I was introduced to the lanky 17-year-old lad on my first Sunday at church in Africa three and a half years ago. Afonso lived with two friends in a hut on our organization’s property, so I subsequently saw him often. I quickly found that he lived up to his reputation of being fun, sweet, and helpful.

During the months that year that I lived alone in the main residence while my director’s family was traveling, Afonso not only came faithfully to complete his small volunteer duties, but frequently found other reasons to pop in and check on me. On the Sunday when I felt shaken up after witnessing our German shepherds maul a kitten to death, Afonso spent the whole afternoon at my side, making small talk and looking at photos, which calmed my rattled nerves. He then relieved additional pressure by explaining the event to my absent manager and helping the guard bury the kitten. That day, June 10, 2018, I began to appreciate Afonso in a deeper way.

A few days later, Afonso saw me leaving to visit an orphanage and decided to come along. Soon afterwards he shared with me his heart’s desire to minister to children. By that time my director’s family had returned home, and on that particular evening, when his wife announced that dinner was ready, I replied that they should eat without me, since I was engrossed in Afonso’s testimony of God’s calling on his life.

In the following months, I conversed much with Afonso about his dreams for his future and his plans to bring them to pass. Sometimes he’d sit in the kitchen and share his heart while I cooked. Sometimes we’d sit on the living room couch, engrossed in discussion. Sometimes I’d slip outside in the evenings to chat with him in the pavilion beside the pool. I grew impressed with his devotion to the Lord, his singleness of purpose, and his diligence in following the counsel I gave him. I arranged for him to attend preschool teacher training in December 2018 and to subsequently teach in our local preschool, and was pleased to see him excel in both settings.

In March 2019, Afonso moved from our organization’s property, where I lived and worked, to his family’s home, a 15-minute walk away. We both realized that my mentorship of Afonso was important enough for us to make the effort to continue it even though we were no longer neighbors. Especially after I moved to the countryside that May, our contact shifted to include more phone calls and text messages, while scheduled meetings replaced the impromptu encounters we previously enjoyed. My admiration for Afonso’s spiritual maturity and my sense of honor to hold a position of guidance in his life continued to grow.

As 2019 morphed into 2020, Afonso shared freely with me that he sees me as the mother God gave him to replace his own mother, who died shortly before my arrival in Africa. I joyfully agreed. He began calling me “Mom”, and word spread quickly among the church youth that Afonso is my son. I feel strong maternal love for Afonso and deeply appreciate the respectful affection he faithfully shows me.

COVID-related school closures interrupted Afonso’s educational plans, but he still finished high school on schedule in February 2021. In March, as the culmination of years of academic diligence and prayerful seeking of God’s will, he took entrance exams for two university programs. In April he received word that he wasn’t accepted into either one — which is to be expected here, where competition is intense and many high school graduates try for years to enter any college. Afonso was distraught at this hurdle in the track he had anticipated for his future. Yet his faith in the Lord remained strong.

In God’s providence, on June 1, Afonso learned that he was offered one of the few university slots left open by those who were accepted but did not register. At that point he had just two weeks to prepare to move to an island several hours away to study “local development and international relations” in a four-year degree program. During his first year there, he’ll be mentored in academics and local ministry by a mature Christian friend who’ll be completing his final year in the same program.

Oh, the emotions I’ve experienced in the two weeks since receiving this news! Excitement, pride, and wonder are balanced with the anticipated pain of missing Afonso’s presence, all of which showcases the beauty of my motherly affection for Afonso. We converse daily regarding the details of this transition and advice for the coming season of his life. We have also been busy with practical steps in preparation for his move: procuring documents, organizing finances, purchasing supplies, and setting up his new computer. God has graciously given us many special memories together in these last days before Afonso goes off to college.

One of those memories is the goodbye party I gave for Afonso this Sunday evening. Among the 40+ guests he chose were family members, church youth, and other friends. Through the lively games, personal comments, conversation, prayer, and light meal, they showered Afonso with attention, assuring him that he is too important to be forgotten during his four years away at school. I loved seeing his joyous interactions with so many people near to his heart, and sharing my feelings toward him in their presence.

You can join me in praying that God will protect Afonso from temptation and other dangers; that he will study diligently and succeed in his course; that he will grow spiritually and reach out to bless others; and that the Lord will equip him for a future ministry which will bear much lasting fruit for His glory. Please also pray that I will wisely exercise my role in Afonso’s life. Thank you for taking the time to learn about my son Afonso.

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