They still call me Mamma (A ministry of presence)
by Linda Manhardt, Major –
The cadet cottages were ready. The blankets were bought, along with brooms, buckets and basins.
I had desks and chairs in the classroom, a library with tables and chairs, bookshelves (although few books), and a chapel with a real platform!
In the two weeks after my arrival, we had transformed the three refurbished rooms into a training college. I was especially proud of the brightly painted yellow, red and blue flagpole outside in front of our corner of the compound. I had carried the Army flag with me from America.
Among the first cadets to arrive were Peter and Pamela. I loved them from the start. They were energetic and anxious to please and their eyes sparkled with humor and God’s love.
It wasn’t long before the rest of the cadets arrived and we began our two-year journey together.
I know I was quite an oddity to themthis single American officer with no husband and no children! In Africa, it is a strong cultural expectation for women to marry and have several children. I didn’t fit the mold, and they worried about me being alone in life.
I spoke to them about how God cares for all the needs of those he loves and that although I had no children of my own, I could be their spiritual mother. I explained to them that although I would lead them, I would also love them with all my heart, and give them discipline and teaching along with acceptance, caring and nurturing. They breathed a sigh of relief and began, upon occasion, to call me mammaa term of great respect.
The two years passed quickly. We learned, laughed and cried together and the bond was strengthened.
In Tanzania, and at most other African training colleges, when a couple comes to training, they must leave their children in their home village to be cared for by relatives. Peter and Pamela had left one daughter, Brenda, at home, and when they spoke of her, their voices softened and their eyes gleamed.
Brenda was brought to the college near commissioning time. She was a lovely little girl about 3 years old, and to my surprise, she was developmentally delayed. Two years together, and they had never mentioned this! They had just longed to be reunited with their child.
Not long after commissioning, I heard that Peter and Pamela were going to be parents again. I was excited for them to have another child.
Pamela had a beautiful baby boy, but a couple days after birth, as they were getting ready to leave the hospital, the baby inexplicably died. There were no answers…only profound sadness.
When I heard of the tragedy, I knew I had to go to them. They were stationed in a remote village in northern Tanzania, and I took a small plane to where they were.
I found Pamela in the small quarters behind the corps, in a terrible state. Her hair was disheveled and she had a blank look of despair as she sat. We cried together. I had no words of wisdom, no profound insights, nothing much to offer at all. So for three days, I simply sat with her.
It was soon time for me to leave and I felt that I had been of little help.
But it seems I was wrong.
Pamela slowly came back to life. Later, she told me that she began to feel hope and cared about when I came to visit. She had needed a mamma, and when I came and simply grieved with her, she began to find comfort.
It is miraculous the way that God can take our simple, seemingly ineffective attempts at ministry and use them.
My friends, just keep on giving. Keep on living and loving. Though it may hurt, through you, God can bring his healing. Sometimes the most effective ministry of all is this simple ministry of presence.
I count it as one of my greatest accomplishments to have been given the honor of being called “mamma” to a grieving heart.