Children, it seems to me, are blessedly free from the notion that we are earth-bound. On my recent teaching trip to Burundi, I had the chance to worship in a United Methodist Church in the hills outside the capital city. Rev. Jean Ntahoturi was showing me a school that was under construction, designed to serve the community that surrounded the church.
We stood in the fork of a heavily-traveled path as we talked. Children stopped to look at us, perhaps because, as a white American in a coat and tie, I looked a little out of place. Some just sat on the upturned dirt of the field by the path. An older woman stopped and shook my hand before passing on.
When I turned back to Jean I noticed motion to the left of the unfinished school building. A small boy in red plaid pants and a green, long-sleeved jacket was running with his eyes turned toward something on the end of a string he held in his hands. I saw a homemade frame and the ragged edges of a piece of a black trash bag attached to it.
It was a kite.
Kites are hopelessly uncool these days. Analog artifacts in a digital world. Dependent on the wind to provide any interest or entertainment. But in this place of overwhelming material poverty, a boy was watching something rise from the ground.
Inside the church a little later I saw children who danced with abandon as a praise band played. Twenty of them sat together in their own section, just as the youth and the men and the women did in theirs. They sagged and rested on the rough benches as the service went on, but they also paid attention, something holy alive in their eyes.
I was paying attention, too. From my spot in the front I could see them and then past them to the open door of the church. A dirt road stretched out beyond. Children played in the trees. A young woman in a long green dress walked unhurried with a large basket on her head.
A police vehicle pulled up with lights flashing and two officers with large guns confronted a group of youth. One of them was thrown roughly against the vehicle and then thrown inside it. The vehicle drove away. All this as one of the choirs sang and the band played and the children watched them. All of life was going on around us.
When I was asked to share a greeting from the US United Methodists, I talked about the Spirit in the room. The way that it was bringing new life to the Burundi Church. The way we longed to share in that Spirit of unity in the US Church.
A woman who lost a husband in the 1993 genocide danced as she greeted me at the door later. “God has given us a friend from America. That’s what she’s saying,” someone translated.
“We’re dancing,” I observed—because now she had me dancing with her.
“We’re dancing for Jesus,” the woman said through the translator.
I met other women who had lost husbands in the war. They had begun a small cooperative farm on the church property, raising sweet potatoes, corn, and cassava so that they no longer had to beg on the streets. They were raising enough now that they had some to give away.
As they talked another boy was running by in the corner of my field of vision. A string in his hands. A homemade frame. This time a clear plastic bag attached. Another kite.
At our Annual Conference in Roanoke six days later, I participated in a 5K run for missions. We were supporting Kids Soar!, a United Methodist ministry that helps children learn to read at grade level by the time that they reach third grade. As I came to the finish line three children from the program were handing out art work affixed to a stick. I looked at mine. A rough piece of paper in a diamond shape. Hearts spilling all over the page. Letters that spelled “SHE.” And a string with ribbons trailing from the bottom.
One more kite to remind me not to focus on the ground. When the Spirit moves, it will always lift us up.