Deep Roots

Fiction By Kyleigh // 6/15/2011

{This will be my last post on ApricotPie until after the summer. I may drop in from time to time during the summer and read and comment, but I want to be as 'unplugged' as possible. This story, "Deep Roots" is one of my favorite short stories, along with "In My Father's House" and "Nikolai." Short stories in general I tend to like better than my long ones. So without further ado, see you after the summer, and enjoy!}

A tall Zambian man showed me a handful of dirt, dead leaves, and broken roots. “The roots are so deep, we cannot pull them out.” He said.

            "Deep roots are not reached by the frost." I said pensively.
            "We have no frost here."  There was a hint of anger in his voice. That was all he said, but I understood what he meant. “White woman, you are in a poor in Africa. Poetic thoughts mean nothing here.”
            "They are not reached by the drought, either."  I fingered the dirt and looked at the cloudless sky. This land was so barren. Could we five who had been sent by the United Nations make it bear fruit? My heart had swelled with pride when we landed. We would change the world, and make society better! But now I wondered if we could improve the lives of these Africans.

            That had been a year ago, on my first day in Africa. I didn’t realize the double meaning my words had. I didn’t know that in many ways, their lives were better than mine was, because they had something I didn’t – they had hope in salvation from their sins. I didn’t understand how powerful that could be until I met a deeply rooted soul during the turmoil in our country. She was an orphan. Her name was Wezi, and she was fifteen.

            Riots in the city had grown too dangerous; the orphans had to leave. Electricity and food were scarce in the town; we could not survive for long. The countryside would be safer, even if we all had to stay in tents.

            But there wasn’t room in the vans for all of the orphans. Some of them had to stay behind. We’d come back as soon as we could, we told them.

            Just hours after we left, the rioters blocked the roads.

            There were no adults remaining at the orphanage. It seemed a hopeless case; the orphans were lost to us forever. The Christians on the team prayed for them every day. I would have, too, had I believed in God then. It was Wezi’s faith that made me wonder if there really was a God. But I’m getting ahead of my story.

Two days after we arrived in the countryside, we heard by radio that the children were coming.

“Coming?” I said.  

“They’re on foot, days outside the city - safe,” the doctor said.

“If the buses hadn’t already gone…” I began. Then, “They’ll never make it.”

            “They are strong. They will prevail.”

            “But it’s so far! It took us three days in the buses. And the rebels destroyed the bridge. How will they cross the river? Where will they find food?”

            “They trust in the Risen Lord, Jesus Christ. He will lead them and protect them.”

            “If there is a God, He alone would be powerful enough to help them.”

            “The other Christians and I are gathering to pray for them now. You’re welcome to join us.”

            I ignored his offer, leaving to take care of the children. I wasn’t in Africa to pray to a non-existent God. I was here to help the orphans, for the good of the society, to relieve unjust suffering and give the orphans hope that their life could be better, no matter what society did to them. Perhaps we could find them a safer place, where the community could help them be the best they could be.

            Then I wondered at my thought. If the children made it here, wouldn’t that have brought out the best in them, even though the circumstances were so awful and evil?

            I didn’t have time to solve that problem; my mind’s meanderings were lost as I fed a bottle to one of the babies, played catch, and cleaned dirty hands. I found myself surrounded by dark, curly-haired children, climbing all over me. Even after a year of living with them, they still couldn’t get over my fair skin and red hair, just as I was still enamored by their dark complexions. 

           

            I caught myself glancing southwest, toward the city, many times during the next few days. I wondered if it was useless to hope. How could they ever make it? I doubted if the older children could survive the journey, much less the younger children. Six days later, we saw our hopes were not in vain. In the distance, we saw the children coming, dust rising from their heavy footsteps. They were still shadows when we heard them.

            They were singing. Their song was so beautiful, and I know their voices had brought hope to their weary souls. As they drew nearer, I saw the oldest child. I knew she was fifteen, but that was all I knew of her at the time. My soul loved her, though I did not even know her name.

            She walked slowly, her feet dragging. It had taken all of her energy to be strong for the children and to lead, guide, and nurture them. When she saw us, her body drooped with relief. She limped slightly as she leaned toward one side side. It seemed she would fall over any moment. But there was a smile on her face. Behind her came a crowd of many more children. She was their leader. All of the boys who could have been considered men had been killed. But she had herded these children across many miles, refusing to let her own weariness or fears show until there was relief in sight.

            We hopped into the only van we had left and drove out to meet the children. Their singing changed to shouts of joy and relief. They clambered into the van, yelling their thanks and giving hugs to all of us.

            Except the oldest. She stood at a distance, her face full of expression that words cannot explain. It was a mix of weariness, joy, and relief.

            I ran to her, and took her in my arms. She was so weak she could not return the embrace. Her arms hung limply onto mine as her head fell onto my shoulder.

            “We are here at last,” she said. “But we would not have survived without the grace of Jesus Christ. He is my strength. We are so glad to be here at last.”

            I wept.

           

            In the van, I sat next to her. The weakest children were being taken back first, and then some of my colleagues would return for the rest.

