"We know our quiet routines with each other, and I no longer fret about a five-year-old child dropping my laptop bag."
Each morning the alarm beeps at 5:35, and I silently beg for five more minutes. Yet time marches on. The birds continue their chatter, and my four children insist on attention to their morning needs of nourishment that come both from food and my reassuring presence. We scramble through that early morning rush all too often—changing diapers, answering questions, putting clean clothes on two little children, and getting school uniforms ready “just so” for two more who head out the door at 6:45 a.m. to their school on the other side of town.
My favourite part of the day has arrived, when it’s my careful duty to ensure that my youngest little ones are ready for their day of play. These precious days are woven together with building blocks, careful colouring, swings and sand, and cosy cuddles. It won’t last long, so every day is precious, and again I find myself caught in that age-old dilemma of working motherhood.
I push the questions to the back of my mind and head into the office, where small faces greet me as they enter the preschool. “Good morning, Auntie Renatta!” We greet each other properly as each one begs to carry my bags into the office, showing me the respect that is so valued in this beautiful culture. We know our quiet routines with each other, and I no longer fret about a five-year-old child dropping my laptop bag. His small, sinewy arms are confident in their strength, for they have already received rigorous training that few Canadian children will ever know. His friends follow him and our entourage increases; by the time we bumble into my office, there are about eight of us, stepping over one another as they try to get to the bowl of candy I have sitting on my desk. I would be prone to trip, but I have learned the intricate footwork required when found in small spaces with small bodies.
They giggle as each one chooses a sweet, and off they go while I boil the kettle, read the Scriptures, and pray in earnest. A slew of requests, items, and needs awaits me; I work through them while glancing occasionally at our family picture. A few hours go by and then it’s time to head off to the feeding program in Kauma. Here there are hundreds, if not thousands, of orphans and vulnerable children. The 10-minute drive is another prayer closet, and I pass some familiar faces, waving, stopping, greeting. “How did you wake up?” “How is your home?” “Are things going well?” I learn more Chichewa every day through these important encounters.
I carry on toward the local Pentecostal church we have partnered with, and I see faithful faces as they prepare the afternoon meal. We smile and greet one another when we are suddenly interrupted by distressing news of a child known to Village of Hope, and we must go there immediately. As we drive, we are surrounded by masked dancers carrying machetes, grunting and groaning their requests, as they interpret and communicate their centuries of tradition uncovered in secretive graveyard ceremonies. “Keep driving,” my co-worker reassures me as we pass through this most unexpected honour guard. A new chief is being installed on the weekend, and these gule wamkulu (“great dancers”) have come to mill the maize that will feed the hundreds who gather.
We arrive at a small cluster of ramshackle houses built with mud bricks and reinforced with bits and pieces of plastic. Brightly coloured zitenje (outer wraparound skirts) fill the clothesline and sway lazily in the warm breeze. And then I see her. You’ve seen that look before. Maybe in the news, perhaps on a friend, or worst of all, in the mirror. The hollow-eyed stare of a mother who has buried her newborn child mere hours after her body laboured vigorously to bring forth new and vibrant life. But it has all ended abruptly in tragic death and unspeakable loss. She is an orphaned child bride of 17 years, though her so-called husband left months ago. Her hair is wild, her face swollen as she lifts her shirt to tie a piece of cloth more tightly around her middle. A traditional practice believed to make the uterus shrink back to its original size, she ties it deftly, sure of this one act amid the stretches of insanity that have littered her last days.
Her baby boy was born three days ago without the aid of even a traditional birth attendant. Her grandmother and two aunts were confident in their abilities. But at only 28 weeks gestation, his little lungs could not survive without aid, and he breathed his last breath so soon after his first. I look at her again and I know that she is not OK. Some part of her will never be OK again after this.
As I make a phone call, I can’t think of what happened that night; I think only of now, of getting her to the hospital now. She is admitted immediately into the maternity hospital and is found to have the entire placenta still intact within her womb. Her own body is slowly poisoning her, silently protesting against its inability to nourish and care for the second heartbeat it has known for these last few months.
Assured that she will get the care needed, it is time to head home, where three dogs race back and forth and four children skip, hop, and jump in their excitement. My husband and I two-step easily to the familiar rhythm of homework, dinner, prayer, baths and bedtime. When all are tucked into their mosquito nets, I connect online with my students oceans and continents away. Research and Writing, Introduction to Missions, Pauline Literature, The Book of Acts—I engage with them theologically, orthopraxy meeting orthodoxy in these moments. The hour is late, but there’s one more load of laundry and there are lunches to be prepared; then checking the kids’ steady breathing, then triple-locking each door before lying down to rest, to dream, and to be refreshed for another day of aching bliss in this global life.
Renatta Walton is a mother of four, a global worker at Village of Hope - Malawi, and an adjunct faculty member at Master’s College & Seminary. Before leaving Canada, she and Jef lived in Barrie, Ont., where she was on staff at Calvary Community Church.
This article appeared in the November/December issue of testimony, a bimonthly publication of The Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada. ©2016 The Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada.