Back at home base:
After leaving the city we were happy to return back to our precious village; however, we were a little worried about the heat (remember there is no air conditioning or electricity in the village). But, the Lord truly sustained us and he even blessed us with a couple of rain showers! At times, it is cooler in the village because there are no buildings or congestion blocking air flow or attracting and trapping the sun’s heat. In the village we are in the bush, have huts and lots of open land.
Once we returned to home base we officially started our preschool; we began tutoring a little girl named Awa in math and reading; we started our Thursday night English sessions, and had our very first “puppet” show. We love our village and the children whom the Lord has brought into our lives. Yes, we have challenges, but when we arise in the morning to braying donkeys, chickens clucking, cows mooing, and children crying and/or laughing, we know God has an adventure in store for us. Each day is a new day to depend on Him and give Him glory.
Preschool in Action:
“And they were bringing children to him that he might touch them, and the disciples rebuked them. But when Jesus saw it, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” And he took them in his arms and blessed them, laying his hands on them.”
Repeatedly the Lord has reminded us to love the people here, and Love My children. Thus, our primary mission is to do exactly that; to expose these children to His love. Through the work of the Holy Spirit we want to be a physical extension of His love to them. We want these children to feel adored, valued, and simply loved on. Conversations with the Lord and one another consisted of questions such as; “Ok Lord, how is our preschool going to look and function?” “How can we be effective and efficient with our time and resources, while being culturally adaptive and respectful?” “Do we need a committed group of children or allow children to randomly come and go?” “How do we enforce a consistent committed group?” “Lord is it necessary, now, for us to hire a French-Jula translator?” We prayed and sought council about who should attend and the number of children we could handle. After much prayer and discussion, the Lord gave us a clear vision. First, He put it on our hearts to give those who may never get to go to school a chance to learn something as well as those who were going to begin school in the fall. Although we did not want to turn any child away, He made it very clear we needed to begin with a committed group of children for consistency, those who could and would be faithful to come each morning. Some guidelines we used to help us prayerfully decide who specifically to invite and our number where: the children who are at our house every day all day; age, he/she needed to be at least 5 years old; and those who had verbal parental consent. We settled on 8-10, but the Lord answered our prayer in the way He knew best and gave us 11. All but one child whom the Holy Spirt instantly put on our hearts to request came!! We wrote out our list, presented our proposal to “The Man,” Babou (our international assistant), and he went to work. He was excited to help and at once spoke with the parents. Our first day of preschool began two days later! We had prepared, but did not think we would actually begin that quickly. (Time is relative culture to culture) Praise God is all we can say to that!
Our objective is to teach basic pre-academic skills through play and hands-on activities while teaching them about Jesus and His love for them. Every day we offer a substantial and nutritional snack for the children, as well as water to drink. It helps the children to learn when they have some food in their belly. We meet every morning for about 2 hours or more. The children are a mix of boys and girls between ages 4 (Babou’s son J) – 8 (estimated). Out of the 11 children the Lord has blessed us with, we have one boy, Yaya, with special needs. We are not sure of his diagnosis, but Yaya is dependent on a walker and the right side of his body is weaker than his left. He also has some language/speech delays. Yaya was in school, but he now no longer attends and there is some discrepancy for the true reason this is. What we do know is he often cried, he would have bathroom accidents in the middle of class, he struggled with embarrassment, and there was no one available to help him. Teachers simply thought he was incontinent which created an inconvenience. However, come to find out he is not at all incontinent. The environment of the school was the problem and it is simply not conducive for his situation. We give thanks to God because he is doing so well with us. He is easily able to walk to the door and go to the bathroom. He is trying to repeat tasks, and he can grip a crayon in his left hand and colors little by little. He is working hard. We need to give God glory for this situation because Yaya also comes from the other side of the village. He is dropped off two hours before we begin and waits. It takes two bikes to transport him and his walker to our side of the village; and then he tries to walk back home at the end of the day. Walking home is a great challenge for this little guy, but we know it will help strengthen his legs, hands and arms. The first time we walked him home, but now he along with his friends from the same side of the village will walk together. We were a little worried to just let him go with his friends because Yaya fell the very first time we tried walking him home. The wheel on Yaya’s walker hit a stick, set him off balance, and he fell straight backwards hitting his head. He was ok, thank the Lord, just a little shook up. If Yaya does not walk, he will wait an additional hour or more for someone in his family to come pick him up. It is a blessed sight to see little 6-8 year olds peddling on adult size bikes carrying all sorts of things. In this case, Yaya’s brother or cousin (8) strapped Yaya’s walker to the back of their bike and peddled behind Yaya who is riding on the back of his sister/cousin’s bike (she was 8 as well). Your heart just melts to see such kindness and helpfulness shown to Yaya. You know Yaya’s family loves him dearly and greatly desires for him to learn and have the same opportunities as the other children because there is no other explanation for doing all that for just a few hours a day!! Thank you, Jesus,
We truly have the sweetest class. We absolutely adore them. They anxiously wait for us to open our door to begin the day. They are quickly learning the routine and little by little understanding our expectations. They are learning how to listen, how to wait, how to share “toys,” the consequences of hitting, etc. They are very typical in the sense of having a short attention span and becoming easily distracted by outside factors or one another. The seek both negative and positive attention. We naively assumed they would be better at sharing materials since they do such a nice job of sharing food and water. However, as with any child before he/she is taught the art of sharing, the sin of selfishness is often evident. They do not like to share things, but they, like all of us, will learn and continue to learn.