            “What’s your name?” I asked.

            “Wezi,” she replied. Then her head dropped onto my shoulder as tension released from her body. I drew her close. She was safe. When we reached camp, I carried her small, frail body to my tent, where she slept for almost twenty-four hours. I was cooking when she woke and ran to find me.

            “Auntie, auntie,” she called.

            “Wezi!” I waved.

            She came near to me.

            “You’re awake!”
            “Yes, thank you. I feel much better. Can I help?”

            “There’s a small bag with on the table. Could you bring it to me?”         

            She nodded. As Wezi lifted the bag, I noticed her hands were wrapped with rags.

            “Let me see your hands,” I said, leaving the food.

            She lifted them, and I gently unbound them. I called for the doctor, and began walking toward his tent. He came out to meet us and I lifted Wezi’s hands for him to see. They were torn and bloody.

            “What happened?” he asked gently.

            Her eyes welled with tears.

            “Come,” he said, and took her by the wrist, taking her to the tent where his supplies were kept. Another woman took charge of the cooking, freeing me to be with Wezi.

            There he dressed and bound her hands again.

            “What happened?” he asked again.

            I knelt by her side, encouraging her to speak.

            “The rope,” she said. “When we crossed the river, I had to hold a rope on the bridge because it was broken. It pulled at my hands. The next day it hurt to move my arms and shoulders. They were stiff and tense. But I knew we had to keep going, or we would die in the wild. My hands were bloody and worse than this. But I washed them in the river and wrapped them in an old shirt.”

            “We’ll get them better,” said the doctor.

            She looked at him, her eyes filled with the strength of soul that caused me to love her so much.  

 

            That night, I sat with Wezi outside my tent. We had watched the sun set, and now sat under a canopy of clouds and stars.

            “Where did you sleep?”

            “Out under the stars, as God made us to do.”
            “Weren’t you cold?”

            “A little. But the nights were not restless. The children were quiet. We would close our eyes and listen to the gentle breeze. And we would roll over, open our eyes, and look at the stars, wondering at the things God has made. One day we found a broken bus. It was the middle of the day, but we used the seats as beds. The children lay down and slept, the sun warm on their faces. I could not sleep, so I just rested. Then I bent to pray, and that rested me still more. I forgot it was bright day until I opened my eyes. I moved to look out of the window and soon saw another group of children coming. They joined us. That is why we are so big.”
            “And you led them all?”
            “I am the oldest, and we have no men. I must.”             

            “When did you decide to leave?”

            “I knew you wouldn’t be coming back after they closed the roads. But I knew we had to get out.”

            “How did you know where we were?”
            “You said you were going north east, and to the countryside. We kept going northeast until we found you. There were times I wanted to stop because it seemed we would never find you. But every day we thought, ‘maybe it’s today,’ and so we kept going. We sang; that gave us strength.”

            “I sing, too, Wezi, but don’t have the same strength you do.”

            “You must sing for the right reasons, Auntie, or it does nothing. We are all rooted in the love of Jesus, in what He did for us and who He is. Our roots go deep and He holds us firm, through times of drought.” She shook her head. “Otherwise we would have turned back in the first day, and…” she bit her lip. “And we would all be dead now, like those who stayed.” Tears filled her eyes once again. “After the first evening, three more children joined us. They came in terror, because seven of the ten orphans who had refused to leave had been killed. The rebels are so terrible, auntie! But I forgive them – I must, I must!

            “They did evil things to us,” she continued. “So evil I cannot speak of them. Did you know there were only fifty at the orphanage before the riots?”

            I looked at Wezi, aghast. There were now almost two hundred children in our care, and that was just from our city. “You don’t need to forgive them,” I said.

            “But I must. I have been forgiven of all of my sins by God; I would be ungrateful if I could not forgive them.”

            “How can you?” I asked. These men had hurt her so much. How could anyone forgive them?

            “Jesus Christ died so that we might be forgiven our rebellion against God. That is such great forgiveness that it is hard for me not to forgive others. But it is hard now! These men are so evil it is hard to see the image of God in them. They do not know Him, and fight against Him. I don’t know where it comes from, auntie, but I want them to know Him as I do!”
            I said nothing. I did not know what to say, or what I possibly could say. Then Wezi turned to me.

            “Do you know Him?”

            I looked down. “No.”

            “Let me tell you about Him!” She said excitedly. She talked for a long while. I didn’t really hear what she was saying – she spoke about a cross, sheep, an empty tomb, the devil, wrath, justice, holiness… but more than her words, I was captivated by the tone of her voice. She spoke with awe, humility, and joy such as I had never heard before. As I climbed into my sleeping bag that night, I lay awake until the sun rose. I tried to sleep, but could not. Wezi’s words rang in my head. Do you know Him?

            If He’s not real, how can I know Him? I wondered at first. But then I remembered the conviction with which she spoke. How could something false lead to certainty and joy? And strength! Wezi is strong, and she draws every ounce of her strength from God. He must be real.

