Lights, Camera, Action! Changing Lives & Making History in Chilinza

Day 11 - The Big Show

Before I write about this magical, moving day, I have to first explain something to anyone reading this.

At our last meeting back in L.A., Martionne had the brilliantly bright idea to bring all of the kids at Chilinza school a solar light- see what I did with the pun there?! We’d get lights, like the ones you’d see on stakes, lining a driveway and turn them into lanterns with some wire and a cup. These lanterns would be used in our final performance, which is exciting in itself (light show anyone?).

But, what’s even more impactful is that these handmade, makeshift lanterns would be the first and only lights these kids ever possessed. They have no electricity in the village and have to walk home in a sky darker than black. It’s heartbreaking, not to mention unsafe.

That’s why today, when I announced to my 80 plus 4th graders that they were each leaving with their very own illuminated object, they cheered and screamed so loud that I’m positive it shook the earth.

Their overwhelming excitement brought me to tears. For young kids to be that happy to be receiving something most of us consider an expected luxury was both heart-wrenching and painfully beautiful. We helped these overjoyed kids decorate their cups with glitter as they curiously looked at their odd new belongings.

The rest of this very long day, as we got there around 8:20 AM as opposed to our usual noon or later time, was spent rehearsing and setting up the stage. In just a few short hours, the entire village, Chiefs included, would be coming to the school to see what the kids created.

Now, let me break down why this is such a big deal to you my friends. First, these kids aren’t like normal American kids, or kids in any first world for that matter. They don’t have dance recitals or musical theatre. Their parents don’t spend thousands of dollars on their leotards or private gymnastic lessons. For anyone who grew up with those privileges, they know just how empowering they are for a young mind. So, for these kids to be able to have this form of empowerment too, for one of the first times, is big.

Second, for a Chief to watch the future of his village rise up, come together and make something is powerful too. Slowly, this can play into changing the culture and outdated mindsets of these villages. Girls will learn they have it in themselves to do more than just have kids. Boys will see there is more to life than tending to livestock or getting married, sometimes over and over again. Chiefs will understand that their people can do and be more. We are opening their eyes to a whole new, great big world of possibilities. Never underestimate that power. God made us all creative for a reason and this is one.

Ok, rant over. After a dress rehearsal that was cut short, it was show time. Lights, camera, action! A ton of parents, the Chief, the Chief’s counsel and the church pastor all sat front and center as they watched each grade proudly display their work. First grade hopped around in two circles as they adorably recited our memory verse and sang “This Little Light of Mine.” The best part, is that when their teachers first taught these tiny people the memory verse, they thought it said, “A city on a hill that cannot be CHICKEN.” Rather than “A City on a hill that cannot be HIDDEN.” I die. But, watching them bump into one another as they sang in very broken, very high pitched English melted the crowd’s heart.

Eventually, we got to 4th grade’s turn. Our kids held the canvas they had painted last week over their heads as they sang a song in Chichewa that they’d created all on their own. They made it the day I wasn’t there thanks to strep throat temporarily ruining my life. Then the next day when I was healed, they surprised me with it. Again, heart melted. The words to their musical masterpiece say, “Stars are heaven’s flowers.” How ingenious are they! Their performance went great, with little blue leading the whole thing.

The highlight of the night though, and maybe of the entire trip, came at the end of the show.

Remember those solar lanterns we made? Well, for the finale, we gave each of the kids in the entire school one for them to hold as they closed the show. By now it was dark out so just close your eyes and picture 800 plus children waving those lights in the air. It. Was. Glorious. Or “ulemerero,” in Chichewa. The kids all gathered in the center of our grass stage and performed the song and dance to “Wavin Flag” that the 4th grade came up with on Monday. I somehow found myself in the middle, surrounded by all of their smiling faces as they sang.

For the rest of my life, I will never forget how i screamed those lyrics, as loud as I possibly could, and danced with reckless abandon until I was gasping for air. It was absolute chaos, but in the most majestic of ways. I felt free and alive and tohse kids felt strong and important.

As we drove home on the bus, we looked out the back window and saw a line of bobbing lights. Those kids were walking home with light for the first time ever. No longer in the darkness. That is God at work. That is why we’re here. Day 11 made history. Day 11 changed lives.