Claudine “Blessing” Kasongo receives a Certificate of Achievement from the Rev. Jon Short during the Congo Zambia Dinner at General Conference 2016 in Portland, Ore.
By Melissa Ralston | Photos by Jesse N. Love
Last Spring, I had the opportunity to meet and share a meal with Claudine “Blessing” Kasongo, a young woman who was raised in the Jamaa Letu orphanage in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Jamaa Letu is a ministry of The Pacific Northwest Conference of The United Methodist Church in partnership with the South Congo Episcopal Area. Between the girls and boys orphanages, there are about 70 children who call Jamaa Letu home. These children are ours; Blessing Kasongo is ours.
Webster defines the word “orphan” as a child deprived by death of one or usually both parents. I was 54 years old before I became an “orphan.” As many of you may have experienced, it comes with heartbreaking grief and an unsettling sense of displacement in the world. Blessing experienced this when she was nine years old and was the only one of 5 siblings who found refuge at Jamaa Letu.
Her story is at once heartbreaking and triumphant: she’s the first child of Jamaa Letu to graduate from college; she speaks six languages today including English which she taught herself as a child by watching “Barney” videos in the orphanage; she shared that she wanted to learn English so she could communicate with the volunteers and representatives from our Conference who would come; she wanted to personally thank them for saving her. So profound was her gratitude that she wanted to express it herself and not through an interpreter.
There were many parts of her story that moved and inspired me as I talked with her. The most humbling was when she shared that the children of Jamaa Letu pray for us. Let that sink in for a moment. Children who have lost everything, whose safety and stability are dependent on the people and churches of The Pacific Northwest Conference, are lifting us to the Lord in prayer.
In America, we celebrate Mother’s Day. It was around that time, last year, when I met Blessing Kasongo. Since I lost my own mother 7 years ago, Mother’s Day has been bittersweet. They don’t have Mothers Day in the Congo, but I know that the orphans of Jamaa Letu feel that emptiness every day.
Imagine the difference we could make if this year for Mothers Day, instead of flowers or candy or other gifts, a donation was made in honor or memory of our mothers to the orphaned children of Jamaa Letu.
I was once given a cross that was placed around my neck with the words “Christ is counting on you.” In fact, Christ is counting on each of us and so are the children of Jamaa Letu. May we be the literal answer to their prayers.
Please make a donation if you are able, preferably through your local United Methodist Church. You may also send your gift to the PNW Conference Treasurer at P.O. Box 13650, Des Moines WA 98198, please indicate in the memo line: HFCA (Hope for the Children of Africa) or Jamaa Letu Orphanages.
Melissa Ralston is a member of the Bishop’s Task Force: Hope for the Children of Africa.