This story is the EIGHTH in the Missionary Kids Stories about the Matthews family who live in Malawi, Africa.
Each story is written in the form of a letter from one of the Matthews’ children. There are seven children, (but the baby can’t write yet!).
I write these stories so young readers can learn about missionary life in Africa. The MKs (Missionary Kids) will tell stories about cultural differences (and similarities) such as eating DEAD MICE in the first MK story, or why guard dogs are necessary in Malawi as in BIG BLACK DOGS (the second story). They will also show how they face the same temptations, emotions, and problems that all kids everywhere do. I hope to entertain and inform the children, but mostly I want to quietly teach them truths from the Bible, God’s Word, as it pertains to their everyday lives.
So, here is the next story! (If you are new here, scroll down, or check the list on the side bar to begin the with the FIRST story and meet the kids and their idiosyncrasies in order.)
It’s Julie again!
Last time, I wrote about what was in that old well that’s in our back yard. Do you remember? You can hardly tell where it was now. Dad didn’t want us (or anything else) to fall into it, so he and Ngunda covered it up with cement. Then Dad got some bricks and built a big round planter on top of it, tall enough for us to sit on.
They filled it with dirt and compost from garden clippings and Mom’s kitchen scraps and planted a small lemon tree there! The little flowers on it smell so good, but we haven’t gotten any lemons yet.
I can hardly wait for them to grow because I love lemonade! Mom wants them to squeeze over fish when she cooks it. And also to put into her tea. And of course, EVERYONE loves lemon bars and lemon cake.
C’mon little lemon tree… GROW!!
Last week we had two exciting things happen.
First, we got a big box of letters and cards in the mail from the kids at Faith Bible Church. They had written them to us during their Vacation Bible School.
Here’s a picture they sent in the box. It shows some of the kids making the cards! (If you see any of them… tell them a big “thank you” for us!)
It was so fun to open them and read the messages and see the drawings. You could tell that some of the cards were from real little kids because they were just scribbles. But we loved them anyway!! We read our own cards, and then we passed them around so the rest of us could read them too.
April cut cute shapes from her cards and tied a little ribbon at one end. She’s using them as bookmarks in her Bible and other favorite books. She made five especially nice ones to give to her friends and teacher at church.
Marshall and Gus made a whole fleet of colorful paper airplanes out of their cards. Then they had a contest for which would fly the best. Marshall had saved one card that had a lot of yellow coloring on it. He cut out a star and pinned it on Gus for having the best flying airplane.
June did something very pretty with hers. It was something I never would have thought of. On the cards that had drawings of fish or flowers or stars or boats, she punched little holes around each drawn thing, and then threaded different colored yarn through the holes. They really looked cool!
Melody used some of the yarn to attach her cards at their top corners to make a long banner which she taped up on her bedroom wall.
Deek…. well, Deek just liked to throw his whole pile of cards up into the air and let them fall down all around him. Then he would shuffle through them, swishing them all around with his feet. (Mom rescued a few and set them up by his bed so he could look at them when he went to sleep.)
I cut out some of the objects that the kids drew, and a few of the messages they wrote, which I cut into heart shapes. Then I used a wire hanger that my Mom had and some strong string, and made a mobile to hang by my window. When the wind comes in, they flip and turn and spin. I love them so much!
After all the excitement and craft making was over, everyone went to put away their scissors and tape, and to display the things they’d made. Gus and Marshall went outside to fly airplanes.
I decided to help Mom by picking up all the paper scraps and tiny yarn pieces scattered everywhere around the living room. I used the broom to get some that had gotten pushed under the couch. Then a saw one more envelope under there that hadn’t been opened. I pulled it out with the broom and wiped off the dust that came with it.
It had no name on it. There were no stickers or colored marks on the outside, but there was something inside. Something MORE than a card. When I turned the envelope up on edge, the thing slid to the bottom.
“Mom,” I called, waving the envelope. “Look what I found under the couch. It has no name on it.”
Mom peeked out from the room where she was changing Deek’s clothes. “Just open it, Honey,” she said. “Maybe there is a name inside.”
“But…if it doesn’t belong to me…” I protested. Then I rattled the envelope again. I really DID want to know what was inside. If it was for someone else, I would just give it to them.
