Missions Spotlight

by Christian Aid

It is expected in Western culture that little children enjoy some kind of childhood, but a South African ministry is reaching out to children who have virtually no childhood whatsoever. Some of these are children of the Basarwa tribe. The Basarwa were hunters who for generations roamed the Kalahari Desert of Botswana. When it was made a national game reserve, the Basarwa were removed and herded into less than a dozen villages outside their traditional hunting ground. Then these people who had never planted a grain of anything in their lives were suddenly told to become farmers. It was not to be. Along came the Tswana, a domineering tribe who virtually enslaved the Basarwa as cattle herders. So instead of hunting and living off the land, they found themselves putting in long days of tedious labor to earn barely $7 or $8 per month-and they dared not even drink the milk of the cattle they herded, lest the calves not have enough. They used to drink a non-alcoholic beer, but the Tswana introduced to them alcoholic beer, and sugar (which they had not used before) so they could make their own brew. Now the men who have nothing to do all day sit around and drink beer, and give it to their children. The men are drunk most of the time, and the children often are too intoxicated to stay awake in school. Idleness and close living quarters also breed immorality, and many fathers violate even their own daughters-though no one says anything about it in the daylight. Some girls are married at a very tender age. The missionary met one 9-year-old girl who already had a baby. She went to school as a child during the day, and then went home and played the role of mother at night. Her husband is 27. He "bought" her with a barrel of beer. Working among these cast-off members of the human race is Evangelical Rural Mission (ERM), headed by Dewald van den Berg from South Africa. He has trained local women missionaries to work among them. "Only women workers are trusted with the children," Dewald says. ERM gives them special training to recognize and minister to traumatized children. The women hold one-hour Bible clubs called "Children Harvest Gatherings" with the children once a week. They meet under a tree or in any particular place in a village, anywhere the children will feel safe. "We call them Jesus Houses," Dewald says. The teachers often ask the children, "Do you dream?" The children, if they answer at all, will say they have only bad dreams. Nightmares! They don't want to talk about them. According to Dewald, the children of Africa know only what they can see by looking down at the ground on which they walk. Most have never been out of their own village area. Ask them what they want to be and you draw a blank stare. They don't know how to answer such a question. They have no vision, no dreams. "We teach them to dream," Dewald says. One of the ways he counters this void is by using ViewMaster viewers. "One look at some of those pictures and a child goes crazy with delight," Dewald says. "He has never seen such things; he can't put it down." That, coupled with Bible stories and teaching them about Jesus, helps them to start dreaming. "We're building hope," Dewald says. There are millions of such children in Africa. Dewald says his ministry currently is reaching out to about 3,000 of them in a half-dozen countries in southern Africa. To learn more about this ministry to children without a childhood, write insider@christianaid.org and put MI-327 598-ERM in the subject line.