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Oumar's Courage

September 13, 2023

Oumar and Joe at the ropes course in France
"You can do it, Oumar," I cheered.

My twelve-year-old friend laughed nervously, his hands clutching the ropes with a death grip. "Why did we choose to do the hardest level?" He glanced up at me, and I saw his dark brown eyes were fearful.

"I forgot how hard it is," I agreed sympathetically. "But you've got this, Oumar. You're strong. If you twist to the left and push your leg up and over, you'll make it," I coached.

French Camping

We were at a French campground in the countryside about two hours from Lille for a week of activities with some of our asylum-seeking and migrant friends from Francophone West Africa. The ropes course was one of the activities the young people had chosen together.

All the youth had wanted to do the first level of the ropes course. But only my plucky young friend Oumar wished to take on the most challenging level. It reminded me of the courage these young people displayed daily as they navigated learning a new culture since they and their parents had arrived in France.

Twenty-Two Steps of Courage

Oumar flashed me a triumphant grin when we finished the twenty-second step of the course and were back on level ground.

"That was tough. You did great!" I hoped it had built his self-confidence as he displayed courage and strength to finish.

"Ice cream?" Ice cream was the promised reward for successful course completion, and we all enjoyed the sweetness of the victory together, laughing at the challenge that was now a memory.

Bastille Day on De Somme

Later in the week, France celebrated its beloved Bastille Day, so the young people and I drove to a town on the Baie De Somme to watch the fireworks. Driving through the wheat fields in the evening sunlight, my young friends asked me what music I preferred. "You choose," I told them. And for the next hour, we listened to French hip-hop and Guinean music intermingled.

As we drove and I listened to their comments on why they liked a particular song or what it reminded them of, I realized how wonderfully odd this rich moment of cultural blending was. An American on a French Holiday, listening to West African and French music with Guinean young people I cared deeply about, headed to see fireworks. I smiled to myself as I thought of what a privilege it was for me to walk with my friends as they learned to integrate their worlds and cultures.

Open Handed Prayer

We finished our week together with a short time of prayer and Scripture reading. As Paul shared how God blessed the earth with rain and abundance and prayed over our travel home, our friends opened their hands to heaven in their cultural posture of prayer. I prayed silently that God would bless their lives with courage, hope, and abundance as they continued to rebuild their lives for the future.

Inviting the French Church

Our young people are already helping plan for next year's event. We'd like to invite the French church to participate in these annual events as we continue to hold the door open to building relationships in our host culture and with our asylum-seeking friends we are here to serve. Pray with us for provision and connections that build life and hope.

CLICK HERE to learn More About IAFR's Work In Lille Here.

Joe Saperstein with Rachael Lofgren

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