A letter from Ruth Brown in Congo
Summer 2014 - Hope for Street Children
Muoyo webe! (Life to you!)
From many of you I hear news of your plans to visit with family over these summer months. I, too, will be visiting this summer with a very special family: 23 street children who have joined the family of the Presbyterian Church of Congo (CPC), specifically, the Presbyteries of Kananga and Tshibashi.
These presbyteries have agreed to support these children and the families who will be accepting them back or welcoming them as new children. Church support to street children has been a dream of the Rev. Andre Manyayi, pastor of Oasis Butoke Presbyterian Church in Kananga, since his seminary days at Shepherd-Lapsley Institute. Pastor Manyayi’s dissertation asserted that Christ mandates the Church’s role as caregiver for street children. After seminary Pastor Manyayi presented his dissertation to his local presbytery, and in early 2013 he approached the CPC’s Community Development Program, asking for help with finding funding for a church-based program to assist street children to resettle with family members. Pastor Manyayi’s final proposal for this program, “Ditekemena” (“Hope”), was granted funding by the PC(USA) Presbyterian Women’s Thank Offering in the fall of 2013.
The program Ditekemena (“Hope”) is aptly named. With this program not only is there hope for these children’s future, but also there is hope for other at-risk children as the Presbyterian Church of Congo realizes its mission to love the street children and to sustain a program of care for them. In Ditekemena’s plan, adult teams from seven churches in each of the two presbyteries will be trained as family supporters. One of these trained church teams will then be assigned to a child’s family according to the geographic proximity of the church to the family that is accepting a child.
I am reaching out to each and every one of you readers of this letter. We are in need of educational materials for these church teams who will be visiting the families into which these children will be settling. If during your church experiences or during your school or work days you have ever received training for how to be a better listener or a support to struggling parents, please write to me with descriptions of lesson plans or names of courses, and sources for culturally appropriate pictures to stimulate group discussion. We will be training church teams to listen to parents, to reflect back the parents’ thoughts and plans, to be cheer leaders, and to help share the Christian faith with the families as these families take into their homes one of these children.
The youth groups of the 14 churches will also receive training in family support. Staff of PRODEK, the Kasai’s effective agricultural development program, will train the youth (and adult supervisors) to raise guinea pigs. In turn, the youth groups will be assisting the family members to raise guinea pigs to provide more daily protein and to help provide more family income. The families will tithe back their guinea pigs to the youth groups/churches (giving back every tenth guinea pig born), providing churches with a means of sustaining their assistance to the families. After youth groups and families are successful with raising guinea pigs, PRODEK may help them move on to raising other small animals such as rabbits or chickens. We are beginning with guinea pigs because they are disease-resistant and need no vaccinations. Their feed can also be raised on the earth surrounding a city dwelling. Raising them can prove quite lucrative, too, as one guinea pig sells for more than half of the average daily wage in Congo, or $3.23.
According to UNICEF (2010) there are an estimated 4.5 million orphans in D. R. Congo. And just 63 percent of orphans attend school, compared with 85 percent of non-orphans in the same age group. Ditekemena is serving only 23 children. The Presbyterian Women grant provides for education for two years for these children. During these two years the Community Development Program and PRODEK will be assisting churches to build resources to sustain the work of introducing street children into families. Both presbyteries have pledged to create ongoing funding to enable them to remove one street child every two years (that’s one child per year) and, through the ongoing, systematic efforts of visiting church teams, support for the child’s health, education, and Christian nurturing will continue.
A drop in the bucket? Yes. But if we can encourage this practice and if we can network with other denominations to encourage similar support, we may begin to see a difference. The ultimate aim of Ditekemena is for churches to learn to recognize families at risk and to have the skills to prevent children from being abandoned to the streets.
Without your support and the support of Presbyterian Women, Pasteur Manyayi may not have realized his dream. Thank you for your prayers and your contributions that make it possible for me to assist Ditekemena and other community development programs. Please know that more prayers and contributions are always needed and welcomed. By contributing to my sending and support you make it possible for me to facilitate church and community-based trainings that help sustain programs for at-risk children. There are also opportunities for contributing to the Ditekemena program and to other programs in the Kasai for at-risk children. Please contact me if you are interested in supporting these programs.
Before joining the Ditekemena program many of the children were blamed for the death of their parents because of Congo’s beliefs in child sorcery. All the children were discarded by their families to the street, and while in the street they were treated badly by adults working there. Many were cut with razors when they reached under tables to pick up discarded produce, and they were left alone to sleep on cardboard cartons. Yet through all this they are still able to trust and love. The love and joy among the children is amazing. All of them help each other. The teenagers enjoy spending time with the smaller children. During soccer games everyone plays, girls included, and the disabled children are the goalies. And all of us who spend time with them are awed and encouraged by their love, and we are filled with hope by their example as we remember Christ’s words and actions:
Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” And he took the children in his arms, put his hands on them and blessed them (Mark 10:14-16).
Like the children, may we be filled with trust and love!
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