While visiting an orphan village amongst the scenic hills of Kenya, tales of local tribal customs entertained our evening hours.
Tales of how boys become men.
Inherent rites of passage for girls are obvious, natural. But African boys must prove their manhood with hazing rituals imposed by their elders. One such tribe sees fit to withhold circumcision until boys turn twelve years old. On their day of manhood, they are stripped naked and paraded through the village, down the streets while family and friends hurl insults. When finally arriving at their destination, they are made to stand on carefully arranged banana leaves while the procedure is performed, male onlookers standing near.
Wriggling and writhing are not allowed.
A successful passage requires that the banana leaves stay in place. Each boy that conquers the test is congratulated, welcomed into the tribe of men. The newcomer’s identity goes unquestioned in either his own mind or in others’. Pride swells.
Although I do not wish such intensity upon boys in this country, distinct and noble coming of age moments are lacking for them. It is a great loss, which lends itself to role confusion and usurped responsibilities.
Grown men play video games.
Young men wander aimlessly.
Coarse joking and lazy habits replace difficult labor or facing fears.
Yes, rites of passage can have important significance.
So on our son’s 13th birthday, we gifted him with his own rite of passage: a summer of mentorship. Over the course of three months, eight hand selected men surrounded our boy to escort him through the open doors of manhood. Each stole him away for part of a day, crafting a unique experience by which they would pour into him words of godly wisdom. One took him fishing. Another took him on a progressive fast food lunch. One took him golfing. Another on a day of sales calls and baseball games. Another to a water park to play. And yet another on a tour of their childhood neighborhood and first job site.
As Nathan approaches the developmental stage of forming his own identity, we understand that there will be other voices, role models, that will speak into his life. We want to help him feel comfortable with the right ones, setting him on a course to seek wisdom from proven men of character. We want him to count himself worthy of walking with such men.
Each time he arrived home from one of his sessions, as soon as he would shut the door behind him, the words spilled forth. He had conversations of importance. He was gifted with personal phone numbers. His love language of quality time was spoken, and he understood. He began to fill a page with notes of his learnings.
Only a few short weeks ago, we gathered these same men together for a celebratory barbecue. Conversation flowed around the table as my husband expressed his appreciation for each that had invested their time into Nathan. When the eating was done, this new teenager stood before his mentors and shared what he had learned from each, adding his thanks as well. A simple gift was given.
At the end of it all, the men circled around our son, laying hands upon upon him and uttering prayers of blessing over his life. And this mama held her breath in holy gratitude.
Summer of mentorship.
A rite of passage.
A memorable stake driven into the time story of a young man’s life.
Humbled and blessed,
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