Thursday, December 18, 2008

Not in South Africa anymore

I'm dreaming of a white Christmas. Brazilians stick cotton balls on their trees. South Africans spray 'snow' in the corners of shop windows to simulate what they see of the Northern Hemisphere. But this year we get the real thing and lots of it. It was twenty-four degrees below zero Farenheit last week. (That's thirty-three below Celsius.) Today feels almost balmy at ten above (negative twelve Celsius). (Well not quite...) I look outside my window and know I am not in South Africa any more.

(I am trying to figure out a new computer so you probably won't hear from me again until after the holidays.)

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Jesus and the sick children

A few months ago a community nurse in Malawi wrote Hannelore, the children’s ministries champion for our mission (SIM), asking for pictures of Jesus with African children.

“I work as a community nurse,” Helen wrote, “visiting the sick and handicapped in their homes...around Blantyr, Malawi.... About one quarter of my patients are children, some of them orphans, some are handicapped, and some are living with HIV. Just two weeks ago one of my children, a girl of 13, died from severe heart failure.” As well as monitoring the child physically, Helen and her colleagues had told her about Jesus, his desire to be her Saviour and to take her to heaven.

Helen was hoping to find a picture of Jesus with a sick child. She wrote, “I would like to be able to give a picture to each sick child, so that they have a visual reminder that Jesus cares for them.”

The letter was forwarded to me since she also asked for a book “about an African child who is suffering from AIDS.... if there is one.” I was able to refer her to Lindiwe’s List for books about HIV/AIDS for African children, but none of those books contained a picture of Jesus with a sick African child.

Hannelore informed me that there were some funds available. I have been an active member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators in South Africa, so I posted an invitation on their site. From the illustrators who applied, we chose Siobhan Blundell . Just because she lives in Africa doesn’t mean that Siobhan has first-hand contact with black African culture. It took some going back and forth for her to understand that we didn’t want an upper-class, suburban African home.

Helen had some specific ideas of what she wanted: a mat, not a bed; mosquito netting as an important part of fighting malaria. It wasn’t hard to make the child in the picture pass for either a boy or a girl since children of either gender often wear very short hair. We wanted a cross to be a reminder of how great Christ’s love is and what he has done to make it possible for the sick child to join him in heaven. Siobhan worked it beautifully into the window and surrounded it with the light of hope.

The picture is finally finished and will soon be available for workers all over Africa to download to use with children. We anticipate posters in clinics and small cards to send home with sick children as Helen originally dreamed. We may even print note cards as a fund raiser for supporting churches. But the most important part is that sick African children understand that they aren’t forgotten. Jesus, who healed the sick when he walked the earth, who shared their suffering when he died, who blessed the children; this Jesus wants to adopt them into his own forever family.