Creating A Playground! | Street Kids Ministry

by - 2:50 AM

Today was my first proper day in Zimbabwe, and after a hearty breakfast, I headed out with the missions team to the ONE Church compound in Avondale, where we discussed our plans for the day. ONE Church was founded by a few Zimbabwean pastors, and the pioneering pastor’s name is Pastor Sean. He is a white Zimbabwean and what strikes me most about him is his passion for the poor and the orphaned. He and his leaders truly have a heart that reaches out to those living in poverty.

He shared with us the three ways he is hoping to implement a practical approach to reaching out to the impoverished families and orphaned street children in inner Harare as well as in a township called Hatcliffe on the outskirts of the city. They cover the areas of Education, Business (or Entrepreneurship) and Medical Healthcare.

The first area is to pave the way for change in the younger generation of Zimbabwe through education. The last two weeks, they have been opening the church compound to a number of street kids who have come along, eager to ‘go to school’. As a result, they have been forming a vision and mission to start a street children ministry in the area. However, it is still in the works because they have to assess the needs as well as make the necessary preparations in order to meet those specific needs. In the mean time, a few of the church staff have been running a daily class that allows the street children to wander in if they would like to, and when they can. So at the moment, it starts roughly at 10AM, but the time fluctuates based on who comes along at what time. For most of the day, these kids would be milling about, wandering the streets, begging, selling miscellaneous stuff, or basically just doing nothing at all. Therefore the much better alternative is of course for them to come into a safe and loving place like the small school at ONE Church in order to learn something, improve their English, make new friends, and get a good meal. Eventually, Pastor Sean hopes that they would be able to integrate the children into a proper Zimbabwean school of which the church has had a hand in founding. We hope that this ministry will grow as the weeks pass and we begin to lay the foundation based on the vision that God has given Pastor Sean.

One of the strategies that we believed would be effective in drawing the street children and orphaned kids to this learning program is to design and build a playground area on a piece of land in front of ONE Church. When I first laid my eyes on the field – which I had not even noticed before it was pointed out to me – I couldn’t see it. What I mean by that is, I couldn’t see what Pastor Sean saw. While he saw immense potential in that weed-infested and rubble-ridden plot of land, I saw the challenges that would come with trying to create a playground in such a place – and with such little resources at that! But you know what, I soon learnt that God leads us to things that seem impossible to change, to things that are seemingly unworthy of our attention. And He challenges us to do something new with it, because He is a God of creativity, of making the former things new, of turning darkness into light, of transforming hopeless individuals into faith-filled men and women of God. I see it now. And when I began to actively rebuke that niggling voice that told me this was a waste of time, that it wouldn’t make a difference, that it was too much work, or that there were more important things to worry about – I found that I was soon able to hear what God was saying to me and teaching me through this.

God was teaching me through the people who had counted the cost, brought their families to this place, and made the commitment to follow Jesus and get the hard work done when it needs doing. God was teaching me through the attitudes of the people who didn’t have much resources at all compared to the churches back in places like Australia, but who were willing – ah yes, willing is the word! – to make their whole hearts, minds and bodies available to God so that they can serve many by starting with one in the simplest way. God was teaching me that for anything to happen, we need to first seek His vision. Then we need to be ready to put in the hard work to lay a solid foundation (that all in all, is laid on Christ Jesus our hope and salvation). Finally, we will need to pursue this God-given mission with all our strength and ability – surrendering to God every step of the way through trial and triumph alike.

Throughout the day, as we scoured the field for pieces of metal, wire, rubble, bricks and trash so that we could clean it up; as we drove all over town on our beat-up van to purchase wood, timber, hardware, tools and the like; as we dug out the stubborn weeds and cleared the land of any dangerous materials; as we designed a painting on an old boring side of the church wall (where I suggested to paint a rainbow!); I kept praying and saying to God, ‘Lord, I want to learn. Even though the doubts and critical spirit keeps coming back, I want to learn.’ And learn I did!

Most of us, being idealistic and passionate young people, start out with a grand scheme. But this vision is often too vague to actually be implemented when it comes down to the reality of things – and especially when you are thrown in an environment or culture that is different, and where there are numerous other obstacles to overcome. The initial grand-looking plan may turn out to be utterly baseless and useless when placed in the challenging context of the third world. Especially in the continent of Africa, it becomes ten times harder because of a myriad of other opposing factors that come into play – from big things like political or tribal conflict, to terrible infrastructure, to the lack of amenities, to the challenge of obtaining resources to get certain things done, to the stigma that is attached by the local people to the very ones you are trying to reach (like AIDS orphans, single mothers, street kids, or children with disability). It is never-ending, hey.

But here is where I learnt that I need to take a step back and I need to observe and learn from these incredible examples of faith who have already taken the tough steps out of their comfort zone to trust God and do their part. I just stand and listen in awe at some of these local Zimbabwean pastors and leaders, as well as the overseas missionaries who have brought their families to such a difficult and different environment all in order to obey God’s calling on their lives. It is so, so inspiring. At the same time, God is enabling me to see and learn from their responses to challenging circumstances or people. Their patience, kindness, gentleness, goodness and faithfulness to the very ones they are serving in the name of Jesus just blows my mind away and touches a deep part of my spirit. Dear God, I am willing to learn, and I am learning.

Another thing that helped me to grasp the vision that Pastor Sean and his church saw in desiring to reach the orphans and street children in practically loving ways, is when I noticed two street kids playing on a tottering makeshift slide that was balanced along a heap of rubble and red-orange sand beside the field we were working on. The boys appeared to be about 10 to 13 years old. I waved to them and went over to ask their names and introduce myself. As I walked over, I realized how much a simple playground would mean to many of the children in these parts. There is not a single colourful playground in this place. There are no proper slides, swings, monkey bars or seesaws. There are no fun places for children to go and spend their time safely. As the boys were excitedly tumbling down the teetering, rusty green slide, I realized that God himself knew what these kids needed. If I didn’t believe in the importance of a playground in such a place, and for children who have never played in a way that most other kids in Australia would have had numerous opportunities to do so in their childhood, then God would use someone else to help with that. God himself would make it happen – through those who were willing to see His vision, feel his heart, and lay the foundation with sheer hard work.

The two boys, in their brownish-black, grime-and-dust-stained clothing, gave me a wave and told me their names. Later, as I started painting the rainbow with a few others in our team, I looked back and saw the boys now perched on the mound heap, watching us poignantly with their chins in their hands. I wondered if they were wondering what the heck these people were doing and why they were doing it. I wondered if they felt the love and care that we had for them. I wondered if they could see too, that in the future, this place would be a beautiful, colourful, child-infested plot of land – brimming with smiling faces, laughter and children who were free from begging or wandering the streets of Harare. I could see it now. I saw the potential more than the problems that stood in the way of this mustard seed blossoming into the gigantic mustard tree of faith. I could see it now, and I believe in this God-given vision. Although at the present time, we do have to be willing to put in the hard work to lay that foundation in order for the future mission to be pursued in the long term.

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