Blacksmith Boys

On Sunday afternoon, during our sabbath, we got to visit the local forge, a group I affectionately call the Blacksmith Boys. This area of Koutiala backs up to a scrap-iron dump, which is filled with piles and piles of old auto parts, rebar, metal posts and other scrap-iron. Within this L-shaped area (perhaps 40 feet wide, with each section of the 'L' stretching 100 yards) was a walking path in the middle and little 'booths' on each side.

Within each of the booths (roughly 10-15 feet square) were teams of blacksmiths. There might be 1-7 on a team. A typical scene might look like this. An 8-year old boy hand-turns a fan made out of bicycle parts and a metal tube into a super hot fire. The main-dude, some kind of artisan, would pull a hot piece of metal out of the fire with a long pair of tongs in his right hand and set it on a flat forge. Then four teen or 20-ish muscular dudes would pull out these home-made sledge hammers and bang on the piece of metal until it was flat. The artisan then pulls out a precision shaping tool with his left hand and one of the hammer guys strikes it in rhythm about 20 times as the artisan moves it with great precision. The hot piece of metal looks like a perfect arrow.

The artisan changes tools, this time pulling out a square punch. another hammer guy strikes it with great force at just the right time - precisely four times, making four perfect holes in the new shape. The artisan slides the still-hot piece of metal to a curved metal surface where a third hammer dude hits it just-so, in order to shape it into a perfect curve. The artisan places the finished plow-tip onto a pile of others that have been fashioned exactly the same. He then turns and grabs another piece out of the red-hot fire. The whole process took about three minutes.

Imagine having this as your lot in life. Turning scrap metal into something usable. I thought about what my boys would be doing if they were born in this neighborhood. Josiah (9) would be blowing a forge - 6-10 hours a day in the 100+ degree heat. Caleb (14) would have a sledge hammer at an entry level position, swinging all day long, five hours in the morning and then three more in the late afternoon. His adolescent muscles would be bigger and stronger, but college would not be possible. Finishing High School would be doubtful. The fifty cents to a dollar a day that they could earn for the family would be too valuable. If they were really aiming high in life they would dream the dream of one day being an artisan. I am counting my blessings with gratitude these days.

At the same time, I saw a beautiful picture of redemption. These guys took bona-fide junk - rims from semi-tires, 50-gallon drums, and axels. They turned it into stuff that was usable - hammers, tongs, blowers, punches, plows, woks, bowls. They turn things that some people would throw away into something that will become a treasure to another person. Just like God does with us.