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Individual Volunteers in a Congo orphanage

by Christina Cavener and Brittany Burrows

June, 2009--Christina and Brittany from the North Texas Conference are serving at the Jamaa Letu Orphanage in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where they raise funds to provide basic necessities for 30 children, ages 2 to 16, and lead them in bible studies, worship, and games. They also teach primary classes in music, reading, spelling, grammar, composition, science, and English as a second language at TESOL Methodist School. This article was edited by Michael DeBorja, Mission Volunteers staff.

“Daniel in the lion’s den” is a story many of us have heard but few have experienced in this way. We all know that having faith is important. We all know that there are things that happen to us we can’t control. What we don’t know is the kind of faith the children in Africa are forced to have in order to survive, to have hope in this life. As the bible study came to an end, we began to ask the orphaned boys about their faith. At first, the room was silent, void of any noise whatsoever. Then slowly, the boys began to raise their hands to testify about their painful experiences.

Christina Cavener and Joseph10 year old Nathan raised his hand and said, “When I was a baby, I was abandoned and thrown in a trash can left to die.” Another 12 year old boy raised his hand and said, “There was a time in my life when I was starving. I had no money. I was alone with no one to take care of me for many years. I thought I was going to die but the orphanage saved me.” A concerned and hopeful boy named Emmanuel raised his hand, “The one prayer I ask of God is for Him to give me legs.”

As the boys shared more of their stories, it became increasingly difficult not to cry. What strong faith these boys have for such difficult circumstances. We thought living in an orphanage with no running water, not enough mosquito nets, barely enough food, and living in poverty was enough to shake your faith. But this? You hear about these things in the news and in far off places, but we are here. We’re talking to these kids, staring into their eyes, being among them, sharing with them.

The last comment from a little one in the group said, “I am thankful that God sent you to share the gospel with us.” What a witness to our presence and purpose here, a reminder that what we’re all doing really matters and really does make a difference. For these boys, the orphanage stands as a pillar of security, a saving grace from God.

After years of ongoing war in Congo, Americans are finally starting to hear about it. According to the International Rescue Committee, it is the world's deadliest conflict since World War II.  CBS' 60 Minutes reported that "within the last ten years, more than five million people have died and the numbers keep rising." Many of the fatalities are children. An excruciating aspect of the war is what the New York Times has described as the epidemic of rape and mutilation of Congolese women. This "uncomfortable, of-the-moment subject" was the theme of Lynn Nottage's play Ruined, which won the 2009 Pulitzer Prize for drama.

Brittany Burrows and orphan LindaWe are serving in Lubumbashi, a city in southeast Congo, which for now is a safe refuge for the northern Congolese. Most of these refugees are children who are living alone on the streets. They try to make money by selling plastic bags in the market, hoping to make enough to buy a little food.     

Amidst suffering, there is great hope. Thanks to the support of our churches and families, we have been able to provide mosquito nets, clothing, shoes, mattresses, sheets, school supplies, toys, and a tv and dvd player. We have also provided the necessary surgery for Emmanuel, the first step in the process to help him walk. We are still fundraising so he can receive prosthetic legs.

You can help to shine the light of God in places where there is such darkness and tragedy. Shine God’s light, be the hope of a child in need of an embrace from the rest of the world. Please keep the Congolese and our ministry in your prayers.