We walked along the beaten down and dusty, narrow path. Garbage was scattered along the way and plates of fermenting rice were set out in front of several of the cinder block and brick buildings.
We turned the corner and continued our journey to Center One. School had just gotten out and children, all sporting camouflage uniforms, were getting rides home from school in open air vans and also on the backs of what seemed to be about a thousand motorcycles. The traffic was absolute mayhem. Every time a van drove past us, all of the children on board began to squeal and yell, “HALLO!” while waving enthusiastically. I suppose they don’t see Americans very often. I would wave back and smile, our eyes would lock for a moment and there was nothing but joy in the exchange.
We passed a couple of restaurants, a market and an empty parking lot – where a small entrance to the graveyard was visible at the end of a brick wall. I had heard of this graveyard a few years back. From the first time I heard of it, my heart leapt out of my chest – volunteering itself in a way I could not even begin explain. I haven’t had many moments like that in my life. My life is full, I am very content, I sometimes even feel overextended by the everyday ministry opportunities that the Lord has entrusted to me – I am not the kind of person who is always in search for something more. However, the moment I heard of this graveyard, something stirred in my soul that I couldn’t deny was the Holy Spirit, and I just prayed right then and there, “Lord, if you want me there, I will be all in, but you will have to make the way.”
And He did.
It was honestly a miracle. Absolute proof that God is always behind the scenes at work, accomplishing His will. I did not pursue it – I never even contacted Compassion First. God orchestrated a meeting, a divine appointment, through a mutual friend two and a half years later. It just happened to be at the same time that Lisa and I were launching Arise Ministries Collective and God provided the opportunity for us to link arms with Compassion First this fall, on this trip. His timing is always perfect. It is an overwhelming and intimate experience of His love for me, that He would stir my heart at the mention of a place, hear my earnest prayer and part the seas for me. Now, here I was, staring at the graveyard through a small entryway in the distance. I knew that God had brought me to this place – that moment is etched in my heart and mind forever. There was nowhere in the world I would rather be. I was filled with a deep sense of purpose, honor and humility – that He would bring me in (in a very small way) to the beautiful, tangible kingdom work He is unfolding there.
We walked a little further and stood in front of Center One. It almost backs right up to the graveyard. It had once been a brothel, now fully redeemed in every sense of the word. It is currently an established safe place for children to come to play, learn, grow, dance, laugh and get help with their school work. That center is a beacon of light in the community. It has planted seeds of hope that are sprouting up all around. Hope is rising and everything around that graveyard is coming alive.
Our team was made up of eight, and we all were honestly just so grateful to be there. You could sense it, it was palpable. We were all invested in the moment, making the most of every opportunity to be present. It was one of the most beautiful team dynamics one could have hoped for. After our tour of Center One we were divided up into two groups and we had the very great honor and privilege of visiting some of the homes that surrounded Yellow Flower.
We walked down the cobblestone streets, colorful cinder block houses on each side. Greeted over and over by warm and affectionate smiles on bright, joyful faces. We paused in front of a home with a long dark hallway from the street. It must have led to several homes. Clothing was strung up to dry the length of the hallway. As we were greeted by a few women, a tiny framed elderly women appeared out of the hallway. She stretched out her hand to greet me and when our eyes met, she squeezed my hand tight and wrapped her arm around my waist. The language barrier didn’t keep us from sharing a very precious moment. I held onto her while the rest of our team visited with the other women and children in the street. As everyone said goodbye and continued down the road, I hugged her close, and held her face in my hands for a moment. She started weeping and buried her face in my side. I stayed behind for a moment until she loosened her grasp. As I hugged her and said goodbye, I couldn’t help but feel the weight of that moment. What stirred that kind of vulnerability and emotion? Whatever it was, I knew I had fallen in love – not just with her, but with every single face I met along the way. Every time we met new people and went to a new place my heart expanded a thousand times.
Over the course of the next couple hours we were invited into some of the women’s homes. As we entered each home it felt like we were entering sacred ground. Each woman welcoming us into their space – where they lived their lives, held their children, slept as a family, ate their meals, did their homework, and watched TV. Their best, worst, most inspirational and most heartbreaking moments happened within those close four walls. And we were being invited in, to sit on a corner of the mattress on the floor, to be eye to eye – face to face, a warm and vulnerable invitation to friendship. I was so humbled by it, I have truly never felt more honored in my life to be invited into someone’s space.
As we went from house to house, we shook hands, hugged, and greeted each person. We prayed over a baby, over mothers, over homes and we all felt the weight of each moment. Every moment was precious and powerful – there was something holy and inescapable about the raw vulnerability and trust that they were generously extending with each invitation.
