Let the children come.
At a loss.
Have you ever been at a loss for words?
Or experienced something that left you unable to express what you felt inside?
I had such an experience this past week. It left me dumbfounded and numb. My hands have been stuck over the keyboard the past few days as I have been trying, unsuccessfully, to find a way to tell the story of those whose lives would otherwise, go unnoticed.
Let Them Come.
Over the past month, we have been announcing that we were going to take time to pray for children at church. We believe in blessing children, for that’s what Jesus did.
But Jesus said, ‘Let the little children come to me, and don’t prevent them. For of such is the Kingdom of Heaven.’ And he put his hands on their heads and blessed them before he left.”Matthew 19:14,15 LB
I’ve learned, sadly, that most of the time, when there’s a painful situation of any kind, it is the most vulnerable who are left to bear the worst part of the hurt. They become “collateral damage” as it were as fires that were not of their making, burn around them.
It was time to bless the children.
Africans, if anything, are a spiritual people. There are few who don’t believe in the spiritual world. People on this continent are raised to keep the spirit world in mind. They are keenly aware that there is more to this life than the here and now.
It is for this reason that any time we give a call to pray a blessing over children, we know we will have our hands full.
People know their children need the blessing.
When Sunday morning arrived, we had a whopping 52 children signed up for prayer. Under other circumstances, say were we praying for adults for any other reason, we would expect to have seen half of those who had signed up actually show up.
Not when it comes to praying for children. Everyone, except one, arrived that day. We even had others who had not signed up early try to get in on the blessing. They were told to wait until next time.
We love to pray for the children, there will always be a next time to pray.
One by one.
The time came for us to call the children forward. One by one they came, parents smiling. Children are treasured by the African family. One of life’s greatest tragedies, in the African culture, is to have a life void of children.
There was little space to move around the families. During this time of Covid, we have tried to practice and encourage all the proper protocols. However, no one wanted to be far when it came time to pray for the children. Parents stood close, eyes were closed in reverence as we prayed the blessing.
One by one, I studied them as I passed by.One by one, I saw stories written all over their young faces.
I’m accustomed to the intense poverty that surrounds us. What I am unaccustomed to, and never will be, is seeing the suffering that the children of this continent have to endure.
The scale of the suffering we see here is such that can harden the softest of souls. To survive, children end up on the streets begging for food or caring for younger siblings or sold into slavery.
I once helped a teenager named Claude who had been imprisoned for months and starved. He was unable to give reason for his imprisonment. At 16 years old, he resembled a seven year old child. The process of rehabilitation was long, but he did survive. Not long ago, I ran into Claude. Now, a grown man, he still bore the marks of his history. He never grew much taller than when we rescued him and his teeth had, for the most part, rotted away. However, when he smiled, my heart jumped.
He endured, he made it.
Can you see me?
Passing down the line as we prayed, I was struck by the beauty of the children standing before me. Big, beautiful eyes looked up into mine as my husband and I and the rest of the congregation lifted our voices to pray for them. I felt little fingers inspect my very strange, white hands as we passed by. Another felt my hair and yet another played with my bracelet.
We came to a little boy, no more than eight or nine years old. No one was standing behind him, no one had accompanied him. He was alone for the blessing. Tears were welling in his eyes as we prayed. I wondered who would leave a child to come alone?
His eyes met mine and, if a moment could be put into words, he said, “Can you see me?”
Doing her best.
As we moved on, a young mother of 18 stood with her baby. She had only recently come to the Lord and was doing her best to care for her child. Her family had disowned her after she fell pregnant. A well-meaning relative took her in, giving her room and board in exchange for her cooking and cleaning.
Her baby wriggled fiercely in protest as this young mother cried for the blessing. Life was harder than she thought it would be, her dreams were shattered before her.
She was doing her best and wanted the blessing for her baby.
Living in fear.
As we made our way down the line, we came to a young mother of three. She was very small and her children were very young. The oldest of the three could not have been older than seven. She stood trembling, her mouth moving in prayer and she held all three of her babies tightly to her.
I studied her carefully. Her face was bruised, she had been beaten. I was told later on that she had to sneak out of her house in order to bring her children to church for the blessing. She was living in fear, but wanted the blessing.
What will we do?
I left church on Sunday with these images playing over and over in my mind. As intense as their suffering has already been, children lined up to receive the blessing. If there has ever been a day that I earnestly prayed that the blessing would fall, it was Sunday.
Wherever you are as you read this, I pray your eyes be open to the least of those that surround you in your world. I don’t have long, drawn-out answers to explain away the pain of this world. This world we live in is waiting for its redemption from the grasp of sin, until that day God’s answer to suffering lies in the hands of us, His children.
Our Father is watching to see what we will do.