Last week, Daniel and I spent a couple of days with Jill Lowery to learn more about her missionary role here in Kinshasa. I got to know Jill a little better, learn about the heart God has given her for Congo, AND - I got to see first-hand a ministry that is changing lives! God isn't just working in the bush where our MAF pilots fly every day. He is also at work right here in Kinshasa and the surrounding area.
As a missionary with the Congolese Baptist Community, Jill works with two centers. The first is called Mitendi Women's Center, or Marie Mattie Women's Center and is about a 45 minute drive from my home, in a neighborhood that is impoverished even by third world standards. Marie Mattie was the first Congolese woman to graduate from college here and had a vision for helping women. This center is a two-year residential program for girls at high risk of prostitution. In addition to the women's ministry, they also operate the Marie Mattie Complexe Scolaire, a school for kindergarten through sixth grade for at risk and vulnerable kids. These are kids who otherwise would not be able to attend school. If you want to know more about what the terms "at risk" and "vulnerable" mean when applied to children and teens, there is an explanation HERE.
When we arrived, our first sight was all the little school kids standing under a shade tree. I got my camera out and immediately a few kids noticed and started "posing."
Then more kids noticed.
And MORE! This took less than ten seconds. They were all smiles and excitement...
...until the teacher blew his whistle.
He led them in a couple of marching songs to help them get rid of their wiggles before they headed back into their classrooms. Wish you could have been there - they were SO CUTE!
We were allowed to visit the classrooms, and in each one the entire class stood and sang a welcome song for their visitors. This has happened to me in the orphanages and other schools I have visited. It is very much a part of the culture here and even some adult groups have sung welcome songs for me.
In the Women's Center, many of the young ladies have not had much opportunity for education, so they are taught literacy, basic education, and French. They also learn skills which they can use to support themselves such as crochet, knitting, sewing, and restaurant work. It is a two-year, residential program. They also study the Bible and of course the primary goal is for these girls to come to know Christ and learn to trust in Him.
The day we visited, Mama Jackie was teaching sewing class.
The girls learn with hand-cranked sewing machines...
...and hand-drawn lessons, without patterns.
The way our grandmothers and great-grandmothers did it.
Currently, funds are being raised and efforts are being made to build a protective wall around the center property to stop attempts to steal and sell off the land, to keep animals out of the vegetable gardens, and to increase the safety and security of the girls who live there.
This gentleman had the task of getting water for mixing cement - a time consuming task when you have to draw the water by hand from a cistern with a homemade bucket and funnel.
The next day we visited the second center, Marie Mattie Maison de Couture. This center is an extension of the first one, sort of an internship program so that when the ladies graduate from the two-year program, they have a chance to refine their skills and earn money while doing it. On the days that Mama Jackie is not at the Women's Center, she is at the Maison de Couture. The "house of sewing" is in the city and has better power and electric sewing machines. Some are hand-crank machines that have been transformed into electric machines!
The ladies sew school uniforms, clothing, surgical drapes and bed coverings for hospitals, baby layettes, and more.
One of Jill's tasks is to inspect each completed item, since the girls are still in the learning process. Each intern then has to correct her mistakes before an item can be sold. This teaches them to take responsibility for and pride in their work and to understand the importance of doing one's best. It also reinforces the core verse for the center: Colossians 3:23-24, which says “Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance. It is the Lord Christ whom you serve.”
Jill and Mama Jackie are always on the lookout for new things for the interns to make and sell, increasing their skills and their potential to earn a decent living for themselves. Here they are inspecting a quilted zipper pouch that I had with me so they could see how it was made.
I am sure I left out something, or several somethings, about this vital ministry, so I have included links below to the Lowerys' web site and to a site with information about the center. I asked Jill if there are any specific ways to pray for the ministry and this is what she shared with me.
First: Pray that the girls will persevere and complete the program. They face many obstacles. Second: The greatest stress right now is getting the wall built and bringing an end to the problem with the man who is trying to sell off the land that belongs to the center. Pray that God gives favor over corrupt officials. Third: Pray for Mama Jackie for continued health. She has given her life for the ministry and without her, there would be no center.