The Invisible Child and other stories from the field


STERLING HEIGHTS, MI

The Invisible Child (a story from Chad)

The girl attached herself to us at our arrival at the market. We wandered through the dirt pathways between the varied stalls of the African version of a mall/flea market. She was always there. I met her gaze, noticed her lack of shoes, her torn skirt, hungry eyes. I smiled. She smiled back.

Our host told her that we had nothing for her, and told us to not give any money since beggar children are sent out by the Imam to beg for him. He gives them training in the Koran and a scrap dinner. The host said if we give money we will be surrounded and unable to move on. So I obeyed. Other children approached us in groups of 3 or 4, but quickly went away.


The girl, however, stayed as if she was part of our group. She brought up the rear, almost as if she were shepherding the white ladies so no one would be left behind. She talked to me. I talked back, but we didn’t share a language. She was mostly curious, and I think she felt safe. I was praying for her as we moved through the market. Others just looked through her, around her, past her, but we had a connection.

The only time she wasn’t invisible to others was when 3 other beggar children began to hit her with their begging bowls. They had shoes and better clothing. They had each other. She covered her face and took the abuse. I stepped between and scolded. They scattered for a few minutes, only to come back with more abuse in the next aisle. My friend saw the action and intervened as well. Then the girl stood up for herself. She had found some courage after our defense of her.

We lost our little shadow only when we boarded the 3-wheeled taxi to leave. I didn’t lose her in my heart. I still pray for her. I can’t fix her life. But I can recognize her as a child made in the image of God and worthy of my attention, however brief. I can keep a promise I made to really see people, to treat no person as invisible or unworthy of my kindness and my prayers. I will not forget her.

Wearing the Lafai*

*a traditional scarf/veil dress worn by draping one long piece of fabric from head to ankle.

As we walked the myriad dirt pathways through the market our host heard the repeated comment: "Ladies are here and they are wearing Lafais." How unusual is it that western women will dress in African traditional dress while visiting that it would prompt this refrain so many times? Do others not do the same? Why do we dress in local attire when visiting Africa?

  • To respect local modesty standards

  • To place value on their culture

  • To not draw attention to ourselves and our independence

  • To gain credibility as humble helpers

  • To represent Jesus as our Lord more than we display our own culture

Are we willing to lay aside our rights and our cultural preferences, to reach others with the good news? Jesus Christ put on human flesh to live among those he created. "The Word became flesh and dwelt among us." No matter the place, another country, culture or community, we as representatives of Christ should be the example of love and respect. “They” take notice and that may be the reason we are given the opportunity to speak into their lives with the Gospel message. Philippians 2:3-11, Colossians 4:5-6, 1 Peter 2:11-12, 15-17


Engineers, Doctors, Dentists, Artists

The great missionary question: Why do professional people with multiple degrees, young children, Christian community, loving family and a fast track to the American dream plant their lives in the middle of the Sahara Desert? Picture this: Continual dust that invades sinuses, lungs, eyes, ears, homes, food, linens, cars, and toes. Oh my. The foot dirt! Longing for family at holidays and on birthdays, knowing that the togetherness with them may not come until years have passed. Small wages, small houses, intermittent water and electricity, questionable food quality, exposure to diseases virtually unknown in-home circles, desert treks for supplies that would be as near as the Dollar General at home. Why? Why go? Why bother? Because we are to be imitators of Jesus Christ. When we take up residence among those we are longing to know the glory of God and the grace and truth of Jesus Christ we must be there. Romans 10:1-4, Colossians 1:24-29, Colossians 3:1-4, Philippians 3:7-17, John 1:9-14

ABOUT THE AUTHOR


Karen Villalpando is a Michigan Baptist, an IMB Trustee and the director of Child Care at Memorial Baptist church in Sterling Heights, MI.

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