Monday, August 15, 2011

Unless You Become Like Little Children....

Jesus withdrew with his disciples to the lake, and a large crowd from Galilee followed. When they heard all he was doing, many people came to him….(Mark 3:7-8)

Then Jesus entered a house, and again a crowd gathered, so that he and his disciples were not even able to eat (Mark 3:20).

Again Jesus began to teach by the lake. The crowd that gathered around him was so large that he got into a boat and sat in it out on the lake, while all the people were along the shore at the water’s edge. He taught them many things by parables… (Mark 4: 1-2)

Wherever Jesus was, the crowds followed and gathered. People were attracted to Jesus because he taught with authority, had the supernatural power to heal the sick, drive out demons, and bring the dead to life. He was the Son of God, and those who believed flocked to Him in faith during his ministry on earth.

In an interestingly similar way, in Asikuma, Ghana everywhere we went crowds of children followed us….not because they thought we were Jesus, but because we were WHITE! In Ghana, we are called ‘obruni’ which means foreigner (just walk along the road for 20 seconds and you will have at least 10 people point at you and shout it out). The ‘foreigner’ factor alone was enough for the children to wait outside our hotel gate until we woke up each morning. They watched for us in pure anticipation of what was on tap for the day. The second we stepped foot onto the main road, crowds followed. If the children met us walking along the road they would stop whatever they were doing and walk along with us, even if they had to change direction.

They followed us to the construction sites, to visit people back in the housing area, and to the many tasks we had lined up for our team throughout the days.

There was never a single second that went by when a child was not with us. They wanted to hold our hands…..

....ask us questions, and talk with us. They wanted to know where we were going, what we were doing, why we were here, if they could go back to the U.S. with us, and if we had any goodies that we would be handing out. :)

If you’ve been to Africa, you know that the village children do not get a clear glimpse of what they look like from day to day. Just imagine that for a second. So many of us have mirrors in every single room of our house! Imagine only getting to see a blurred image of what you look like in the reflection of a bucket of water (maybe not even that)! Because of that, there is such JOY in snapping a picture of them and then watching their reaction as they view the image of themselves!

Many of the children could speak English, and many couldn’t. Some of the kids became translators between us and the other kids so that everyone could understand our conversations.

From our last visit to Asikuma in March, I had already experienced the amount of time we would be spending with the children, and for the life of me I could not bring myself to play one more round of duck-duck-goose which we resorted to last time. For this trip, I had made careful preparations so that we could make the most of our time with them. Every day we spent a lot of time simply playing with the children and giving them attention. The girls LOVED having their nails painted! :)

We also brought a handful of children's books that we carried in our back packs to read during downtime.

And bubbles were of course a HUGE hit....they probably take the cake for bringing out the most smiles and laughter.

We also purchased a long jump rope from one of the street-hawkers, and it provided endless entertainment.

These kids are pro-jump ropers and they even have a catchy little song that they sing as they jump. I can still hear their sweet little voices singing in my head even now that we are home. :)

Interestingly, we all noticed that the kids' fine motor skills are not very developed. It was very hard for them to catch a ball or a frisbee, and was especially noticeable as we watched them try to pop bubbles. They do catch on quickly though, and after a little practice, they would get the hang of things. Here is Kobby, one of our Kingdom Hoops Ghana players throwing a nerf football with some kids.

Amy brought out her ipad one afternoon, and the kids were enthralled with the games and artwork applications on it!

These things probably look so simple, and they are, but it is amazing the transformations we saw in some of the kids throughout the week by us just loving on them and spending time with them. Because many of the children’s parents must work so hard just to survive day-to-day the kids run around the town all day left to themselves. School is not back in session yet, so this is even more pronounced. They don’t have to check in with their parents and there are no meals to go home and eat. They fight, hit, laugh, sing, yell, run, fetch water, sell items, do the wash, and care for their younger siblings….all day long….up and down the streets. The adult-to-child relationship here has been quite interesting as it has been uncovered. Distant is the word that keeps coming to my mind to describe it. Of course, us Americans can suffer from the same thing in our own relationships. During our time in Asikuma we found the kids yearning for attention and affection.

Over half of the children were absolutely joyful to be around and had engaging personalities and kind-hearted spirits that pulled us in.

Others had been hardened by their environment displaying impulsive social behaviors like bullying, smacking (hitting hard), lying, and hoarding. There were instances when ‘survival of the fittest’ was displayed right before us in the worst of ways. Even something as small as bringing out a box of crayons could erupt into a pushing/shoving match as to who would get to them first. The kids do not know how to form a line, nor have they ever been taught to separate into groups, or take turns. This was one of the biggest things we had to work through when playing with the kids, but by the end of our time we started to see progress.

For us, especially the women in the group, it was very easy to become emotionally overwhelmed with everything we were encountering with the children. For myself, I constantly prayed that each day I would ‘spend myself for Jesus’. I prayed that I would wind up in my hotel room every night, absolutely drained of all energy and emotion, with nothing left to give. I’ve come to learn that spending yourself for the Lord in this way brings such joy and adventure, like nothing else can.

