Feature

A Divine Appointment

Our vacation took an unexpected turn

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In August 2013, I took several days of vacation with Peggy Drake, my colleague at the Alliance clinic in Burkina Faso, West Africa. I went walking one morning to take pictures but did not want to get too close to the nearby village because I knew most of the residents would be observing the big feast after Ramadan, the month of fasting.

As I was wandering in the fields, I met three boys between the ages of 8 and 11. I photographed them but soon had another idea. Besides my “big” camera, I carried an old smaller one as a back-up. None of them had ever touched a camera before. I showed the oldest how to take a picture and then posed with the other two boys. They all got a turn and loved it—and so did I.

I soon learned, however, that the oldest boy, Moumouni, was a bôbô, as the younger boys called him—the Jula word for one who is born deaf and consequently cannot speak. He was bright, but for a village child like him, the chances of going to school are slim.

The kids asked me if I would buy them some rice since it was a feast. I had some money tucked away in my camera backpack, but I did not think it was wise to give it to them. I asked them if I could talk to their mother—so I ended up in the village anyway!

Instead of their mother, however, I saw two old men. I asked them if they would take care of the money and give it to the boys. They agreed, and I took off to the hotel.

The men sent the boys to accompany me down the path from the village, because that is the polite thing to do in Burkina Faso. On the way, the boys showed me their sheep and goats and again it was nice to be with them. At the hotel, I told Peggy what had happened and how sad I felt for the deaf boy.

The next day, Peggy joined me in the village, where we were invited to come inside a home. As I greeted the old man inside, I said, “But you are the one who handled the money matter for me!”

“Yes,” he said. “Yesterday you saw me at my brother’s house, but this is my house. Won’t you sit down and listen to me, and later you can take pictures.”

He confirmed that he had divided the coins among the children. “But,” he added, “one of them was my son. The deaf boy!”

“He is so smart,” I said.

The old man’s eyes lit up. “Yes, he is. Listen to me. I would like to send him to a school for deaf children, but I have no money.”

“Do you have two wives?” I asked.

“No,” he said.

“Three wives?” Peggy asked. He was silent for a while and finally admitted that he had four.

“No wonder you have no money!” I responded. We got a hearty laugh out of that—and so did the wives who were present.

He then ordered one of his daughters to search through his papers to find Moumouni’s birth certificate. In the meantime I told him that we were Christians, but that was not a problem for him. Finally, after the certificate had been found and I had photographed it, we were given the road. In Burkina one asks for the road if you want to leave someone’s house. It can be refused three times, but after that you can go. We received the road after the second time. He said that we had honored him and then handed us a bag with 10 eggs in it.

I wanted to photograph the sunset, and close to the road I saw a woman working in her field. It was Moumouni’s mother! “Please make an effort to help him,” she said. “I have only two children, and he is so bright.” I promised her that I would try.

Back in Bobo Dioulasso, where we live, Peggy went to see the director of the Christian boarding school for the deaf. “Moumouni is too old,” he said, “but I am willing to give him a chance.”

In the meantime I received an e-mail from a Dutch lady who told me that instead of presents for his 85th birthday, her father wanted people to give money for our work in Burkina. The amount he received was enough to pay Moumouni’s tuition!

The day before school started Moumouni came to town with his dad. The school was not ready to take him until the next day so we took them to the church guesthouse to spend the night. Right around the corner is an excellent African restaurant, run by a Christian lady, where they could eat. As we took them to school the next morning, the children were arriving and I received a crash course in sign language!

Although he has never been away from home before, Moumouni is adjusting well and is learning all he can. It is the chance of a lifetime to receive this type of education. Moumouni went home at Christmas break, and we visited his village once again to greet him. He is first in his class already!

Since Moumouni’s family follows the majority religion in Burkina, I asked his father if I could give the boy a Bible for Easter. He told me the gift was “no problem.” “Besides,” he continued, “Moumouni has already said that he does not want to follow “my road” but this road—and he made the sign of the cross on his chest. It seems that Moumouni has decided already that he wants to be a Christian, and his father has no problem with that either!

Peggy calls this story “the Divine appointment.” Our prayer is that Moumouni will not only learn to read and write but, above all, open up the whole village for the gospel!

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