From Guest Blogger Olivia Terry
Being a missionary kid—and in my case—the daughter of Milton and Kimberly Smith, can be confusing at times. People call us “third culture kids” because we’re never really sure where home is. Throughout college I struggled with discovering where that “home” truly was and how my life would make a difference.
After graduation, my fluent Spanish landed me a great job, making far more money than I expected. The work came easily to me, and I received a lot of praise for it. Mom and Dad were both very proud of me, but something kept nagging at me. I tried to ignore it, and plowed into “normalcy”. Ironically, I felt crazy in the world of “normal”. Finally, I admitted to Mom that the ache I felt was like a duck trying to pretend she didn’t need a lake to swim in. She might survive, but there’d always be something missing if she didn’t find her lake.
I don’t think everyone is supposed to be a missionary by vocation, but for me, I could find no peace until I found my “lake”. I was thrown into the deep water pretty fast. In just two months, I was making my way to Sudan with a twenty something member team. Finally I would meet the children who my mother had told me so much about that they already felt like my siblings.
After 72 hours of international travel to make it to Sudan, we climbed out of our World War II era DC3 airplane, crossed the dirt airstrip, threw our backpacks and tents on top of a waiting Land Cruiser, and crammed ourselves inside for a dirt-devil ride to Hope for Sudan. My heart raced with both fear and excitement about what lay ahead.
As we crawled out of the truck and the dust storm from our screeching halt settled, we saw them coming. We walked their way as they walked ours, and as the good ole country song says, we met in the middle. Fright and delight swirled in all our spirits.
Part of our time was spent in Vacation Bible School for the children. One day, during an art session, we asked all the children to write their names on their masterpieces. Many of the children needed our help with writing so we knelt down to their art rug and wrapped our fingers around their tiny black ones, helping them to write in the color of their choosing.
From the corner of my eye, I saw Lisa asking one little girl to tell her name. The girl looked up at Lisa with a blank stare, searching her face but saying nothing. Lisa asked again, and received nothing but the same blank gaze. Lisa and I exchanged a look of confusion, not knowing why this little girl would not respond. Lisa tried asking her other things and there was never a response. Since we did not know what name to write on the art, Lisa just drew a red heart. I could see Lisa’s heart was immediately attached to—and concerned for—this small girl.
The next day during our Bible lesson the same thing occurred. Several of our team members tried to engage her but there was only the same blank stare in return. Lisa sought out one of the indigenous teachers, Alafi, and asked about this girl.
Alafi said, “She does not speak our language, only her tribal tongue, which none of us understand because she is from a different tribe. She just arrived at Hope for Sudan last week. She has lost both her mother and her father. We do not know her name so we call her Naomi.”
Naomi was very watchful, never walking with her eyes to the ground but always up, vigilantly on the outlook. As observant as she was, she stayed on the outskirts of the other children. Often times, I would see her walking around in the distance by herself. The other children didn’t seem to try to engage her.
She has a very gentle spirit and this also makes her easy to look over. I noticed that even though she would not approach others, she did not run or seem fearful when we approached her.
Lisa has a very gentle and reserved spirit also, and it helped her to connect with Naomi in a deeper way than the rest of us. Lisa made time to sit quietly with Naomi or go to her side, walking with her when she found Naomi alone in the distance. Lisa did some of these quiet things with the other children too, and Naomi noticed. It deepened Naomi’s trust, and she started to come around more. As time wore on, Naomi risked weaving herself into our group.
Close to the end of our time at Hope for Sudan several children gathered around Lisa and started braiding her hair. Naomi came over and joined right in! It was the first interaction Naomi initiated with other children. She even laughed with them and repeated words they taught her. it was the most beautiful sound I’d ever heard.
When I got home, I looked up the name “Naomi”. It means Beautiful Honesty, pleasant, and delightful. We may never know what her parents first called Naomi, but it seems the perfect name found her, for it sums her perfectly.
In just a few weeks, I will return to Sudan. This time, by myself. I will have the privilege to live among the precious children of Hope for Sudan for a month. I couldn’t wait to hear about Naomi. I called our Sudan Health Manager, to inquire about all of our children, but I was particularly curious about Naomi.
He has been at HFS for the last month to assess the children’s health, provide more medical training to our nurse, and bring the encouragement he naturally gives. He said it was funny that I asked about Naomi because he had been looking through all of his photos from the last few months and noticed that Naomi appeared in almost all of them. He believed that she was one the most active, curious and social of all our children!
When I asked what some of her favorite activities are he said, “Naomi is always going from one activity to another, it is hard to know her favorite. She loves picking mushrooms, helping on the agriculture farm, eating the local vegetables, doing arts and crafts, and playing with her many friends.”
Our health manager reported that her health is great, better than expected. He said ever since Make Way Partners starting providing CSB (corn soya blend) for the HFS children, their overall health has greatly improved. All of the children have become more active in playtime and attentive in class. He has seen growth in their bodies, richer color in their skin and hair, and clarity in their eyes.
Naomi has been eating her porridge with gusto and loves wearing the new clothes she has. Best of all, she is speaking her new language confidently, and excelling in school! She is a delight to everyone around her, and by God’s good and loving kindness—starting with one gentle woman, and carried on through a loving family at Hope for Sudan—she has opened herself to likewise delight in others and the beauty around her.
Job 22:26 says, “Surely then you will find delight in the Almighty and will lift up your face to God.” I suppose He gives us a Naomi here and there in our lives to remind us to delight in Him.