Glimpse of our day:
- Enter pavilion and wash hands whiling singing a song
- Circle time: hello/good morning song, who came to school today activity for name recognition, what is your name game
- Calendar time – sing days of the week song, discuss the date, weather (cloudy, rainy, sunny)
- Color of the day – color activity
- Music – Jesus loves me (song of the week)
- Story time (play creation story in Jula on mp3 player)
- Alphabet review and game
- Letter review and game
- Activities – we set up three “centers” sometimes 4.
- Special large group activity- parachutes, bubbles, a special craft, etc.
- Goodbye song and pray
Joys of the Day:
The children’s smiley faces and excitement to learn; all their hugs; listening to them repeat French words; hearing them sing the songs; watching them experiment with colors, blocks, letters, cards, glue, paper, etc; their insistence to help us clean up; our additional 30-minute goodbye hugs and handshake routine after the pavilion has been cleaned and closed; and the most heart fulfilling moments are when they point to our cross necklaces and say the name of Jesus. We know the Lord is cultivating something beautiful in them! They know the cross and they know the name of Jesus.
Challenges of the day:
Outside distractions – when the school is on recess break, the other kids flock to the pavilion to see what we are doing. They try to engage our kiddos, which distracts them from listening to us. The kids climb up and hang off the side of the pavilion to peak in, if our kiddos are eating a snack the other kids ask for some; if the kiddos are working on an activity the other kids ask them to show them or give them the answers, etc.…What becomes even more frustrating is when we ask for them kindly to leave and they refuse. Some will listen and others will not. Besides the children acting impolite, their behavior takes time away from our teaching and the students learning. Thankfully, the situation has improved the last few days of class. Less kids were coming over, and those who did would say a hello and then leave on request. We also have mothers stop by and engage us and if they speak French they may ask if their child can come; while others will say hello and just watch or address the children. In general, there always seems to be an outside interruption every 15 minutes, which is often frustrating and draining after a while. At times, we must remind one another to not always see these interruptions as inconveniences but as God ordained opportunities. Men and women who stop by to watch us can see the way we interact with the children. They can hear the tone of voice with which we use to speak; they have an opportunity to witness the way we correct, yet encourage the children; and they can see the multiple ways we show affection to the children. In the village, there is always a flow of people, and people stopping by to greet and meet; it is cultural. We are still adjusting to open courtyard living, which means you have very limited and lack of personal space and boundaries. We either need to flow with this situation, or else we will hit a wall of resistance and struggle.
We have had three students (1 boy and 2 girls) come on Thursday evenings for English conversation and help with homework. It has been so much fun! Helping them, helps us with our French and we have the privilege to ask cultural questions and discuss cultural differences which leads into conversations about why we do what we do. As Peter writes “But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.” ( 1 Peter 3: 15). The young man Yacouba who attends and was raised in a Muslim home, began asking questions and started attending the Wed. night prayer meetings. Unfortunately, he soon was instructed to stop. We are confident the Lord is going to use our time together as an open door for intriguing conversations. Speaking of intriguing conversations, we had a wonderful conversation with Babou. We were writing and having our devotional time when he inquired about what we were writing and reading. We happily explained, and read to him from the English and French Bible. We told him he was welcome to read the French Bible anytime. We were able to explain to him, as best we could, the reason we are not yet married, the gift and sacredness of marriage, and the parallel image between marriage and that of Christ’s relationship with His children.
Fun side note, Yacouba is Babou’s son! The Lord is working on him and his family.