We headed back to Center One, a couple of us walked down the alley right past the Center and took in the sight before us. The graveyard. The vibe was harsh, cold and dreary. There was garbage scattered around and chickens scurrying about. It felt odd and dark. That was the first time I felt the weight of the darkness.
We cozied in at Center One for awhile as a crowd of children played games, circled up on the tile floor chatting with the staff, and practiced their dance routine. They were shy but curious and eager to connect with us. Their art work was strung up across the bright room, and they proudly pointed out which ones were their colorful masterpieces. Their big brown eyes followed us around the room, examining each of our expressions and movements.
At lunch time we left Center One to meet up with the rest of our team. We gained some beautiful and inquisitive followers. One girl ran up to me and wrapped her arms around mine, another gently slid her hand into my hand and we locked eyes, her expression was looking for permission to hold on and I squeezed her hand and smiled. We walked quite a ways arm in arm and hand in hand. The whole time I prayed protection over their small, innocent little frames – and provision for their future. They stuck by my side through main streets and alleys until our destination and then cozied up next to me on the floor. They whole time I prayed and prayed and prayed that He would be their shield, their hope, thier vision. That He would rescue them and alter the course of their lives in a radical way.
The thing about this place – the graveyard, and all the beautiful souls that live around it – is that you can’t be there and not be absolutely drawn in by the life, the joy, the vulnerability, the hope, the dignity, and the strength that is vibrantly encompassing each of those women and their children.
The other thing about the graveyard is this: many of the mothers, young and old, sell themselves in the graveyard at night for about 75 cents, as many times as it takes until they have made enough change to feed their children breakfast in the morning. What kind of love is that? It is a sacrificial, selfless, beautiful kind of love. A love that you can’t even begin to fathom or imagine unless it is your child that is starving. These women have dignity, they each have a name, and I got to hug their frames and hold their faces in my hands… I have never felt more honored in my life.
For many of the girls growing up in that place, that is their future.
You know what? I am boldly going to say, it would have been their future. Because, I believe that God is powerfully moving in that place, HOPE IS RISING. Dead bones, broken spirits, and hopeless hearts are coming alive. It is no longer just a graveyard – where women barely survive… it is a place where there is irrefutable evidence of the tangible resurrection power of Jesus weaving life, hope and redemption into every part of their story. God is on the move in that place. What once was a generation’s fate is passing away and children and teens are beginning to dream of a different future. Dreams are coming to life and becoming reality. It is the most magnificent thing to witness.
The night that we said goodbye to all of our new friends, we had the honor of attending a banquet for them hosted by Compassion First. We dressed up, they were all in their very best and this was a night to truly celebrate them. Our friends prepared music, dance routines, and a magic show for the evening. It was a party!!! The grandest of parties – not even necessarily because of the venue or the program, but because of the beautiful of souls present. It is where everyone wanted to be in that very moment and it was essence of what a celebration should be. I saw my sweet old lady friend from across the room. I linked arms with one of our translators and made my way to her. I stooped down so that we could be eye to eye. She remembered me and grasped onto one of my hands and cupped my cheek with her other hand. I leaned in and thanked her for being so generous with her kindness, love and affection. I told her that her kindness to me meant a great deal and that I would treasure it forever. Tears welled up in her eyes and she held my face with both of her hands as she shared with me that she had no children, no husband, no family. She was absolutely alone. I wrapped my arms around her and told her that I would pray for her. As she held my face she rubbed her tear drenched cheeks on mine, one side, then the other, over and over again as she silently wept. When she finished crying, I wrapped my arms around her and held her tight.
There was truly no where else in the entire world I would have rather been. When you have that kind of raw and uncensored moment with another human – face to face, heart to heart – time stands absolutely still and everything about your life shifts into a new perspective. In that sacred moment the only things that carried value and merit in my life were eternal kingdom things – everything else fell away. That is where I want to live my life now, I am forever ruined to settling for anything less in my everyday.
This was my graveyard experience: I saw Jesus come alive in the darkness, I saw Him bend low and love lavishly in the messiness of life, I saw Him powerfully restore and redeem, I saw a people who had once felt unseen come to life… and it was glorious. I not only had a front row seat to the most beautiful and tangible form of hope stirring and breaking through the darkness there – I also experienced that hope rising up within the deepest part of my own soul as I looked into the beautiful faces of the women and children at Yellow Flower.
If home is where your heart is, I have two addresses now.