A letter from Jeff and Christi Boyd in Congo
Mbuyi* is a young girl who used to be poorly dressed, malnourished and often sick. Living in a large family near the Congo diamond mining capital Mbuji Mayi, she had looked forward to her older sister’s wedding. But three days afterward, what should have been remembered as a wonderful event turned very sour. Some family money had disappeared, and fingers pointed to Mbuyi. Threatened and feeling vulnerable, she fled her home to find safety at the Foyer de Dibindi, a Presbyterian transition home for girls at risk. Minutes after Mbuyi arrived, her father climbed the courtyard wall with machete in hand to “enlighten” his daughter. Jean Paul Lwabeya, the director of the Foyer, came to the girl’s rescue and was able to restrain her father. Lwabeya provided shelter for the girl and decided not to take the father to the police, knowing that, without any money, the whole family would be worse off if the father was arrested.
Operating under the auspices of the Presbyterian Church in Congo, the Foyer was built in 2000 when retired PC(USA) mission co-workers the Rev. Bill and Ruth Metzel returned to Congo as volunteers to help the local church community launch this ministry. A location was chosen close to the largest open market in Mbuji Mayi, where many children wander looking for food or money and where girls, especially, have little means of protection. Housing up to 20 girls at a time, the center is not an orphanage, but a temporary refuge for girls who do not have a safe place to live. The Foyer provides a healthy and nurturing environment while the director works to reunite girls with their families or communities. Reconciliation and healing are important components of this ministry.
Support for the Foyer de Dibindi comes from churches and individuals in Mbuji Mayi itself as well as from Presbyterians in the United States. PC(USA) World Mission continues to provide counsel through our fellow mission co-worker Dr. Frank Dimmock, who shares his expertise, passion and experience concerning orphans and other vulnerable children with churches in Africa and the United States.
A week after chasing his daughter, Mbuyi’s father returned apologetically to the Foyer. The family had since discovered what really had happened to the missing money: Mbuyi’s uncle had taken it. Although the goal of the Foyer is to help reunite girls with their families and communities, the best interest of the girl is always kept at heart. When the director first talked with Mbuyi about visiting her family, she firmly said “No.” Over time, and following many conversations between Lwabeya and the family, pastors and other leaders in the community, Mbuyi decided to move in with an elder sister in another village.
Augustine* was constantly sick as she was growing up. Her parents did not have money to take her to the clinic each time; they were ready to give up and simply let her die. Neighbors intervened and brought this to Lwabeya’s attention. The Foyer, located in the same Presbyterian compound as a church, a hospital and primary and secondary schools, took Augustine in and cared for her. She received medical care at the Presbyterian hospital and started to attend the Presbyterian school. Augustine regained her health and has since left the Foyer. She is now married and starting a family of her own.
Each girl who finds her way to the Foyer is unique, as are the reasons leading her there. What they all have in common is a sense of vulnerability and a feeling of being alone, abandoned or rejected. As Ruth Metzel puts it, the Foyer is helping these girls “get their bearings to live confident and spiritually encouraged lives.”
The Foyer de Dibindi is but one of many ministries by which the Presbyterian Church in Congo is responding to the biblical mandate to care for the vulnerable. On the other side of the city is the Complexe Scolaire Kasai Metzel, a school built in memory of Bill and Ruth’s son following his death in a plane crash off the coast of West Africa. Among the 724 students the school enrolled this year, 153 orphans are being allowed to attend for free. In the cities of Kananga and Kinshasa our partners are also involved in helping vulnerable children attend school, receive medical care, have enough to eat and feel the love of God. PC(USA) World Mission joins our mission partners in addressing the root causes of poverty, paying special attention to women and children. We have been invited to share in these ministries of compassion and reconciliation.
Dr. Frank Dimmock has written for Presbyterian World Mission Africa’s Children: A Church Response to Children’s Issues in Sub-Saharan Africa. You can download its online version.
Please join us in prayer for:
- The numerous vulnerable children in Congo, Africa and around the world. The Old and New Testaments show an enduring theme that God is concerned for the vulnerable, particularly children.
- The re-emerging threat of a worldwide food crisis. Rising food prices may touch the pockets of Americans, but it hits hard the stomachs of millions in Africa. Over 100 lives were lost in Cameroon during riots related to the 2008 food crisis, and we’re seeing significant food price increases here again. For many families it means the difference between having something to eat or not.
- Healing and reconciliation within the Presbyterian Church of Kinshasa, which has been experiencing tensions related to efforts to reorganize women’s ministries.
Thank you for your support of PC(USA) World Mission.
Jeff (and Christi)
* Names of girls are fictitious in order to protect their identity.
The 2011 Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 50