I have many stories to tell you. I could start from the beginning but I cannot. The queen of Afrika commands me to speak of her first. I can think of nothing else but her. She grips my mind and she has my heart. She will let me say nothing of Zimpeto, Maputo or Mozambique unless I speak of her. I obey queens.
Since we found out that we had made it to the team that would be travelling to Mozambique we were told about the dump side. It is an area where people live and look for food. We were told of its unpleasant aromas. I doubted that I had the capacity to see such a sight. I was certain that I was unable to handle such an atrocious sight and smell of such death-like poverty. My heart fainted at the thought of such human desperation that would push humans to find hope in a mass dump area. I speak of hope. I speak of lifting the heads of the downcast in Afrika but could I do it when I am in the worst possible place? Is it all just dreamy talk? Do I truly believe my passion for Afrika? Is my talk possible? Do I believe me? This was the true test and I was afraid dismal self-failure awaited me. I would be exposed that I am just a dreamer and nothing more.
We prayed week after week as we prepared, praying for various things such as provision for the trip and for this. God broke our hearts even before we went as some of our hearts failed when we heard we would go to such a place of despair. God started to show me a different picture to share with some of the members who had verbalised their honest distress and desperation to see hope. God gave me a vision of the dump as not the stinky place we had been told of but as a rich gold mine. I held on to the picture.
The appointed day finally arrived when we were to go to this wasteland. God had been particularly kind to me the day before. He had prepared me in the most spectacular way possible. We went to minister to the homeless and each time we brought the delicious freshly baked bread of Zimpeto whenever we met with the people. People always take that bread as though it may be the only food they may have had that day. We went to minister late afternoon and evening with the Zimpeto street ministry team. We went to a rundown spot near Samora Michelle’s statue. The most imposing image I have ever seen. When I saw it I was inspired to pray: “God if I ever become famous and do great things may there never be a statue of Siki please! I beg you.” I had seen plenty of statues in my years though none had ever inspired such a prayer in me. In this sculpture I saw the height of human pride embodied in its great height. Human pride suddenly frightened me. We walked into an enclosed area opposite the imposing statue.
There we stood under the tree and the young Mozambican men we were with started playing the guitar singing worship songs. We sang along even when we did not speak the language of the song our spirits worshipped one Lord. A few people arrived. People who were hungry even for hope, Jesus or the next meal. Each of us said something. It was sweet. The presence of God was with us. Like the other three visitors I preached for a few minutes under the tree. It all felt so authentically African. We hugged the people, gave them bread, some asked for prayer, we prayed and we left to the next place. The last place we went to that night was a building that used to be beautiful, now large trees were growing out of the house. It no longer had a roof and most of the walls were broken. It was now dark and we had joined the other team. Someone played the jembe, the other two guys played a guitar as the rest of us sang. People came out of the shadows and joined us. Others tried to smoke as fast as they could so that they could quickly join us. The people always smelled terribly. These people particularly majored in unpleasant smells of smoke, alcohol and lack of perfume. Some of them were prostitutes but they are not as obvious as our South African prostitutes.
They arrived shaking our hands and another kissing each person on both cheeks as it happens in Portuguese cultures. I take kisses seriously so I relieved her of the cultural kissing duty. I hugged her instead rather than accepting a polite mundane kiss on my cheeks. My hug would be a lot more meaningful and purposeful. My embrace was about sharing each other’s spaces and presence. It was about giving of the self and not withholding any amount of goodness that I had been blessed with. Lips are holy things. We say words with them and words are sacred things. Kisses are sentences of the soul when it is overcome with emotion. It is a language of intimacy I deeply respect, perhaps because my grandfather always baptised our hands and faces with dozens of kisses for more than 20 years. The most authentic expression of love I could show her was to hug her. A hug is generous. It extends itself beyond the handshake. It shares smells. You can’t get closer. Of course she was as smelly as it gets. In this trip I quickly learnt to love smelly people and I was perfectly okay with it.
