Gift from God
How happy his parents must have been when he was born! Not only was he their firstborn, but he was a beautiful baby boy—a double blessing worthy of the name Gift. Two younger siblings followed soon after, and joy filled the family for those first few years. Then tragedy struck. Gift’s father died, leaving his mother to raise her small children on her own. She had no employment—only a small plot of poor soil to cultivate. Selling produce at the market brought only meager earnings, and money grew more and more scarce. Then another man came into the picture: a divorced father of three. Gift’s mother married this man and soon gave birth to another child. However, life with her new husband was not the same as it had been with Gift’s father, and the mother started drinking pombe (corn alcohol) to help her forget her ungrateful life.
Meanwhile, Gift progressed well in school. After primary school, he passed the test to go on to secondary school—a hurdle only about 20% of the nation’s pupils ever cross. Sadly, after his first month of secondary school, Gift’s mother told him that she could not afford to pay the school fees. Gift quit school and remained at home until he heard about a trade school held by missionaries from America. As the fees were much lower than the government schools, his mother agreed to pay so that Gift could become a good artisan.
Fourteen-year-old Gift began his carpentry training at Eden Valley Foster Care Mission in March 2014. He was happy to be in school again, and staying in the boys’ dorm was so much better than being at home with a slovenly mother with a haggard face and slurred, abusive speech.
Then one day, Gift came to our house with red eyes and a straight face. Fixing his eyes on the floor, he spoke in a sad voice. “Mother wants me to quit school again,” he said. “She said, ‘I have been paying school fees for you and now I do not even have money to buy my pombe! I want you to quit school and find a job as a shopkeeper. I do not want to pay for you anymore.’” Once a precious Gift, this firstborn son had become a mere burden!
We looked up Gift’s student bill, and already his account was behind three months. However, Gift wasn’t finished explaining. He said that he had spoken with his aunt in Lupalilo, about one hour’s brisk walk from the school. Since the school fees simply cover room and board, Gift was ready to move in with his aunt and walk to school every day. He couldn’t pay his bill, but he truly wanted to keep attending school.
We looked at each other. Was the story true? We looked at Gift. He seemed sincere. A deep sadness overshadowed his face. We finally asked him to come back three days later for our answer. Our hearts were torn. In Tanzania, rejection is the daily bread of most children. Babies are adored as the joy of the family; but as soon as they can walk, they are forgotten as another baby comes along and then another. Too often, dirty toddlers and children are left alone while the mother slaves away in the garden and the father spends her earnings in the bar.
After praying and discussing Gift’s situation, we decided to keep him in the dorm until at least the end of the school year, giving him some work around campus to help with his bill. When we told him our decision, he looked at us and whispered, “Thank you.”
Unfortunately, Gift’s story is a very common one here. That’s why our school is dedicated to orphans and vulnerable children. They all have a story to tell. Quite a few of our students are not able to pay because of their family situations, but if we sent them home, our classrooms would be mostly empty and the school would become useless. Our cook, carpentry teacher, mechanic teacher, sewing teacher and two Bible workers are paid largely out of donations to the student sponsorship program that Gift’s predicament inspired us to launch. For just one dollar a day, sponsors allow a child who can’t pay room and board to be educated at our school. Sponsors make a life-changing difference not only in a young person’s life, but also in that young person’s community.
December 6, 2015, our second-year carpentry boys graduated. Among them was our quiet and laid back Gift, now 16 years old. After the graduation celebration, he came to ask us to thank the sponsor who had helped him complete his two years of carpentry training. We had never seen Gift so cheerful and talkative!
The next day, as Gift left to go back to Ilevelo, his village, we said a prayer that the Lord would keep him and continue the work He started in him through our school. Most of the boys, having received their own set of carpentry tools at graduation, start a little business at home building stools, chairs, cabinets, window frames, sofas, etc. to sell and make a living. We did not expect anything different from Gift, but God had bigger plans for this young man.
When Gift returned to his home, he realized that he was the only Adventist in the whole village. The closest Seventh-day Adventist Branch Sabbath School was two hours’ walking distance from his village—one way. Gift decided that his village needed a church! Going to the local public school, he asked to be allowed to teach Bible classes. At first the school director refused, saying that Gift did not have credentials; so Gift showed him the Bible certificate he had received from Eden Valley Tanzania for completing our 24-part Bible studies.
“Why do you want to teach Bible classes?” the director asked.
“I want to make converts for my church,” Gift answered.
Strangely enough, the director decided to allow Gift to teach two hours per week at exactly the same time as the Catholic Bible teacher held classes. Any students who wanted to would be allowed to attend—but the director stated that he doubted anyone would come to Gift’s class, because none of the students shared his faith.
Thus it was that Gift started teaching twice a week with no curriculum but his Bible. After a month of teaching, he had more students in his class than the Catholic Bible teacher had! Better yet, one of the students is now attending the Branch Sabbath School two hours away. Needless to say, the Catholic teacher is furious. Gift recently called us to ask for prayer as well as for materials to assist him in teaching—picture rolls, Bible study sets, pamphlets, etc.
At a time when we are so close to the end, it is beautiful to see the Lord use whoever will work for Him!
“God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty.” 1 Corinthians 1:27.
By Elisha and Nadège Vande Voort of Eden Valley Foster Care Mission. Donations can be sent to Outpost Centers International, 5132 Layton Lane, Apison, TN 37302, marked “Eden Valley Foster Care Mission” or made online at www.outpostcenters.org.