I dug the permanent markers and the “My Name Is” adhesive nametags out of my backpack. We had packed them for our mission team members. Our outreach was well underway in Zambia, Africa.
We were serving at an orphanage for disabled children. Their stories are heart-breaking. In the middle of the night, under the cover of darkness and shame, parents and extended family leave sons and daughters. Impoverished families struggle to provide for their healthy children. A blind child, one unable to walk or with intellectual challenges, creates added needs. Lifelong needs.
Located on a narrow dirt road (actually a barely-passable, washboard of a path) in an overcrowded compound in Lusaka, the caregivers at the orphanage do the best they can. They feed, wipe, clothe, and diaper children 24-7. At bedtime, floor mattresses line the concrete floors like wall-to-wall carpet. Handleless grass-bound brooms sweep aside loose dirt every morning. The two sleeping rooms become classrooms. Neighborhood schools do not welcome disabled children.
The orphanage needs a new home. They need land. They need funds to care for the children. Government officials have visited and news reporters have come. Everyone recognizes the squalid, overcrowded conditions. The orphanage founders are seeking a new space. They have seen the Lord’s miracles daily, providing food and other daily needs. During the city-wide cholera outbreak earlier in the year, not one child fell ill. Now they ask the Lord’s provision for a new home.
What is Your Name?
I began putting nametags on our team members. First, Max and Denga. Then a little child stepped in front of me. She raised up on her callused bare feet and pointed her little, dusty-brown finger at the package of nametags. Other children took notice and began to surround me.
Max and I exchange a brief glance. In a split-second our plans to nametag the team morphed into nametagging the children. They came over from all directions. They put down tattered balls. They rose up from rocky perches… all for a nametag.
“What is your name?” Max asks each child. He writes, then he hands me the nametag.
“Do you want your nametag here or there?” I point to their left then their right shoulder. A broad smile spreads as they point to their spot of choice for The Nametag. They giggle. We hug. We giggle together.
After a dozen children, I begin to realize it is not the nametag that is bringing the joy I see on their faces. It is the gift of hearing their names.
Max says their name. He writes their name. I say their name, then put the nametag on for others to say their name.
I am overwhelmed by the Lord’s joy in this moment. Prompted by His Spirit, I begin telling each child, “The Lord has always known your name. Now I know it, too.”
What is in a name?
There is something personal, intimate even, in calling someone by name. In the core of our being, we all want to be known. When someone knows my name, I feel important to them. They chose to tuck my name and my face into their memory. I matter to them.
Names matter to the Lord. Over and over we see this personal nature of God in the Bible…
At one point in His earthly ministry, Jesus described Himself as our Shepherd. He assured the people that He “calls his sheep by name..” (John 10:3). He knows us.
David wrote, “You have searched me, Lord, and you know me” (Psalm 139:1). We matter.
To Moses, the discouraged leader in the desert, the Lord comforted him, “I know you by name” (Exodus 33:17). And He knows each of us by name, as well.
I glimpsed the importance of names in my recent visit to Zambia. I have long excused myself from this practice by saying “I’m so sorry but I am not good at remembering names!” My nametag encounter, however, showed me that I need to invest much more effort in doing so. Each person matters. I want to emulate my Lord by knowing names.
One more thing…
This team serving at the orphanage was not a group from my home church in the US. They were teens and recent high school graduates of our mission partner, Every Orphan’s Hope (EOH). They had come into the care of the ministry when they were as young as 3 or 4 years old.
With these older students, we organized this serving opportunity so they could reach out into the community. Being orphans themselves allowed them to uniquely understand more of the disabled orphans’ pain. In a beautiful moment of maturity, one of the students told me, “Auntie Sharon, I am so glad we can be here today. We are so blessed. But we are blessed to be a blessing.” Amen!
EOH creates widow-headed family homes. The amazing house mothers, with the help of the EOH staff, pour love and counsel into each child. Prayerful and financial support from the Zambian and American churches, along with the ministry’s poultry and bicycle businesses, contribute to this thriving approach to orphan care. The compassion and maturity of their oldest children daily demonstrate the effectiveness of this paradigm.
Would you join me this week in calling people by name?
If I don’t know someone’s name, I will ask their name. If I know their face but not their name, I will humbly admit I have forgotten their name and ask for it again.
Posted by Sharon R. Hoover
I will never forget the first time I heard from a Zambian child at camp, with wet eyes and a smile so big “You know my name. That made a huge impact on me.
Thank you Sharon for your powerful, passionate writing.
Sharon R Hoover says
Precious. So precious. Thank you for sharing this, Diana! We need to serve together in Zambia again!