Church puts love into action amid pandemic

United Methodist missionary Innocent Phrytoil Afful and children from the Kinkole Orphanage display gifts they received from a donor. Afful helps care for 475 children at the orphanage in Kinshasa, Congo. Photo courtesy of Innocent Phrytoil Afful.
United Methodist missionary Innocent Phrytoil Afful and children from the Kinkole Orphanage display gifts they received from a donor. Afful helps care for 475 children at the orphanage in Kinshasa, Congo. Photo courtesy of Innocent Phrytoil Afful.
As the coronavirus pandemic, prolonged droughts and economic deterioration leave millions facing unprecedented hunger on the African continent, members of The United Methodist Church are stepping in to care for children, seniors and other vulnerable communities.

In Kinshasa, Congo, Innocent Phrytoil Afful, a Ghanaian serving as a Global Ministries missionary, faces the uphill task of caring and providing for 475 orphans in 15 homes run by the Churches of Christ in the Congo, an ecumenical council comprised of 74 member denominations, including The United Methodist Church.

The homes shelter vulnerable children between the ages of 1 and 20.  

“Things have been very difficult for us, especially during the lockdown when no visitors were allowed in the homes. We had to ask individuals, local churches and community leaders to come to our aid with foodstuffs, personal protective equipment and first aid supplies to keep the homes operational,” Afful said.

Most food is grown on two farms owned by the homes.

“At some point, we could not even go to the farm where we grow food to feed the children.  But thanks to God, the situation is much better now,” he said.

Afful has been serving the homes and five skills training centers for the past five years and said it is not easy to request and rely on donations to run the institutions.

During the lockdown, some of the centers were robbed of sewing machines and training materials. Early in December, he was grateful when someone donated five sewing machines.

Innocent Phrytoil Afful assists children with their schoolwork in Kinshasa, Congo. Photo courtesy of Innocent Phrytoil Afful.
Innocent Phrytoil Afful assists children with their schoolwork in Kinshasa, Congo. Photo courtesy of Innocent Phrytoil Afful.
Afful is currently seeking provisions so the children can enjoy the food and festivities traditionally associated with Christmas.

“So far, someone has blessed the Kinkole Orphanage with foods and presents. I am seeking similar goodies for the other 14 homes,” he said.

The 2020 Global Food Crisis Report Forecast, released by an international alliance that includes the United Nations, governmental and nongovernmental agencies, anticipates a worsening food insecurity situation with an estimated 4.3 million rural Zimbabweans, including children, in need of urgent action. The country’s current economic crisis including hyperinflation, shortage of currency, fuel and prolonged power shortages; widespread poverty; high levels of HIV/AIDS; and low agricultural output are drivers of the crisis.

“Millions of Zimbabweans are already struggling to put food on the table, having faced prolonged drought and economic hardship for some time. It is imperative that we unite, to fight the COVID-19 pandemic in Zimbabwe and provide urgent food assistance safely to prevent an already vulnerable population from slipping deeper into this hunger crisis,” said Eddie Rowe, World Food Program country director and representative.

Cesar Lodiha Okoka, a Congolese theology student at Africa University, initiated the Community Development Assistance Program to assist orphans, widows and other vulnerable members of the community in rural Mutare.

“This program has been created to assist both United Methodists and non-UMC members within our communities during this hard time of COVID-19, which has affected the global economy,” Akoka said.

How to help

Support the work of Global Ministries missionary Innocent Phrytoil Afful through Advance #3021967.
Sanitizers, hand washing buckets, liquid soaps and food have been distributed to those in need, he said.

“My family and I have decided to share what we have with others and this is a way of giving back to the communities the kindness with which they have (given) us in their country,” said Akoka.

“We intend to continue with this initiative till we graduate, then do the same in our Congo Central Episcopal Area as a way of practicing what we preach and have learned at Africa University. We are putting love in action,” he said.

Both Akoka and his wife, Clarice Ndaya Akoka, are students at AU and one of the first recipients of his program was Sarupinda United Methodist Church, where Akoka served in 2017.  Goods distributed included sanitizers, face masks, corn meal, rice, cooking oil, T-shirts and caps.

“I am doing this because it is part of my pastoral ministry and I care about vulnerable people such as widows and orphans, therefore I am determined to keep putting a smile on their faces,” he said.

At Seke South United Methodist Church in Chitungwiza Marondera District, the church took time to honor its elderly members by cleaning their homes, supplying them with food and bringing those who had not been attending church services for many years to fellowship and have lunch with their peers.

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“The Golden Oldies Sunday we held in November is a ministry that we should take seriously,” said the pastor-in-charge, the Rev. Agbeth Mutanho. “Old members are often neglected and some of them depart from this earth very frustrated because of the treatment they receive from us.

“Golden Oldies Sunday was a way of evangelizing, reviving their faith, appreciating them and acknowledging that we are who we are because of this old generation.”

Seke South lay leader Michael Dengwani and his wife, Joyce, supplied all church households with a 50-kilogram bag of corn worth $21. About 490 families took home the corn, which is milled to make the Zimbabwean staple food “sadza.” The total distribution was worth over $10,000.

“The idea of feeding the whole church was driven by the hard times, which we are all going through. There are people in the urban areas whose struggle for subsistence is increasing by the day due to the COVID-19 pandemic and resultant loss of livelihoods,” he said.

He said the church is in a low-income area and there are significant sections of the population that are vulnerable.  

“Previously, we had cushioned a selected number, but this time around, we decided to assist the whole church because we could not assume that every other family is OK,” Dengwani said. “The feedback we are getting is that some had nothing to eat on the day we distributed the corn and immediately took it for milling.” 

He said farming is a passion for him and he is happy to assist his church. 

“Resources permitting, this is something my family would like to do annually.” 

Chikwanah is a communicator in Zimbabwe.

News media contact: Vicki Brown at (615) 742-5470 or [email protected]. To read more United Methodist news, subscribe to the free Daily or Weekly Digests.

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