Celebrating the Covenant Kids Congo Partnership
Constantine, a mother of four children and wife to Mwele, has experienced first-hand the transformation taking place in the northwest region of Gemena, the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Constantine was unable to work daily in the garden and faced discrimination from neighbors because she is disabled. Her husband lost his job in 2017, so it was even more difficult to provide for their family, and her children were often hungry. They could only afford one meal per day, and the children could no longer attend school because they could not pay the school fees.
But then, everything changed. A community worker arrived at their home and invited Constantine to participate in a free training where she could learn ways to provide a better future for her family. Savings for Transformation is an initiative being implemented through Covenant Kids Congo, the partnership between the Covenant, the Covenant Church in Congo, and World Vision.
Approximately 1.7 billion people globally do not have a bank account, yet financial inclusion is mandatory to social inclusion and economic empowerment. Savings groups are member-owned and comprised of a small number of people who save together in a safe, convenient, and flexible way. They use a simple method to accumulate and convert small amounts of cash into savings that can then be lent to members as credit.
Constantine was able to apply for a loan of 120,000 CFA Congolese francs ($60) to start a small peanut farm. From the farm, she earned enough to repay the loan and apply for more credit. She started a chicken breeding business and also makes soaps and cookies to earn extra money.
She now serves as a leader and advocate for those living with disabilities in her community. “We’re not ashamed or begging anymore, and we are able to sit in front of our houses and have food to eat,” she says.
In the grand scheme, 10 years may not seem like a long time. It’s not long enough to see a child grow up or a sapling become a mighty oak. But since Covenant Kids Congo (CKC) was formed 10 years ago, we have seen amazing transformation for families like Constantine’s. People across oceans and borders in the United States, Canada, and the Democratic Republic of Congo have taken challenging circumstances and turned them into growth possibilities.
Dating back more than 85 years, the relationship the Covenant cultivated with the Covenant Church of Congo (CEUM) has grown and the denominational kinship has effected great change. In 1937, Covenant missionary and doctor Wally Thornbloom arrived in the region. The area has since welcomed more than 100 missionaries through the years. The CEUM has also flourished and currently has more than 1,800 congregations ministering to more than 1.5 million people in Congo, more than all the Covenant congregations in the United States and Canada combined. The headquarters of the Covenant Church in Congo is located in Gemena, where Covenant Kids Congo began in 2012.
World Vision began its work in DR Congo in 1984 and was looking for opportunities to serve in the northwest region of the country, and conversations about a partnership with the Covenant began. Working alongside and training local people, World Vision aligns missiologically with the Covenant. Gary Walter, who was president of the Covenant when CKC was launched, said, “It was a relationship coming not out of human wisdom or logic, or pluses or minuses, or any of that kind of strategic approach, but rather something that God was bringing together.” Thus, along with capable, intelligent, and loving people from all over the world, Covenant Kids Congo was formed.
In 2012, after a long period of instability and civil strife, DR Congo was rated the poorest country in the world—rated 187th out of 187 on the United Nations Global Poverty Index, which measures poverty by considering various factors that impact daily life, including poor health, insufficient education, and a low standard of living. In a country of nearly 80 million people, the need was overwhelming, with 77 percent of the population living on less than $2 per day. World Vision founder Bob Pierce is remembered for asking God to break his heart for the things that break the heart of God. When Covenant leaders visited DR Congo in 2011, Gary Walter said, “Our area had been terribly impacted, schools ransacked, no hospitals and no medicine, kids dying from preventable diseases, rampant malnutrition. It wrecked my spirit.”
Yet with great hope and resilience, the people of Congo have persisted through God’s enduring faithfulness. Despite civil war, poverty, and lack of access to basic human needs, stories of hope like Constantine’s are now common throughout Gemena.
In 2012, the area program that opened in Gemena was called Ledia, meaning “a new thing is happening in the village” in Ngbaka, one of the local languages. Ledia, with the combined efforts of the Covenant Church of Congo, the Covenant in the U.S. and Canada, as well as World Vision, created a truly new thing, becoming the first denominational partnership for World Vision.
“God has continued to affirm our decision to partner with the Covenant. We have watched with awe as the Holy Spirit has moved in powerful ways to mutually transform the lives of both Covenanters in the United States and our sisters and brothers in the DRC,” says World Vision partnership manager Annie Martin. Ledia has grown to become World Vision’s largest area program. Nearly half of all Covenant churches have partnered with CKC in the last 10 years. Without the local church and its motivated people, Covenant Kids Congo would be impossible.
The Covenant Church of Congo also sees community development as essential to the good news of Jesus. While we often hear reports and statistics relating to clean water, sanitation, and hygiene, the work of Covenant Kids Congo is a truly holistic effort. It incorporates intervention in the areas of education, health and nutrition, agriculture, economic empowerment, advocacy, and child protection.
Constantine’s oldest daughter, Henriette, 13, recently shared the chain reaction of change her family has experienced. “I thank Covenant Kids Congo for the support you have given to my family despite my mother’s disability. The savings have restored our dignity. And the neighbors respect and consider us.” Due to her family’s participation in Covenant Kids Congo, Constantine and her husband can pay for their children’s schooling needs, food, medical care, and clothes. Henriette and her siblings are no longer hungry.
Today, we are just as excited to engage people in this partnership. In June 2021, we were able to see the addition of a new area program in Karawa, the place where the Covenant’s relationship with Congo began. This goal has been in the works for 10 years. In both Gemena and Karawa, Congolese children and families are finding the dignity of having their basic needs met. We have seen changes and growth beyond what the initial leaders could have envisioned a decade ago. Children and families in Congo are experiencing life transformation and Covenanters in the United States and Canada are as well. In the last fiscal year alone, 18 new water access points were installed and rehabilitated in Gemena and Karawa, allowing 4,000 people to gain access to clean water. Today more than 56 percent of the people in Gemena have access to clean water, up from 16 percent at the beginning of the partnership.
Whether it’s hiking mountains, running ultra-marathons through the Black Hills of South Dakota, or running through streets in Berlin, London, New York, Los Angeles (with many cities in between!) for half and full marathons, or walking dogs, pushing strollers, inviting neighbors to join in the Global 6K—Covenanters continue to move their feet for vulnerable people. We have seen over $8.8 million raised by Covenanters outside of sponsorship through experiences like these.
While the total impact is truly immeasurable, our partners have shown no limit of creativity, inspiration, and neighborly love. Big or small, urban or rural, all ranges of congregational diversity, Covenant churches have made and continue to make a difference.
Last year, Covenant Kids Congo also launched Chosen. This script-flipping sponsorship invitation puts the power to choose into the hands of children. Sponsors have their photos taken, children choose their sponsors at a celebratory gathering, and then these children are revealed to the sponsors. To date, 11 Covenant church partners have accepted this invitation, resulting in more than 460 children being sponsored—this is on top of the over 10,000 children sponsored throughout the CKC partnership. Similar to the savings groups for Constantine and her family, invitations like Chosen reinforce dignity in a meaningful way.
Donn Engebretson, Covenant leader and former director of CKC, once said, “Everyone who has traveled to northwest Congo knows that what the Congolese have to give to us is far more important than what we have to give to them.” Covenant Kids Congo truly gives Covenanters worldwide a new perspective on the world and on how God continues to do new things through ministries like Covenant Kids Congo.
Covenant Kids Congo is Celebrating its 10-Year Anniversary!
Celebrate with us! Covenant churches across the denomination are invited to celebrate all that God has done and continues to do through this partnership by hosting a Celebration Sunday this fall or next spring. Whether you are a seasoned or a first-time partner, join the celebration.