Children kept knocking on the door of Juan and Juanita’s house on the compound of the Seventh-day Adventist hospital in Africa.
Juan and Juanita, married medical volunteers from Argentina doing a one-year mission term, were living on a small stipend, but they gladly shared rice and other simple foods from their kitchen.
Then it struck Juan and Juanita. Some of the children weren’t hungry at all and seemed to have other challenges, perhaps emotional needs.
“We asked ourselves if we were really helping them,” Juan said in an interview. “We wanted to look for children who really were in need and meet their needs.”
Determined to understand the children better, Juan and Juanita visited the village of a teenager who did odd jobs for them. The teen’s home astonished them. He had two little brothers, aged 3 and 5, who lived alone. Moreover, it was winter, and the boys were ill.
The teen wasn’t home for much of the day, and the couple decided that expecting him to give medicine to his little brothers daily would be too much to ask. Remembering that they had an extra room at home, they took the small boys back to the hospital compound.
“They could be treated easily with medicine, but they needed treatment,” Juan said.
10-Day Medical Treatment
The couple invited the two brothers to stay for 10 days to complete the treatment.
As the boys got better, Juan and Juanita learned that they had no father. Their mother was working far away and could not send for them, even though she longed for them to live with her. Juan and Juanita decided to keep caring for the two boys.
The couple helped the boys with their basic needs, enrolled them in the Adventist school, and took them to Sabbath school every week.
The boys’ spiritual hunger grew stronger.
“We saw they were special kids, even though they had lived nearly alone at home,” Juan said. “They never stole from us, and we never saw them acting dishonestly.”
During family worship, the boys heard stories from the Bible, and they especially identified with miracles such as how God’s people were led out of slavery and saved in Exodus.
“It taught them to trust in God,” Juan said.
Despite their young age, the boys even took the initiative to help with chores. One morning Juanita woke up to find the 5-year-old in the kitchen, standing on the tips of his toes at the sink, washing dishes.
“He smiled at my wife and said he knew we were tired and just wanted to help out to let us rest a bit longer," Juan said. “This was inspiring and heartwarming to us. We saw they needed to receive love but also had a lot of love to give.”
Time passed, and Juan and Juanita longed to meet the boys’ mother. They thought that she must be very loving and honorable to have such noble sons.
Time to Say Goodbye
Then the one-year term with Adventist Volunteer Services ended. The boys had lived with the couple for nearly the whole year, but now they had to part ways. The couple made arrangements for the boys to live with local friends and to sponsor them from afar.
After awhile, Juan and Juanita returned for another mission term and learned that the teenage brother had died. His mother had attended the funeral, gone away, and later come for her young sons.
Juan tracked down the mother and her sons living far from the hospital.
“It was a blessing to find them,” Juan said. “She is a lovely person. We spent time with her. The boys were shy because we hadn’t seen them for some time.”
Soon the second term ended but, before leaving Africa again, the couple decided to visit the reunited family. Juan spent about a week with them, building a friendship with the mother as he helped her with legal paperwork and other practical issues. Juanita had to work at the hospital during the week but joined them for the weekend.
Together, the couple presented the family with a box of children’s Bible books with beautiful illustrations, a Bible for each family member in their native language, and Ellen White’s “The Great Controversy.” Under a tree, they led a special Sabbath School class and church service for the community, and then said goodbye.
“It was a beautiful moment because we felt that a chapter in our lives had closed,” Juan said. “We pray that the Lord will water the seeds that have been sown.”
Entertaining Unseen Angels
The African experience changed the hearts of Juan and Juanita. They noticed that Ellen White, a cofounder of the Adventist Church, wasn’t only a prolific author who had prophetic insights. She also had a living faith, practicing what she preached by caring for needy children in her own home.
“For me this was revolutionary,” Juan said. “Many times you see missionaries working in the community, but how often do they bring the mission work to their homes?”
Missionaries who do this can entertain unseen angels, Juan said, pointing to a favorite passage in Ellen White’s “Desire of Ages,” page 639: “As you open your door to Christ's needy and suffering ones, you are welcoming unseen angels. You invite the companionship of heavenly beings. They bring a sacred atmosphere of joy and peace. They come with praises upon their lips, and an answering strain is heard in heaven. Every deed of mercy makes music there. The Father from His throne numbers the unselfish workers among His most precious treasures.”
Juan — who was 30 when he and Juanita helped the boys and is now 34 — appealed to Adventists to be vulnerable and to practice the gospel by bringing the mission work to their homes and, by God’s grace, reaching people’s hearts.
“This was a heart-changing experience for me,” said Juan, who grew up as a missionary kid. “I felt like I turned into a missionary in the mission field. I was no longer a missionary kid, but a missionary myself.”