I also had asked you all to pray that compassion would flow through us and extend to the people of Asikuma. I believe this prayer is what led one of the gal’s on our team to find the below verse on a day when she felt completely overwhelmed and smothered by the crowds that surrounded us every moment. She didn’t know if she could do it one more second. She longed for alone time. She wanted to be able to walk outside the hotel and just simply take pictures of the culture and emotions, without having anyone follow her. Curled up in her room, she was led to Mark 6:31-34 Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.” So they went away by themselves in a boat to a solitary place. But many who saw them leaving recognized them and ran on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them. When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began teaching them many things. Even when Jesus had carved out time for he and his apostles to retreat away from the crowds, they were followed and interrupted….by the crowds! And what was Jesus’ reaction? He wasn’t annoyed. He didn’t complain that he hadn’t gotten any rest or alone time. He didn’t run away and hide. He had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. We were literally experiencing this exact thing. These children ran around in chaos all day, like sheep without a shepherd. Our time here was an exact visual picture of that verse. And, reading Jesus’ response gave us pure conviction and a sense of renewal as we asked God to enable us to respond in compassion to these crowds. Through that section of scripture, we were all kept in check and reminded that every single second here can be so purposeful, if we allow Jesus to work through us.

One thing that we did all see in the children is that they have such an eager desire to learn!!! A few times I whipped out my Bible to talk through scripture with some kids hanging around, and instead of kids leaving the scene, more kids joined the group so they could be taught! LOVE THAT! I used to be so out of my comfort zone when I had this many faces staring at me, but these kids have taught me to loosen up and not be scared of being a ‘teacher’. I actually get excited for these opportunities now!

Jake urged us to put Deuteronomy 6:6-7 into action as we spent time with the kids. Even simply sitting with them in the schoolyard as they watched the construction guys, or walking along the road to the next thing on the schedule could be fruitful if we took the time to teach them about God in our general conversations.

We started calling this sight Jake and his posse! He had a handful of boys that stuck close to him every moment.

We had bible study and worship time planned for each day in the late afternoon. We didn’t have to set up a time for it or spread the word….we literally just had to start walking and kids followed us.

The first night we tried doing the bible study at the school yard, but we had over 100 kids and things got crazy, especially at craft time! The next day we re-strategized and decided to have the bible study up near where the future foster home would be. There was a more manageable size of kids….about 60….so we were able to break up into groups and make the time more meaningful and give individual attention.

My group working on their creation pictures which was our topic for the second night...

It was so cool because on this particular day we literally had gotten the large group split up into smaller groups each placed under the porches of the foster home units when it started to DOWNPOUR!

It was like God waited until the exact moment that we were all covered before he let the skies loose. God sprinkled little instances of His grace like this all throughout our trip.

Goats welcome at bible study. :)

Then, in perfect orchestration, once our groups were ready to come together for worship time, the rain stopped on command and out we came!

Rusty and Amy leading worship....this is one of my favorite pictures.....they are standing on a cistern! :)

We held 5 structured bible studies and corresponding crafts with the children, and they just loved them! Many of the kids would find us during the day and ask us when bible study would be again. Rusty & Amy taught the kids 2 songs which we practiced each night after we went through scripture. We often heard the kids singing the songs throughout the day as they walked along the roads....loved that!

Each night our team gathered back at the hotel restaurant for dinner, and we would invite anywhere from 5-10 village kids to eat with us.

We started to notice something interesting that happened when it came to these kids and food. Since our hotel would only let us bring in a handful of the kids to eat, the rest were sent away by the hotel staff and they lingered around outside the gates. As we watched, we noticed that one at a time, one of the kids sitting at the table with us would grab some food off their plate and then slip away out of the restaurant. They were so subtle about this, that at first we didn’t even notice.....they were taking food out to the kids who couldn’t come into the restaurant. Other times once one of the kids at the table was finished, they would gather together all the leftover food scraps/portions on our plates and combine it all onto one plate. Then they would slip out when no one was looking and grab one of the other kids outside to take their place at the table. It’s amazing how these kids look out for one another to ensure their day to day survival. Most of these kids are barely getting one meal a day, and it sickened us to wonder what it would be like for them once we left to go back home. It’s pretty hard to enjoy eating here when you know that the kids walking around with you are starving. Many of us gladly gave up our lunches to these kids, or bought them food throughout the day at the food stands. One night Esi cooked for our team, and she let every single village kid that had followed us go through the line. I think there were about 50 kids that got to taste Esi’s gourmet cooking that night!

It’s now on my heart for our next trip to try and organize a meal each day for a mass amount of the village kids. I am thinking that with Esi’s know-how we can cook up something with a lot of protein that can feed a lot of people at once and sort of do like a soup kitchen ~ Africa style!

So, as you can see, these children were a big part of our days and time spent in Asikuma. You cannot come here without falling in love with their joyful spirits and pleading affection. You cannot leave here without being changed by their open, vulnerable, humble, and sincere hearts. No wonder Jesus tells us, “….unless you become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever welcomes a little child like this in my name welcomes me (Matthew 18:3-5).” Sometimes kids make the best teachers.


Lori said...


Angie said...

Oh Janel...thank you for sharing with us!

kendra said...


Brenda Miller said...

Reading all this just puts a flame in my heart.
I hope that someday i can be a part of one of your trips to Ghana.