We had hardly begun to sing when I felt the presence of God heavily upon me. I wanted to impart to each one as much as was possible. I wanted God to show them who they were in ways words couldn’t. I wanted each one to be free of alcohol and poverty and lack. I prayed for the people as they worshipped and the presence of God continued to intensify on me as I prayed for them desperately trying to transfer it. I could hardly contain it. I eventually laid hands on another woman who also smelled of alcohol and unpleasant smells. When I touched her I knew that the presence of God I felt when I touched her had nothing to do with the presence of God that was on me. It was the presence of God that was on her. It was heavy. I was completely boggled out of my mind. I thought how can someone who is so anointed by God be here? Did this woman even know the power of God that was on her life? This woman was powerful, did she even realise how powerful she was? God completely threw me off there because I could not explain that. How could God be so present in such a dingy place with such smelly drinking people? Yet there He was, undeniably all over them and He was loving it. The scripture is true: God lives in a high and holy place and with those who are broken in spirit and humble. That is where He lives. This seemingly God-forsaken place, and these God-forsaken people after all were not forsaken. It was where He was to be most found! I had no idea how literal these verses were. I was stunned!
If God was in such a place, with such a people then God would most certainly be even more abundantly found in the dump. I now looked forward to go there as soon as it was possible. The places where God lives are not in fancy houses, unless the fancy houses belong to those whose hearts are humble before Him and contrite in spirit but He lives in the places where the least are. It is the reason He insists that those who ill-treat the poor insult Him. He takes the poorest as seriously as we take the rich. I have found the place God lives. I needed to go to the wasteland to truly understand what God was doing in a place the world claims He has forsaken.
We got on to the bus and went to the wasteland where we were greeted with stenches of smoke that choked me even before we got off the bus. It was hills and hills of waste and smoke. Such a sight I had never seen. The worst part is that people lived not only in close proximity to the wasteland but some even lived right in it. They made their homes in the dumps. They slept there!
We climbed the hills of waste. We came across the first person. We said hello. She had been digging in the dump looking for things she might be able to use. I could see nothing useful but a place to escape. It was such a dirty place. It is a rubbish dump of course it is unapproachable. To touch it must be a health risk, yet there she was as though this were her only opportunity for survival. She stood up to talk to us. My goodness! Such beauty! Such grace! Such dignity! She was the queen of Africa! The environment where she was might have been smelly and filthy but she was clean. Her face and body were that of a model. Her head was stylishly wrapped with a beautiful cloth. Her neck was long and graceful. Her eyes were perfection. Her earrings were made of lovely beads that hung elegantly. Her face was almost black and very pretty. Her poise was dignified. She crowned the mountains of dirt, dust and old plastic until you forgot that we stood at a place neither she nor us should be found in. She was regal. The environment around her did not defile her yet it seemed she did not know this truth too well. She was there because she was trying hard to make a living. It is not how she wanted to do it but this is where she was. When I saw her I knew that the verses God had given me the night before were for this woman.
“Awake, awake o Zion, clothe yourself with strength, put on your garments of splendour…the unclean will no longer enter you again. …shake yourself from the dust, arise sit enthroned, O Jerusalem loose yourself from the bonds of your neck O captive daughter of Zion.” – Isaiah 52
I knew these verses well. Today they were definitely for her. I knew that God wanted this woman to know that in His eyes she is crowned. She needed to know that what we saw when we saw her, is what she is, a queen. As each team member prophesied over her, showing her the treasure that is in her, her countenance changed. She smiled. She was pleasantly surprised. I was even more surprised to find the queen of Africa in such a place but I also knew that she was the picture of Africa. Glorious, beautiful, majestic and yet living in the rubble of poverty. When I saw this woman and what God saw in her I knew that this is the true gold of Africa; the people. The greedy had it wrong all along. They took the gold and ran yet they had no idea what true treasure was. We walked away rich from having met her. She had come looking for possible treasure in the dump yet she found herself as that treasure worth seeking.
We might never find out how our encounter with her impacted her life. We might never find out on this earth what will become of her from that moment on but I know that she was not the same. Life had changed for her from that moment on. I knew what it did for me. I had found the queen of Afrika. I had found this incredible treasure. I had seen the story of Afrika embodied in all its beauty in her standing there. We were given an opportunity to interrupt her from a mundane moment. Something tells me that somehow she always believed there had to be more. There just had to be more. That is why though in deepest poverty she would not be found dirty, smelly or lacking in style. Life had to be more and she was dressed for the more even in the rubbish dump. It was evident that what she was wearing were pieces of clothing she had found that she had cleaned, worn and given value by how she wore them. Even in that she was exquisite. She was fit to be crowned. With the powers invested in me from above I crowned her queen of Afrika. I wanted to scream for joy. My heart exploded with God. God had given us the most unexpectedly magnificent treasure in the dump!