This is Al Hassan. To be precise, Mohammed Al Hassan. To look at, you wouldn’t think he was anyone extraordinary, but try telling that to the dozens of kids he cares for every day. I’m choosing to tell just a bit of his story here because I reckon that, if we could have a couple more men like him around, the world would be a far better place.
It’s early Sunday morning and sitting in front of me is a bunch of smiley teenagers engaging in a Sunday School class. There’s a cool breeze blowing softly through the open window next to us, a welcome relief from the constant humidity, and the shirt sticking to your back starts to feel a little less uncomfortable. The sound of intermittent traffic rolls in from the road outside, mingled with the crooning cockerel that is, for some reason, still going at it, despite it being nearly 10am.
In front of me, the class – all sat on wooden benches, chatting playfully between themselves – are going through the lesson from last weekend. Some of them have done their homework and present it proudly to the teacher. Others grin sheepishly about their lack of end product.
Now, it’s about here that I’m expecting to cringe. Having grown up around here, I’m starting to remember the sometimes harsh treatment I’d witness from teachers. Maybe I’m expecting the teacher to scold those who haven’t lived up to expectations. There might usually be a robust rebuke, showing the kid – in no uncertain terms – the error of his ways (and, let’s be honest, it’s usually the boys who haven’t done the homework).
But, no. None of that. Counter to what I anticipated, the only response from this teacher is gentleness. Instead of scolding the students, he encourages. Instead of firm rebuke, I witness uplifting words and suggestions of how to use one’s time better, and of the importance of hard work for one’s future life and habits. All the while, the room is filled with smiles, friendly banter and heart-felt warmth.
It’s no surprise, then, that during the break I see the kids chatting freely with their teacher. I hear their calls of “Daddy” and sense an aura of comfortability around the man with whom they now spend so much of their lives.
These are all youths from CFM’s Children’s Home, and Al Hassan is the leader of that home, looking after, teaching, and mentoring those children 24/7. It’s no small task. Spend just a bit of time talking to him, though, and you’ll soon realise his motivation for the countless hours that he puts in. “These children are the leaders of tomorrow,” he gently reminds me. “But I didn’t ever imagine myself doing this! I wanted to be a university lecturer, but it seems God had different plans.” Having converted from an Islamic background and from a tribe deep in Boko Haram territory, the tenderness on display before me shows Al Hassan to be a very different person than the one he had originally set out to become.
Now, instead of stimulating the minds of upper-class university students, he and his family care for orphaned children – those who are fatherless, traumatised by violence or ravaged by war. Many of these kids have
witnessed heinous atrocities and gone through terrible loss. They come to the home needing nurturing, nourishment, and a hope for the future. For Al Hassan, he may no longer be heading for a glamourous professorship, but he’s okay with that. Nowadays, he’s “touching lives” and “giving them hope”. Those dreams he once held dear have long been laid to rest and in their place – rather than the pang of regret – is the knowledge that God has given him perhaps an even greater task. If ‘pure religion’, as James puts it, is to visit the orphan in their distress, then this guy’s nailed it.
True, Mohammed Al Hassan’s name may never go down in the annals of time as a ‘great man’. He’ll likely never be spoken of in any great halls, or have his name written into the history books. But, to the kids whose futures he’s lovingly shaping, he just might be one of the most important things that ever happened. And I think that’s definitely worth writing about.