Karen Purkey is a finance intern in the Samaritan’s Purse Democratic Republic of the Congo office.
“Enfants! (Children!)” Georgine calls out.
“Mama!” a hundred eager children respond in unison.
They are gathered in a thatched hut with a dirt floor, seated in rows on low wooden benches. Every week they come here for a program that provides a safe space to have fun and learn about Jesus. Most of these children have grown up surrounded by violence caused by the Lord’s Resistance Army in northeastern Congo and haven’t had safe places to gather together without fear.
The program takes place weekly in three different towns. It’s run by Georgine, a Samaritan’s Purse staff member, with the help of local church members from each of the towns who volunteer their time. The goal is that once the program is established in the communities, it will be self-sustaining, run solely by members of the local churches.
As I am unable to understand most of what is being said in a mixture of Bangala and French, I instead focus on watching the faces and reactions of the children. Most are extraordinarily attentive to the words and actions of Georgine and the local volunteer leaders as they teach the Bible lesson and lead the activities. Hands are raised eagerly to answer questions and recite verses. After every correct response, the children receive enthusiastic encouragement.
Spiritual principals are incorporated into every aspect of the program. They sing Bible songs, chant Bible verses while jumping rope, and are encouraged to develop Godly characteristics as they play and interact.
At one point, Georgine has several children hold on to both sides of a rope and then pull it back and forth between them in a rhythmic motion as they recite a verse. I assume that it’s just a fun activity to get the children’s energy out, but later Georgine explains that it serves a more specific purpose. The motion of pulling the rope back and forth recreates the hoeing motion, which the children regularly do when they are working in the gardens at home. She wants to teach them that verse memorization is not just an activity to do at church but something they can do anytime—at home, while playing, and even when hoeing the garden.
I don’t know exactly what situations these children come from. I don’t know how far they walked to get here, whether they are hungry or satisfied, whether their homes are filled with joy or sorrow. I don’t know if they live in daily fear of attacks from the Lord’s Resistance Army or whether they are innocently oblivious to the turmoil around them.
But I can see that while they are here in this room, they are hungry to learn the Word of God, and their smiles are filled with joy as they sing, dance, and play in a place where they know they are safe and loved.