The freedom to dream

[notice]Musings around children’s ministry.[/notice]

“Let’s do it today. We’ll go to the squatter camp after work and make a start. Does that sound like a plan?”

I searched my mind for the appropriate excuse to get out of it but then the unthinkable happened.  I heard my own voice betray me and reply with the words, “Yeah that’d be awesome! Let’s do it!”

I’d just finished sharing with my colleague Jan about how I had dreamed the night before of collecting real life stories from people and documenting them. I enthusiastically explained that I especially wanted to hear from children what they thought of themselves and life. To be honest I shared the dream with little intention of following through immediately. I was thinking that in a few weeks once I had worn out my dream with a strong dose of ‘reality’ and ‘common sense’ that it would die a natural death and I could dismiss the whole thing as a pipe dream that was never meant to be. The Lord had other plans.

Singing with the chilfdren

Excitement started to rise in my heart as Jan and I packed the bakkie with the guitar and books to bless the children with. I wondered what the Lord would do with this little experiment of ours. We arrived as the children were finishing off their sports practices. They crowded around us and we started to sing with them, and shared a short message. As Jan engaged with the group, one particular boy stood out. Tebogo (15 years old) stood neatly dressed and spoke intelligently about his community. It is a wonderful coincidence that Tebogo turns out to share the Afrikaans surname with Jan my colleague!

Tebogo.

I asked Tebogo if I could chat with him after the message and he agreed to sit with me on the side of the soccer pitch for a few minutes. I took my camera out and asked him to tell me a little about himself. He talked about his family background, how he’s lost both parents and lived with his grandmother, how much he loves school.  He spoke about how the living conditions in the squatter camp are not right,

“We have to go and get wood all the time, and the toilets are not good”.

I asked about his future and he told me he wants to be a policeman when he grows up.

“A policeman” I asked, “why?”

“So that I can have a job and live better…and to protect people from strangers”

Passion of dreamer lacking
The second part to the answer seemed a little rehearsed — like he’d written an essay at school on “What I want to be when I grow up”.  As his voice rose and fell in a sing-song, predictable pattern I could tell he was relating previously ordered and acceptable thoughts. His speech lacked the passion you’d expect from a dreamer.

I asked him about why he wanted a job and he told me that when people don’t have jobs, “they suffer in a lot of things”.

That, he said passionately and I felt the weight of his experiences held in that sentence. While he was correct I felt sad that the blessing in work had been hidden from him. From the moment the Lord put Adam in the Garden of Eden he blessed him with work.  Work was always part of our purpose here on earth.

…When no bush of the field was yet in the land and no small plant of the field had yet sprung up—for the LORD God had not caused it to rain on the land, and there was no man to work the ground.   (Genesis 2:5 ESV)

Work and destiny
Those plants were to be food for all living creatures on the earth and Adam had a part to play in that. His work was deeply tied into his identity and destiny. The Lord says you will eat the fruit of your labour; blessings and prosperity will be yours. (Psalm 128:2, NIV)  When Tebogo looks around him he is confronted with people who work without enjoyment and simply for survival. He’s fifteen! When I was twelve I dreamed up far-fetched careers for myself that suited my passions and personality.

At various stages in life I wanted to be a singer, an actress, a paediatrician, a lawyer, a stay at home mother and wife, even a nun! The paradoxes in that combination did not concern me one bit — the future was bright and my eyes had to adjust to take all of the hope before me in. I wondered if policing was really Tebogo’s passion. I sensed deeply that he was compromising on his dreams to play it safe.

Nelson.

I sat and looked at this boy who discerned only one path for his future: a single path to meeting his most basic needs. It didn’t seem fair. My mind was still mulling over these things when another young boy named Nelson invited himself for an interview. He sat down and gave me a look that said: “Well, are we going to do this thing or not?”

I started by asking his name. From his answer I could see that this kid was not taking the whole thing very seriously.

“My name is Nelson Mandela ….Mandela-he’s my father”

Really I asked? “Do you know who Nelson Mandela is, really?”

“He’s the president…he did give us freedom”

“And what does freedom mean to you Nelson?”

“They give me money each month end, children-R100…my mother she takes it, swipes for it”

Taken aback
I was so taken aback by his answers that I quickly wrapped up the conversation and stunned, watched him run off with his friends. What was happening here? How did Nelson come to believe that the government owes him money for simply being a child? What destiny is there in such an identity? You will eat the fruit of your labour; blessings and prosperity will be yours…

I’m struck that children like Tebogo and Nelson aren’t afforded the luxury of freedom to dream.

As I write this my heart is burning with the burden to see dreams restored to every child in this land. These thoughts have energised my efforts in my capacity at Reaching a Generation to see transformation happen in the lives of children in Africa. As we offer children hope in Jesus I believe He’ll lead them into a greater purpose than simply working for a salary.

So where do we start? We start by introducing children to Jesus. Then we unlock our imaginations and ask every child we encounter, “What are your dreams for the future”? That done we labour in prayer that the Lord would watch over them and keep their dreams alive.

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