What does a playground do for a small remote village?
During a playground build in the remote Peruvian village of Molle Molle, high in the Andes, one of my team members noticed that there were a few things that just didn’t seem normal about a five-year-old boy who was playing on the pieces of the slide we had laid out. Many young boys and girls were playing on the plastic slide pieces, but a missionary pastor on my team noticed that a young boy didn’t have a normal stride when he walked. The little boy was also playing near other kids his age, who were all playing together, but this little boy was playing alone and was left alone by the others. The missionary pastor stopped working on the playground and went to inquire about this boy.
The adult villagers told the missionary pastor through a regional pastor about Jonatan’s extremely difficult life. Jonatan’s mother died when he was 6 months old and he has lived alone with his father in a mud hut on the outskirts of the village ever since. His father is a severe alcoholic and Jonatan has apparently been caring for himself the best he knows how. In the corner of the little mud hut, there is a mud-brick oven, and across the floor of the entire hut, there are guinea pigs eating straw. Jonatan raises these guinea pigs for food for him and his father. As you can imagine, this story left me and others not native to this region of Peru quite shocked. This was an issue that would surely stir any heart to action, yet it was happening in a small village where everyone was very interconnected.
We were all rocked to our heels, but the missionary pastor was truly gut-wrenched. His initial thoughts were to get this kid into an orphanage where he can be assimilated with kids his age, be given the care needed to be able to walk correctly to reduce long term damage, brought up to age-appropriate knowledge, etc. Then he realized that though the people with the means to fix these problems come from places like the US, to solve the problem the locals need to be empowered through being educated and often resourced. They are truly the only ones that can “solve” problems like this. They can learn to also prevent them altogether.
They found two mothers in the village, each with two children of their own, around Jonatan’s age. They will be resourced with proper meal support from the OneMeal program for their kids, and to feed Jonatan and ensure he is receiving and eating his vitamins and his meals. They will be making sure that he assimilates with their children and isn’t an outsider in his tiny village. They will also be checking in on his school attendance and notifying village leadership the local pastor of needs that arise. The village President and the local pastor will attempt to help Jonatan’s father turn away from his addiction, and begin to actually raise his son.
This started with plastic slide pieces laying on the ground. That led to God’s children noticing other children of God who were suffering. One of the reasons they noticed but not much was done, is that in this village there are roughly 100 kids. Five to seven of them die each year from conditions related to exposure to the cold. Many are permanently crippled due to their feet freezing in the winters.
What does a playground do for a small remote village? It sharpens their focus on the next generation. It sheds light on footholds that the enemy has on the villagers. It creates an environment where the body of Christ is active, and children can encounter Christ and His love for them. It creates an opportunity for Christians to be the hands and feet of our Lord and take action on God’s calling. It opens opportunities for Christians to send love in the form of education and relationship. A playground can do quite a lot for a small remote village.
Jonatan of Molle Molle, Peru in the arms of a missionary pastor, Vali Popescu of our partner ministry, Su Refugio.