In 2007 I wrote about visiting a Maasai child that we sponsored. In 2008 I wrote the story ‘A woman named Grace’ about meeting a Maasai woman on the Kenya savannah en route to seeing that child. One event planned, one unplanned. Both memorable. Yet another event happened while returning from meeting a sponsor child that had just as great an impact on me.
In preparing to see your sponsor child you are given info about them to make the meeting go smoothly. While this helps bridge cultural gaps, it can be a bit intimidating -- especially when you don't know what to expect. But some meetings are spontaneous. Although unexpected they can also be fun. And special. Why special? Because interacting with others in this type of setting can make a difference in young lives that don't have much else.
Returning from seeing our sponsor child we stopped by an African Methodist church to drop off the pastor who had ridden out with us to see that child. This pastor also ran a 'feeding program' for AIDS orphans at his church. In dropping Pastor Julius off we arrived at his church during one of the meals. By 'word of mouth' AIDS orphans hear of people who are trying to help them in their dire situation. With both parents dead due to AIDS they find help where they can. For his part Pastor Julius managed to feed 50 children four meals per week. (The other times the kids had to find food wherever they could...if they could.) Julius wife – through her ladies group -- would scrounge up whatever they could find to feed these children--usually only beans and rice, but sometimes greens or meat. Whatever was obtained & prepared made such a difference in their lives. After their bellies were fed, they tried to feed their hearts and minds with encouragement – with singing, Sunday school stories, and perhaps even helping with homework. It makes a difference.
Not knowing this situation when I walked into the church, I saw rows of children of all ages in the middle of the serious chowing down! Observing the large amount of food on their plates in the form of beans, small dumplings and some greens I asked, "Why so much?" They answered, “This is their only meal today.” They also mentioned that these kids ‘were the lucky ones’. The ones who had survived. Outside of the happenings in that church for part of four days per week most of these kids lived on the streets. Some had an aunt or grandparent who might still be living but many slept in the streets while trying to keep warm by bunching up like a pile of puppies. And, like puppies, any attention they received was like a lifeline to their little hearts, for they just wanted to be near you. And like any children they responded beautifully to attention and affection.
Backing up here, one thing Teri thought to bring from the US was small gifts to give away at schools or wherever there happened to be children. In her backpack that day she had 120 funny little metallic rings. After Pastor Julius’ wife Tabitha told Teri about their orphan feeding program she invited Teri to ‘come see the orphans’ who happened to be eating at that time. Teri grabbed her bag of rings & asked if it would be OK to give them to the children. Of course! I ended up jamming on music-director James’s keyboard in another room. After playing a bit, James suggested that I 'go play for the children'. Off I go with keyboard in hand while James went looking for his guitar. The kids? Looking up from admiring their new rings they paid me little attention as I entered the room -- their glittery rings were MUCH more interesting! Once the keyboard was set up, James asked me to play a hymn – ‘something the children would recognize'. Great. I'm a million miles from home and in a culture I don't know, and I'm supposed to know something these kids would recognize. Yeah, right.
Recall how I sometimes mention in my writings how Jesus 'whispers into one’s heart’ to do something? Well, He did. He put into my heart a song that I was to play with one finger until the children recognized the song. I did...and they did. It was so strange and yet beautiful -- after adjusting the volume over all the chatter, I started playing the song He put on my heart to play. Starting slowly and playing with that one finger, soon silence filled the room as little heads popped up. Then little voices started singing (quietly at first, then picking up in volume) -- some in English, some in Kiswahili. After one verse I switched to both hands and filled in with beautiful chords to add to beautiful children’s voices. And we shared. The song I played starting with one finger?
'Jesus loves me, this I know...'
Although a simple song, at that moment it was a most wonderful song as dozens of children's voices sang in unison. And along with their voices their child’s eyes -- and child’s hearts – showed.....beauty.
After that? James picked up the pace and it was a free-for-all as the kids started do dance. You wouldn't believe the dances -- everything from a Conga line, to 'The Twist', to Boot Scootin' Line Dancing! When Teri wasn't laughing she was trying to take photos! Me? I tried to keep up with these kids while wondering, "WHERE did they learn how to LINE dance?!" But after awhile I gave up the thought and just had fun. The children? For a short time they had laughter in their lives.
A child with their meal for the day.
During the meal. I’m guessing there was some sort of instructions
going on at this point due to their attention. Trust me, at times all
you saw was the top of their heads as they were chowing down!
Some of the kids listening in with music director James in the background.
Starting to ‘pick up the pace’!
Kids in a Conga-line.
Line dancing. Now, WHERE did they learn that? They were better at it than I ever was!
Showing off some of Teri’s rings.
Showing off a smile...