If I had grown up in Akramaman Village where we run reading camp, at my preschool graduation I would have stood on the open air stage and in my biggest big girl voice and announced to the world, “MY NAME IS REBEKAH AND I AM 5 YEARS OLD!” My family would be in the audience and would be so very proud. Here I am, a little village girl, at graduation. It may be the only graduation I ever attend.
Growing up in a village where my parents must eek out a living, there is little time or energy for channeling an inquisitive mind. Books are almost non-existent. I will go on to primary school, and if I do well and do not get discouraged, I may even go on to junior secondary school. This year only four students graduated from class eight at Akramaman Junior Secondary School, junior high. No one passed the entrance exam for high school. It is very hard to pass the exam on technology when our only instruction has been done with a drawing the teacher made on the black board. Sciences are difficult, too, as we have only the teacher’s book and no student books, no test tubes, no beakers, no supplies of any kind.
In the face of such desperate poverty and need, what good does it do for a team of American teens and adults to sweep in for five days of reading camp? What fruit is produced in the 60+ children who participate, and for those who can only watch from the outside and wish?
We come not to bring reading skills so much as a mind set that says, “You have a future and a hope; you are precious and we love you; you matter to God so you matter to us.” We come to love and laugh and share the joy that God has placed within us. We come to elicit shy smiles and giggles, waving hands and cheers, to cultivate a love for learning, and yes, success in reading. We come because Christ calls us to live outside ourselves, to be his light in the darker, sadder, harder places of the world. And we do succeed. We see it in the eyes of the children, and in their smiles. We see it when their faces light up at success, and as they experience the joy of learning and creating and just being children who, for the moment, can trust that their needs will be met.
As this year’s reading camp team left camp on the last day, many eyes were shining; some glistening with tears, some with unshed tears, some with the hope that we will return, all with the knowledge that this has been a blessed time when heaven came down and touched the earth, where hearts and hands were joined in a bridge that spans oceans and continents.
“Oh Jesus friend of sinners, Open our eyes to a world at the end of our pointing fingers.
Let our hearts be led by mercy. Help us reach with open hearts and open doors. Oh Jesus friend of sinners break our hearts for what breaks yours.” (Casting Crowns)
Jesus has broken my heart for these beautiful children. I pray that he breaks yours for them as well. The Rev. Becki Neumann+ Rector, South Riding Church, Anglican