Feature

A Grain of Hope

WIRED to share Christ's love

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What do you think about trying our own version of a 30-hour famine with our lock-in?” It started as an innocent question. Little did I know what would result from the answer over the next three and a half years.

Locking in on Purpose

In the past, our youth group (called WIRED) lock-ins were simply times to have fun together while staying up all night. Most of the WIRED members are missionary kids (MKs), but we also have several non-MKs that attend the International School (or other schools in the city). My question was meant to challenge our English-speaking youth group to make the lock-in meaningful.

Since we live in one of the poorest countries of the world, Burkina Faso, West Africa, raising money for a future food-distribution project among the poorest residents of our city, Ouagadougou, seemed like a natural choice. Instead of gathering at a home for a night of fun and games, the teens began fasting just after our weekly meeting and continued through the school day before joining together that evening.

burkinabe womenThe leadership team (LLAMA) added a time of worship and prayer for those we were reaching out to. WIRED membership numbered around 30 that year, but I doubted we would raise enough money to actually do a food distribution. But the teens collected just over $4,000, so I had to put out a late plea to the missionaries to help me find an appropriate place to distribute the food and someone to help us. This began a great partnership with ACCEDES, the relief arm of the national Christian and Missionary Alliance in Burkina, and a small church in one of the poorest areas of the city, Sector 30.

When we arrived at the church, our hearts were seared as we saw close to 300 people in line. Prior to the distribution, we had learned phrases in Mori (the local language) so we could greet the people and bless them when we handed them their bag of grain. As we did this, God carved a place in our hearts for them, forever changing how we looked at hunger and desperation.

The second year, we had fewer students in WIRED, but we were able to return to Sector 30 with an equal amount of food, again with the help of ACCEDES. We had a rain delay of more than an hour, so the students sang VBS/camp songs to pass the time, inadvertently providing entertainment for the crowd.

A Higher Goal

This year, as the LLAMA group began to plan, they decided to focus not just on the need for grain but also on the Burkinabés’ need for Christ’s love. The LLAMA students helped me select a topic for prayer in their small groups that was related specifically to the food distribution and the impact it would have on all involved for the seven weeks that we worked on it.

After last year’s distribution, the pastor of the Sector 30 church shared many stories of how our giving had opened doors for him. He met with the leader of the mosque in Sector 30 to explain why we gave grain to everyone, not just the “Christians,” which also resulted in the pastor sharing the gospel clearly with him. Several widows have started attending the church, and some Muslim children were given permission to attend a Christian school in the area. Countless other doors have opened into the hearts of many of the community who now see God’s love in a tangible way. The reputation of the church reflects this. But probably the most profound moment for me is seeing the faces of the WIRED teens and the Burkinabé people.

WIRED studentsThe first year I was very sick, so I sat outside and watched everyone’s faces—the looks of amazement from the Burkinabé at what these white KIDS were doing (it is culturally abnormal in Burkina for youth to give to others) and their smiles as they walked away that changed their entire posture!

But I also saw the faces of my teens. Many of them finally saw what hunger really does to a person—the pain is not only physical but also mental. I watched as the teens had to say no to people who stuck their hands through the slats covering the windows, begging for just a handful of grain to take home. Many students wept openly afterward. Probably the hardest thing to do is to walk away after you have made so many smile and still see so many who remain in need. Their faces often haunt us, cutting to the deepest part of our hearts.

This is the motivation that drives the students to raise more and more every year. The leaders had agreed on a faith goal of $5,000 for grain for this year’s distribution. I doubted they could raise such a large sum, but who was I to question their faith? The LLAMA leaders spent the weeks leading up to our lockin/30-hour famine praying and sharing their hearts with their small groups within WIRED. When we calculated the pledges, we praised the Lord—He had provided just over $5,000!

In the next three weeks, the actual funds slowly came in. As I began to add up the contributions, I was shocked—the total was more than $8,000! I decided to keep the amount secret until our next WIRED meeting a week away. During that time, more funds came in.

As we gathered the next Thursday, excitement was high. I asked each LLAMA group to guess the amount by using the figures from the final total—$9,786.44. Not one of the groups started with the nine until I gave them a hint. The students immediately began to shout with joy, sing to the Lord and lift their hearts in prayer. It was one of the sweetest times of praise I have had with these students. The moment will forever be seared on my heart.

Still more to do

That Saturday we gathered to distribute the grain. We always arrive early to prepare, and the students gather outside for training and a time of prayer. Most of the recipients are already there, watching this take place. When we arrived at the church, my heart leaped with joy at how the grounds had been transformed—the property had been turned into an area radiating hope and God’s love. The first year all that existed on this land was the church building itself and a hastily constructed structure beside it for temporary use. The “yard” was Burkina’s typical lifeless red-brown dirt.

In two years, the church building had more than doubled in size and seemed to sparkle. The dirt around the church had been transformed with small bushes that spelled out words of hope and love. A women’s center built as a community outreach was to be dedicated before the grain distribution, and groups of church members danced as they waited. ACCEDES had funded the planting of a large garden to be shared with the center, where women learn to harness the land and irrigate, helping them to provide for their families. My LLAMA leaders and I barely recognized this as the same place—God had answered our prayers far beyond our expectations and had infiltrated this community with the hope that comes only from Him!

The WIRED teens distributed grain to more than 600 families this year—an estimated 5,000 people received around 20 metric tons (about 22 tons US) of corn during a time when many Burkinabé are desperate.

As we left, we witnessed a heart-wrenching scene. Nearly 200 people were left in line after we had run out of grain. Hoping that someone would fill them, they threw their empty bags into the room where a few extra sacks of grain had been set aside for some who could not come. It is so easy for us to leave carrying that memory, yet we must also praise the Lord because He chose us to feed 600 families. The image of those who could not be fed will remind us of the great need that remains and the reason we sacrificed and gave. Our God knows the big picture, and we trust that He will supply in other ways those who did not receive grain from us.

The following week, as we were reviewing all that went into the food distribution, one precious junior high student asked, “So will our goal be $15,000 next year?” The question marked the difference this experience makes in their hearts. I find my own faith constantly challenged by these young people—what a joy to see beyond the limitations that often cloud my “adult faith.”

We found our prayer for this event in Mark 2:12: “He [the paralytic] got up, and took his mat and walked out in full view of them all. This amazed everyone and they praised God, saying, ‘We have never seen anything like this!’”

Note: If you or your youth group would like to partner with us in the coming year(s), we would love to see how God might stretch and change this ministry. Please contact me at lgiesige@kent.edu.

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