We give them no food, no money, and nothing more than water from our well or the occasional glass of lemonade from our tree to drink. Still they come, day after day.
Lacking anything better to do, they roll out the mats under the shade trees in front of our house and sit quietly in the anticipation that sooner or later one of us will come out the door, and they will be entertained with some books to look at, Uno cards to play with, Legos to build with, a ball to play soccer, or some words of counsel and encouragement from us. They are the children of Chageen, and we are becoming more and more like parents to them.
Why do they come? Of course the Legos, books, ball, and Uno cards are a big attraction. They have nothing remotely comparable in their own homes. But even when we give them nothing, they just hang out. Why? Very simply, our home is the one place in the village where they get a modicum of love and attention. It is the one place where an adult looks them in the eye and talks to them. And they can't get enough of it. Some of them started calling Diane the "President" – the closest appellation they could think of for someone whom they adore and respect (Mark, by all accounts, ranks several pegs lower in the pantheon, and is merely "Mark").
All this is reason to rejoice. And rejoice we do. It is precisely the kind of influence we envisaged seven years ago when we resolved to make the spiritual development of Kwong children a priority. Surely if we can mold these young minds with the perspective and temperaments of the Spirit of God at an early age, they will be blessed with spiritual advantages that the present generation, steeped as it is in tradition, can only wistfully imagine.
Yet the ruckus is bittersweet. Most of the time, we are so busy with our translation work and other ministries that we don’t have time to give them all the attention they crave. The soccer ball, not to speak of Legos, is truly a marvelous invention, but it is a pitiful substitute for the kind eyes and counsel of the President or her deputy. And when we do have time, a bona fide Child Evangelism Fellowship worker would be mortally embarrassed by the pitiful, uncreative nature of what we have to offer them. When Diane's brother Jon and sister-in-law were here for a short visit and suggested we make paper airplanes with the kids, we were dumbfounded at the ingenuity and creativity of such a simple suggestion.
We realize that working with kids really isn’t our strongest gifting. Still, they come. Still we bumble along. Never was the ruckus of 20 kids under your office window a greater blessing than it is for us in Chageen.
-Written by Mark Vanderkooi, TEAM missionary in Chad
-Photos provided by Mark and Diane Vanderkooi