“Pastor, do you know that I’m tired of living on the streets?”
Rev. Simon Pierre Rwaramba still remembers Nsengiyumva’s humble question.
Nsengiyumva, like many other youth in Gisenyi, Rwanda, had been living on the city’s streets since his parents died in Rwanda’s 1996-2000 rebel infiltration war following the country’s genocide in 1994.
“I didn’t have any choice,” Nsengiyumva said. “I had to go to the street, and I stayed there for 15 years.”
In 2004, the Gisenyi Church of the Nazarene began a compassionate ministry center, Ndengera Foundation, to answer the cries for help from Gisenyi’s most vulnerable children. Ndengera (which is the Kinyarwanda imperative meaning “help me”) provides restoration, reintegration, and support for orphaned children who have been infected or affected by HIV and AIDS, whose families have been victims of genocide, or who have been living on the streets.
“During the war and genocide, people were killed,” Rev. Rwaramba said. “Some women and girls were raped. The number of HIV-positive people grew, and the number of parents reduced.”
Through a network of 24 volunteer case managers from Gisenyi Church of the Nazarene, Ndengera supports over 800 children who have been orphaned. They provide food, education, skills training, and health insurance. But most importantly, they help these children find new families.
“Children need relationships,” Rev. Rwaramba said. “You need to show them you love them, that you can listen to them, and that you are ready to answer their questions and respond to their needs.”
Rev. Rwaramba and other staff or volunteers go to community meetings and visit church congregations to inspire new volunteer parents to commit to orphan care. Volunteer parents take children into their homes and give them loving care. When they are not able to find willing parents, they work out creative solutions.
“Sometimes, we organize new families,” Rev. Rwaramba said.
The ministry creates these families by placing children and young adults (between 14 and 21 years old) together in a home. The older ones become heads of the household, and Ndengera rents or builds homes for the young families.
For Nsengiyumva, this is the solution that worked best. After announcing he was ready to move off the streets, Rev. Rwaramba asked the young man what his plan was.
“Nsengiyumva said, ‘I found a house for ten dollars a month, and I already have two dollars’,” Rev. Rwaramba said. “Then I told him, ‘OK, I am going to give you the rest’.”
Nsengiyumva moved off the streets, and he convinced some younger boys to move off the streets, too, and live in the house with him.
“Now,” Rev. Rwaramba said, “they are a family of street boys.”
God is using the church as a conduit of compassion and grace in and among their community. Through their faithfulness, the people of Rwanda are together moving toward to a more hopeful and peaceful future.
A group of young men receive vocational training at the Ndengera compassionate ministry center that will empower them to pursue mechanic jobs in their community.
Adapted from a story that originally appeared in NCM Magazine (winter 2011).