A letter from Bob Rice in Congo
“It Takes a Village!”
It promised to be a full and satisfying morning. As we pulled away from the Salongo market, the Land Cruiser was packed with people and things. Kristi’s “shakena” (child named after her) was sitting on her lap along with a few others in the front. Everyone was nicely dressed. We were all ready for the big event. After passing the airport we made a sharp left where large palm fronds greeted us “welcome.” More palm fronds awaited us as we cruised down one of the dirt roads of Tubuluku village. After passing the chief’s home we made another sharp left and arrived at BICE, a Catholic center created 10 years ago to house and rehabilitate child soldiers after the war.
There was energy and pomp in the air. Today was the grand opening of the Ditekemena program, an initiative of the Congolese Presbyterian Church (CPC) to address the challenges faced by families as they care for their children. The program intends to rescue 20 children from the streets of Kananga and place them back into their families of origin or find homes that will welcome them. The program also intends to bring awareness to the community of the ills of children being abandoned to the streets. A common refrain amongst leaders of this program is, “The street is not a good parent. Children are a gift from God—children need a home and family.”
After much shuffling and moving of chairs and nervous excitement, the “tshibilu” (event) began. A hymn was sung and a prayer was lifted up. The 23 children who just two weeks previous had no home and were sleeping in windows and finding scraps to sell in the market sat quietly and attentively in their chairs. Now living at the BICE center, they had new hope. They were given a prominent place to sit for this special event. Pastor Mukendi, leader of the Tshibashi Presbytery, led the program for the day. Several people gave short speeches. Pastor Manyayi, the leader of the program, gave a history of the program since 2004 and how God had laid it on his heart to reach out to vulnerable children living on the streets. Pastor Mboyamba, the Legal Representative and Director of Evangelism, shared how children are made in God’s image and how we are behooved to care for them. A woman from the Social Affairs Department of the local government came to share her hopes of collaborating and assisting in whatever ways possible. Pastor Sylvain Kazadi, Coordinator of Community Development for the CPC, shared a testimony of how lives can be changed by the proactive nature of the church.
I shared as well, quoting from Hillary Clinton who once said, “It takes a village.” Truly it will take all of our efforts to care for these children, find them homes, and give them an opportunity for a life that is full and promising. It was encouraging to have an array of leaders at this event: Catholics representing the BICE center, several Presbyterian pastors and leaders, government officials, missionaries, and visitors from the U.S. I encouraged the leaders of the Ditekemena program to commit themselves wholly to this work and to know that we are here to support them. After more singing and dancing, the program came to its conclusion. Pastor Mukendi invited Kristi and our colleague Ruth Brown forward. Kristi explained that children in the United States living in the town of Normal (Illinois) had created pillows to give to children in Congo. She explained that these pillows serve as a reminder that children in other parts of the world want to show the love of Christ in a demonstrable way. Kristi called the name of each child, one by one, to receive a pillow from Ruth. The children were delighted to be thought of in this way.
After the program, refreshments were served. We enjoyed fellowship and taking pictures together. We discussed more details about what needs to be done regarding the children with handicaps and those who are sickly. After an hour or so we all piled into the Land Cruiser to return back to Kananga. As we pulled out, the children were lined up to wave farewell. They had not forgotten to say “goodbye” and to wish us well. These children are a gift, a treasure of inestimable value in the eyes of the Lord Jesus. Jesus reproached his disciples for preventing children from coming to Him. He said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these” (Mark 10:14).
Thank you for your partnership with us and our work here in Congo. Your prayers and financial support are a treasure of inestimable value in our eyes. If you would like to learn more about the Ditekemena program, don’t be afraid to let us know. “It takes a village!”
Bob and Kristi