When I first saw her, Nakosa was a quiet child, easily overlooked and eager to avoid notice.
Nako was hardly friendless -- Mawoole in particular was her partner in silliness and little-girl escapades -- but there was no denying that she found our presence intimidating. We were loud, expansive intruders into her home. We threw her off her routine, spoke a language she didn't know, and possessed items and did things she couldn't entirely grasp.
Friday night was bingo night, and the other children played bingo with us with enthusiasm. Nako, for her part, clearly wanted to, but she had no idea what she was doing. She sat next to me, a bingo card before her, and watched, silent and unsmiling, as everyone around her laughed and joked and placed tokens on their cards as I called out the numbers.
I noted that she was having difficulty, but it was Joshua who stepped up and helped her. While everyone around us laughed and teased one another and played, Joshua sat next to her and made her his whole focus. As the game continued, he did everything he could to bridge the language and experience barriers, so Nakosa could play along. As I called the letters and numbers, he'd repeat them to her and help her find them on her bingo card. When it became evident she didn't know her numbers or letters well, he'd repeat them again, and slowly try to teach her.
That night, after bingo was put away and our team had all gathered around for evening devotions, I shared with the team what Joshua had done, how he had passed over the older, friendlier girls whom he already shared a rapport with, and let others play with Christina, our little snuggler. Instead, he had focused his time, his effort, and -- most of all -- his attention on the girl who had nothing to naturally draw us to her and, in the process, had shown her the heart of God, directly and powerfully.
I'd like to say that Nako was utterly transformed by her experience with Joshua that night, but she wasn't. Id like to say that the dogged and haunted expression left her completely over the next few days, and that every time we saw her, her faced glowed with the beauty within that wanted only to be awakened. But that didn't happen either.
I'd love to say that Nako became as ubiquitous in our experiences as Christina and Sarah, but that also never happened.
What she did do, though, was to become less reserved around us, particularly around Joshua. In her own, halting way, she engaged. She let Joshua show her pictures of her that he had taken the previous year, and she smiled and waved a lot more when she caught us looking at her.
It's not the end of the journey, but it is a good step.
Copyright © 2011 by David Learn. Used with permission.