Saturday took us to the poorest of poor areas to replace a Sunday school building that collapsed recently. All the children had been inside it...thankfully no one was hurt in any way, but it was pretty clear that the pieced together fallen building they were continuing to use was no solution at all.
The children gathered very quickly all around us, and it wasn´t long before Elsa had two little girls by the hand and several hovering around her, following her around. Their little faces were open and curious and I was once again delighted and suprised by how quickly bonds were made and communication established.
The Halifax Regional Police had donated a bunch of cardboard binoculars that everyone loved...it was so funny to see the little boys running with the little red boxes up to their eyes to go tell their friends. Even adults were coming for them, and pretty soon I was just standing in a circle of hands, putting the little cello wrapped packets into them and being patted and gracia´d and bendiga´d all around. I even saw Placido, one of the local builders who´s been with us since day one, proudly and carefully putting his in his supply bag.
Elsa smiled at me from her little huddle of joy and suggested we should figure out something to DO with the children since there were already so many hands building and we´d already done our routine of separating the box of different nails and putting together the screws and fasteners.I drew a hopscotch in the dry dirt and the children gathered in a little group around me, giggling as I threw my stone and hopped around, counting in spanglish...they joined in and took turns hopping until the "rock" we were tossing broke into a hundred bits and we all had a good laugh. That´s when Julia suggested that it was time for the balloons...
The balloon animals were a hit, and our little assembly line of ladies was working pretty well, although it was so frantic with all the children trying to grab more balloons out of the bag. It was interesting that there was absolutely no pushing or shoving, just each child chattering and searching to make eye contact with us to let them go first. And we were moved to see that the children who finally did get their balloon animals would often take them quickly to a smaller child and then return for more. But it was also clear very quickly that many of the animals were quickly untwisted and the balloons presented again. That was when it hit us all as we looked around at the children. We could have been handing out twisted blades of grass. It wasn´t about the thing they were getting. It was 100% about the time they were getting with us, the one to one eye contact and conversation they were having with us. We all made some pretty special connections that day.
The Sunday school program was awesome, and later that night, those who had been outside building told us that when the children started to all sing and respond to the story the work became easier and everything just came together. Those children sat and listened, jumped up and sang, and then about 12 girls and boys, with faces painted with beautiful masks performed a dance for us, set to a modern worship song. My little helper, Ruth, sang lustily along with the song...she knew every word. I squeezed her hand in appreciation as I smiled at the beauty of the sight and sounds of this gift they´d worked so hard to prepare for us. The work that went into that dance touched every heart there.
This all took place in a bamboo structure that this community uses as a church, and so Stoneridge, unknown to Victoria, the leader of that community, had sent 10 000 dollars to build a concrete building. Thank you Stoneridge!!! I wish you all could have been there to see the looks on their faces or hear the cheers. We were so honoured to be representing you all and there was not a dry eye in the place when one of the little girls reached up and kissed Pastor Les.
Making connections with these children was so moving and so vital. If we, as Christians, can have more influence over our children here than the gangs and drug communities who also offer the children comfort and prayer and a feeling of belonging, and if we can do it before they´re 6 and keep it up consistently, we have a chance of giving them hope for a future, and they have a chance at freedom. We weren´t just handing out treat bags with suckers and chips and juice and animal crackers for their tummies. We were sharing the hope we have with their hearts and trying somehow to convey that there´s a group of people thousands of miles away who gather as they do every Sunday, who love them, who love God and his son Jesus Christ, and who care about the future he has planned for them.
"For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future." -Jeremiah 29:11