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A child flies a kite made from discarded plastic bags. Toddlers stretch their arms toward me, their eyes begging for me to pick them up. A never-ending drum beat advertises a wedding celebration a few houses away. Scores of people gather in a neighboring house for the six-month-anniversary prayer gathering to remember the deceased, the women cooking huge pots of rice and beans over charcoal fires. Barefoot boys play soccer in what looks like a deserted lot strewn with half-buried rocks. The traffic consists of donkey carts, women carrying oversize bundles on their heads, and students chattering or driving motos as they pass by on their way to the vocational school next door.
It is mid-afternoon, and these are my experiences on the first day of my return visit to Ase Mali Orphanage in Bamako, Mali. It is situated in Sebenikoro, one of the poorer quartiers on the outskirts of the capital city. I have come to see my friend Bibi, who runs this orphanage through prayer and donations, without public funding.
There is a church in Iowa that has taken the orphanage on as their project, securing sponsors for 140 children and raising funds for specific needs in addition to that. They have poured their hearts into this work, and they have been generous at every turn. Their second annual delegation left a few days ago.
It is a tricky relationship. While there are kite-flying and soccer playing children, people who work and study and mourn and celebrate on every continent, the cultures in Iowa and Mali differ with one another in significant ways. Communication falters predictably. Accountability and methods must be ironed out. Patience is critical on both sides.
My relationship with the orphanage is simple: I am a friend and supporter of the director, period. By contrast, the congregation has jumped in with both feet, and they are learning as they go. Victories are photographed and enumerated in grateful prayers to God. Mistakes and misunderstandings are painful. This is the messiness of cross-cultural ministry. What the project will look like in five years will be interesting to see. For now, God’s provision and guidance are unmistakable.
But Bibi was here, loving and feeding the children before anyone noticed. Slowly, people
with financial means in France, Britain, and other countries found their way to a project tucked far behind the street-side, ramshackle stalls of a city and country struggling to survive. They have opened their hearts and their wallets to feed and care for the children here. The work will go on, thanks to Bibi, thanks to God who is showing her and her supporting friends in Europe, Iowa, and Africa how to nurture these petits who are oblivious to their nation’s place on the global GDP charts.
Like the child who picks up a plastic bag and sees material for a kite, Bibi and her friends make a life for these little ones out of what they have at hand. God has multiplied their efforts. It is working.
Meanwhile, the goats range over the garbage in the street, apathetic to the wedding or funeral observances, or growing children, or dreams of soccer stardom.
Tomorrow, if the wind is right, I expect to see that kite again.