This past spring, I (Mike) was privileged to work with some friends of ours who set up a camp/conference during the week of mourning in Rwanda. Their ministry (called ‘Hagari’ the kinyarwandan name for Hagar) involves working on a daily basis with women who have been (or still are) involved in prostitution as a means of making a living. (These are the same ladies we have done cooking lessons with.) They work to convince these women that there is a better way to live and to bless them with the dignity they deserve as cherished children of God and women of value. They also help those who desire to leave the lifestyle to find work and learn skills that will give them opportunities for alternate employment.
So, during the mourning week, the country stops everything and gathers together to remember, learn, grow, and grieve the trauma of the genocide in 1994. Our friends felt inspired to have a conference of teaching, food and fellowship. They hoped it would be a blessing to the women because often the grieving becomes unhealthy brooding in isolation. They wanted to bring healthy grieving in the midst of fellowship and community. The women have children that they bring with them to the functions of the ministry. So in the afternoons, after teaching and food, the kids would come from the home/ministry base to the large soccer field at the YWAM campus (where we live).
I asked if I could help with the kids activities and was soon drawn into the afternoon play. Monday, the first day, there were about 115 kids who showed up with their mothers. By Wednesday, there were about one 180 kids altogether (word spread fast that there was free food and organized play). By Friday, the last day of the conference, there were over 220 kids playing games with us! I was astounded to see that many kids in one place, filling up an entire soccer field!
I was given some time over the course of three days to teach three new games for them to play. Fortunately, my translator was very patient and willing to demonstrate (in an exaggerated fashion) the actions of the games. We ended up playing the same three games each day because the learning curve was pretty steep in such a mob and because, as most who have young children know, they can play the same game umpteen times and still never tire of it!
As with anything involving that many children, the activities would inevitably break down into chaos where the only thing I could explain to them to play (mostly through body language and my poor kinyarwandan) was a game I later named ‘chase the mzungu’. (‘Mzungu’ is a word that typically means foreigner or white guy.) After things broke down into small groups doing random things: playing soccer, Frisbee, jump rope, cartwheels, etc. I would be mobbed by 30 to 40 kids who wanted to touch my arms or beard (because I look very different). I would then shout something to distract their attention and then bolt to the other end of the field…trailed shortly thereafter by fifty or sixty shouting 8-12 year-olds. They would catch/mob me and eventually the process would start all over again, each time the kids becoming more wary and ready for my escape. All in all a fun and exhausting way to spend the afternoon!
One side effect to all this fun, was the mothers became interested in the games. Typically the adults leave the kids to entertain themselves and don’t engage in much play with their children. By Wednesday the women were hurrying to finish lunch cleanup so they could get to the soccer field and join in the games we were playing. They got to enjoying it so much, that I received stories of the ladies talking about it for the next two weeks! It was so encouraging to see the kids (who already smile and laugh easily) and the women (who smile some and laugh less) enjoy themselves so much at the games. I think I witnessed first hand what Isaiah 61 describes Jesus is about: proclaiming good news to the poor, binding up the brokenhearted, proclaiming freedom for the captives, comforting all who mourn, bestowing on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.