By Tom Langerbartels
It was a sunny and relatively warm November day. I was driving north on I-65 with my four young friends to get horse manure from a buddy’s farm for my compost heap. I had hired Nuru, Isaac, Along, and Mulumba to work for me giving them a chance to get away from the city and earn a little bit of cash. These guys are a subset of a group boys, ages 11-14, that I mentor at the Migros Aid weekly CARE Club. My goal is to get them out of their environment to teach them some of the skills they’ll need to know in order to function in American culture – work ethic, social interaction, language proficiencies etc. Realizing I’m not exemplary at any of these things, I’m still attempting to follow Jesus’ example of discipleship – instruct as you go using metaphors generated by the current activity to highlight the kingdom of God and it’s reigning King.
As we passed Eagle Creek Park, I asked them if they’d ever been there. Their response made me chuckle at first. “The forest? That’s a scary place isn’t it?” The forest to them, having grown up in Tanzania and Uganda, was a scary place. There were lions, baboons, elephants and the like. It wasn’t a place they went to play. As we continued up the road, one of them shouted out, “Look, a horse!” “I’ve never seen a horse before!” What??? Never seen a horse? You’d have thought he’d seen an elephant – but then again, that wouldn’t have held many wonders for him. Next, it was a donkey, then a Shetland pony. They were experiencing an amazing new world and I was in the stands watching.
When we arrived at the farm, my buddy and a couple of other men were chewing-the-fat in the man-cave portion of his barn. Before entering I instructed the boys to look each person in the eye, greet them with a handshake, and introduce themselves. It’s something we’ve been working on. Upon entering the barn, their attention was immediately drawn away to a pygmy goat that was more canine than caprine. Once redirected, they dutifully greeted each person making a wonderful impression on the men. We chatted in the barn for a few minutes then proceeded to the pasture where a pile of manure had been prepared for us. I gave each boy a shovel or pitchfork and they proceeded to fill the truck with the goods. As I said before, the goat acts like a dog and it followed my friend into the pasture – where the horse lives. The horse doesn’t like goats! So, while the boys were filling the truck, Archie the horse ran circles around us, sometimes only a few feet away, pushing his nose down at the goat every time he got close. The boys were as freaked by the horse as the horse was by the goat. The scene was quite comical, and we all enjoyed a good laugh afterward.
Back at my house, each boy greeted my wife, Wendy, and one of our sons in much the same way they had the men at the farm. We then unloaded the manure, cleaned up and went out for pizza. This was another new adventure for them. A couple of them had never eaten in a restaurant before. They sat more quietly and perhaps more thoughtful than I had ever seen them as we waited for our food. In no time two large pizzas were consumed and we were on the road back to the city. One of them said to me, “I wish I were one of your sons?” I asked him why and he said, “Because you live a better life.” I tried to encourage him, but my words felt like platitudes to me. Mulling on what he had said, I wondered how many American boys would say something like that on the day their dad took them to a farm to shovel horse dookie. And for that matter, what blessings in my culture do I take for granted because they are the norm? The perspective of this 11-year-old refugee was quite enlightening to his old mentor. On the way back to their apartment, the boys, full of joy, made up a song and sang it heartily all the way home. I dropped them off and drove away honored and thankful for the opportunity to teach and learn from these African young men.
Glocal Cleaning LLC is a company we have set up to help provide mentorship and income to the refugee community. If you have a project you need help with please contact us for a quote.
Loved the story! Great to see you investing in these young men.