By Emily

They stare into a labyrinth of tubes and wires, a straggle of boys in rags and bare feet, here in Kindia, Guinea. They circle the hood of the car that has carried us from Sierra Leone through multiple checkpoints, where police peered into our windows, ignored documents, and emptied the pockets of the drivers.

Just one day before, we were dancing and laughing. Just one day before we were celebrating in a church decked out in white sheets and balloons, the air a mix of perfume and sweat.

Just one day before we were handing out diplomas to young men like Thomas*, who told us how he’d paid his own transport to take the HarvestTime exams, how he’d studied all twenty-one courses by scrolling through the text on his phone, and how he was now going to teach the curriculum to the men and women of his city.

We’d eaten rice and chicken, the oil dripping down our fingers. A big man sitting in the back had bellowed out songs, while the drums beat and feet stamped and hands clapped.

Now, we droop like wrinkled banana leaves. It isn’t our first breakdown. Guinea has been hard. The sun drains us with its heat, and wide-leafed palms seem to mock us, refusing to share their shade. A woman, garbed in colorful African fabric, sits with her feet stretched out beneath the tin roof of the garage, as though she’s relaxing on a comfortable mat, not surrounded by spilled diesel and old tires.

A young boy in cut-off pants reaches into a rusted tool kit to hand wrenches and sockets to the only mechanic around, who bangs on things in the engine while the sun glares overhead, a red, pulsing blister.

And then I remember to pray. Not for the car – we’ve covered that, for many miles. No, rather, to pray for the boys that peer at me beneath brown lashes, the ones that circle the hood, the ones whose lives were bought with the precious blood of Jesus.

It’s a Muslim country, and the Islam here isn’t friendly. Our brother, the director of Lulu Guinea, has been telling us about the persecution.

One evening, while his wife heated bath water for us over a charcoal fire, we ate fried egg sandwiches on crusty bread as he told us how he hadn’t slept the night before because Sonnel’s car was parked outside his front door. People here have set fire to vehicles just because they’re parked outside the home of a believer. Because Christians here are despised for their dancing like Michal with King David.

Our director told us how new converts stay hidden beneath hijabs and keep going to the mosque, praying to Christ on their mats instead of to Allah — until they are brave enough to die. Because that’s often what happens when they take off the hijab and stop bowing on the rug.

A little boy runs past where I’m seated on a rock, and when he looks at me, his face breaks into a big white grin – a moment of pure joy. Then he races away to catch up with a friend who’s kicking a soccer ball.

The call to prayer crackles across giant speakers, and I cry there on the rock, for all the boys of Guinea, the ones who don’t know, who haven’t heard, who’ve never danced.

“Jesus vous aime,” I tell the boys as we prepare to leave in our fixed car, and light breaks across their faces, and they all smile, their hands waving like brown flags.

Sometimes breakdowns happen so we will break down — and slow down long enough to really see the lost ones of the world, to weep for those who’ve never danced, and to whisper a word of hope.

And we pray that every seed sown springs into a garden of radiant faith, lighting the world more brightly than the pure joy of a child’s smile.