Laughter, smiling faces, running bodies, mass of arms and hands reaching to hug and touch our skin. This is what I remember the most about Africa. The children were orphans. Left by parents dying of AIDS, too poor to take care of them, strung out on drugs, killed by tribal violence, or many of the other terrible ills that plague the 3rd world country. Yet, these children were smiling. And not just smiling, they were full of joy. You could tell by their glowing faces, laughter, and energy that they enjoyed life to the fullest. They had nothing but the clothes on their backs, the children’s home, and each other yet, they did not seem to care about their unfortunate situation. They did not compare their situations with others and grow envious. They lived in the moment, playing with a rubber ball or whatever little they could find as toys.
Two men were taken to prison unjustly. Yet, in the middle of the night they were singing and praying. These two men were Paul and Silas. Other times in the Bible the Apostles were imprisoned and they could not be stopped from singing, praying, and writing encouragement to the churches.
Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” -Matthew 19:14. I think going to Africa and seeing these children helped me understand this verse a little more. Children are innocent, curious, joyful, and hopeful. They have not yet been taught to play the comparison game, what someone else has over them. Children do not yet know that certain things like money, power, fame, etc. are supposed to make you happy and not having them is supposed to make you sad.
The apostles seemed to have learned these lessons well. Even when they should have been at their lowest of low, hunted and tortured by the Roman Empire, they were praising God. They learned that the Kingdom of Heaven is the only reward with lasting meaning. The Kingdom of heaven is found in the fruits of the spirit: love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. By practicing these things we can also become like children and be joyful through any circumstance. I pray that we do. Our country desperately needs these things.
(originally published in the newspaper The Post Dispatch on 10/14/19)