Taking the Ordinary and making it Holy – Chris Cheek

Sunday morning has arrived, computer started, word document open and ready to write my Sunday Update.  For the first week in almost two years I thought I had found a week I had nothing to write about.  After a few minutes of walking through the week in my mind and nothing jumping out at me to write about I found myself thinking, “have I done anything this past week?”

To answer that questions I clicked on the photo link of my pictures on my phone to see what was on my weekly photo journal of life at Project Canaan to maye help trigger something to write about:

Sunday – Quiet day of reflection, down time, rest

Monday – Transported a mentally instable woman in the back of a pickup truck to the police department as she threatened me with her cane and I played with toddlers

Tuesday – Prepared for coming visitors to Project Canaan, taught ballet and I played with toddlers

Wednesday – New little one arrived giving us 140 children and I played with toddlers

Thursday – Five hour ride to Jo’burg to greet visitors

Friday – Five hour ride back to Project Canaan with visitors, stop at the Glass Factory, grocery shopping and I played with toddlers

Saturday – Marathon tour for visitors of Project Canaan and I played with children

Now here I am on Sunday morning preparing for another week, starting the morning writing like all other Sunday mornings.  Taking the ordinary week of life on a farm in the bush with 140 children and telling the story.  Six weeks away from Advent, six weeks away from my first real time off in two years.  Six weeks to take the ordinary and making it a Holy time because “Advent” is coming.  As each day is ticking past with the rhythms of the day, my anticipation is building, I am “coming” home soon to visit my family and friends.  But for now I have six weeks of the ordinary and I must make each day Holy – for soon Advent arrives.   Yes it was an ordinary week that was Holy I got to “play in the yard and hug babies,” taking the ordinary and making it Holy. 

The journey continues…….


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I Know You By Name… Long-Term Volunteer Chris Cheek

This week our 120th baby arrived home to a place of love, safety and family.  One hundred and twenty children with the oldest two being 5 years old.   That is 120 children to get up, dressed and fed, 120 children to run and play.  Ok, so some are too young to run but at least 90 can run or are beginning to run. Days of diaper changing and potty training mutiplied by 120 times. Books to be read, songs to be sung, counting and colors all by 120 little ones.  Laughter and tears, upset tummies and mumps, birthday cakes and water sprinklers (when there has been rain), bubbles and monkies all in the life of 120 little ones. 
One hundred and twenty little ones each with their own name. Each one with twinkles in their eyes, moods and personalities. Beth has an incredible gift of language. She has taught me more siSwati than I’ve learned from anyone else.  Daniel that always wants me to “come, GoGo, come.”  Lenah and Abigail giggling like teenagers. Angel and Phephile running across the yard. Isaac with a smile that will light the world and dimples to melt your heart. Seth yelling across the yard, “GoGo, GoGo. ”  Rahab always the last at the table to finish eating.  Roy quiet and reserved, Joash kicking the soccer ball, LoLo singing in the middle of the night and Gabriella with her thumb in her mouth.  They all have a name. 
One hundred and twenty little ones that in the past year and a half I have lived with 77 of the children. Thirty- eight have moved up the hill to the big kid’s home (3 and 4 year-olds) and thirty-nine two year-olds now. Yes, I have lived with 77 children and yes, I know their names. I know their laughter and their cries. I see their good days and their bad ones.  They tug on my skirt and they say “and me, and me.”  They call me GoGo and I know their name. The new babies I’m learning and some day I will say I know all their names, but for today I live and play with 77 little ones and I know their names. 
The journey continues……
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Song of the Night – Jesus Loves the Little Children, Chris Cheek

