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The International Writers Magazine: Caring in Africa

A Place to Call Home
Casey Manes in Zambia


Along painted brick street fronts and sprawled against stretches of sidewalk, young boys make their beds, napping in what has become their pseudo-home. Their lean bodies and ragged clothes depict a small slice of the difficult life they lead.
These Zambian street children, predominately 8-15 year old boys, are central to Bob and Candace Walker's mission through Heart of the Bride ministries - a Christian, nonprofit organization established in 1998 with the primary goal of providing for the needs of orphans around the world.

Through devoted partnerships with pastors and Christian leaders in underprivileged nations, a commitment to prayer and a focus on going to bat for those with no voice, Heart of the Bride takes a stand for the justice of the socially oppressed, downtrodden and nearly forgotten.

Orphans at the whim of poverty, AIDS, violence and country dynamics, these children and teenagers flock in groups while some choose to prowl their world alone; but regardless, street children represent not only a population in need of help, but a generation who may struggle with adulthood as well - a somber fact that will long contribute to economic and social welfare of many nations with swelling orphan communities.

Predominately instituted into the adult world by necessity, most street children live an existence filled with sexual promiscuity, hunger, exposure and chemical dependency.
"It isn't uncommon for these children - desperate for reprieve from the squalor of the lives they lead - to regularly inhale gasoline in order to stay high, so they can forget that they are hungry, cold or lonely," shares Candace, co-director of Nehemiah's Boys Ranch, home for Zambian street boys. Into the hellish nightmare where these street kids reside - personifying a life God never intended them to live - the Walkers have stepped, and one day at a time, are overcoming all odds.

Leaving behind a life in Florida, the Walkers set their sights on Africa. Having more than enough love for each other and their own eight little ones, the Walkers prepared to open their arms for the countless orphans they would encounter in their new home.

Due to the estimated 100,000 street children currently in Zambia, Heart of the Bride began an outreach ministry in the city of Kitwe, where the Walkers now serve. When the boys participating in the mission began asking for a home, a search for directors began, along with the fundraising efforts for dorms, a vocational center, dining hall, cabins and director's home such a facility would require.

Through a ministry devoted to prayer and partnerships with pastors and Christian leaders in underprivileged nations, Heart of the Bride has established similar relationships and ministries targeted at orphans within five additional countries around the world - Guinea Bissau, Haiti, Kenya, Uganda and Ukraine.

Through this organization, multiple missionaries have been commissioned; many orphanage facilities have been built, similar to the Nehemiah Boys Ranch, and short term ministry opportunities have continued to multiply. In short, scores of children formerly calling an alley their home are now being nurtured and cared for in a safe environment by adults who love them.

In September, 2006 the Walkers began their new role, starting by building relationships with approximately 100 street children on a weekly basis.  Soon, 20 boys will reside in the Nehemiah Boys Ranch, only a fraction of the number the Walkers hope to accommodate in the future. With limited resources, the couple must carry out the heart-rending task of choosing which of the 20 boys will first be admitted into the home.
"We've been working hard to communicate to them that we are not here just to offer handouts, but that being at the ranch will take commitment and hard work. We believe the boys will be fighting for those first 20 spots, but only time and experience will tell if they will stay once they arrive," begins Candace.
"The street has a strong hold on these kids and our program must be very specialized in dealing with breaking that hold. We are praying about the selection process. Do we take the older boys who just need a little up and have been faithful followers, or focus on the up and coming young ones before the streets break them too much?"

In this line of work, answers don't always come easy, and consequences of choices may be far-reaching. The Walkers rely heavily on prayer and God's wisdom in guiding their decisions, offering peace in the light of having to turn some boys away from the home until greater resources are accumulated. Boys whom are chosen will reside in a dorm with nine fellow roommates, along with a dorm dad to act as supervisor and father figure.

Tight programming and professional counseling will serve to discourage any temptation to run back to the street and to help overcome addictions and emotional trauma. Daily activities will include a work rotation, sports, Bible study, English and Math education, along with vocational trade training.

Until the fiscal needs are met for the home to be completed, the couple, dubbed "Mama Walker and Papa" by the orphaned boys, are busy meeting with children for Bible studies, meals, soccer matches, and bussing the boys to their facility for a weekly meal, shower and opportunity to wash clothes.
"Many also attend our church on Sunday where we feed them breakfast and have another Bible study with them. But these boys are still struggling with stealing, sexual promiscuity and [other addictions]," shares Candace.
"Some of the boys that we started with are getting colder from street life and it hurts to feel like we are losing touch with them when we see so much potential."

Though the challenge of this work is immense, progress is coming to fruition, as the Walkers invest their lives into the boys they treat as their own.

 "As difficult and challenging as this work is, it is full of rewards. When you have a boy being disciplined by Bob for bad choices and he looks at him with tears in his eyes and says, 'Thank you for talking to me like a father,' and when we see a boy turn from hopeless to hopeful, [it is so worth it]," reflects Candace.
"When they come to church and you really see them worship before the Lord; when [I] am teaching and look into their wide eyes and can just see that they are 'getting it' - they are so hungry for love and learning, but at the same time, it has to be a long suffering, patient sort of love, teaching and discipline."

The Walkers long to provide a home for these boys in every sense of the word - loving discipline, affection, fun and play, shelter and food and safety -but they also desire to offer their surrogate family hope and tools for a thriving future.

The vocational center will educate the boys and prepare them for a trade to live by once they are ready and old enough to leave the ranch - an investment in their future and the future of their country.

 As construction ensues, the Walkers continue to delineate the educational and programming curriculum they plan to teach and meanwhile, are offering a billow of hope to a population of children desperately in need of it.

For more on the Zambian street children ministry, go to http://www.heartofthebride.org.

Casey Manes is a writer and editor at Olivet Nazarene University, near Chicago. She is passionate about social justice issues, assisting orphans and using the written word to spread awareness of those in need.
-Information on Heart of the Bride Ministries used with permission.

© Casey Manes October 2007
cmanes2@olivet.edu

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