Years ago we had foster kids living with us. During one of the first weeks, I told our 12-year-old foster son, “We’re going to the library!”
He was not impressed.
“I don’t read books,” he firmly stated, wanting to leave no room for arguments or discussion.
Nice try, I thought. “I think I know what the problem is,” I told him. “You don’t read because you have not found any good books yet. You just wait. We’ll find you a good book. Come with me.” And off to the library we went.
There was only one problem. I had grown up in The Netherlands, but we were living in Canada. And although I had put a lot of effort into reading children’s books by Canadian authors, I did not know any books that he might like. It only took one conversation with a very helpful librarian to find some easy-to-read, funny, high-interest books for him. She even ordered some books from other libraries in the province. Our foster son loved the books she recommended, and within a few months he was reading the thickest books for his age group. He even competed for ‘read the most pages’ during Christmas break the following school year, and although he didn’t win, he came very close! Needless to say, we were very proud of him.
During our first years in Ethiopia I had the privilege of teaching my oldest two children how to read, and their love for reading and the amount of books they have read and reread over the years is mind-boggling. Reading has benefitted them in countless ways, and I am thankful. But then I turn to look at the local children, and my heart aches. As the years have gone by, I have had this recurring dream for the children of Ethiopia, because there is this gap. Yes, there are many gaps, but, perhaps because I am a writer, the one that keeps on coming back to me is the lack of children’s books. There are a few available in Amharic, but there are only so few. Ethiopian children will never be able to develop the same love for reading that my foster son had and that my kids now have — or at least they won’t be able to still their hunger for reading once it might sprout, because there simply are not enough books available.
It’s obvious that there are many advantages to reading. There are educational advantages; vocabulary improves, they’ll learn to be better spellers and better writers. They’ll learn many things about this big, diverse world and about all kinds of people and problems and challenges and solutions. But beyond that, they’ll be inspired to dream dreams — dreams for themselves, for their families, their communities, their country and the world beyond. They will learn about courage and passion and perseverance. Their creativity will be ignited. And they will learn to appreciate beauty as the stories they read touch their hearts and their lives.
Although I had this dream, this longing, to write stories for the children of Ethiopia for quite a few years, I didn’t find the time or the inspiration to work on this, and honestly I didn’t expect that I ever would. I hoped someone would fill the gap. But, like so many times in my life, God put the desire in my heart because His plan was for me to be a small part of the solution.
So I did write a novel for children, “Friends of the King”. It was translated into Amharic by Meti Ketema and published by SIM Publishing. It’s been such a blessing to work on it. I pray that by reading the story the children will catch a glimpse of how beautiful, amazing and loving our God is. I pray that they will realize that God sees them, cares about them, and takes care of them as He walks along side them. I long for them to know that God desires for them to trust Him completely, that they can be forever friends with Jesus, children of the most high God. I also long for them to enjoy books and stories. Stories that will put smiles on their faces, that will touch their hearts and give them courage to live their lives fully for Him, without holding back, so that the stories they write with their lives may be meaningful and beautiful and may reflect Him. I also pray that others may be inspired to join me in filling the gap by writing and developing lots of stories and books for the children of Ethiopia.