The first two weeks of our YWAM DTS mission trip to South Africa, we ministered in a township called Overcome. As we served among the troubled families of that community, we realized that people were full of unforgiveness, revenge, and violence. This was even evident in the lives of the children in the township. We would often have to break up fights between kids, teaching them why fighting was wrong, and encouraging them to be who God had created them to be. Instead of telling them that they were bad children, we would speak the truth of what God wanted for their lives. They had never been told, “You’re a good boy” or “You can be a leader.”
One day I was playing with a few small children. One of them was named Nando. I had spent a little bit of time with him over the past few weeks. I picked him up and spun him around. He laughed and screamed as he flew through the air. I put him down and picked up another child. Nando began to pout because I wasn’t playing with him anymore. He picked up a handful of sand and dust from the middle of the street and threw it in my direction.
In response to my smile, Nando picked up a rock and hurled it at me.
Instead of responding harshly, I looked at him and smiled. In response to my smile, he picked up a small rock and hurled it at me. Again, I returned his actions with a smile. Five or six more times we went through this cycle. Rock. Smile. Rock. Smile. Each time, the rocks we getting bigger.
When he picked up a rock the size of a coffee mug, I turned away to shield myself. He had good aim and it hit me in the middle of the back. To protect myself from more assaults, I ran towards him and lovingly picked him up in my arms. With a smile on my face, I told him that is isn’t nice to throw rocks and that he is a good boy. He looked at me and slapped me across the face as hard as he could.
He slapped me across the face as hard as he could.
I knew that he needed to be shown love instead of harsh discipline, so I smiled again and said, “It isn’t nice to throw rocks and hit people.” Not sure how to respond to my kind words and loving response, he continued to slap me, as hard and as fast as his little hands could go. I continued speaking truth to him. “You’re a good boy. You don’t need to do this. You are better than this. You’re a good boy.”
Nando writhed in my arms, struggling to get free. I held him tightly and continued to speak loving words. As he continued to squirm and slap me, I began to speak two simple phrases: “I love you. Jesus loves you.” As I said them over and over, Nando began to calm down. I was able to tell him that Jesus loves him and that because of Jesus’s love, I can love him, too. I sat down with him on my lap and gave him a bracelet. He was taken aback. Not only had I shown him love in the middle of his hatred, but I had gone beyond that and given him a gift.
I am Nando.
Later on that day, I realized something: I am Nando. I have thrown rocks at Jesus and slapped Jesus. Yet in the face of my hatred toward Him, He showed me love by coming to me and dying for my freedom. It was encouraging to be an example of forgiveness and love in the thick of an unforgiving and unloving community, but I was also encouraged by that reminder of the love that Jesus has given me.