Christmas elicits fond memories of homecoming, family members gathering to be together. Ann and I travel to the United States nearly every Christmas to be with our 4 children, our son and daughter’s in-law and grandchildren, a much anticipated and memorable time. Our ‘end of year’ trip to the U.S. allows us as well to reflect on all that God has made possible in 2022.
Ann and her colleagues, in particular have had a busy year: *Sunday school for 900-plus children, *Day school for long term hospitalized children, *After-school programs in literacy, art, computer, Bible, and dance, *Rotating credit and livelihood programs for struggling families, *Therapeutic exercise programs for victims, *Goat-raising initiatives for widows, *Food and clothing distribution to refugees, * Visitation of shut- ins. I can’t keep track! In addition, they started a full-time program for homeless children despite my counsel that “there are only so many hours in a day” …but they proceeded anyway.
The city of Goma where we have made our home, sits on Lake Kivu on the Congo-Rwanda border surrounded by majestic volcanic mountains, a beauty that is contrasted by the stain of hundreds of militia groups that terrorize villages in the surrounding hills. Looking deeper, beyond the picture-perfect landscape are the hundreds of children who live on the streets in Goma, some as young as five years old, abandoned by parents who could not feed them, some orphaned, others simply ran away to escape violence or abduction by militia, all homeless. It is heartbreaking to see so many children on the street and not know where to start.
“Let’s start with 30 at a time” Ann said… “all we need is a building.” “OK” I responded “…and where are we going to find money for another building”? “We’ll pray,” she replied …and a family from Ohio sent funds to build a brand new two-story, five-room facility!
Others sent money for clothing and shoes, pledges came in for the 150 kgs of beans and rice we go through weekly, HEAL Africa Hospital next door, where I work, provides critical medical care, and so on and so forth. The intent is to get children off the street; feed them, teach them, love them, and ultimately reunite them with families. Some of the older ones are a tad rough around the edges (street wise) and the younger ones so frail, but after several months there is a marked difference!
The staff is largely volunteer. Sunday school teachers provide daily lessons and organize sports activities, counselors from the hospital and health providers are on call; women from the church wash their clothes, a dear lady cooks a huge pot of rice and beans every day, another cleans the rooms and hallways, while others search for lost relatives traveling by motorbikes or on foot to far-away villages. The ultimate success, beyond spiritual transformation and physical rehabilitation…is reuniting the children in their homes. Each month on average, 3-4 children are reunited with families: an occasion of great joy!
Last week, the volunteers found family members of four of the children in a nearby district, a long and emotional journey for the children. They told the story of one child whose grandmother saw him approaching from afar. She literally jumped up and danced with joy as she saw her long-lost grandson. The child, ambivalent during the journey wondering if he would be welcomed, literally wept in the arms of his loving grandmother.
As much as we look forward to traveling home to the United States this Christmas and hugging our own grandchildren…. the special memory for us this Christmas 2022 is the reunion of a lost boy and his grandmother and the determination to continue the journey when we return to Goma after the holidays, replenished and ready for all that God has prepared in advance.
Christmas blessings from the Congo! Bill & Ann Clemmer