A remarkable grandmother is doing amazing gospel work among children in the Benin city of Parakou.
Mama Panket, as she is known to all the local children because of the homemade pancakes she sells in the market, is tirelessly devoted to running a series of kids’ clubs.
Emily Kirkpatrick (pictured right with Mama) has just returned from nine months in Benin on Serving In Mission’s Immerse programme and said: “Mama is amazing and it was a joy to work with her. She has such a heart for the children and just loves telling them about Jesus.
“She says she’s an ‘old woman’ but I guess she’s in her early 50s. She was a great inspiration because she just wants to share the love of Jesus with everyone she meets — and especially the children.”
Mama Panket lives on her own in a small, two-room mud-brick house in Parakou. She has just a table, two chairs, a bed and a cooker. Her father worked for missionaries in Benin and she has been a Christian most of her life.
She gave birth to three children, but one died at a young age and the other two are now adults and have their own homes and children. To the outsider, her life looks like a constant battle to make ends meet. In sometimes searing 35°C heat, she cleans the SIM Benin offices three days a week and also cooks and sells her delicious pancakes.
But still she finds the time and energy to run three separate kids’ clubs, one of which can sometimes have 100 youngsters aged from 5-14 running around the SIM compound.
Emily said: “When that big kids’ club is on, she goes down to the schools at home time and encourages the children to come along.
“The format is usually an hour of play, then a drink and pancakes, followed by a Bible talk. The kids, most of whom come from Muslim families, listen intently. She always asks if they can remember last week’s talk and, maybe because it is an oral culture, they often can.
“One child, who spoke barely any French, heard a Bible story in French one week and then recounted it almost word for word in the local Bariba language the next.
“In such an oral culture, it’s a great way to check that the stories are being listened to and understood, so there’s no doubt that God’s word is spreading in Benin.”
Mama Panket currently has help from one mission worker but, in the past, has run all the clubs single-handedly. Her passion for the gospel and her trust in Jesus keep her going.
As she says: “God has given me a great heart for children. He sustained me through the loss of my own child and now these children give me such joy. I want the children to focus on Jesus and to see what Jesus has done for them.”
That simple gospel conviction sums her up and encapsulates SIM’s core purpose — telling people who have never heard of Jesus who he is.
Give thanks for Mama Panket’s passionate commitment to Christ and to the children she serves.
For more Christian workers to be raised up willing to serve in Francophone West Africa.
For the children who come to the kids’ clubs to grow in their knowledge and love of Jesus.