August 9, 2016

Taking the Pain out of "Back to School"

Post by Brittany Tedesco

African child standing on the street.

"The first time I saw a talibe being whipped in front of me, I was shocked."

A "talibe" is a student at an Islamic school, or "daara," in Senegal. The quote is from a May 2016 Washington Post article entitled, "They thought they were going to religion school. They ended up slaves."

The article details what I had learned eight or nine years ago when I worked in Christian Aid Mission's Africa Division. In North and West Africa, Islamic witchdoctors known as "marabouts" collect children from poverty-stricken families in villages and desert camps to enslave them, forcing them to beg by day and memorize the Quran at night.

Parents think that sending their children to a daara is an opportunity for them to receive an education and escape poverty, but in reality these children become the property of the marabouts. The article confirms what I'd learned: children are abused and underfed. They are shackled so they can't run away. They are beaten if they fail to meet their daily quota from begging.

"Marabouts have been known to beat children with strips of car tires or electric wire as the blood runs—in some cases daily," the article states. "Some children are even raped by the marabouts or older talibes."

African tribal children.

In Senegal, orphaned or abandoned children are plentiful—seen on every street with hands outstretched in hopes of a few francs from passersby—and easy prey. The marabouts have claimed lots of them.

It's back to school time for families across the globe. But for children in Islamic nations, school can be a source of pain or a dark place where hate is taught.

In an earlier post, I wrote about the indoctrination children receive in Pakistan's public schools. One grade 8 textbook states: "as a student if you cannot practically participate in Jihad you can at least financially help in preparation of Jihad." Another grade 9 textbook instructs students that they "should not hesitate to sacrifice the lives of their family, relatives, and friends" for the sake of jihad.

Last week, a native missionary who shares Christ with refugees in a Middle Eastern country visited Christian Aid Mission. The exciting victories he and his coworkers are experiencing in leading many to the Lord come at a price. They can't afford to send their children to private schools, so they must send them to public schools where they receive hours of Islamic indoctrination each week. Their teachers and peers ridicule them and pressure them to conform.

Pakistani children reading Islamic writings.
Students in Pakistan receive an Islamic education.

"Back to school" is anything but a happy event.

But while Islam exploits and uses children as pawns to advance its religio-political agenda, native missionaries all over the world are rescuing them, treating them as valuable creations to be loved and nurtured.

Christian Aid Mission assists a children's ministry in Sri Lanka that started as a Christian library and counseling center.

"Children, dirty and hungry, began arriving on our doorstep," wrote the ministry leader. "Many of the children who came to our center had been abused by alcoholic and drug-addicted parents. We fed them rice and curry; gave them baths; and taught them reading, writing, and arithmetic before sending them away for the night."

Sri Lankan children finger-painting.
Sri Lankan children, safe and happy, at the children's center.

The leader and her mother, who founded the ministry, soon came to the conclusion that sending the children away at night wasn't an option. So often, the children arrived the next day with wounds on their bodies and sad stories of the horror that had taken place overnight.

With help from Christian Aid Mission, the ministry built a girls' shelter and, later, a separate shelter for boys. Their literacy center provides children from four slums with an education.

"We thank God for participation by Christian Aid Mission," the ministry leader wrote. "Your gift has enabled the children in our ministry to receive education and loving residential care. They grow emotionally, spiritually, physically, and mentally. . .all of the older ones have accepted the Lord and some are even teaching in Sunday school." She went on to describe how these children have brought their unsaved family members to Christ.

In Pakistan, Christian Aid Mission helped an indigenous ministry start a Bible-based school for the children of poor, indentured servants who labor in the brick kiln industry. The children work alongside their parents, who can't afford the school supplies and tuition fees necessary to send them to school.

The ministry covers the children's tuition fees and even provides them with books, notebooks, and school bags. Parents are so blessed to see their children receive an education that they've allowed the ministry to start a Sunday school near their village, and even show the Jesus film.

"With the supply of God through your organization, these precious children are studying very well," the ministry leader wrote.

Pakistani children.
Children of Pakistan's brick kiln workers now receive a Christian education.

For several decades, a Christian Aid Mission-assisted ministry in Lebanon has been operating a school for Bedouin children. In 2011, when Syrian refugees began flooding into the country, the little school was suddenly encircled by a tent city. While Bedouin children sat at their desks learning to read or do arithmetic, Syrian children sat outside, playing in the dirt. The sight was more than the ministry leader could bear, so he arranged for the school to operate in shifts—teaching Bedouin children in the morning and Syrian children later in the afternoon.

In contrast to the horror they've experienced—family members murdered, homes burned—the school is the first place these Syrian children hear the words "Jesus loves you."

One Syrian mother brought her young son and daughter to the school, falling on her knees as she pleaded for help. Her children now attend the school, and she started attending a home group. She is now a believer in Christ.

Missionary talking to Syrian refugee woman.
In Middle Eastern countries, native missionaries daily labor to bring refugees to Christ.

This week (August 9) the UN observed its annual International Day of the World's Indigenous People. This year's cause is education. It asserts that indigenous tribal people are typically the poorest in their nations, but that their poverty should not keep them from receiving an education.

We happen to agree. . .except we don't need campaigns or special awareness days. The Holy Spirit, living inside of God's people throughout the world, is more than sufficient for this cause. The indigenous ministries we support were already at work, before we discovered them, starting schools in communities without them. And these schools are so much more than just schools—they are havens where children are fed, loved, counseled, and pointed to the love of Jesus. They can leave their tattered worlds behind each day to find solace inside the walls—or under the trees—of these schools.

This is why we support ministries that educate children. And that's why we've started a special fund for the children of missionaries serving refugees in Muslim countries. We don't want them to have to worry that, while they're sharing the gospel with Muslims, their children are being indoctrinated in Islam. We want to ease their burdens and help them focus entirely on the harvest at hand. We want to make "back to school" a happy occasion for them. . .and children everywhere.