“Big Muzungu, Auntie Anne is coming to give you a wee cuddle!” said Anne Davidson with an enthusiastic laugh. The kids giggled as their favourite Scottish auntie hugged them. Anne's affection, coupled with the children's delight, is a common picture at Mercy House, an afterschool programme that provides meals, Bible stories and basic education lessons for vulnerable children in Makululu, Zambia — the largest and one of the poorest shanty compounds in sub-Saharan Africa.
Anne, who calls herself “Big Muzungu,” is known for her joyful laugh and compassion for the underprivileged children in Makululu. Muzungu translates to “someone who roams around” but is most commonly used to describe someone with white skin or a foreigner in general. While many foreigners don’t like the word, Anne says she uses it with humour and as an ice breaker to connect with people. For her, to see the wee (Scottish way to say ‘little’) faces with smiles is the important thing.
Introduced to Jesus through her mother while growing up, Anne knows how important it is to be a vessel for the little ones to know Christ. Throughout her childhood, her mother shared Bible stories and prayed with her every night. “I could see Jesus was so real to my mum. I wanted to have a relationship with Jesus, too,” shared Anne.
Due to peer pressure in her teenage years, Anne started to slip away from her faith. She got into partying; drinking and smoking became her main go-to’s. It broke her mother’s heart, but neither she nor the church gave up on Anne and prayed faithfully for the prodigal daughter to return.
At the age of 21, Anne sensed the emptiness of the lifestyle she was chasing. When God prompted four people to invite her to an Alpha course, she accepted, as her heart was open to knowing Jesus again. During the course, Anne was asked to join a missions trip to Hungary. “God, if you are real, please let me go on this trip,” she prayed without knowing how the outreach would transform her and her unsure beliefs. In one week, God provided all the money she needed to go.
During the trip, Anne broke free of her addictions to both smoking and drinking. As she worked with the team there, however, she felt neither holy nor good enough to serve God. One day she sat on a swing and cried out to the Lord. Jesus met her on that swing and restored her with His love, and Anne decided to follow Jesus again and serve Him wherever He would call her.
In Hungary, Anne’s gift with children was obvious. Returning to Scotland, she grew in her faith and shared the love of Jesus with the children and youth in her church. Knowing the need for workers in a nearby international church, she asked her church to send her to help.
Tasting the beauty of every tribe and town coming to Christ, Anne enjoyed the vibrant worship. In one of the prayer meetings, she heard about OM’s work in India. Seeing the little children without love troubled her and she decided to explore the opportunities to share God’s love in a foreign land.
First, Anne went to India for two weeks where God confirmed her calling to reach out to the lost children. In 2014, she joined Mission Discipleship Training (MDT) in South Africa. There she learnt about the needs of street children in Zambia, and her heart broke hearing about the conditions in Makululu. “Who is going to tell them about Jesus like my mum did for me?” she wondered.
Caring for the wee children
Serving with Mercy House since 2016, Anne has many fond memories. She recalled how an eight-year-old boy took her hand and put it on his chest. “God told me to feel his heartbeat and to care for all these wee children,” said Anne. Many of the children don’t have parents to help them dress in the morning or hug them when they need comfort. No one sends them to school or shows them the love of Jesus. Then, Anne explained, these children who haven’t experienced love, grow up and one day become parents who don’t know how to give love.
“I want to break the cycle of not knowing how to love in this place,” Anne said, determined to show the most vulnerable children the love of Jesus by caring for and laughing with them. She has become ‘Auntie Anne’ to dozens of children at Mercy House as well as to the nine girls currently living in a safe house run by Mercy House for girls coming out of abusive homes.
Once a prodigal daughter, now an auntie to the vulnerable, Anne continues her journey with Jesus to love the children of Makululu and provide for their physical, emotional and spiritual needs. Her favourite part of the work is to see a child go from experiencing despair to having hope and growing in Christ. “Always remember change starts in ourselves, then God can use us to transform others,” she emphasised.
Due to Covid-19, all the schools in Zambia closed in March. While grades with exams this year have since returned to class, Mercy House remains closed as they are focused on younger children. For the kids attending Mercy House, they not only lose the opportunity for education but also regular nutritious meals. The staff of Mercy House delivered food parcels and hygiene packs to families to ease the financial burden. The safe house for girls has also been affected as a shortage of support has delayed plans to open a second home for girls needing a safe place to live. The safe house mothers are using this time in lockdown to invest and care for their charges. The girls received personally tailored home school programmes and have all learnt how to ride a bike in the past few months.