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The Washing Machine

Written by Holly McKissick
November 1, 2006

Holly McKissick has been appointed as a short-term volunteer to Inanda Girls' Seminary in Durban, South Africa where she is involved in the life of the school community serving in a volunteer teaching capacity and visiting nearby churches on weekends.

Our washing machine at home is broken. The old Leawood house we bought last August came with a luxury model from Sweden. Fancy, but too much to comprehend. My old Maytag is one thing I miss about Missouri.  Tom and I discuss the washer, from cross the ocean, thousands of miles apart. The repair man, the prognosis, the part (from Sweden) that is on its way. The wash is my chore: I feel guilty it is on his plate while I'm gone.

Yesterday, I went with Rev. Scott Couper to see 3 of the congregations he serves in the Kwazulu Natal province of South Africa. One of the churches is in Noodsberg, a rural area--it has the sad honor of having one of the highest HIV infection rates in the world.

The church matriarch, a 75 year old woman (named Princess!) with twinkling eyes and a laughing smile, stood to greet us as we arrived. I held out my hand to shake hers—she pulled me close and hugged me tight. We had come to see the church's orphanage for children whose parents had died of AIDS. The 18 month old building was already beyond capacity; a new "wing" was under construction. As we toured the buildings, Scott noticed their new washing machine--disconnected. He inquired about it, and Princess explained it had quit working shortly after it arrived.

She'd never used a washing machine before. Like all the women around her——she washes her clothes by hand, over a stone, with a bar of soap (just as they do in our sister community in El Salvador). She did not seem stressed about the machine; she would not have mentioned it if Scott had not asked.

All I could think was: she is caring for 49 children without a washing machine. (Did I mention she draws no salary?) Of course, life is different in Kwazulu Natal than in the United States. When children come home from school, they set about their chores: washing their clothes, sweeping and cleaning. But, still, there are sheets and towels to wash...

For a moment, I tried to imagine our family in the back yard washing our clothes on a huge stone with a rock and a bar of hard soap. "We don't need that part from Sweden; we can just wash our clothes by hand..." I can't see it.

I try to imagine the vastness of the AIDS crisis. I can't see that, either.

But, now, I can imagine a poor church and an old woman caring for 49 orphans--joyfully, simply.

Driving away, I think up grand plans to save the children. What if we all cashed in our washers, sold our houses, and rode our bikes to work?

I can't see it.

What I can see is putting a quarter in a jar every time we do wash. Just a start, a small step, but I wonder, together, all of us, how much that would be in a year?

Dear One, Open our hearts to your grace which cleanses your earth and your people. Amen.

You are in my prayers and thoughts.


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