Encompass missionary Ginger Hock estimates that most people in CAR are raising at least one orphan—perhaps the child of a brother or nephew— in addition to caring for their own children. The problem is, most people in CAR can barely afford the daily necessities and school fees for their own children, let alone the orphans in their care.
Ginger and several colleagues began work with orphans in the city of Bangui in 2004, but they soon became burdened for the many children in villages who were too far away from Bangui to be helped by the work they were doing there. Churches throughout the country were doing their best to meet the needs of orphans, but the demand was overwhelming. Ginger and fellow Encompass teammate Barb Wooler (now Director of Encompass' Crisis Response Network) wondered how they could help.
Under their leadership, Encompass’s Hand-in-Hand Orphan Schools began in 2006. Their vision was to partner with village churches to help them open schools specifically for orphans in their own church building. Encompass provides oversight and annual training for the teachers, who are chosen by the host church from among their members.
Each day the children receive a free meal and education in language, reading, and, most importantly, God’s Word. After the three-year course that Hand-in-Hand offers, the students have an education comparable to a fifth-grade education in the US, which puts them ahead of many villagers and is enough to prepare them for continuing education.
Hand-in-Hand started with two schools in 2006 and has now grown to 39. Each one has 50 students in attendance, kids who were previously forgotten and overlooked by society but are now blossoming into productive members of the village who have the self-confidence to become leaders in the community and the Bible training to become leaders in the church.
Marie Claire Selonkoe, the coordinator of Hand-in-Hand orphan schools in Mbaike, notes the transformation she sees in the students. “When the orphans first come to us, they are very fearful, but after a few months at the school we see them grow in so many ways.”
Another Hand-in-Hand coordinator, Emmanuel, tells the story of Vincent. He was one of the first students to enroll in one of the first two schools opened, in the village of Pama. Emmanuel says, “I always had a special love for him because he was respectful and obedient and very eager to learn, especially about God’s Word. Even though he had to walk several miles to school, he never missed a day.”
Vincent completed all three levels at the Hand-in-Hand school in Pama, then attended the village school. He now attends high school in Yaloke and serves as a leader in his church. Emmanuel continues, “As soon as he arrived in Yaloke he began to search for me. He…came to thank me for being his teacher and telling him about Christ. He is so grateful for the Hand-in-Hand Orphan School because he learned to read so well and because he learned about Jesus and His salvation.”
Children like Vincent need the same thing every child needs—to experience the love of God through the love of His people. It’s all about fulfilling God’s call to disciple the next generation.
What needs do you see among the children around you—in your town, your neighborhood, your church, or even under your own roof? How might God use you to meet those needs? What group of underserved children is God pointing out to you, and what will you do about it?
One way you can help disciple children is by becoming a part of the transformation of orphans like Vincent. Each Hand-in-Hand Orphan School class of 50 students is supported by a gift of only $4,000 a year. That’s an amount your church, your small group, perhaps even your family could commit to giving. And it’s a worthwhile investment in not only the lives of orphans, but the entire Central African Republic.