I started to tear open the top, when all of a sudden the dogs started barking furiously. I heard a car horn honk out a funny tune. Gus and Marshall ran by the window shouting. What was happening?
I slipped the envelope in the back pocket of my jeans and ran to see. Melody, June and April were right behind me. Ngunda had the dogs tied up and was rolling our big metal gate back along its tracks.
A bright blue Land Rover started edging inside. The top canvas had been rolled back and a tanned arm stuck out of it and waved a small American flag back and forth.
“Uncle Will!” shouted Marshall, running to open the car door before it had even stopped moving.
A tall tanned man in sun glasses, a bush jacket and jungle hat, stepped out. All of us just stared at him in wonder except for our oldest brother. It looked like Marshall was going to knock him over with his hugging. Then it was like Marshall got embarrassed and stepped back. He held out his hand to shake instead.
“Aw, come here, my boy,” said our Uncle Will and pulled Marshall into another big hug. “You’re getting mighty big! Hey, who are all these?” He looked around at the rest of us.
I remembered him vaguely from the time before last that we went back to America. That time, he wore boots, a leather hat with a snakeskin band, and a necklace of beads and spear heads.
Whoa!” he said looking right at me, “Is that you, Julie Joy? What a young lady you are becoming. You’re… what, twenty now? Or twenty-five?”
I shook my head, grinning. “No-o-o-o-o! Thirteen.”
He gasped loudly then bowed deeply, which made me giggle.
Then Marshall introduced Gus and our sisters to their Uncle Will. The tall man shook hands solemnly with Gus, after first clicking his heels together and saluting him. (Gus still had a paper airplane in his hand, and the gold paper star pinned on.)
Then our uncle laid his hands on the heads of our twin sisters and pulled them to him, both at one time for a big three-way hug.
“Where’s your Mom?” he asked Marshall after he’d patted April’s cheek softly and winked at her.
“Well, I’ll be!” he added, looking over April’s head. Mom had come outside now, carrying Deek.
“WILL!” she cried and ran to him, handing Deek to me on the way. “Why didn’t you tell us you were coming? Oh, it is so good to see you!” She went into his open arms and they hugged and swayed back and forth for a long time.
I put Deek down, and then picked him up again because the excitement was scaring him and he was puckering up to cry. Uncle Will saw this and came to us, still holding Mom’s hand.
“Who is this young man?” He said and took Deek from me. He tossed him into the air, and then caught him easily, swinging him around in a circle. I gasped and Deek shrieked and Mom laughed.
“Will, be careful!” She said as he raised Deek up to sit on his shoulders, stubby legs around his neck. It knocked off his hat and Gus was quick to grab it, putting it on his own head and laughing when it came down over his eyes.
“This is Deek,” said Mom to her brother. “Deacon William Matthews, our youngest.”
“Deacon William? You’ve got to be kidding!”
“Which part?” she asked, teasing him. “We didn’t name him after YOU! Well, not completely. We wanted to remember the missionary, William Carey.
“Oh, that’s fine,” said our uncle, “but….. Deacon? Seriously?”
“Well…. You know our tradition of naming the children with a reminder of the month they were born in. Deek was born in….”
“DECEMBER!” we all called together, cutting her off.
“Dees-ember!” said Deek, bouncing up and down on Uncle Wills shoulders and flapping his arms.
Then we all heard a familiar toot and Ngunda opened the big gate once more to let in Dad’s car. Uncle Will handed Deek back to Mom and went to greet his brother-in-law. They shook hands, and then hugged, slapping each other on their backs the way grown up men do.
“Hey, Bro, why didn’t you tell your wife and kids I was coming?”
“I wasn’t sure when you would come. I didn’t want them to get all excited and be disappointed.”
About then, after shutting the gate, Ngunda let the dogs loose. They joined in the fun, jumping up on Uncle Will’s chest and almost knocking him over.
“Whoa, you big lugs! Down boys!” He thoroughly scratched their necks and squeezed their shoulders up next to his knees, and then sent them off.
As we all started towards the back door, Dad asked, “And where have you been these days, my famous jungle-doctor brother-in-law? Zimbabwe? Mozambique?”
“No. Ghana, this time,” he answered. “But I’ll be working in Malawi now for a couple weeks. No, not at your Kamuzu Hospital in Lilongwe. We’ll be down south at a clinic in Zomba. So… now is perfect time to visit my sister’s… growing family!”
