(These events happened within 18 hours, and we didn’t happen to take any pictures during that time. But to help you visualize, I’ve included a few pictures of the places and people involved.)
Since 2017, I have been working with Our Father’s House, a ministry that unites homeless youth with families. They are a great ministry and do effective work.
And in 2021, we launched QuadW Tarime, a Christian community of young adults from Tanzania and the U.S. who live together, pray together, work together, cook together, love our neighbors and make disciples together. It is also a great ministry that does effective work.
But we saw the full potential of both ministries on July 4th, 2021 when the two ministries were able to do their best work, together.
Every evening at QuadW Tarime, Dinnah Sylvester would go out and invite our neighbors to come over for evening prayer at 8:30 pm. This was very popular with the children, and a large crew would always come through our doors laughing and running.
Our community house
On July 3rd, Dinnah was making her rounds as usual and a few young men showed up early. They were all between 10 and 13 years old.
One of them was named Chacha*. We had never met him before. He said nothing, but the other boys told his story.
Chacha didn’t live here; he lived about 10 miles away in a rural farming village. He had gotten in a fight at school that morning and had run away. He didn’t know where he would sleep that night, and he didn’t know how to face his parents when he returned home.
This is common. Children run away from home to avoid punishment, or just to try hanging out on the streets of town. Being children, they normally don’t think farther than that.
Once they have been away from home for a few days, a cruel reality sets in.
The thrill is over, and they are tired of being on the streets. They want to return home.
But then they realize that if they return home, they will be mercilessly beaten by their parents for running away from home.
So they stay on the streets, trapped. They don’t know what to do.
To survive on the streets, they have to learn how to steal scrap metal and small electronics. After a while they inevitably get caught and put in jail, where adults and youth are not separated.
Stealing becomes a way of life, and of course, they don’t go to school. What started as a childish plan to run away and try life on the streets turns out to take so much away from their future.
Our Father’s House exists to combat this cycle. We learned early on that if you can return a child home within 1 month, you greatly improve their chances of a smooth re-entry and staying home. After more than 1 month on the streets, they get used to life on the streets and returning home becomes much more difficult, or, in many cases, impossible.
Chacha had run away and made it to Tarime. And the other kids had pointed him to our Christian community, QuadW Tarime.
4 of the 5 members of QuadW Tarime: Dinnah, Veronica, Davis, and Megan. The fifth member, Gilbert, took the photo.
We went ahead with our evening prayer, and then afterwards, we had a community meeting. If Jesus Christ were living here in this neighborhood, what might he do?
We made a few decisions.
Veronica heated up some rice and beans for Chacha to eat.
Gilbert gave one of his shirts to Chacha (permanently), and gave up his bed for the night, so he would have a place to sleep.
Dinnah and Megan washed Chacha’s shirt, dirty from the fight he had been in that day at school.
But how to help him get back home?
We reached out to the seasoned family counselors, Moses Nyamhanga and Mwita Baita, at Our Father’s House. Having returned dozens of children home, they know how to talk to angry parents, calm them down, and persuade them to forgive their runaway child, instead of punishing him.
“Sure. We will return him home. You got him early, so it will be easy. It’s hard if they sit on the streets for a long time and get used to life on the streets. But after just one day, this will be easy work”, Mwita said.
“Just bring him with you to Tarime UMC tomorrow. We’ll all meet together after worship.” Moses said
Tarime UMC church building
And that’s what we did. After worship, Chacha, Mwita, and Moses all had a meeting together. They quickly realized Chacha spoke very little Swahili (the unifying, national language of Tanzania). Mwita and Moses are both fluent in the area’s tribal language, Kuria, so they switched the conversation to the language that Chacha understood. Happy to have some friendly advocates in front of his parents, he agreed to return home.
Mwita and I hopped on one motorcycle, Chacha and Mwita hopped on the other, and we headed out into rural Tanzania.
We spent the better part of an hour traversing a beautiful landscape of hills, valleys, corn, and mud huts before we finally came to Chacha’s house. His parents were not home. We could have left him there, but this would leave Chacha back in the same situation; the really critical thing was to meet his father.
So we started wandering up and down the dirt roads of this village area. We met Chacha’s aunt, we passed by his school, and then finally we saw a man walking down one of the dirt roads. Chacha told us that was his father.
We stopped our motorcycles, introduced ourselves in Kuria, and then Mwita, the older of the two family counselors, softly took hold of the man’s hand and began to talk to him in Kuria.
I don’t know what they said. I know the discussion lasted about 15 minutes. At the beginning, Chacha’s father was visibly angry. As the conversation progressed, he calmed down, and at the end, he was laughing. He took his son back and put a big arm around his little shoulders.
We said happy goodbyes, and Mwita and I hopped back on our motorcycle. Then I asked Mwita,
“He agreed to take him back. And he really thanks us for returning his son to him.”
“You don’t think he will beat him?”
Mwita laughed. “No, he can’t, he can’t”
“Ahh. How do you know?”
“Everything is by discussion. I discussed with him well, I helped him to decrease his anger. I talked with him about how this is his child, and the rights of a child that every one knows. I reminded him that his responsibility as a father is to take care of him. He agreed, and this helped him to calm down. You saw how he was laughing by the end of our discussion. He can’t beat him now. But what I am happy about is we have gotten a friend. This father is our friend now. If we come to this village again, we will always have a friend here.”
I am thankful for Our Father’s House. I am thankful for QuadW Tarime. And I am so thankful that we could work together on July 4th, 2021. Chacha easily could have gotten stuck and grown up on the streets, but because of a few followers of Jesus working together, he was returned home and the relationship with his father was repaired within 18 hours.
You can make more of this happen by donating in whichever way is easiest:
QuadW Tarime: https://www.wesleycollegetzfoundation.com/get-involved
Our Father’s House: https://advance.umcmission.org/p-1816-our-fathers-house.aspx
*child’s name changed for child protection