When I think of Africa, I think of children. No other continent is as recognizable by the images of its children. We see everywhere the beautiful faces of African children at their best—and at their most broken. Sweet smiles. Bright eyes. Swollen bellies. Runny noses. Most often we see their faces in connection with their need. Their hunger. Their desperation.
Our natural response is to give.
The images of starvation and the remnants of the AIDS pandemic leave our minds staggering beneath unfathomable statistics. The immature faces of boys and girls left in the chaos. The confusion. The quiet cry of a younger generation born into upheaval.
Our natural response is despair.
I think of children when I think of Africa because I came to Africa as a child. My earliest memories were shaped within the deep rain forest of Africa, surrounded by its intense beauty. I shaped my life and view of Africa at the advent of AIDS and into the wake of sweeping coups that ravaged millions in Somalia, Zaire, And Rwanda.
My natural response was love.
My parents worked tirelessly as pioneer missionaries, planting churches and sharing the good news with every ear willing to listen. And many of those ears where children's—little boys and girls who could have been making slingshots and jumping in rivers found themselves enamored with the stories of the man on the flannel board. They took crayons in hand and began to paint a picture of their lives in the stories of the Bible.
Their natural response was hope.
Now, decades later, those children are leading their families in Christ, planting new churches in more distant villages, and sending missionaries to unreached peoples. I have the privilege to work with them in the mission of God: African children bringing Jesus to the nations. And that truth resonates in my heart when I think of Africa, because when I think of Africa, I think of children, and when I think of children, I think of Jesus.
Millions of African children are still waiting. The images we see may be of malnutrition or human trafficking. The children we see may be staring at us with stained faces and glassy eyes because of the increasing horror of extremism. The pictures may be of broken smiles, but when we look at those pictures, what will we see? What will we allow ourselves to feel?
What will our natural response be?
Today we have the faith to see an increasingly redeemed and transformed Africa, and that will not happen without children. When we think of Africa, let us think of children—not in their need, but their deep well of potential. We have the privilege to dream over their young lives a preferred future, an eternal hope, an everlasting joy.
The children of Africa have within their small frames the potential to transform the world and carry the gospel to all nations. Today, we have the opportunity to help them do it.
What will our response be?