Editor's note: This is the third of four posts that will relate to World Vision's child well-being aspirations.
Aspiration #3: Children experience love of God and their neighbors
It’s always the drums that trigger the memory...
A few weeks ago, I was standing in the rural village of Drobonso, Ghana. It was Sunday morning, and I was there as part of a World Vision team reporting on the delivery of new Bibles for children — one of the many transformational gifts that World Vision provides to children and adults hungry for God's Word, or to support youth Bible clubs in African countries like this one.
The local church service started as it usually does here: Young men start beating African drums to a driving rhythm.
Whenever I hear African drums, my mind drifts back in time — to 1986. I’m standing in the war-torn Southern Sudanese town of Wau. It’s Easter morning, and the air is still and sweet. The oppressive heat — which I know will come soon enough — hasn’t yet descended. It is cool, and there is just a wisp of breeze blowing through the giant mango trees.
I am awaiting the first arrival of World Vision food aid to this famine-stricken region. My colleague and I are here to receive the food and set up distribution centers on the outskirts of the town. I feel a bit sorry for myself. Spending Easter Sunday in the middle of nowhere, far from family and friends, was not the plan. But the fact that this is a historic delivery of food aid changes my mind some. Never before had food been delivered from the North to the South, across the battle lines separating the two warring regions. Every day, we wait for the sound of the trucks rolling into town, bringing the much-needed food.
Children receive food at a World Vision feeding program in Sudan in 1986. (Steve Reynolds/WV)
Then, I hear the distant rhythm of the drums.
I strain my ears and follow the sound through the dirt streets, past decaying huts and deteriorating buildings, evidence of a city under siege. Residents are too frightened to venture out of the city limits even to collect grass for their roofs, for fear of being picked off by rebels or government soldiers.
Tiny eyes peered at me from darkened windows. I found the source coming from a tiny Anglican church near the center of town, and ventured in.
Inside, the drums are deafening, but the people, many of them children, consume all of my attention. They are all dancing, singing, and shouting praises to God with complete abandon. Bishop John Malau, the towering Dinka Bishop of that region, lets the celebration continue for a long time.
Bishop John is a gentle and wise leader who could have been teaching at a major university. Instead, he chose to keep his family here and to lead his suffering flock of Christians in this remote and troubled area of Africa. He became a good friend during my stay in Sudan who, about three months later, was tragically killed when a helicopter he was traveling in was shot down over the capital city of Juba.
For now, Bishop John watches from his seat in the front of the church. He would eventually bring the service to order and proceed with the liturgy. But for now, he’s happy to sit and let the congregation sing and dance. He’s happy to let them escape, if only for an hour or so, from the crushing weight of the poverty, hunger, and deprivation that the war has caused them. Right now, it’s Easter, a time to worship and remember the resurrection of Jesus Christ. "Forget the war," he seems to say as he smiles down on his tiny congregation. I join with them and dance. I know I look like a fool, but I dance anyway. My self-pity slips away, and I marvel at their tenacious faith. Truly, these people are experiencing God's love, joy, and community, without regard for the daily hardships they face.
Back to today. I stand up from my simple wooden bench, which is my pew, and start dancing again. I see the same beaming African smiles in the midst of the poverty. I see their “faith which sustains” and try to absorb it before I return to my fast-food, have-it-all-now culture.
I know I look like a fool, but they compliment me anyway. It doesn’t matter. Right now, it’s time to dance.
Read related posts:
Child well-being aspiration #1- A kick in the ribs: Children enjoy good health
Child well-being aspiration #2- Pink Floyd got it wrong: Children are educated for life
Child well-being aspiration #4- Why registration matters: Children are cared for and protected