Finally this week I’ve gotten back on my normal schedule for the first time since early January.  I love the rhythms of my days here in Africa. 
My day begins between 4:30 and 4:45 am. I enjoy the quiet for about 15 minutes then go to the kitchen to make a cup of coffee. Once it is ready I find my way back down the dark hallway to my room and begin my morning routine; daily scripture readings, prayer time and enjoying the silence of living in the bush waiting for the morning sounds to begin. 
About 5:30 I hear the engine hum of the Toyota pickup coming up the hill to the children’s home. As the truck pulls in the parking area I hear the laughter of the aunties that live out in the community as the crawl out the back of the truck to begin their day of work.  A few minutes later the engine starts up and heads on down to the farm for the next task on the driver’s list. 
Soon after the day shift aunties arrive the sounds of the babies waking up echo out the windows of the baby home across the yard and into my bedroom window.  As I listen to the waking babies I find comfort and peace in the noises of the little ones as the sun is coming up over the mountain.   
Each morning around 6 am the energy changes from waking babies to the gentle chatter of a few of the girls in the room next to mine as their day begins. The talking is followed with giggles until all ten girls in that room are awake talking and singing.  Some days it is clapping and chanting “dansa, dansa, dansa” siSwati for dance, dance, dance.  Some days it is ABCs, some days it is church songs and some days children’s songs like Itsy Bitsy Spider, but no matter whether they are singing or saying it always fills the hallways and my room with the sounds of joy and laughter.
My body and spirit is feeling so much better now that I’m waking up early and following the natural morning rhythms. Well that is until Saturday morning. As I began waking from a very, deep deep sleep I heard  the song of “Jesus Loves the Little Children” coming from the girl’s room. I felt like I was in a deep thick fog. Through my mind ran the disappointing thought that all week I had been waking up early and now I had slept through my morning prayer time. I just felt completely out of sync, a set back of morning routine, maybe it was going to take me a little longer this time to get back on schedule.
I snuggled under the covers to listen to the sounds of the sweet girls singing, slowly slid my arm out from the cover to grab my phone on my night stand to check the time to see if I could get a few minutes of being lazy before I needed to start my day.  My thumb went on the round start button, the background light came on the screen and there was the time – 2:30 am.  Ohhh my, the whole room of older 2 year-old girls were wide awake and singing Jesus Loves the Little Children – the Song of the Night. I knew immediately it had to be LoLo instigating this middle of the night sing-along and I was right. They all quickly sold her out – “LoLo was singing!”   LoLo continued off and on throughout the night singing and clapping. The other girls would drift off to sleep but LoLo kept going, singing sometimes alone and sometimes with whoever would wake up and join in. I drifted in and out of sleep as the sweet voices of 2 year-olds filled the quiet of the night.
Four thirty came, my routine began – coffee, prayers and reading.  Ten little girls finally drifted off to sleep around 5 after two and a half hours of singing.  Nap time came finally at 1:30 pm and a GoGo and ten little girls quickly crawled into their beds for Hamba Lala (go to sleep) time. The joy of living in a house of 39 two year-olds.   
The journey continues…..
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If Only She Could Talk….Chris Cheek, Long-Term Volunteer

It has been a week of raw emotions.  If only she could talk….

No food after midnight.  If only she could talk….

Two hour ride to the hospital and hungry.  If only she could talk….

Crying to stay in my arms.  If only she could talk….

Hands and arms in big purple cast.  If only she could talk….

Tubes and wires.  If only she could talk….

Nurses and doctors.  If only she could talk….

Cries of pain, moans of discomfort, morphine, tylenol.  If only she could talk…

As I sat by Shirley’s bedside in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit I heard the little boy in the room next to ours say, “I can’t move.”   I remember thinking how I wish Shirley could tell me what she was feeling.  As she cried out I did not know if it was from pain, not understanding why she was there, missing her home – I just wish she could have talked to me.

The week has been long, most of my days and nights are spent with her in my arms.  My hair needs to be washed, I have tylenol stains on my shirt, mashed potatoes on my pants, my back is sore – her weight has doubled with the two large cast.  Two weeks ago I would have written my update at 5 am with a cup of coffee in my hands. Today I’m just getting it started at 7:30 pm and the caffeine from my coffee has long been gone.

My rhythm of life has changed and for the next few weeks there is nothing more important than the rhythm of comforting a little girl named Shirley.  Emails will be late, phone calls missed, no time to Google, stains on my shirts.  How I wish she could talk and tell me when she hurts, if she is hungry or she just misses home.  But she is 16 months old and she can’t tell me, so for now I will just hold her and love her.  We will play when she wants to play, I will rock her back and forth in my arms and I will let her sleep on my chest when she wakes in the middle of night crying.  I will cook her mashed potatoes or pasta, feed her bananas and green beans.

The week has been raw – If only she could talk…….

The journey continues…..from Africa to Staten Island.

GoGo and Shirley

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