One of the most impacting experiences of my trip to Zimbabwe last September was meeting a boy named Joseph at the Tsvingwe orphan feeding center. I stood slightly apart from the children crowding the area, talking to a gracious young woman named Chipo who helps run the feeding station, when 11-year-old Joseph approached. I expected him to speak to Chipo, so I was surpised when he looked me straight in the eyes and spoke in Shona with boldness and passion, never blinking, showing no fear or timidity as most of the children did--just deep yearning.
"I am an artist," he told me through Chipo's translation. "I need paper and pencils. Can you help me?"
I looked at the boy, his eyes dark and determined. I've hardly seen such a look. It gave me chills. And made me want to hand him all my pens and spirals and whatever money I had on me.
But I couldn't. There were 150 children there that day. I couldn't provide what each one wanted. I couldn't create the strife that singling one child out in front of all others would do in this desperate and impoverished region.
I met his gaze as Chipo translated for me. "I have friends who are artists," I said. "I will tell them about you, Joseph. Perhaps one of them can help."
He nodded solemnly.
I felt like I'd given him little hope. "Would you help me?" I asked. "Would you draw something for my friends using my paper and pen? That way, I can show them you are truly an artist."
His eyes lit up, and he spoke rapidly. Chipo hurried to translate. "What do you want me to draw?" He motioned with his arm. "I can draw anything you see."
"You decide," I told him.
He took the paper and pen, sat on the ground, and sketched one of the men eating sadza on a nearby bench. A very good rendition, I might add. His oversized, hand-me-down coat and frayed tennis shoes seemed irrelevant in that moment as I watched the artist work. The other children swarmed him, pushing and shoving each other and him, curious to know what he and I were doing together. In fact, he started drawing a second man--I suspect he hardly paid attention to the chaos around him--but I stopped him, concerned the other children would soon be out of control.
Joseph’s drawing is still in my notebook. A friend of mine--an art teacher at a local school--has recently gathered some extra supplies for Joseph. It will take months before the package will reach him. It’s been months already, so I will send money ahead for a few supplies to be purchased locally.
I tell you this because I can’t think of Joseph without tears gathering in my eyes. Because when I saw that box of art supplies, I wanted to cry. I certainly praised God.
I think Joseph touches my heart because he dares to dream in a place where dreaming is impractical. Because he yearns to create in a time when priority is placed on simply surviving. Because he probably suspects his request has been forgotten by me and by God, though it hasn’t.
So often, we dream and wait and get discouraged and give up before God has orchestrated all that is necessary to give birth to our hopes. Or we become intimidated and unsure of our ability to reach our goals, so we back off. We quit dreaming. Quit trying. Quit growing toward them.
I spoke to a young woman just the other day who shared her adventuresome and purposeful dreams with me. Dreams that made my own heart soar with the possibilities. “Sometimes though,” she finished, “I think my dreams will never happen.”
But I believe that the right and holy things we long for are planted in us by God. That we must never give up striving to be ready for what he wants to express to the world through us. Beauty. Mission. Adventure. Sacrifice. Wisdom. Love. Laughter. Life.
The words below came to me third-hand. But they’re first-rate, and so I want to pass them along. My heart skips a beat when I read them.
RISK more than others think is safe.
CARE more than others think is wise.
DREAM more than others think is practical.
EXPECT more than others think is possible.
Let's journey on together, entrusting our hopes and longings to the Father of heaven and earth. Let us not be afraid or discouraged. Let's dream. And let's see what he will do in unexpected ways at unexpected times.
He's like that, you know.