A few years ago, a supporting pastor of our teammates came to visit their work. My teammate was teaching the women at our monthly ladies’ group that month; and after finishing her theological lesson, commenced a mini-lesson on proper table manners. At one more slightly intrusive point, the supporting pastor’s wife, who had come along to our ladies’ meeting and was trying to get the gist of the mini-lesson, gave a surprised laugh with the side-whisper to me, “Wow, she’s brave.” I laughed with her, because my teammate is brave; but I defended my teammate with this comment:
“Well, sometimes, we take the role of a parent.”
This again was an unforeseen role that I find myself taking often–never having been asked to, but often feeling shoved into the role–and I don’t mean for my own children!
On any given day, if you came by our house in the afternoon, you would see anywhere from 10-30 village kids (mostly boys) playing here. They enjoy the grass and our garden, the possibility of a free ball, the novelty of white playmates–maybe just a change of pace, I’m not completely sure. But I am almost sure that their parents/guardians do not know where they are. For hours.
One time, several boys began to be in the bad habit of sneaking in without announcing themselves in their own traditionally respectful way, and hiding around the corner of the house. I would be sitting at the kitchen table homeschooling my eldest and see a shadow flit past the window. I, having recently been thinking again about Charlotte Mason’s (a 20th-century educator) philosophy of training right habits, went out, and decided to take it upon myself to teach them the proper way of respecting others’ property. I instructed them, made them repeat back to me what I’d said (since you never know if they understood otherwise), and then made them practice announcing themselves the right way (according to their cultural customs!) three times each. (I was easy on them; Charlotte Mason suggests 10 times, I believe.) 🙂
Recently, a boy, who did not remove himself from our garage when we’d warned him to, walked right into steel poles that we use for our church building project that some other boys were transporting into the garage at the time. His head wound bled profusely. Seth put on some gloves (HIV/AIDS is always a concern) and patched him up in the dim light of dusk. When we visited the home to explain, his guardian was unconcerned.
If you saw how we handled some of the youth here, you may think we overstepped our bounds; but after time, we have become more bold, taking on more of a parent-teacher role than would be permissible in American culture. A few months ago, a boy (whom we didn’t know well) became violently angry at another boy during their play in our yard. He went home and returned with a kitchen knife intending to harm the other children who had denied his desires. When Seth was told, he applied corporal punishment–more gently than if it were our own child. Yet the boy yelped and dodged and scurried away afterwards with his tail between his legs. We have not seen him back to play. I am sure he was embarrassed. Harsh, say you? But we must protect our children and the others playing here. And no one else will intervene to save his soul from the path he is now on.
Time would fail me to tell all the stories of our own, as well as of other missionaries who have, for all practical purposes acted as literal foster parents–taking children in, feeding them, clothing them, and paying for schooling.
We have frequently had to expel children from our yard (for the day or week) for lying, disobeying our authority, disregarding our garden and ruthlessly breaking plants or killing baby birds, or most recently, repeatedly stealing right out of our chest freezer in our garage.
Then when we come to the teens, the troubles become more severe. Many girls in our youth group have become pregnant or endangered themselves through reckless dating and disobedience of their parents. A handful of times when coming home after dark on the village roads, Seth (sometimes with our family in the car) has stopped to tell an immorally active teen couple by the side of the road to go home, and has rebuked them for immorality, and at the least, the possibility of contracting AIDS.
On a lighter note, we have supported teens by attending important functions where they were honored or gave a speech, but their parents didn’t go. Or by attending an important soccer game. Or by funding them for an important field trip or school function.
At least five different mothers of our church youth have come to us asking for help to get their teenagers to listen to them. I say mothers, because in our youth group, very few teens have ever even met their fathers (or know who they are). None have fathers at home.
Those who have fathers and know them live in a distance relationship with the father, seeing him 1-3 times a year at holidays when he comes home from his job in a far-away city. This fatherless-ness has completely destroyed the African understanding and placing of value on family. Fathers are unnecessary, mothers rule and support the home, and poverty is a can kicked down the road every time another teen mother gets pregnant in order to receive yet another governmental “child” grant.
The children are destitute of caring instruction and nurture, and yet few are even aware of the drought of true parental love parching the land. So the cycle continues. We are trying to break this generational sin and misunderstanding by example and by teaching the few Christians under our influence–and sometimes, by adopting the role of parent when it seems that no one else is.
Some of our youth have become men and women now. We enjoy the adult conversations, even though we also have tasted–before our children are of age–that youthful “wisdom” that comes back from university ready to instruct experienced wisdom on how to better change the world, mixed with youthful blindness at the differences between village and city ministry (for one example).
My mom always thought the 20s were harder to parent than the teens; and I’m seeing that in our “adopted” kids, as we wonder sometimes, how much to pick? How much to say? We hand out dating advice, try to match some pairs up so they are not ensnared by non-Christians, and Seth has pounded the pavement at a near town not a few hours to find jobs for some of the young men.
From teaching youth in our pick-up truck to say “Thank you” for the lift, and not to throw their trash out on the side of the road, to breaking up literal fights between teen boys duking it out in front of our gate, to mediating between shouting mothers and silent, rebellious daughters, we have seen the importance of God’s plan for the family.
To have so many “children” is tiring and emotionally wearing, but it is a necessity. Christian parents, step it up! Change your world (and your kids’ world)–by being a parent who follows Christ.