The Tale of the Prodigal Mother | World Challenge

The Tale of the Prodigal Mother

Rachel Chimits
February 20, 2020

World Challenge’s team in Burundi is working to help estranged families reconnect to one another and grow in a relationship with God.

Sam was first seen near Ngozi’s marketplace. Some of the market’s venders reported a very small child crying desperately, huddled near a sewage disposal channel.

The community administrator asked who the child’s parents were or what his name was, but no one knew. Finally, he contacted World Challenge’s partners there, the Eh’ikirezi Children’s Home, and they quickly picked up the little boy. He could only speak a few words and didn’t seem to know his own name either.

Stymied, the team guessed that he was somewhere between a year and half and two years old. They decided to name him Samuel.

As is the custom at the center, the team gathered every day to pray for the children and their families, and they began lifting up Sam’s case. God knew where his parents were. God knew his name. They trusted that God would either return little Sam to his family or build a new one for him.

Fighting to Find Family

The team threw themselves into the hunt for any of Sam’s family members that they could find. A few days later, they turned something up.

Sam’s mother was living two hours away in Burundi’s capital, Bujumbura. When she was approached, Aline admitted that Sam was her son. She’d found a new boyfriend, though, who didn’t want to deal with some other man’s child. He told her that he wouldn’t marry her unless she was “without this burden.”

Aline had initially attempted to leave Sam with his grandmother, but she refused to take a toddler. Desperate to not lose the boyfriend, Aline dumped her child near the marketplace and left.

Ideally, the children at the center are reunited with their parents—if the mother and father are alive—or a grandparent, aunt or uncle. The center’s goal is to restore families, not keep the children indefinitely. They strongly believe that their mission is not only to rescue abandoned children but also to help family members heal and grow into healthy parents. If this can be accomplished, they believe a family will be able to care for children better than orphanage workers.

The team wanted to be able to bring Sam and Aline back together. The longer they investigated Aline’s living situation, however, the more unlikely that future seemed.

Aline often drank and then smoked hemp, which left her in no condition to see to a child’s welfare. They also soon discovered that her boyfriend had abandoned her, and she had become a sex worker to pay for food, alcohol and hemp. Moreover, she wasn’t interested in listening to the center’s representatives or seeing Sam again.

The Slow Work of Healing Old Wounds

Little Sam stayed at the center. The team prayed over him and raised him while they looked for a church family who would be able and willing to raise him.

They’d just found such a family when Aline suddenly showed up at the center. It had been over four years since they had seen her last, and she was a very different woman. She asked if Sam was still there, if she could see him. Jean Pierre, a team member, gently explained that their meeting might be difficult but then led her through the center to oversee a meeting between her and her son.

Nearly six years old, Sam now understood why he was at the center. He knew Aline had left him behind, even if he couldn’t remember her, and he was angry.

Jean Pierre reminded him of the Bible stories the children had learned in their lessons and church. He shared the parable of the prodigal with Aline, and she broke down. Weeping, she asked Sam to forgive her.

Mouth tight, Sam stood up and left the room.

Jean Pierre encouraged Aline to come back. Sam would need time to readjust to the idea of her being in his life. Aline returned day after day, and the team invited her to listen in to the children’s lessons about Jesus and God’s great plan for salvation. Aline soaked up everything she heard, and she finally accepted Christ as her savior.

“It was like a dream for all of us to see Aline turning to Jesus Christ.” Jean Pierre said, “There is no bad place from which God cannot save us. People can judge or look at others with pessimistic eyes, but whatever someone is passing through, no matter the time it takes, God can save them.”

The team is working with Aline to help her build a relationship with God, gradually restore her relationship with Sam and also learn about entrepreneurship and finances. Slowly, she is healing and headed toward self-sufficiency in order to be the mother God would have her be.