It’s an epidemic etched on the eyes of Liberia’s street children. They reach into cars at red lights, steal what they can. They steal because they’re taught to. Not by their fathers, but rather, by their fathers’ absence.
When we enter the villages with our pastors, boys and girls flock to them, slip their hands into theirs, walk with them, hug their legs, talk to them.
These men are the only fathers they know.
Too many men are absent in Africa. If physically present at home, they’re often slumped behind a bottle of Palm Wine. Otherwise, they’re found laughing with other men at a nearby shop or seeking another wife.
Meanwhile, their wives and children walk long miles bearing heavy loads, bringing home water and wood and food from the gardens. All along the road we find trails of mothers leading children home. The only men we see are carrying machetes or guns.
We gather at church one evening for the Baccalaureate service for Pastor Zawu’s graduating high school students. The Lulu Tree Director of Finance, Steve, has been asked to give the address. The class consists mostly of boys, and most of the boys’ parents have not shown up for the service. The boys sit alone in their plastic chairs, the lights flickering from the humming generator.
“I want to talk about the greatest crisis today,” Steve says. “The orphan spirit.”
He draws their attention to The Lulu Tree mission statement printed on the back of the yellow T-shirt I’m wearing: “Preventing tomorrow’s orphans by equipping today’s families through the local church.” He says Jesus uses the term “Father” 17 times in just three chapters, Matthew 5-7, and He teaches the disciples to pray to “Our Father.”
Steve then directs the boys to turn to Galatians 3:26 & 29. “So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith… If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.”
In Africa, if a father dies, the son inherits the father’s land. Steve, who hails from Burundi, tells the boys that they, in fact, are inheritors of God’s kingdom because they are His sons. But sometimes, when fathers die, the son leaves his village and moves to the city. The father’s land lies unprotected, and others come in and steal it. He warns them not to let anyone steal their inheritance from God by turning their hearts away from Him.
“As The Lulu Tree,” he says, “we are trying to prevent tomorrow’s orphans – that is, those who don’t know who they are, who are isolated from their Father – by bringing them into the family of God through the local church.”
Steve says the first thing God did when He sent His Son was to put Him into a family, and the last thing Jesus did before He left earth was to put His own Mother and his friend John into a family.
Family tells you who you are and whose you are. Family teaches you values and gives you the freedom to dream.
An orphan spirit looks out for himself. The heart of a son dreams about how to help his family.
As I look out at the crowd of boys, sons of the Most High God, I remember the ones wandering the streets, searching for food, stealing so they can live another day. Boys who have no concept of a Father who is “able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine according to His power that is at work in us.” (Ephesians 3:20)
And I dream of thousands of orphans coming into families through the father-hearts of pastors around the world.
Steve lines up the graduates and we pray over them. While we’re praying, the generator sputters and dies, and we’re left in the dark. But then someone turns on their phone flashlight. I’m blinded by its intensity. The darkness makes the light so much brighter.
There’s a lot of darkness in Africa. But our Abba God is there, too, shining His love into fatherless homes and communities, turning orphans into sons of glory. And one by one, as they turn to Him, they will light up the night, shining like stars in the sky as they hold firmly to the word of life. (Philippians 2:15-16)