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Caring for Vulnerable Children in Congo

A letter from Christi Boyd, serving in Central Africa, based in the Democratic Republic of the Congo

November 2016

Write to Jeff Boyd
Write to Christi Boyd

Individuals: Give online to E200314 for Jeff and Christi Boyd’s sending and support

Congregations: Give to D506075 for Jeff and Christi Boyd’s sending and support

Churches are asked to send donations through your congregation’s normal receiving site (this is usually your presbytery).

Caring for Vulnerable Children in Congo

“When I was disobedient they said I am a sorcerer and eating family members.” Sharing his story much as a matter-of-fact, Serge continued, “I replied, I don’t know what you mean when you’re talking about witchcraft.” He then paused and looked me straight in the eyes. “This accusation hurt me deeply. They say that I am a sorcerer, but I tell you that I am not a sorcerer.”

Serge is one of many children who are cared for through Presbyterian ministries in Congo. Cast out by his family, he survived in the marketplace, from where the church brought him to one of its transition centers/halfway homes.

Since the early days of Presbyterian mission in Congo our church and its partners have ministered to vulnerable children. Around the turn of the 19th century slave traders who raided villages, forcing Congolese men and women into labor, regularly passed through Luebo—the first Presbyterian Mission station in Congo—hauling with them the slaves’ little children “as spoil to be sold about through the country as one would peddle chickens.” At times Presbyterian missionaries would rescue children, which is how two orphanages became established in response to this abominable human-made tragedy. Over time, and sponsored by faithful Presbyterians in the U.S., other centers were added to care for and teach children lacking a parental home. Eventually, though, none of the orphanages weathered the test of time and dwindling support.

                                                                             
William M. Morrison, The Story of Our Congo Mission (1906)

While there are several reasons for such institutionalized forms of orphan ministries, in Congo they are in fact superimposed upon a culture in which children customarily belong to the community at large, and those losing a biological parent are usually fostered by members in the extended family. The social fabric still serves as a safety net, even if it wears under prolonged hardship and tears in acute disasters. In this context our Congolese Church partners are grappling to faithfully sustain and nurture the most vulnerable as they risk falling through the cracks.

Learning from its own and others’ experiences worldwide, the Presbyterian Church in Congo (CPC) has in recent years shifted away from orphanages in favor of more community-based ministries. The most common and effective of these tend to go unnoticed to the outsider’s eye, yet they are the most culturally appropriate and sustainable. In East Kasai and Katanga, for example, I have witnessed the efforts by women’s groups in local congregations as they collect money or collectively undertake income-generating activities to meet nutritional, medical and educational needs of orphans taken in by relatives or other families in their community. The projects they run vary from kitchen gardens, palm nut tree plantations and poultry farms, to the manufacture of cisterns to catch and sell rainwater, or the construction of apartments for rent, etc. In principle, the initiatives are self-supporting and require little to no outside support.

Having run various orphanages in the past, PROMUKA is a ministry that nowadays works with pastors to identify orphaned children in their congregations who are fostered by poor relatives. With modest ongoing support from Presbyterians in the U.S., PROMUKA sponsors the children’s schooling to relieve the financial pressures on the family. As congregation-based initiatives, the women’s efforts and PROMUKA help keep children in the community and can be considered low-cost, preventative church ministries that thwart children’s abandonment or their running away.

For rejected children like Serge, who do end up living on the streets, the Congolese church runs a few halfway homes. In concept these centers, Foyer de Dibindi, Kabeya Kamuenga and Muene Ditu in East Kasai, and Ditekemena in West Kasai, offer the children temporary shelter, nurture and education while searching for their biological parents or relatives with the ultimate goal of mediating reconciliation and reunification with the family and enabling reintegration in the community. To successfully complete the reintegration process requires a conscientious effort. 

