A letter from Bob and Kristi Rice in Congo
“For the love we have of Christ,
may we bring a child into our home”
Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress… (James 1:27).
Almost two years ago I began meeting with two pastors in Kananga concerning the plight of street children. Our meetings began as the result of Pastor Manyayi and his passion for these kids. He wrote his theology thesis on God’s concern for orphans. Pastor Manyayi has been an impassioned spokesperson on their behalf ever since. Pastor Kazadi is the Director of Community Development for the Congolese Presbyterian Church (CPC). He also feels the weight of the vulnerable in our midst. For many months we met weekly to discuss and pray about this issue. We began formulating a plan for how the churches of Kananga could respond to this social crisis. Later Ruth Brown, a fellow missionary friend and colleague, entered this conversation and helped sharpen our thinking regarding how to empower church members to care for the vulnerable.
To understand the passion and energy for this program, perhaps it is best to first understand the person who captured the vision for this initiative. Pastor Manyayi is the firstborn in his family. His grandfather, Kayaya Manyayi, was also a CPC pastor. When Manyayi was still a boy his father divorced his mother. This tragedy split the family, and Manyayi found himself caught in the middle. His father had no vision to educate his son, and shuttling back and forth between the homes of both parents was not a good life for young Manyayi. Into this quagmire of disfunctionality stepped Manyayi’s grandfather. Kayaya Manyayi loved his grandson Manyayi very much. He brought Manyayi to his village of Kuaka Ntumba where Manyayi could experience a stable childhood. He sent him to school. He cared for his grandson. He was overjoyed when Manyayi told him that he also felt the call of God to serve as a pastor. On the day of Manyayi’s graduation from the University of Sheppards and Lapsley (UPRECO), his grandfather prayed that Manyayi would continue his studies and travel far to do God’s work. He also slaughtered his goat to celebrate. Kayaya Manyayi also suggested that his grandson find a wife. Manyayi heeded his grandfather’s advice and found a young woman, Biabanya, to marry. Kayaya Manyayi helped his grandson save $100 for the dowry, and also contributed his own gifts for the special day of celebration.
In every way Kayaya Manyayi was an advocate for and loving presence to Manyayi. Pastor Manyayi reflects back now and recognizes that he easily could have become lost as a child. However, his grandfather rescued him—giving him a place to live, caring for him, and helping him with his education. Moreover, Pastor Manyayi sees the hand of God upon his life. He has experienced ups and downs and many challenges. There have been numerous times when money was scarce, but there has always been food. A few times his own children have been chased from school because the family lacked school fees, but they have always been able to return. “God does not sleep,” says Manyayi with zeal and authentic faith.
Pastor Manyayi recognizes that not all children are fortunate to have someone like Kayaya Manyayi in their lives, and that many children do not understand that there is a God in heaven who loves them. Pastor Manyayi knows that God cares for the lost and vulnerable, the orphan and the widow. For this reason, he envisioned “Project Ditekemena” (Project Hope). This project seeks to place street children back into homes, either their home of family origin or a family who will care for them. The beginnings of this project have been quite humble. The Presbytery of Kananga, in response to Manyayi’s passion, has organized a committee to address the needs of vulnerable children. Pastor Manyayi has already done what he will later exhort other families to do. He has taken a street child, a boy named Ntumba, into his home. He and his wife care for Ntumba, feeding him and sending him to school. Just being around Ntumba, one can sense his thankfulness to be part of a family, to be loved and cared for. Elder Mpolesha of Pastor Manyayi’s church has also taken in Pemba Celine, an orphan. Pemba Celine’s mother died during birth, and there was no one to care for her. Elder Mpolesha and his family have taken Pemba Celine into their home despite their own limited means.
The greater vision for Project Ditekemena is to rescue 20 children from the streets over the next two to three years. These children would be both boys and girls, ranging in age from 8 to 16. Some of the children rescued would even have physical disabilities. They would be housed in a Catholic Centre on the outskirts of town for five months. During this time teams of church members and a core team of leaders would seek to find the children homes and prepare families to receive these children. Over the following two years the children would receive education or vocational training, depending on their age. Local CPC churches would be trained and equipped to help families in their vicinity care for these children—an integral part of this program.
The mission statement for Project Ditekemena is fitting, “For the love we have of Christ, may we bring a child into our home.” We pray that others like Kayaya Manyayi will rise to the occasion to accept responsibility to care for these children as the church seeks to stand alongside these families in solidarity and support. In a poor country like Congo where most families already have too many mouths to feed, a project like this one is rooted in faith and trust that God will open up the hearts of His people to care for the lost and vulnerable.
We covet your prayers for this important initiative! As always, Kristi and I are incredibly thankful for your prayers and financial support. You stand with us as we stand with our Congolese sisters and brothers.
We will be itinerating in the U.S. for several months this year. Here is a general description of where we will be travelling, and when*:
Southeast (Tenn., Ala., Ga., Fla., S.C., N.C.) April 21 – May 9
West Coast (Calif., Ore.) May 25 – June 30
New Wilmington Mission Conference (Pa.) July 19 – 27
Sharing Conference (Ky.) August 4 – 10
North East / Mid-Atlantic (Ohio, Pa., N.J., Del., Va., W.Va.) August 29 – Sept 30
Congo Mission Network (Texas) Oct 3 – 5
Southwest, Midwest (Texas, Ariz., Colo., Minn.) October 6 – 18
Midwest (Mich., Ill.) October 25 – 30
* Some of these plans may change, but this is a good overview of our itineration. Our plate is already fairly full visiting churches. However, if we are in your area during a certain time, let us know and we will see if a visit is possible. Thank you!
Korean Presbyterin church of Fresno start to support your work in Congo. If you have time to visit Fresno, please let me know.
WOnderful story of the development of a ministry. Truly the church reaching into the community and bringing ministry to the home.
I love reading yourblog and news letters. Will look forward to seeing you at the end of Oct. (or maybe in April too)