Ruth Clemence's thoughts for International Migrants' Day
For International Migrants Day 2018 the widespread movement of people seeking a better life is celebrated. Yet for so many people, they are forced out of the place they call home because of violence, conflict, war, disease, famine and many other reasons. Young children find themselves on the streets with no one to care for them and they fight to survive.
They Called Us Love tells the story of April Holden and her passion to help street children in North Africa. Against the odds with persistent chronic health problems, she was able to fulfil that calling and travelled to Egypt for training with Operation Mobilization. She set up the first ‘Centre of Love’ in 1996, a place for boys who lived on the streets to find stability, a meal and a roof over their head. Whilst in Egypt, she had the opportunity to move to war-torn Sudan to help the street boys there. This biography written by Deborah Meroff shares beautiful stories of how God is working in the lives of some of the most vulnerable children in the world.
Various centres that were set up provided meals, care for the sick, education and counselling to support those who had gone through psychological, physical and emotional trauma. A key part of the work of the centres was to try and reunite the children with family members where possible, although some family members could not be found, others had died and some were unable to care for them. Moreover, April recognised the importance of handing over responsibilities to the local church to ensure that the stability for the boys continued.
One of the most touching aspects of this book is how it brings together the backgrounds, challenges and triumphs of individual boys. The reader can begin to understand what these boys have gone through. Many witnessed torture, kidnapping, rape or death of their closest family members. Some parents were unable to support their children due to poor mental health or not having the finances to support them. Children that arrive at the centres were often aggressive and not trusting because of all they had experienced. Many were addicted to sniffing glue to help ease their pain, they would lie to those who were trying to help them and some would run away.
April and her team of dedicated staff and volunteers would continue to show love and provide stability. With the power of the Holy Spirit, many of these children were transformed and placed their trust in Jesus. Knowing that there was a God who loved and cared for them deeply provided hope and security in circumstances that seemed quite the opposite.
There were plenty of examples of the struggles of running a centre for street children, whether government hostility, the aggression of the boys, little funding or children being taken by the police to reform schools or children’s prisons. In Sudan, April’s friends were put in prison and detained for questioning with the threat of deportation. On the 2nd February 2013, April was interrogated for 12 hours by being shouted at and threatened before being deported that same day. She had prepared for such an eventuality, although she found it hard to see why God would remove her when there was so much need. Yet, she found comfort knowing that God loves ‘her boys’ more than she ever could and she could trust Him with them.
April’s desire to make a difference to the lives of street children was not quashed. Her next role was in Zambia in July 2014 to mobilize the local churches to help street children. Zambia is a country where 80% of the population are Christian - this was different to the places she had been to previously where the faith was marginalized. She said:
‘The ministries we want to start will be sustainable within each country because if foreign money is required and this funding stops, then boys and girls are put back on the streets and further traumatized. I have seen ministries collapse and we have rescued children who were abandoned a second time… God is a Father to the fatherless; therefore, He expects the Church to be a family to the fatherless… If we come alongside believers and community members, and equip and empower them with necessary training, they will be able to run their own professional, godly and sustainable programmes.’ (pg. 113)
I found this book humbling as it opened my eyes to some of the realities that children face in different parts of the world. It was interesting to learn about the cultural differences that April and her team had to adjust to such as coping with the heat, learning Arabic, the different food and etiquette for example. I found it painful to read what the street children experienced from having to beg at market places, looking for scraps of food in the streets, selling plastic bags for money and travelling great distances by themselves - some as young as four.
What stuck out for me was the faithfulness of April and others who risked and sacrificed so much to make a way in the lives of these children. It is a challenge for me as someone who loves to help others but find myself living in the safety and comfort of the familiar. If we all lived out the calling to see others as image-bearers of God and to meet the practical needs of the vulnerable and poor, knowing that there can be transformation in the most broken parts of our society, then we might see powerful change in our communities. It is a call to prayer, to give, to consider a mission opportunity; there is plenty of need and we can all play a role in making a difference in the lives of these wonderful children.