SINCE taking a leap of faith as part of World Hope’s Memory Book Project, Brisbane’s Linda Norris has a new “mantra for living” that reiterates a well-known hymn.
The mother of four and grandmother of six recently returned from a visit to Pretoria in South Africa where she was part of a project helping HIV/AIDS sufferers.
She was there with World Hope Australia’s Memory Book Project, which aimed “to enable parents living with HIV/AIDS to make a memory book … a way of sharing their lives with their children”.
The project also supported one of the many orphanages in Pretoria where abandoned babies are cared for with few resources.
Linda’s new “mantra for living” emerged during her time there.
“While travelling to Kings Hope in Pretoria each day we listened to CDs of Christian music, African style,” she said.
“One of the songs really stuck in my mind and I think it explains what I felt … ‘Open the eyes of my heart, Lord. Open the eyes of my heart. I want to see You. I want to see You’.”
In April this year Linda’s life took an unexpected U-turn when meeting a “fellow scrapbooker” at a doctor’s surgery.
“Natalie told me she would be joining a team travelling to South Africa in August to work with HIV/AIDS sufferers, making a book of their precious memories, dreams and prayers … a legacy for their children and families.”
Linda didn’t expect to be packing her own bags for Africa just months later and was faced with many obstacles before she was able to do so.
To her aid came the parish of St Edward the Confessor, Daisy Hill, who raised money to offer their “prayerful support to the venture”.
Linda’s family were also on board and through this she experienced God’s call “like never before”.
“Our only training was our experience of life, love, family and faith. Our only purpose, a burning desire to open our hearts to our brothers and sisters in South Africa,” she said.
Linda left behind life’s comforts and embarked on an experience that challenged her emotionally and spiritually.
“We were soon to discover that our greatest delight, as well as our privilege, was the beautiful way in which they welcomed us, with open arms, into their broken lives and their joy filled hearts.”
And so the “eyes of her own heart” were opened while she spent time with those who delighted in the joy-filled opportunity that the group of six dedicated scrapbookers brought with them.
“Their trust in us was humbling as they shared their fears, hopes, weaknesses, prayers and pain,” she said.
“Some of the men and women just wrote pages and pages of memories, instructions and letters to loved ones. They seemed desperate to ‘get it all out’.
Others had old photos they could now share and display in a beautiful album.”
The group’s encounters each day as part of the Memory Book Project were “humbling” with the men and women, some in their early 30s, facing “appalling living conditions in a nearby squatters’ camp”. Most in the community had no running water, electricity and sanitation.
“Yet the women I was working with continually amazed me with their dignity, their courage, their hope and their faith.
“What an incredible privilege it was to record the special moments of their lives and help them to write their final wishes and instructions,” Linda said.
“There was no room for greed, selfishness or pride. Their needs were so very simple … food, shelter and someone to be with them and their children when they finally succumbed to this ravaging disease.”
The group spent much time with orphaned children and Linda said most just wanted “a soft lap to sit on, an arm to wrap around them and someone to just hold them, talk to them and listen”.
“They wanted to belong to someone,” she said.
A seven-year-old orphan whose mother had died and whose father had left to look for relatives in Rwanda, was having difficultly with the local language.
“I found her sitting by herself one day in the nursery school crying silent tears, no sound, just tears. I could hardly imagine what she had seen in her short lifetime or how lost she must be feeling.”
The group experienced some joys amid the suffering, witnessing an infant gradually recover from months of neglect.
“She was being cared for by Doris, who was ‘granny’ to all … in fact we met a number of angels like Doris … They were all Spirit-filled people, full of joy and determination to make a difference in the face of overwhelming sadness and suffering.”
One such “angel” had profound words for Linda, telling her “hope heals from the inside out”.
Hearing these words and sensing the hope of the people in Pretoria has left Linda struggling some days to “bridge the enormous gap” that exists between them and her life in Brisbane.
“Despite the doubt and confusion I have felt since returning to Australia, I can now see that there can be peace if we always keep our eyes focused on the One who brings true hope,” she said.
In the end, Linda believes that hope, born of suffering, can bring true peace and by sharing the journey, together we experience “God through all the pain”.
For now, she is waiting to see what the “eyes of her heart” will be drawn to next.