Those Little Heroes

OK, since travel is still up in the air, I thought I’d take you on a virtual trip back to Africa today, that is, if you’ve gotten over your jet lag from last week’s visit to Japan. I hope one day soon we’ll be able to REALLY get on a plane! It’s frustrating and at the same time encouraging to know that here in Queensland, with a population of over 5 million, we’ve had only 7 deaths to Covid, and one of those seems to be directly related to a glitch in the vaccine. Yeah, we’ll step up eventually for the “jab” as they call it here, but only because we want to have the airline’s approval to fly.

In the meantime, we still have our memories, and with the internet, can ‘travel’ all we like.  I talked for an hour with my sister, over 10,000 miles away, and it didn’t cost a cent! Life is good.

So back to Africa.  As you probably know, Tony & I spent our first overseas assignment in Zambia, central Africa, doing church and youth work, as well as teaching school.  We were 23 and 25, and had applied for a post in Switzerland or else someplace exotic like Bali, but the International Mission Board sent us on a much greater ‘adventure’ to Africa.  I’m sure it was a “God thing”, because we fell in love with the continent, doing two more “stints” in West Africa and Ethiopia, until we deemed ourselves too old for any more such adventures.

But I digress.  Here’s our ‘Heroes” for today:

This time instead of some famous names you may know, these were two eight-year-old boys, Claridge and Noah.

When we arrived in Zambia, we set out to convert the enclosed porch of our house into a “Youth Center”.  We lived in a home normally provided for British employees of a local copper mine. It looked like something out of an old Humphrey Bogart movie, with a screened-in porch around two sides, making it perfect for the task. We scrabbled together a ping pong table, a dart board, some Gospel leaflets and set up shop.

No youth came. We discovered that most of the young people we met in the surrounding churches worked every day, and besides had no way of traveling from their villages into Luanshya.

But we found no shortage at all of the “little neighbors” who lived and played all around us. After a few days of hesitation, they came, and they came in waves. From daylight every morning to well after dark, they were on our doorstep, on our porch and soon, in our hearts. Living in town, most of them spoke English and loved to practice it on us.

It didn’t take long to find the prime movers in the group: Claridge and Noah. Unlike the rest of the children, they considered themselves part of our family, to the point that we finally had to devise a flash card system for the front door. If the card was green, come on in! A yellow card meant, “Knock if you have business, but otherwise the center is closed. A red card meant “Even if the house is on fire, DO NOT KNOCK!” This worked for some of the kids, but Claridge and Noah happily disregarded them and continued to make themselves at home. And, I have to admit, we loved it, and them.

They were also a huge help in our study of the local Chibemba language. We would struggle for hours, often shouting out in frustration, “But why can’t I say it like that??” to which they would answer calmly, “Because it’s wrong.” Other times they just looked at us and giggled.

Fortunately, even though we never mastered the language very well, we managed acceptably, thanks to the ever-present Claridge and Noah. It wasn’t until later, when we got to Japan, that the language came between us and food, and we had to knuckle down and get serious.

But those “little neighbors” came faithfully, and our youth center thrived, becoming something like an ‘every day Sunday School’ where kids could come play a game, have a snack and learn about Jesus. Two years later, when it came time to leave, we were so sad, knowing that we’d probably never be back. There were no missionaries to replace us, so the house reverted back to the mine and the youth center was a thing of the past.

Now, fast forward about 20 years. We were in Japan, and I got a letter, forwarded to us by the International Mission Board.

“Dear Mr. Tony’, it began. “Do you remember me? This is Noah.”  Of course we remembered him.  He continued, “A few years ago, Claridge and I had been out drinking and fighting like we always did on Saturday nights. We called ourselves the “Fight Boys”, and were proud of how bad we were.

But one Sunday morning, I awoke out in the field, sleeping off the night before. It was still dark, but I heard someone walking by.  He was whistling that tune you taught us so many years before, “Jesus loves me, this I know”. Something in me stirred. I got to my feet, and found a church. Now I’m training for the ministry and wanted you to know.  Please pray for Claridge, he needs to remember Jesus too.”

In the words of a friend, “You just can’t make this stuff up.”  Claridge did remember. He came to Jesus, and today both of those boys are GODLY men. Noah is a Pastor, and Claridge is a leader in industry, looking forward to early retirement so he can preach the Gospel.

Thanks to the internet, we are able to keep in touch with them, pray with them and rejoice as God blesses them and through them blesses Africa as well.

Isn’t God just SO FAITHFUL!!

I hope you all have a blessed week. I hope you find some little ones to be heroes to you!


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