As I write this, we are sitting in the hotel Massa Massa ('sorry sorry' in French - I have no idea about the naming) and we have just finished what we call "Talibe Day." Talibe mean 'disciple'. I am without hesitation, a Talibe Yesu, or disciple of Jesus. In Senegal there is a system of sorts in place where Talibe Boys are known as the ones begging on the streets of the city. Their parents live in the villages and cannot afford to care for them, or desire their sons to learn the Koran. So they send their sons at the age of 6 (or younger) to these Koranic schools, where they learn from a Daara. They memorize the Koran in hopes of using it for ceremonial purposes later in life.
The Koranic schools used to be in the villages, where family was near by and eyes of family were always watching and those who interacted with the boys knew them. Unfortunately, in the 1970s when drought and thus famine came, it was no longer sustainable for the Koranic teachers to stay in the villages and maintain their cost of living. So, the Koranic schools moved to the cities. This caused the parents to send their children far away, some over a 12 hour bus ride to live where they could not see them for most of their lifetime. The boys graduate typically at the age of 16 or 17, meaning they do not have contact with their family for over a decade.
The disconnection from family leads to other dilemmas. The boys are not near people that they know and who care for them. This opens up the door for much more exploitation and abuse. Because the parents cannot afford to pay a tuition to the Daara, the boys are sent out to beg on the streets. In a Muslim nation, this also allows those following the five steps of Islam to give alms, satisfying that religious need. This is where they encounter the harsh realities of city street life. Most get hit by cars, many get taken advantage of and a majority get sick.
The greatest and most obvious loss for them is the loss of being seen and cared for. Its an unwritten rule in every major city in the world that when you see someone begging, you turn away. You avoid looking into the eyes of someone that your heart knows you need to respond to, but can't help. If you give money, you are supporting the Talibe system. If you don't and he goes home to his Daara without enough money he gets punished for stealing, or laziness, or disobedience. Sometimes this is harsh, sometimes it is not as bad as a similar punishment would be in the village. But without knowledgeable eyes and people that know and care about the boys, the line is crossed into abuse far too often.
So what is the answer? Simply put. We don't know. What we do know is that when Jesus was on this earth, He didn't solve every social or economic problem. He will, but He hasn't yet. He loved, He looked into people's eyes and gave them respect, dignity and truth. So today we supported that calling for us to do the same.
There is a beautiful woman named Jane Hampton who has run a ministry to the Talibe boys for over 15 years. She pulls resources together to give them a day where they can get vaccinations, a bowl of oatmeal, play soccer, and be loved. While keeping open communication with the Daaras, Jane brings the boys in to her clinics for a day where they can get the shots they need (she keeps track on very simple cardstock using date stampers and handwritten notes) and also be seen, be cared for and loved.
My role has become my favorite over the two experiences I have had with Jane's ministry. It is called 'the triage table' but how I see it is one where I get to look each boy in the eye as I take their weight and temperature. I make them stand on the scale until I see a smile (they think I am just slow at reading weight). I want them to know that I see them, that I am not afraid to look them in the eye and smile. I see how they are fearfully and wonderfully made. They are human, they are image bearers of a God I am madly in love with.
Today was an extra above-and-beyond blessing. The 'street boys' that we saw last year, from only two out of the fifteen schools Jane ministers to were the SAME ONES we saw this year. I know it was only small glimpses into their eyes and momentary smiles when we didn't understand each other's language...but there was a previous relationship. I was able to build on it this year. When the boys walked up to me, they remembered me. The smiles came quicker and the moments were sweeter.
I know this was only one day in their lives out of years full of chaos and confusion. But I truly believe God opened up a door for us to be His hands and feet in a very obvious way to them. Just as He is our refuge and escape from this fallen world we live in, the environment Jane and the team created became that escape for the boys. They were free from the stress of begging for enough money to not be in trouble, and they were able to simply be boys. Even if it was only for a few hours. They escaped the reality of their situations for a brief moment and simply were.
I squealed a little bit every time I realized the handwriting on the cards was mine from last year. It was a special gift from God directly to me. I was building on previous relationships. They were small, they were momentary, but they were beautiful in a simple way. I could not have asked for a better first day of ministry here in Senegal. My heart is overjoyed with the blessing of this day, and the loving sovereignty of my God.
One of the sweet younger boys.
Even the older boys enjoyed the time with the team.
The CFC team preparing the immunizations.
One of the many boys that our team had the wonderful pleasure of seeing for a second time.
The same boy above in 2012.
Emily went above and beyond in her service. She did wound care, something most of us shied away from very quickly.