The village kids fight more than the children from the center. They fight for attention, they fight over food, they fight fight fight.
The Makua tribe, among whom we live here, is much more aggressive and confrontational than the Shangaan tribe, among whom I lived in Maputo- so it´s been quite a shock to come face to face with such a different cultural mindset. Initially, when I saw children fighting, my instinct was to intervene. I had seen Mozambican discipline in Maputo, and ignorantly assumed it would be much the same here in Pemba. Not so. In Maputo, children obey to women who speak authoritatively. In Pemba, the children turn on the women to put her in her place. It´s amazing how even young boys command women to obey them, but that is the cultural model. Women are chattel. Men are masters. Needless to say, I´ve been asking the LORD how to behave in this context. For the most part, I have stopped intervening in the fights- rather calling a man to do something- but I don´t allow the men or young boys the satisfaction of commanding me. A local pastor told us soon after we arrived that the LORD has changed so much in his marriage. I was encouraged to hear him preach one morning about how men should value women and love their wives. It will truly take a move of the Spirit to break through these cultural norms.
One day last week, I intervened very cautiously in a fight between some younger village boys. They had hurt a little girl, and as she lay in the sand crying, I began to console her and challenged the boys to tell me what the situation was all about. They began to tell me how the girl had ¨provoked¨ them. Even the slightest provocation in the Makua culture always seems to lead to an even greater retaliation. So, if I bump somebody in line for dinner, they turn around and shove me. If I betray a trust or say something bad about somebody, I receive a witchdoctor´s curse or a death threat. (Even now, there are outstanding death threats on several of the leaders of Iris Ministries. Please pray for them.) Vengeance is a cultural value here.
Upon hearing them cite ¨provocation¨ as the reason for kicking the little girl down into the sand, I began to walk them through Jesus´ sermon on the mount. These little boys come to church each week, and are used to hearing about Jesus since they spend so much time at the children´s center. They listened and laughed as I talked about turning the other cheek. As I moved on through the teachings, however, they paid closer attention- then, one of the boys, Roberto, challenged me, ¨If you love Jesus, you will give me the shirt you´re wearing because I don´t have one.¨
Even though that was NOT the lesson I had intended to communicate, I knew he was right. So I went back into the house, changed t-shirts, and took him the one I had been wearing. As I brought the t-shirt to Roberto, I felt a bit self-righteous. ¨Ah, look at me. Here I am, living the sermon on the mount.¨ Kudos to me, right? Whatever! I was only doing it out of compulsion, and besides that, I found myself in an interesting bind, because I knew that giving to one had set the precedent for the remaining four boys. I took a mental census of the shirts in my suitcase. Two more t-shirts plus the one I was wearing and three nice shirts (that were very feminine). The four boys were Adriano, Mussagi, Mussa, and Amade.
Ah, this is really quite an embarrassing story that I´m telling on myself. I didn´t want to give to those boys. I was frustrated with them. I was tired of their constant bickering and coming along and grabbing me when I was walking across the center. I was fed up with their constant begging. I was tired of them getting angry with ME when I would tell them to get home at night before dusk (it´s not safe to walk at night here- especially for children). I desperately wanted to feel God´s love for them, but all I could see was the defiant expression on their little faces, dirty from fighting in the sand. I knew they needed to receive God´s love, but all my mind kept saying was, ¨Even if you gave in love, they would receive in defiance.¨
As I suspected, the four boys looked at Roberto wearing his new t-shirt, then back at me and said, ¨And me? Give me a shirt.¨
Frustrated, I retreated to the church. There was a seminar on contextual Bible study going on there, and so I told the children I would talk to them after the class. I needed time to reflect and pray.
God was gracious to me, allowing me to see another side to those boys. Toward the end of the seminar, Adriano, Mussa, and Amade wandered into the church and sat down beside me. Taking my pen and notebook, the boys took turns doodling. While I half-listened to the teaching and half-wrestled with myself, they drew flowers and people and smiley faces. They made lists of their names and asked me how to spell mine. Amade drew a picture of me- as a Mozambican woman. In that moment, they were no longer the antagonists in my self-focused story. They were just kids. Dirty, shabby, and disheveled kids. Kids with thoughts and ideas and dreams. Unique kids with physical, emotional, and spiritual needs that were used to being overlooked and repressed.
Anyway, in the end, I gave my three t-shirts to Adriano, Mussa, and Amade. Honestly, I gave in the wrong spirit. I did not give joyfully. I gave because I was convinced I should. But, I invited the LORD to keep working on my heart, and He did.
Two days later, Mussagi, the fourth boy, came up to me and asked if he could have a t-shirt. I told him honestly that I didn´t have a shirt to give him. But, I wrapped my arm around his shoulders, looked into his deep brown eyes and said, ¨Mussagi, when I have a shirt to give you, you will get it- because you are special and I love you.¨
LORD, keep teaching me to love. Practically. Truly.
-Please pray that the LORD will help me continue to connect with these boys in meaningful ways.