“Oh, Will,” said Mom, disappointed. “Zomba is a seven hour drive away! How long can you stay before you leave?”
“It will take me a week just to get all your kids’ names straight, Sis,” he joked. “Let’s see….who are we missing? Where is January Jan? September Seth? October Otto? And…. November Gobble-gobble? Hey, stop hitting me! I know, I know… seven kids are enough!”
We were all laughing at Uncle Will and Mom, including Dad. We had never seen her act so funny before. It was almost like she was a little girl again.
Inside the house, our uncle got more serious. “But, actually, Hudson, while I am here, I need to talk with a one of your teachers at ABS. I think she goes to your church too. It’s about a young village boy named Lugono. She wrote to Operation Smile about him and I need to see him in person.”
“That must be Debbi Kingsley,” Dad said. “I’ll take you to meet her tomorrow.”
After that, the afternoon was a scrambled happy stew of talking and laughing and showing things and playing guessing games and getting to know Uncle Will. He asked us all lots of questions and bounced Deek on his knee till he got the hiccups from laughing.
When Mom said she would fix some dinner, we all moved into the kitchen to “help” her… but mostly just to look at and listen to our uncle. He was wonderful and exciting. And besides being fun and part of our family, he was real doctor: Dr. William Calder. He told us some amazing stories about kids all over Africa that he helped by operating on them.
Gus had a question that made us all giggle, except maybe for April who looked like she wanted to know too. “If you are really Mom’s brother, why isn’t your name, Dr. Matthews?”
Uncle Will’s eyes were sparkling, but he answered Gus seriously. “Because ‘Calder’ was your mother’s name too, before she married your dad.”
“It was?” Gus said and looked at Mom in a curious way. We all laughed then, including Gus.
It was very late when we were finally sent to bed, with the promise of Uncle Will coming to each of us to pray and “tuck us in.”
Back in the room that I shared with April, who was brushing her teeth right then, I was puzzled to feel something in my back pocket.
“What in the world…?” I said aloud.
Then I found the envelope. I had forgotten all about it with Uncle Will coming and all the excitement afterwards. I started to open it right then, but April came back and I quickly hid it under my pillow. I would show her tomorrow, I promised myself, after I found out who it belonged to. But for tonight, I wanted it to be my secret.
But I was too late.
“What was that?” April asked and picked up my pillow. “Did you get another card? What’s in it?” She was shaking it like I did when I first found it.
“I don’t know,” I said and sighed. “I don’t know what’s in it, and I don’t know if it is even mine. There’s no name on it.”
“Well, OPEN IT!” said April and did just that.
There was a paper inside with neat printing on it. It said, “For JOY, read Romans 12:22.”
“See, it IS for you. You are Julie JOY, right? And look! Here’s a little pin. Oh, a cute happy face!”
She handed me the pin, the note, and the envelope, and went to her bed. She picked up the book lying open on her night stand and began to read. She was deep into the story before I could blink twice.
I felt happy with how the whole envelope thing turned out. It WAS for me after all, and I loved the little pin. It wasn’t a cheap button pin like you might get for free, but a nice gold-color pin like a piece of jewelry about the size of an American dime. How cool was that?
And I was the only one who had gotten a “prize” in an envelope.
Who had put it in the box I wondered. Was it a teacher? I didn’t know any close friends back at that church, but one girl HAD seemed to like me the last time we visited. Maybe Taylor had sent it.
I picked up my Bible and found the verse written on the paper. It was exciting to think that someone was sending ME a special message! I read the verse to myself, “Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.” I memorized it in a minute. Easy-peasy.
I put everything on my night stand and lay down with a smile on MY face. I was asleep just like that and only slightly remember a hand on my head and a deep voice softly praying for me.
Next morning, I put the pin on my pajama top and went out to the kitchen where I could hear Mom making breakfast noises. Uncle Will was there too, sitting on a stool with a cup of coffee in his hand.
Before they heard me, I saw how much they loved each other and were glad to be together even for a short visit. Uncle Will was Mom’s only brother, and she didn’t have any sisters. I wondered how it would be to have only one more kid in my family.
“Julie Joy!” my uncle said, holding out his empty hand to get a morning hug. “Why is your face shining like a mirror in the noon day sun?”
I looked down at my pin and smiled bigger.
