Over the past two years Interact has reported on SGM Lifewords’ ministry in Democratic Republic of Congo, from the first Choose Life training workshops to using Pavement Project to minister to vulnerable children. Now Peter Mkolesia, Lifewords Regional Director in Africa, returns to see hope and transformation at work in the young people of DRC.
We sit under the shade of a tree with Felly Bakana* and three other boys. They clamour around Clara (Africa Pavement Project Co-ordinator) wanting to be hugged – they need the touch of a mother. Then they turn to me and start to play – I know also their need for a father, uncle or even grandfather – a male figure in their lives.
A year before we met, Felly had been living with his family at an army camp on the outskirts of Kinshasa. One day his father returned home from duty and announced that because of continuing insecurity he would stay at the camp with his oldest son while Felly and his mother went to live with her sister in the town. Two days later, rebels attacked the camp and everyone was killed, including Felly’s father and brother. Devastated by grief, Felly and his mother had to fend for themselves. Unable to stay with his aunt, they found themselves on the streets.
I asked Felly what he wanted most in life. “I want the opportunity to carry on in school” he told me, “so that I can get a good job and support my mother”. Children who find themselves without a home lose their childhood quickly – some turning to drugs – and they learn to survive on the streets. But as Felly speaks, deep down you can still see the little boy within. A boy who wants a future and a life.
Late that night, long after we’d left Felly and the other boys, it dawned on me that DRC has been at war for many years, therefore there must be generations of people who have not experienced peace and the hope of living in a complete home. Felly and his friends are only a representative group.
It’s to this often homeless and orphaned generation that SGM Lifewords has been bringing hope and a new perspective. In partnership with grassroots organisations and schools, we are seeing the power of God’s Word bring transformation through Pavement Project and Choose Life.
Rescuing the vulnerable
In a large market in Kinshasa, street boys congregate to find work. It is here that Pavement Project workers share the Bible with these children. This is where Felly was first able to talk about his experiences and connect with one of our partners in Kinsasha, L’Equipe Pastorale Aupres des Enfants en Detresse (EPED).
For the workers, the task of protecting and rescuing this generation is huge, but Pastor Ngolo from EPED told me how the SGM Lifewords resources – Pavement Project in particular – have transformed the work that they do. “It has revolutionised EPED’s approach to children,” he said, and he notes a great improvement in the positive responses of children as they are counselled.
Many of the children that EPED meet are hurt by the people they trust the most, so part of the task of restoring them is to help them put their trust in people who can help them. Hennock* and Plamedi*, a boy and a girl aged 11 and 9, were falsely accused of witchcraft, and locked in a burning house by their uncle. Manya, a Pavement Project worker from EPED, counselled them at the hospital. After Manya had shared the Bible with him, Hennock said: “Even if I am experiencing pain now, with what you have shared with me, I know God will help me.”
A new future
Education plays a key part in helping this generation of young people move out of uncertain and difficult situations, but even staying in school can be a real challenge. It is here that Choose Life is making a very practical difference as children are transformed and motivated by the message of the Gospel.
Choose Life’s clear biblical values are shaping children to become leaders who are excited about the potential they have to change their lives and those of their friends. Cecile*, who is 13 years old, was spending time with a group of other teenagers whose influence affected her negatively. As a result, she was about to drop out of school. However, she completely changed after she’d been part of the Choose Life lessons. The values that she learned about in school resulted in her choosing to live her life differently. One of her teachers, Balegizi Cishugi, said:
“She became more focused on education and she selected good friends … She became a good example that other children emulated and she also started discipling children between the ages of 9–12.”
The ongoing impact of Choose Life brings hope for the future of DRC. In the case of Cecile, no one had discovered how talented she was until she was exposed to the programme. Apart from the personal transformation she experienced, the biblical values that she learned enabled her to recognise her calling to be a leader, and to mentor and encourage other students.
New hope for DRC
It is not easy to conduct business in a country dealing with poverty and the effects of war, but the need among the children continues to be the driving force behind our commitment. We are excited about the children and young people who meet Jesus through Pavement Project and Choose Life, that they will form the foundation for a generation who will bring new hope to this nation.
Read more about our work in DRC.
* Names have been changed in line with our child protection policy.