            From then on, my mind and soul would not rest. I had to know. At first, I only wanted to know if it was true. Days in our makeshift camp wore on. I played with the children, cooked, and watched over Wezi. Still, I could not focus on what I was doing. My thoughts were always struggling through my questions. I went to bed late, because I was talking with Wezi and the Christians in the camp. I had worried over what was truth. I had told myself I needed to know.

            One day, that changed. It wasn’t just knowledge I wanted. I suddenly found myself wanting Him.

            But I can’t get to Him. I realized, as I thought about what Wezi had told me about God. He was righteous and holy.

            And I’m not.

            I looked around the camp. Children played everywhere. Smoke rose from cooking fires, and inviting aromas floated across the air. The sun was setting, bathing the scene in golden light. How can the world be so beautiful when there’s such separation? As I helped prepare dinner, one thought was in my mind: How can I get to Him?

            I wanted to ask Wezi, but pride held me back. I must ask her! I finally decided. Pride doesn’t matter.

            Early the next morning, Wezi and I left the camp to hike up a nearby mountain. We reached the top about mid-day, and unpacked a picnic lunch. Wezi surveyed the ground below us.

            “It’s so beautiful,” she breathed. “And He made it!”

            “I want to talk to you more about Him,” I said.

            She turned to look at me.

            “I want to know Him.” I said. “But I can’t, not like I am now. You told me much about Him. I didn’t hear all of it then; I didn’t pay attention to everything. I know He is perfect, and I’m not… and I know that keeps me from Him. Wezi, how can I be near God?”

            Wezi grinned. “You only heard the first part of what I told you,” she said. “You never heard about Jesus.”

            “I’ve heard you mention Jesus, but I don’t know about him.”

            “He is God’s Son, from the beginning of time. He was born in human form onto earth, to live the perfect life that none of us can live. But even that isn’t enough to save us from God’s wrath and bring us to Him. We’re still sinners. And so Jesus was crucified, and on the cross, He suffered God’s wrath for our sin. He died, but God raised Him from the dead. Now, if we rely on Jesus’ work to save us, instead of what we do, we can be with God forever, because death has no power over us. And then, we repent of our sin, and obey His commands. Life on earth is beautiful, because we know Him. And in heaven, it will be even more beautiful and glorious because He will be there, and we will be with Him forever.”

            I was quiet. I looked out across the land. In my heart, I couldn’t help but echo Wezi’s words. It’s so beautiful, and He made it! Can I really be near to Him? I have to be. After what I know of Him, I cannot continue living in the same way I always have. What was the word Wezi used? Repent. Give up my old ways, and walk in the new, walk with Him. Because of Jesus.

            I looked at Wezi, who was gazing patiently at me, waiting for me to say something. “I believe,” was all I said. And then I found Wezi’s arms tightly around me.

            “You are my sister now,” she said. “For we are in God’s family, and He is our Father.”

           

            It’s been ten years since that day on a mountain in Africa when God saved me. Life is more peaceful for the Zambians now. I didn’t do much to make life better for the population when I was there. Looking back, I’ve realized that God didn’t bring me there to help them as much as He used them to bring me to Him. Wezi and I went on many more hikes after that day. I borrowed a Bible from a Christian doctor, and we studied it together. I grew to love Him and know Him more and more. Life wasn’t easy over the next month, as we suffered while the rioting continued. Supplies were often scarce. But we saw many turn to Christ for their salvation, and although we were hungry for food, our souls were well fed, and our roots went down deep. We stood firm, even in trials, because we based everything not on ourselves or how we felt, but on who He was. There was no frost in the Zambian countryside, but there was famine and drought because we could not get food from the city. My words proved true: deep roots aren’t reached by drought, either, at least, not the kind of roots we had. We were rooted and grounded in love, in Christ, in the knowledge of our Heavenly Father.

            We were like the tree in Psalms, whose leaves did not wither, because it was planted by streams of Living Water. For that’s where our roots went - to the Living Water. That’s the only place we could go, but it didn’t matter: because He supplied our every need.

 

 

{This is almost complete fiction. There were riots in Zambia in 1990; I don’t know how long they continued for, or how bad they were. Food and electricity were scarce during that time. I suppose I could set it in another country, but I wanted to use the name “Wezi,” (It means God’s grace, and we know a Wezi and I really like the name), and it’s a Zambian name… but it could really be set in any African country}

  

           

(As I was starting to edit this, this song by Sara Groves came on, and I thought it funny how well it fits this story:
“I saw what I saw and I can't forget it
I heard what I heard and I can't go back
I know what I know and I can't deny it

Something on the road, cut me to the soul

Your pain has changed me
your dream inspires
your face a memory
your hope a fire
your courage asks me what I'm afraid of
(what I am made of)
and what I know of love

we've done what we've done and we can't erase it
we are what we are and it's more than enough
we have what we have but it's no substitution

Something on the road, touched my very soul

I say what I say with no hesitation
I have what I have and I'm giving it up
I do what I do with deep conviction

Something on the road, changed my world”)

 

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