Feature

Tracks

Thieves can’t stop a new boys’ center in Senegal

By

Sweat was already dripping from my forehead, splashing into the dusty footprints on the ground. I had started following the tracks early in the morning along with one of my workers. The footprints clearly belonged to a young man in his teens wearing broken plastic shoes—possibly one of the older talibe boys we are trying to help at the training center we are building. The tracks led across a popular field used for soccer. Thirty minutes later we found the trail again on the other side.

Our Alliance mission started building the Way of Righteousness Vocational Training Center in St. Louis, Senegal, more than a year ago to help young men gain job training, the ability to read and write and, we hope, the way to eternal life. We were immediately blessed with overwhelming support from churches in America as funds and short-term teams came pouring in.

But the work is tedious on this large two-story building that encompasses three properties. Each item has to be handmade—from the bricks to the windows and doors. Often there are not enough materials, so we work in small teams on one section at a time.

Lately, the site has been plagued with theft. Despite two guards, a dog, neighbors and one frustrated international worker, thieves have hit us and our neighbor five times, stealing everything from hundreds of pounds of re-bar to the electrical wires in the concrete walls, which are ruined as the metal is ripped out. All this is sold for pennies on the scrap market. A month’s worth of work ruined for the price of a cup of coffee. The financial damage is not nearly as devastating as the time lost as the concrete walls and floors then have to be chipped away to reinsert the wire. The worst part of it all is that the perpetrators are just children.

Once I caught them in action. The local pastor and I glimpsed one, then two children scaling the walls of our neighbor’s courtyard. Soon, long thin bars of iron were being thrown over the wall. As the pastor ran up, he was stopped in his tracks; 20 or so children, most only five or six years old, were busily breaking up the re-bar and wire and stashing it in sacks. Like a scene from Dickens’ Oliver Twist, the gangs of little thieves were systematically stripping the place bare. These are the kids we are trying to reach.

Thousands of abandoned children roam the streets, sent by their parents to Islamic schools in the city at an age as young as four years. These talibe boys live with a Muslim teacher and spend their days begging and stealing in order to pay him a daily quota. If they do not make that quota, there can be dire consequences. After they turn over the daily payment, the boys return to the streets to beg for their food, clothes, soap and medicine. They have no practical education, no one to love them, no one to show them how to live and—unless something changes—no future. As they grow into men and can no longer beg, many search for odd jobs and some turn to crime.

Perhaps this was the case with the young man we were following. For weeks I worked to replace the temporary doors at the center with strong, permanent wooden ones. In my mind this would give us security. Yet this young man managed to steal our locked front door on the first night we installed it! His tracks disappeared at a corner leading to a busy street with four carpentry shops. My helper discreetly slipped into each one to search for our door, but it was not there. The tracks were gone, along with all my hopes of security.

Downcast I returned to the work site, where the pastor was waiting. He tried to encourage me, explaining that this is just life here, and then he chewed out a passing gang of talibe boys out to beg. One quickly responded, “No, no! We are center kids—we don’t steal!”

Center kids? They are referring to the crammed building on the other side of the neighborhood that currently hosts our church, a medical clinic, a Christian library and a school for girls. It also provides food, medicine, shoes and a chance to play sports for 200 talibe boys twice a month. These boys are taught that their Muslim teacher is their way to get into heaven, yet they are starting to define themselves by the Christian center they attend just a couple of times a month.

I lifted my head and was encouraged because I knew it was true. Center kids are different. They greet you in the street, they ask to help, they don’t throw rocks at cars, they are polite, they smile. The same center that the neighbors threatened to burn down when the church first built it years ago is now transforming the community around it. People no longer threaten; instead they talk about the blessings the center brings to the community. Parents send their girls to the school where we openly teach the Bible, and the Muslim leaders send their kids to the same place where we hold church and pray for them in Jesus’ name.

Despite the weariness of the day I smiled because I knew what I am doing has a purpose. We are bringing the light of the gospel to St. Louis neighborhood by neighborhood. In the face of all the obstacles, God will build His church here.

Squeezed Out

Building the new boys’ school involves more than just buying materials and directing the construction; it is about building relationships that last. I spend more than half my time sitting with men who live and work in the neighborhood. Often we talk about the school and our beliefs. During one of these visits a man shared a dream he had that greatly disturbed him.

In his dream he saw a great serpent fall from the sky. Its body was wide enough to fill the road, and it surrounded the city block. Although it was night, the street was filled with lamplight. But then the serpent slowly contracted, squeezing the buildings, and the lights went out, leaving the city in darkness.

To me the meaning was clear. Satan would love to stop what we are doing and end the lives that are changing. Like those lamps, we are small and fragile in comparison to the sea of darkness around us. But we know that the Son is coming and no darkness will stand against Him.

Please pray for the work that is being done here so that the light does not go out.

Past Alliance Life Issues

Share

Get Involved...

Pray.

We cannot “Live the Call Together” unless prayer is central to all we do.
Pray with us »

Serve.

Is God calling you to service? We’re here to help you connect your passion with God’s purpose.
Serve with The Alliance »

Give.

Help build Christ’s Church by supporting the ministry and workers of The Alliance.
Give today »