“Ah, what do we have here? Now, that’s a right beautiful pin, m’lady.”
“It’s called a happy face, Uncle Will. Someone at our church in American sent it to me.”
I showed it to Mom too, who had her hands floury from making cinnamon rolls.
“There was a Bible verse in the envelope too.” I recited the verse and the reference to them.
“That’s a good one,” my uncle said. Then, it was weird, he got this far off look on his face like an idea was blooming in his mind somewhere. He leaned over to look more closely at my pin.
“Hmm,” was all he said.
The next thing that happened, was two days later. Dad had taken Uncle Will to the College with him, and he had talked with that teacher. In the afternoon, he had ridden with her out to the village to see Lugono. He was sad but excited when he came home for dinner.
“I think it might work,” he told Dad later that night while Melody and I were playing Dominos on the cleaned-off dining room table. “But he’s pretty scared. His mom might need some convincing too. I wonder…..”
Here is where he looked right at me. Then he leaned close to Dad and they talked softly for a while, both of them glancing at me now and then.
It made me feel kind of worried. What were they talking about? The corner of my bottom lip slipped under my teeth before I could stop myself, but I quickly made it come right out.
Finally they sat back. In a minute, Uncle Will called me over to them and I sat beside him on the couch.
“Julie, you seem to be someone with a lot of compassion for others. Your Dad told me how you rescued that feral cat in the well… no, no… don’t worry! He also told me how you were sorry for disobeying him.” He smiled gently at me.
“And I’ve also seen how gentle you are with your little brother…. Deek.”
Here he looked at Dad. “Sheesh, what a name! How did you let my sister name him that, Hudson?”
Dad shrugged and grinned. “It grows on you, Will.”
“Anyway, Julie,” he continued. “I’d like you to come out to the village with Debbi and me tomorrow and meet Lugono. Would you do that?”
I nodded. I had been there many times when Mom went to help Mrs. Molenaar teach Bible and sing and hand out bread to the kids.
“I should tell you….” he glanced at Dad, “I should tell you that I’m considering him for surgery next week. He… well, he has a different problem. He might look quite frightful to you. I’d understand if you didn’t want to go. But…. I think you would be a big help.”
I thought about a baby I’d once seen at the village. He had a funny mouth. His upper lip was pulled up into part of his nose and a tooth was growing in a weird place. I felt really awful and sad for him, but then I saw his eyes – so big and dark and shining – and all I wanted to do was hug him and make him all better.
I nodded again to Uncle Will. “Yes, I’ll go with you. I want to.”
He grabbed me – big as I am – into his lap for a big hug, and kissed the top of my head. “Thank you, sweet Jewel! Oh, and be sure to wear that pin.”
And I did. Before I went to bed that night, I pinned it on the shirt I would wear the next day.
On the way to the village the next day, Miss Debbi told us Lugono’s story. He was one of eight kids and his mother was a widow. (That means her husband had died.) One night, two years before, Lugono tripped and fell face first into the open cooking fire. He got VERY bad burns on his face and burned off one eye, one ear, and half his nose.
(Let me tell you, when I heard that, I wanted to scream or cry! Oh, that poor boy!)
Miss Debbi went on to say that his mother took him to a health center, then to the Kamuzu Hospital in Lilongwe. He was there for three months!! But they didn’t do much for him. They sent him home to die because they thought he was “a hopeless case.”
Right then, I remembered part of my “pin” verse, “joyful in hope,” but Lugono didn’t have much hope, did he?
What happened then, Miss Debbi?” I asked.
“His mother cared for him in the village. Every time she cleaned his wounds, she cried and prayed for a miracle. She never gave up hope.”
She continued with the story, “My friend first saw him when his Mom brought him to a mobile clinic for malaria testing. Sonja contacted me because she knew I was helping to find children who needed an Operation Smile* surgery. We took pictures of Lugono and sent them in.”
She smiled. “Your uncle here is the answer to all of our prayers!”
“Julie,” said my uncle, looking right at me, “I believe we can help Lugono with some starter surgery, but he will need many more to really restore his face. The problem is, he is very frightened to have anything done. We… I… hope that you can somehow help him.”
We bumped into the village right then and I took a deep breath. I recited the whole “pin” verse to myself. “Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.” As I stepped down from the Jeep, I prayed really hard for Lugono and for ME.
