We Are Adding 147 Rwandan children to our Children’s Ministry!
Aldersgate Church in Tustin is on a mission to bless children and families. Our church program does this through a number of fabulous ministries including our…
Children’s Center Preschool Program… Summer Vacation Bible School…
Theater Arts Program… Children’s Center Summer Camp…Liturgical Dance troupe…
Camp Program at Lazy W in San Juan Capistrano…Children’s Center Afterschool Program…
Sunday School…Fall Fest… or Children’s Choir…
For 2015-2017, we are expanding our ministry to include 147 more children, sponsoring 147 orphans in Rwanda for three years via an organization called ‘ZOE’. ZOE is a three-year program, developed in Africa, to empower orphans and vulnerable children to overcome extreme poverty, become fully self-reliant, and learn of God’s love for them. On a trip to Rwanda last February, I (and two other church members) met with orphans new to ZOE, those at their midpoint in the program, and those who had graduated as self-reliant and contributing members of their villages. While it was heartrending to meet orphans just days into a ZOE program, we were stunned by the end result! (www.zoehelps.org)
For each of the next three years, Aldersgate plans to raise $7,500 per year to sponsor a working group of orphans in Rwanda. (This is in addition to the more than $100,000 our congregation sends each year to bless those beyond our church walls.) To help this effort one of our church member families has committed up to $2500 as matching gift for all donations received by the end of July!
Having seen first hand what ZOE is doing in Rwanda, I am confident no dollar we give will do as much good a dollar that supports Aldersgate’s sponsorship of our ZOE working group.
Read on to learn more about our working group, and about our ZOE partnership:
Ibyishimo “Happiness” Gikonko Working Group, Rwanda
Partnered with Aldersgate Tustin UMC, 2015-2017
Poverty often means a life lived in isolation, unconnected even from those who share the same struggles and challenges. A ZOE working group provides orphans and vulnerable children a community where they experience understanding, compassion and acceptance. Together, they begin their journey towards a better life.
To form a working group, ZOE program facilitators first contact community leaders and local officials to educate them about the empowerment approach and to ask for their help in identifying children. During the first meeting, the children and their young caregivers learn how they will change and improve their lives within three years. Then ZOE takes a step back.
Working group members elect their own leadership, make rules to guide their meetings, choose a group name and decide where to hold weekly gatherings. These once-marginalized children learn from ZOE staff that their community and their Hope Companion partner have faith in their ability to succeed.
The eldest child from each family attends weekly meetings to discuss their activities, both achievements and challenges, and to share in prayer and reflection with each other. Additionally, ZOE’s staff and selected community members hold regular training sessions covering the topics of food security, health and disease prevention, business management, and child rights.
One of the first actions the group takes is to select a project (such as a group farm) or a mutual help activity (like building dish drying racks for each other). This group endeavor fosters companionship and teaches the children that they can depend on each other as they journey together towards a new life of self-sufficiency.
Focus on: Faith
Often the isolation that the children feel when they begin the ZOE program extends to their thoughts about God. Because they are abused and discriminated against by their community - and often this includes Christians in their village - they believe God has also abandoned or even cursed them. At other times they believe that maybe God does not exist, or if God does exist that they are somehow beyond God’s love. In the very first meeting the staff often address the Lord’s prayer with the children, and talk about what it means, as an orphan, to call God “Father.” They learn that they are not truly orphans because they have their heavenly Father who loves them.
ZOE shares the gospel with these children, but this sharing goes beyond words to deeds. The children both hear and see the very best of the Christian message, and often respond to this in inspirational ways. At each meeting they begin with Scripture readings, prayer and devotions given by a group member, but while this is available to the children they are never coerced into the Christian faith. ZOE’s program is religiously non-restrictive, but offers a compelling view of the love Christians show to others.
One of the most powerful parts of the empowerment program is the way these children put their faith into action in their own community. They forgive those who have harmed them; feed others who are even poorer than themselves; adopt other children and share their resources and knowledge with them; pray and care for one another; and pay fair wages to those who had once taken advantage of their situation with hard labor and poor pay. These children return good for evil and can be examples to all of what it means to live our faith.
Focus on: First Connections
One of the biggest disadvantages orphans and vulnerable children face is isolation from peers and the larger community. Struggling on their own, the children lack moral support, access to community resources, and a network of people to help them progress and face challenges. ZOE creates connections.
Peer group. Even though there may be hundreds of orphans and vulnerable children living in a community or village, they often self-segregate because of the conditions of their poverty, disease, and/or the stigma of HIV/AIDS. When each new member tells their story during the first working group meeting, they are greatly encouraged to find that there are others who share their same struggles. Then ZOE introduces the children to young people who already graduated from or have made significant progress through ZOE’s empowerment program and the new ZOE participants are inspired and energized to begin the work of transformation.
Program facilitator and mentor. Each working group is assigned a program facilitator/social worker. These ZOE staff members usually speak the mother tongue of the region, hold a diploma in social work or related fields and have experience working with children. Additionally, the working group members select a person from the local community to serve as a mentor and advocate for the children within the community. Mentors receive training from ZOE and then attend weekly meetings, make home visits and help ZOE resolve challenges the group may face in the community.
And a powerful connection is you! All ZOE working groups know the opportunities they receive are from God, through the love and concern coming from their partners far away. They are amazed that you would care for them without ever having met them. This powerful connection is further strengthened when a Hope Companion visits the children to witness what they have achieved. In many ways you stand in place of their parents, and to hear that you are proud of what they have accomplished is transformative for these children. Thank you for being a part of building God’s Kingdom in this way.
Below is the list of names recorded by our ZOE program facilitator after meeting with the children for several months and making home visits; there are 42 households and a total of 147 members. The names in bold are heads of household, followed by their siblings. Only four of the households have an adult (either an elderly or disabled person) living with them. Although ZOE obtains name lists with both first and last names, ZOE uses first names only in public lists to preserve the privacy of children in the program.
Please note, children joining the ZOE program are living in extreme poverty situations. Often they have no parents or birth documentation and have suffered multiple traumas in their young lives. Occasionally the children give conflicting information on their names and ages. Additional orphans are frequently adopted by the group, and a small percentage of children will leave the group due to family reunification or other reasons. ZOE strives to keep the list as up-to-date as possible. All the names on this list represent real children in need of your prayers.
Ibyishimo Gikonko Name List
Jean de Dieu 4
Jean Marie V. 17
Jean Bosco 7
Jean Claude 10
Jean Damascène 18
Jean Pierre 21
Jean Aimé 3
Jean Claude 21