Festival of the Mask:
The first week of May was the festival of the mask in our village. It is a week-long festival concerning the coming of age for boys into manhood. Throughout the day, two men dressed in full costumes run around as “the masks” whipping any boys they came across. There is dancing and other ceremonies which take place in the evening. After asking many natives what exactly everything means and why they do what they do, we never got a clear explanation. Every people group has its own mask ceremonies and festivals. They are all rooted in animistic beliefs and a reminder of the spiritual ware fare surrounding us. We were extremely happy, as were the boys, when the festival ended.
Our pastor officially moved in with his family! So, our last night in the village, we enjoyed a delightful time of food and fellowship with Pastor Bernard and his wife, Dorcas. Typically speaking, people prepare spaghetti(pasta) for celebrations or special occasions. Pastor Bernard’s wife, Dorcas, graciously prepared pasta with chicken. They also brought us cokes and Fanta’s to drink. It was a feast and a time to celebrate the work the Lord has done and is going to do through Pastor Bernard. We also had another unexpected and thoughtful cuisine prepared for us. Pastor Joel, whom we have mentioned in previous blogs, offered us, essentially, veggie sandwiches. Pastor Joel had prepared pork for us to eat once before; however, this time he served us bread, avocado and onion for lunch. We couldn’t believe it! After our pork incident with him another situation arose in which we had to come clean to him about our meat feelings. He was surprised, but not at all offended. So, he remembered! There are no words to describe his thoughtfulness and kindness.
We had two beautiful rain falls. Oh, how we greatly enjoy the cooler temperatures the rain brings. During the last rain, we joined a few of the kids as they courageously began playing soccer. The giggles and smiles at the sight of us sopping wet and trying to kick the soccer ball, were priceless. We did carry some guilt because they had to go back to school soaked and cold, while we could go inside to dry off and put on new clothes.
Our first Puppet Show! It was truly a show for all those participating and those watching. We had a fun activity prepared with a powerful message to share with all present. At the same time, God was doing a show of His own. God was showing us His intentionality to draw people to himself, as we needed all hands-on deck to help perform the show. The Lord is constantly at work. He has to clear out weeds and soften the soil before a seed can be sown. Little by little He is seeking new relationships, while deepening relationships with those who already claim Him as Lord and Savior. We will never fully grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ for us. It is a love that surpasses knowledge (Ephesians 3:18-19). Literally we had 4 pairs of hands trying to hold up our fabric pieces, due to the wind, which could have easily become a nuisance, yet it was completely a Jesus moment. Pastor Dorcas’ wife had a brilliant idea, and brought us safety pins. Babou passed out peanuts to the children; Ruth and Ashley held up props corresponding with each new day, while Britney changed back ground colors; and Pastor Bernard translated the creation story in Jula. Linda took pictures as well as gave light to the show as the sun set. Luckily, she noticed the sky quickly turning black and before we realized it, she rigged up a spotlight with a solar flashlight.
Church Sunday morning- Oh, what a joyous day it was! Pastor Bernard was preaching for the first time as the ordained pastor and we had a packed church of about 20 adults and 30 kids. To our great delight, we had some visitors as well. As Ashley peered out the window she saw one of our girls (from our preschool) being dropped off outside the church. She was followed by two of our other preschool buddies who excitedly ran into the building and stayed. This was the first time for them. Not only were they full of joy and enthusiasm, but they also had crosses with them. On the Friday before, we did a special craft with them which included foam crosses and other foam pieces. They could have chosen any other piece, but they choose the cross. Holding back tears of elation and suppressing the desire to jump and down we gazed upon the beautiful scene God painted right in front of us. Once again, God gave us a show of His love for us. He reassured us we are where He has called us. Sunday was one of those moments in which we wanted to fall on our knees before the King. Cleary there is one True God. “There is peace and fullness of Joy in His Loving Presence. As [we] delight in the Lord He fills [us] up with Love, Joy and Peace. Look for Him throughout the day, He is eager to be found by you” (Young, Sarah).
- Pray the children remember our words as being encouraging and comforting to them even when we are not with them. Through our physical touch, we pray they feel gentleness and a sense of security. Even when we correct and/or redirect their behavior we pray they see patience and unconditional forgiveness.
- Pray for the fruit of the spirit to be evident, especially on the days we will be tested and tried.
- Continued prayer for spiritual and physical protection
- Continued prayer for the Chief to give his blessing stating that anyone interested in going to church has the freedom to go.
- Continued prayer for softening of hearts and awaking of eyes