In the words of the Kananga director of Social Services, “Reintegration begins the very first day a child arrives at the transition center.” The shorter the transition period, the greater usually the chance of successful reintegration as children grow accustomed to the comfort of their new surroundings. In case relatives are not found or are unwilling to take in the child, the church’s larger vision includes plans to prepare and engage local congregations and presbyteries for the identification of foster families who are willing to welcome a child in their home. This is a critical phase for a transitional ministry, because the center of gravity principally has to shift from the halfway house as a semi-institutional ministry to the congregation as the community-based life of the church.¬¬ It requires a deliberate effort to make this happen and prevent a transitional center from becoming a more permanent residence. Since halfway homes require around-the-clock staffing, expenses for their operations are high. And while all four of them receive contributions from congregations in their vicinity, two of the centers receive the bulk of their funds from congregations in the U.S.
                                                                             
Africa’s Children, A Church Response to Children’s Issues in Sub-Saharan Africa by Frank Dimmock

Each of the different approaches for ministering to vulnerable children have their merit, particularly if they are harmonized and coordinated as complementary ministries within the church at large. In the absence of such a larger plan, however, significant disparities have grown as visibility, accessibility and appeal have become determining factors in the designation of donations and incentives to maintain resource-intensive semi-institutionalized care. Not only does this undermine the original vision of transitional ministries working hand in hand with local congregations to complete the reintegration process, it inadvertently fails to appreciate the low-cost and preventative community-based initiatives that are carried on anonymously and reach many more children.

Aware of the need to redress this situation and coordinate the efforts, the CPC leadership has decided to develop a plan that outlines strategic priorities and that integrates the church’s ministries from the grassroots congregations to its centralized departments to effectively respond to the needs of the vulnerable children, to mitigate their vulnerability, and to address root causes of abandonment. [Insert photo #5] An initial participatory strategic planning workshop with participants coming from various different provinces is scheduled for early April 2017, and our partners have asked for your prayerful support in accompaniment of the process.

After more than two years Serge is still in the halfway home. The church traced his family, but the relatives refuse to take him back, maintaining their deep-seated belief that he is a sorcerer.

I would like to invite you to be part of the CPC’s efforts “for the least of these.” Please consider an end-of-year contribution to our mission service through E200314 Jeff and Christi Boyd. This year, as in recent years, a group of committed Presbyterians has pledged to match all gifts sent for mission personnel support, up to $56,000, before the end of the calendar year. To help the Presbyterian Church in Congo realize its participatory strategic planning workshop and the continuing process, gifts marked “Strategic Planning” can be sent through https://www.presbyterianmission.org/donate/e051625/ (Ministry to Orphans and Other Vulnerable Children, Congo).

In defiance of these bleak times, we await impatiently the Good News of Peace on Earth.

Christi

Please read this important message from Tony De La Rosa, Interim Executive Director, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)

“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. (Isaiah 43:1b-2, NRSV)

Dear Friend of the Presbyterian Mission Agency:

Thank you for your prayers and for your financial support of Jeff and Christi Boyd this year, and any previous year. We hear from our mission co-workers how much your prayerful financial support has meant to them. Please know that you are a vital part of ministries throughout the Congo.

Even as I thank you, I want to let you know that this is a critical time for our congregations and all people of faith to commit themselves to support mission co-workers like Jeff and Christi. Our global church partners greatly value their service, and you well know how important this ministry is in building connections between the body of Christ in the U.S. and the Congo.

We have historically relied on endowment interest and the general offering from congregations to sustain the vital work of all of our mission workers. Those sources of funding have greatly diminished. It is only through the gifts of individuals and congregations that we are able to keep Christi and Jeff doing the life-giving work God called them to do. A year ago, in May 2015, we had to recall some mission workers due to a lack of funding. World Mission communicated the challenge to you, and you responded decisively and generously. Through your response, we heard the Spirit remind us, “Fear not!”

Today, I’m asking you to consider an additional gift for this year, and to increase the gift you may consider for 2017. Sending and support costs include not only salary but also health insurance and retirement contributions, orientation, language training, housing, travel to the country of service, children’s education, emergency evacuation costs, and visa/passport costs.

My heartfelt thanks for your prayers and support of our Presbyterian mission co-workers. In the coming season, we will celebrate God’s sending of the Christ child, the source of the good news we share. May you experience anew the hope, peace, joy, and love that are ours because “perfect love casts out fear” (I John 4:18).

Thank you for saying “yes” to love.

With you in Christ,

Tony De La Rosa
Interim Executive Director, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)


Creative_Commons-BYNCNDYou may freely reuse and distribute this article in its entirety for non-commercial purposes in any medium. Please include author attribution, photography credits, and a link to the original article. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDeratives 4.0 International License.

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