Like in every village, when visitors arrive, all the children come running, shouting, smiling, wanting to touch you, and get their picture taken. This was the fun part about visiting a village!
I looked around, but I didn’t see any boy who might be Lugono.
Miss Debbi took us to a thatched red-brick hut. We started to go inside, but Uncle Will said we needed the sunlight to see. Soon a woman came out leading a boy about nine years old.
And then…. “Oh, no! Oh, no! “Oh, please God,” I prayed to myself with all my might, “Oh, please help me not to look away from him!”
I was crying inside and praying softly and smiling and reaching out for Lugono’s hands all at the same time. I recited my “pin” verse softly even though he didn’t know what I was saying.
His poor skin was all twisted up and pulling his lips and half nose and one “good” eyelid towards the burned side. Everything else – where no eye or ear was – was just tight, shiny, pink-spotted skin.
He looked away from us and turned to go back into the hut.
Miss Debbi said something. She pointed to me and then to Uncle Will and talked more in Chichewa. Lugono tried to look up at my tall uncle, but his skin was too tight and the eyelid wouldn’t stretch at all. My uncle, kneeled down in the red dirt in front of him. He gently ran his hand over Lugono’s face, talking softly and smiling.
Miss Debbi translated and Lugono seemed to listen. Pretty soon he looked at me as best as he could under that half-closed twisted eyelid. It was then I saw his one dark, shining, unhappy but beautiful eye gazing at me. I really think I started to love him then.
I took one of his hands and started to tell him what a good doctor my uncle was, how he had helped many, many kids by his surgeries. Then I remembered what Miss Debbi told us about his mother’s prayers.
“Lugono, God has sent my uncle-doctor as the miracle your momma prayed for. He has come to help you. Don’t be afraid to let him.”
I said it again, this way, “Your momma has been faithful in prayer. God has sent you hope, a reason to be joyful. Please be patient and trust our good God, and let my uncle-doctor help you in your …. affliction.”
He looked at me steadily with his eye while Miss Debbi translated, and I looked back with all the love I could. Finally he nodded.
“Thank God,” I heard Uncle Will whisper as he stood up.
Then Lugono smiled. Or… he tried to smile. It was… it was horrible to see, almost like a monster’s smile. But I knew my uncle-doctor would make it beautiful. Make it a…. happy smile.
I looked down at my pin and without a thought, unfastened it from my shirt. I looked at Lugono and held it out for him to see. He held it closely to one eye and… smiled again. I took it and pinned it to HIS shirt.
I heard a joyful laugh.
I don’t know if it was from him or me!
I saw Lugono ten days after his surgery, right before Uncle Will went back to America. The team had done many surgeries to help kids, but Lugono’s was the most wonderful to me.
Of course he still does not have an eye or an ear, and although his skin is still shiny and spotted pink, it’s not twisted so much now.
He can look out of his one eye just fine and blink. His lips work good now – he has a great smile – and his half-of-a-nose is straighter, so he can breathe through it.
Uncle Will says he will arrange for Lugono to go to America in a few months, and have more surgeries to make everything even better.
(See Lugono and Miss Debbi and his mom in the picture?) **
When I rode out to the village with my uncle and Miss Debbi for a last visit, Lugono was still wearing the happy face pin. He made signs asking if I wanted it back but I shook my head. Seeing HIS happy face was better than any pin could be.
To me, it was like that pin came just for him!
Before we went to the village, all my sisters and brothers – even Deek – made cards for Luguno, with drawings, and yarn stitches, and even ribbons. He loved them and also the paper airplanes Gus and Marshall made. And he tied my mobile in a nearby tree to flip and turn and spin in the wind.
That’s all this time. I really love writing to you. When I tell you the things that happen in our family, it’s like I can see God at work in all of us. And THAT makes me want to thank Him so much.
Love to you, Julie
**photo acquired with permission from the Tracy Elliott newsletter
“Come, my young friends and listen to me. And I will teach you to honor the Lord.” ~~~ Psalm 34:11 Good News Bible
What a heartwarming story. That pin was just as much a miracle as the doctor coming in answer to the mother’s prayer.
That pin just came out of the air – author speak – but it did make a difference. Thanks for noticing that! Not knowing WHO sent it, or WHO it was actually for… until the end did make it a bit of a miracle, I guess.