A Lion’s Heart Beats with More Than Words
I was thrilled to find myself serving as an intern in Nigeria with the MOYA Foundation on this sunny Monday in July. We had a busy schedule filled with medical screenings and visits to nearby friends of the Foundation, and I was eager for each day and the adventures it would bring. On the 18th our group travelled to a school for deaf and blind students. As usual, it took us longer than expected due to the bad roads and busy markets. We talked and laughed as we slowly made our way through the Nigerian terrain, commenting on the unique sights and sounds.
Eventually we arrived at the property. The drive was old and dusty, the gravel thin in areas. I saw the first building of the campus, and in more normal circumstances would have assumed it to be abandoned because of its deteriorated appearance. In wealthier areas of the world I would have found myself looking past this for the functioning school building, not even thinking that this could be a possibility. I had been prepared, though, and figured out that this aged and worn structure was the main school.
We left the cars and walked across a small field where several people were waiting to greet us. On the way, we were passed by two male students racing intently to what seemed to be an important mission. Neither spoke to us as they swept by, giving themselves away as probably deaf students. We reached the Head Mistress of the school and began exchanging greetings. Those same two boys who had ran past us appeared from another building with chairs for all of us. They lined them up in a neat little row then stood by, pleased with their work, broad smiles spanning their faces.
They were silent, yes, but their faces spoke volumes. What they communicated to us with their eyes and body language absolutely made up for their lack of spoken words. They stood patiently by the chairs, beaming at us as we discussed the school with their Head Mistress. Once we were free, Kayley, Zoe and I went to talk to them. Their faces lit up like the brightest of lights when we asked for their names using sign language.
The first and oldest boy, Daniel, quickly signed the spelling of his name with letters, and then he threw in an unfamiliar sign at the end by touching two places on the outside of his arm with a finger. Slightly confused at the last bit we didn’t recognize, we acknowledged his spelled-out name with nods and smiles of our own. Daniel saw our confusion and tried another sign, this time using his hands to mimic smoothing down his hair James Dean style. We still couldn’t figure out the mysterious sign at this point, but we had made fast friends in spite of it and didn’t give it a lot of thought. We met Joshua next, in the same way, with him finger spelling the letters of his name for us.
We asked our questions and got information to help us better understand the lifestyle the boys lead. When we were done, we took pictures with Daniel and Joshua as well as the rest of the group, signed our “thanks”, and headed home. Later on, we discovered that the sign Daniel had made after his spelled out name (the smoothing of his hair) was a shortcut way to sign his name as opposed to going through each of the letters.
As is often the case, God was not finished with the relationships we had fondly formed that day with Daniel and his friends. Two days later, on July 20th, we held a medical clinic at the MOYA Foundation building. I went into the main lobby to call the next person for the physical examination and saw none other than the same Daniel I had met at the school! The headmistress had brought more than ten students to be screened at the clinic that day, and we were both delighted that he had been one of them.
Once Daniel and I saw each other, both of our faces lit up with recognition and joy! He smiled a wide toothy smile and signed the shortcut version of my name: the letter “k” next to one cheek. I, in turn, attempted his shortcut name. Seeing this display, all the children in the room began excitedly signing their names hoping that I could learn theirs as well. I was needed in the clinic and so couldn’t take the time right then to play.
One thing I noticed about these deaf children was how incredibly bright they all were, often able to understand ideas and concepts that hearing Nigerians sometimes couldn’t understand. For the eye chart, all I had to do was show them how to cover their eyes and sign the letters they saw by showing them an example letter. When I tested Daniel, he spent extra time helping me to really understand each individual movement of the first and original sign he had used for his name. (For those of you who might be curious, here is how it goes: all four fingers and thumb clustered together to create the letter “D” held at the top of the left arm, bent as if I were patting my own left shoulder, that then swept out in an arc toward the elbow, allowing the index finger to point out and ending with the pinky finger touching the elbow.)
Once the clinic had finished, I went back out to spent some time with the children. Again, they were eager to teach me their names, so I sat down and went through the names of these wiggly and excited children several times. I did my best to commit each name to memory. As I did so, I learned about their personalities just by being present with them. For example, I saw that the most energetic boy in the group wanted me to learn everyone’s names so much so that he would cheat and show me the answer. A girl I met had beautiful charisma, style and sass, all conveyed though countenance without a single spoken word.
When it came around to him, Daniel used the second shortcut sign name (smoothing his hair) for himself in the most honorable way. We came to understand that he was using the motion as if he were smoothing down a lion’s mane, demonstrating the similarities between himself and his Biblical counterpart Daniel. He was using that comparison to define himself as a courageous and caring friend who possessed a lion’s heart! We saw how true that statement was. This boy managed a happy and joyous life in the face of deafness. If that doesn’t take courage, I don’t know what does!
I am grateful to have had a chance to meet Daniel and get to know his lion’s heart. Just as before, when God brought us together unexpectedly, I am trusting that he isn’t done with our friendship and we can one day be reunited. How wonderful it was to serve the MOYA Foundation and to be a small part of the change they are bringing about in Nigeria, one heart at a time.
– Anna, Intern