By Stephen & Gill Davies
Echoes International mission workers Stephen and Gill are based in Tanzania, where they are involved in work with children. Together they share how their Day Care Centre ‘Watoto wa Thamani’, supported by God’s love, is making a real difference to local children’s lives.
The Lord Jesus said, “Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not; for of such is the kingdom of God” (Mk. 10:14). He is the only one who can make a life-changing difference to each precious child, if their hearts are receptive to the gospel of salvation and they put their faith in Him.
In Tanzania one might think that the Bible verse, ‘…children are a heritage from the Lord; the fruit of the womb a reward’ (Ps. 127:3) has been taken as a motto for life, as large families seem to be the norm. Often children are thought of as an investment for the future, to support their parents in their old age when they are no longer able to work and therefore need their family around them. Although this mentality is slowly changing, particularly in the major cities, with improving education and the increasing costs of bringing up a family, there are still hundreds of children around at all hours of the day and night. From a young age, they are trained to fetch and carry, care for younger siblings and do general chores. To an outsider, there might appear to be a lack of love and care. In the cities, many children work the traffic queues begging for themselves but more often for an adult hidden from view. Out in the villages children can be found working in the fields or sitting in the dirt playing with sticks and stones, while some ingeniously use bottle tops, and other discarded bits and pieces, to create their latest push-along toy. Clearly, they have creative and inquisitive minds but lack opportunities and stimuli to develop. Due to poverty and other cultural factors, many, and particularly girls, miss out on a full and rewarding education.
“The Lord has resourced WWT beyond our wildest expectations.”
We saw many children around us ‘having no hope and without God in the world’ (Eph. 2:12), and these observations tugged at our hearts. A gift we received out of the blue, ‘to build your kindergarten’, prompted us to look for a plot of land and led to the building of a day-care centre. We called it Watoto wa Thamani (WWT), meaning Precious Children, to remind everyone that the children of Tanzania, and all children, are precious. They are precious to the Lord Jesus, who took them in His arms and blessed them. He also used children as examples to an older generation of the need for humility and the simplicity of genuine faith.
In May 2009, WWT opened its doors to 25 children from disadvantaged, poor and vulnerable families in Kinzudi village. Having the support of the local village officials and the backing of the Department of Social Welfare, with whom we are registered, each January we have accepted an additional 25 children, aged four, to be looked after over a two-year period, prior to starting primary school. Through their Monday-to-Friday morning sessions, we aim to teach them to count, read and write, so that they can pass the necessary entrance exams for primary school. The Lord has resourced WWT beyond our wildest expectations, touching hearts and guiding us to create a rich environment for learning and play, inside and out. Having freedom over our curriculum means that each day begins with an assembly of choruses, prayer, Bible stories and learning Bible verses. Over two years, we cover all the major stories from the Bible. This approach is not hidden from the nominal ‘Christian’ and Muslim parents; they are clearly informed from the start that their children will be shown the love of God and hear the message of salvation through His Son. The remaining time is used to educate the children in literacy and numeracy, within a Christian atmosphere and ethos. All our Tanzanian carers are believers, as are some of our other catering and grounds staff. The children are also a channel to their parents and others in their homes. Each year, parents are invited to three special assemblies, as well as to a graduation, where the children show what they have learned; a clear gospel message is presented at every occasion. Each ‘graduate’ receives a Kiswahili Bible story book as a parting gift, to help them practise their reading.
The parents observe how we care for and interact with their children as we seek to build relationships with them. The distribution of free uniforms, blankets, cardigans, hats (knitted by supporters in the UK and elsewhere), and double-bed-size mosquito nets, are all practical ways of sharing the love of the Saviour with them.
They certainly know where to turn, even many years later, when tragedy or crisis hits the family. The death of a parent or sibling, the break-up of a family or other challenges, have all provided opportunities to witness and give practical help. One such child is Abdu. His mother is HIV positive and in very poor health. An on-going relationship with this neighbouring needy Muslim family, in which the grace and love of God has been shown, has seen her attending gospel meetings; however, as yet Abdu’s mother has not made a response of faith in the Saviour.
Recently, the older sister of a current WWT child, herself a mother who recently lost twins at birth, came seeking help for herself and her little girl. She is also HIV positive and the daughter of a local witch doctor, thus presenting a new opportunity to show the love of God and the power of the gospel. Where might this journey lead? How thrilling it was to see Bibi Joyce, the poor grandmother and guardian of one of our first WWT intake, being saved, baptised and added to the Kinzudi assembly, as a result of such contact and persistent prayer.
For the past 13 years, we have held a Kids’ Club. At first, on Mondays, Gill would teach in a woman’s backyard and then together we ran another on Thursdays, in a police housing compound close to the city centre. The freedom to hold such meetings is amazing; the only restriction is the occasional inclement weather, given that they are held outside. The ongoing phased demolition of the site and the relocation of families elsewhere has seen numbers drop from hundreds to around 60. However, while the opportunity remains open and precious children are attending, the work continues. Taking the time to share God’s Word and show them His love helps them understand that they do matter, they are important and precious in His sight.
Seeing so many children in Kinduzi village gave us a burden to start another Kids’ Club on Fridays, using the covered first floor of the WWT facility. We praise the Lord for the overwhelming response, as hundreds of children have poured into the meetings. Their singing lifts the roof and their enthusiasm for learning God’s Word lifts the spirits, even if we are flagging by the end of the week! They are attentive to the Bible stories, as is shown in the many eager hands raised to answer questions. When we have sufficient supplies, blankets are distributed, filled pencil cases given out and each one receives a hygiene pack, to make their lives a little happier. Girls as young as five or six years old come, carrying their younger siblings on their backs, and often stand at the back during story time, so that the youngsters do not distract others.
The children’s ability to recite Scripture passages is impressive and gives us the opportunity to reward them with a Bible, a Bible story book or colouring book in their own language. We have some prizes in basic English, when the older ones request them. Friday Kids’ Club has fed into the Kinduzi assembly Sunday school, as several children attend on Sundays, and sit through both the breaking of bread and the gospel preaching that follows. Some of their parents have also come to the Sunday meetings, to see what their children are experiencing; these are links in a chain, which we pray will lead to their salvation. May we count as precious every opportunity to preach the gospel, in such a way that children may hear and understand its message, and believe in the Saviour.
Yes, ‘the fields are indeed white already to harvest’ (Jn. 4:35), and we need to lift our eyes and look. However, while doing so, we must not forget the precious children at our feet who are part of His harvest. Some people may look on such outreach as being less strategic than other methods, and indeed we may never see fruit from the incorruptible seed of the Word of God that has been sown in their hearts over many years. However, we look forward with joy to eternity when many a surprise will be revealed, for ‘of such is the kingdom of God’.
Praise God for the freedom to evangelise children, and for the children’s enthusiasm to learn and memorise God’s Word.
• that more believers would embrace the vision and engage in children’s ministry
• for continued enjoyment and safety with such large numbers involved
• that the seed of God’s Word might fall into good ground and bear fruit