Father’s Family Program Empowers Displaced Families in AfricaJulie Smith
In northeastern Congo, there are a number of rebel groups who roam the areas surrounding the town of Bunia. Some are driven by ethnic cleansing while others are driven ideologically by radical Islam/ISIS. Their persistent attacks have caused thousands of people to flee to Bunia, leaving everything behind and settling into make-shift camps.
Because these people are internally displaced, the United Nations is unable to help them as they would refugees who are displaced into another country. They still have rights as citizens of the country; however, they receive very little support.
One of our partners is the Diocese of Boga which is based in Bunia. The Bishop of the Diocese was very concerned about all the children who were begging on the streets. The Lord led us to a passage in Jeremiah 29 in which the prophet Jeremiah sends a message from God to the displaced Israelites in exile in the form of a letter.
“This is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the LORD for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.” -Jeremiah 29:4-7
Together with the Bishop, we sensed the Lord saying that these Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) should be empowered to thrive in Bunia. They should build houses, plant gardens, and eat what they produce. For now, and for an unknown period of time, this was going to be their home. They could return to their original home whenever the conflict ends or decide to stay in Bunia. Perhaps by that time, they will have prospered enough to have TWO homes!
The Bishop embraced the Jeremiah 29 passage as the theme of his ministry to help the IDPs and enable the host community to understand that these IDPs could become permanent neighbors, all who God has told them to love.
Out of this, we decided to do the unthinkable and see if our Father’s Family program could work for IDPs who essentially have nothing and launch it in the midst of a global pandemic. Fortunately, some social workers were already working with the Church in Bunia. The borders were closed at the time, so we trained all of them in the principles of Father’s Family over Zoom.
The Father’s Family program equips families with vital skills that empower them to succeed, giving them a hand up rather than a handout. Since these IDPs had been displaced with nothing, they pleaded for a hoe to help them start planting a garden. But as we prayed, God seemed to be telling us to keep with the process of empowering people.
Within the program, participants have to demonstrate that they have adopted a skill, and the group verifies that the skill has been incorporated into the participant’s life. The IDPs formed their groups, identified their goals, and set out to collect soil to plant greens for a simple sack garden. To everyone’s surprise, the greens grew, and as a reward for their hard work, they were able to earn a hoe.
One family set a goal of buying two chickens. After achieving that goal, they set out to add more chickens in order to eventually buy a goat and start a small roadside business selling roasted goat meat. Several other families in the group set their goal to buy a goat, either to rear or to start a goat meat-roasting business. In a short time, these families achieved their goals.
Another couple set their goal to start a small business selling sugar, biscuits, and other goods. At first, they didn’t believe this could be possible for them, but through the group’s encouragement, they were able to save money for this dream and buy a local stand where they sell their goods. The woman is also the treasurer for her group, so she has the skills needed to manage her family’s business earnings.
“We are so humbled by this and extremely happy for these families,” says Alison Barfoot, Executive Director of GO Africa. “God is writing beautiful stories for people who have been traumatized by conflict and displaced from their homes. These IDPs were able to realize they could actually do this with the support of their Father’s Family group and the local church.”
Today, the kids in Bunia no longer have to beg in the streets. They have supported, loving, and thriving families who can provide for their needs in this new home.