Recently I traveled with an Arise Africa team to a local fisherman’s village for a day of teaching in the local schools & church. My role that day was documenting the day from behind the lens of my camera. But, of course, sometimes I find myself talking with this one, and playing with that one, and before I know it, I have walked away from the team altogether and I haven’t taken a photo in an hour.
And so it went on this day. After documenting some of the ministry, I began walking through the local village greeting here and there with my translator. I talked to the workers mending their nets. I greeted the ladies carrying firewood on their heads for the evening’s cooking. But down near the water I saw him. A little boy was sitting on his mat just outside his home. He wore no clothes. He had no toys. He was just watching the world go on around him. He watched as ducks passed by. He watched as children ran past. He watched as goats walked to and fro.
Immediately my heart was drawn to him, but to be honest, my body hesitated. There’s some sort of fear in me when I don’t know how to communicate quite well with someone. And I knew that I would have some communication barriers. Still, I pushed through my fear and asked my translator to go to visit with this young boy.
As I walked near, I prayed that God would lead our time together with this boy at his home. Then, I sat on a nearby wooden seat and began to try and interact with this young boy. A face peeked out of the darkened doorway; it was Jjaja (Grandmom). She smiled and welcomed our presence and our conversation.
I learned that my new friend’s name was Yunufu, and he was very excited to have company. When I first walked up, I didn’t know if he would even acknowledge me, but boy did he ever. He rested his head and hands on my leg. He clapped as I sang to him. He made noises of delight and welcomed me into his company. As I sat there with Yunufu, I began talking with his Jjaja through my translator. She shared with me his story, how his dad is “away,” and his mother leaves him with her to take care of. She shared how the people in the village believe he is cursed and how he isn’t accepted by many in his family. I know this is common in this culture, but I also saw that she has a love for her grandson, which is not very common in this culture.
She told me that she is a believer and that she is his primary caregiver. She bathes him, feeds him, and moves him from inside the home to outside on his mat, where he can watch the goings-on and enjoy the fresh air. He doesn’t walk or crawl, and he is non-verbal, but he does interact with others. She is the one that told us his favorite things – noises, singing, clapping, smiles; I imagine this is how she communicates her love to him from day-to-day.
I encouraged her to keep taking care of Yunufu. I knew she must be very tired. I knew she must wonder if her work was all in vain, especially with her neighbors telling her so. I shared with her about people all around the world, even in America, with his unique disabilities, and how they are not a curse – they just mean that God has allowed him to have special needs and that he needs a lot of love and care from someone very special like her. I was way outside my comfort zone and experience, but I knew that, with the help of the Holy Spirit, I could speak to the spirit-filled heart of a tired and worn out momma caring for a child that she loves.
After the conversation was over, my translator moved on to greeting others. I could tell he wasn’t quite sure why I was still content to just sit and be with this young boy for so long. But that was okay. I continued to stay. I prayed silently in my heart over him, over the home, and over his sweet grandmom. And I sang every song I could think to sing. I clapped and danced, and I made eye contact with my friend. We laughed together for the longest time. I smiled at Jjaja and she made it known that I was welcome. I wanted this day to be special for him, a change from his daily routine. I wanted him to know that he was special and that this visitor had come to be with him at his house. In this culture, having visitors to your home from far away is a real honor.
As my translator came back, I said my goodbyes and we walked back to the church to meet up with the team. As we walked, my translator said, “Thank you. The Jjaja was so encouraged by what you told her. Everyday she takes care of her grandson and so many people look down on them. But you gave her a new hope and reassured her that she was doing the right thing by loving Yunufu.”
Later that week, one of the guys on the volunteer team asked me, “How do you do it? How do you live here day in and day out and see all the needs and not burn out? Not run away? Not lose heart?”
I knew the answer right away. You have to be here for the one. The one child. The one family. The one hurting person that God puts in front of you that very day. The one lost person who needs salvation. The one panicked mother needing urgent medical attention for her baby. The one young man who just lost his grandmother. You focus on the one God gives you that very day. If you look up and focus on the vast number of needs that are here every single day and go on and on without end, you’ll sink. You’ll burn out. You’ll run away. You’ll lose heart.
On this day, I was sent with the team to document the day, to tell the day’s story of ministry through the lens of my camera. And yes, I think this is a dynamic part of my ministry here, because I believe that storytelling changes the world. And I believe that people need to see, through photographs, the ministry that teams are a part of when they come to serve alongside Arise Africa. But on this day, my one was Yunusu. While all the other children passed him by, while all the other children were running and playing and listening to the mzungu (white person) team play their instruments and teach through drama and blow their bubbles and play tag, he sat at home. He watched the world from his mat. But God brought me to his mat that day, and it nearly wrecked me. But I am so very glad He did.