. Like knowing nothing and giving up all the beautiful things you like, and the easy stuff like lattes and gorgeous shoes and that great view, and going to a place where there is cholera and malaria and not enough money and you have no idea what you’re doing.
And you do it anyway. And figure out some answers. Not every answer to every ill, but one or two that make a difference for some people in one community in a country you weren’t even sure where it was, Mozambique (Mo-zzzam–BEEK!) and come up with a plan to give people something to bring in some money and create a new way to teach the community about the transmission of HIV and maybe stop some pregnancies and save a life or two.
Her name is Amy Gillespie. Her story moved me deeply. Read about the AIDS Orphans Skills Center.
And this is what I learned about Mozambique:
It is on the southeast coast of Africa.
The language spoken is Portuguese
Total population: 18 million
Percent of population under the age of 15: 45%
Urban population: 29%
Life expectancy: 34 years (recently revised down from 50 years as a result of HIV/AIDS)
Now you know, too.
Educational, but also very, very lovable, no?