Peace and Wholeness for the “Lost Generation” of Liberia’s Children
by Frido Kinkolenge
In this decade following their country’s civil war, Liberians are desperately hoping that real peace is close at hand. We see many hopeful signs in the lives of the children and youth of the “lost generation”—those who were forced to serve as child soldiers. Many survivors lost their parents and other family members in the fighting. While still children, they were taught to murder. Then, after being thus exploited, they were abandoned to an ocean of neglect and suffering.
We are aware that conflict, ignorance, poverty, and economic injustice are all too real for these children and youth. These conditions stand in the way of our collective United Methodist effort to see the children develop in self-sustainable ways on a path to lasting peace.
Both the Children Empowered for Sustainability Program (CESPRO) in Kakata, Liberia, and the Brighter Future Children Rescue Center (BFC) in Buchanan, Liberia, were developed by The United Methodist Church in Liberia to address the needs of children and youth who were victimized by the civil war. Because we seek paths that end hostility both in children and toward children, while unifying the community, we work tirelessly during the school year to retrain the children’s minds. We draw them away from violence by engaging them in a variety of peaceful and productive activities.
The basic meaning behind “peace” is “wholeness,” which encompasses attributes like compassion, health, justice, and love. Seeking peace involves working actively for wholeness. As long as these former child soldiers live in brokenness of body, mind, or spirit, then no one within the community can experience true peace.
In Training for a New Life
While working with these students, I discovered that some 18- to 20-year olds stopped attending school when they were in the fourth grade. To bridge the gap between their chronological age and school grade level, I have introduced the A+ Learning Program, with a curriculum for levels K through 12. This course of study, tailored to students’ educational level rather than their age, will help many successfully reenter the public school system. Over time, it will prepare them to take and pass the Liberian National Examination, enabling them to earn a high school diploma.
Over the past year—by the grace of God, the healing spirit of Jesus, and gifts from the wider United Methodist family—these young people have accomplished a great deal. Food, clothing, and financial resources provided by the church enabled the Liberian UMC to send children and youth to the academic and training programs of both BFC and CESPRO. There, they were taught literacy and math and received psychosocial counseling. We were able to organize devotionals and related spiritual activities for them. We offered different workshops and seminars during cross-group sessions, in which local and foreign friends presented programs on substance abuse, HIV/AIDS, teen pregnancy, family planning, and conflict management.
This year, we created a new poultry program, teaching students to raise chickens. We expect that the program will not only impart new skills but eventually will raise funds, give the students economic incentives, and enrich their diets at the BFC Rescue Center. In the same vein, we are building a fish pond and hatchery that will supply fish—further enabling the students to grow what they eat and to eat what they grow. We have revitalized the microenterprise program that we experimented with in 2010 and 2011. It now includes a small restaurant, a beauty salon, a tailoring shop, and a corner for textile and soap-making sales. This, we believe, will help lead the youth to the wholeness we seek.
Also this year, thanks to donations of tools and supplies, the youth have been involved in a volunteer work day to get the school ready for classes. They helped to clean up the campus grounds, learning to use garden tools and the power mower. This way of rendering service in God’s name is an important part of their religious education. It’s a new form of discipleship for them—forming a work team that volunteers assistance without expecting a prize in return.
Some students erupted into violent outbursts last year. The stain of their past sins is still haunting many of them—those who were forced to use drugs and taught to kill. But we have taught them that Jesus does more than just cover our sins—he removes them! We thank God for forgiveness as we see these children and youth working together, painting and cleaning, to prepare the center for a new school year. These are young people who used to kill other young people! Now, working together to build a team helps them overcome their differences as they continue on the road to recovery and productive lives.
When we announced that we were recruiting students for the new school year at BFC and CESPRO, young people came in great numbers seeking opportunities to enroll. They have heard that these centers are havens of hope, help, and peace—places where they will find warmth and counsel, be trained in a trade, and learn how to gain a good life and livelihood by their own efforts. Even after the 700 copies of our registration
form were given out and were completed, applicants kept coming in waves to the centers. Our capacity cannot exceed 230 persons. So I had to talk to some of the youth and convince them, calmly, to come back and seize this golden opportunity next year.
Wholeness for the Broken
During this Advent season, the Apostle Paul reminds us in Ephesians 2:13-14: “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us.” That is what the graduating trainees at BFC understand. They mount posters around the center affirming, “Jesus Christ Is Our Hope!” In Jesus Christ, we see a peace that goes beyond the uneasy quiet between conflicts that led first to the rejection of these children and youth and then to their difficult reintegration into their communities. Their communities had rejected them—and sometimes their own families did—out of fear of the youth and of the atrocities they were taught to commit.
In Christ, the dividing wall of hostility against them is falling down. A Peace Builders’ Club program has helped to build relationships between the youth and their communities. This effort has been reinforced by the Community Radio Program, which is led by children and youth trained at the Better Future for Children Rescue Center. The BFC also hosts an annual community peace festival.
In a broken world, the church, as God’s people, must form a healing presence for children and youth who are unjustly denied wholeness. During this school year, they are being trained in skills that will help them collect the broken pieces of their lives. Graphic arts, soap making, cosmetology, textile tie-dye, manual and electronic typing, agriculture, carpentry, pastry baking, computer literacy—any of these departments may provide an avenue to recovery for youth in the program. In addition, selected children attended the A+ curriculum at BFC and CESPRO to improve their knowledge in language, math, and phonics, in the hope that they might advance to higher education.
Where poverty and injustice deny emotionally wounded children the peace for which they hope, the church provides healing. It teaches the ignorant, shows the light of devotion to those in darkness, and trains unskilled children and youth to follow avenues that will help them become instruments of peace. The successful trainees are awarded a certificate attesting to their completion of the nine-month training programs at BFC and CESPRO.
We are grateful to God whose grace has empowered us anew for the task of service to the broken world of children and youth in Liberia. In Christ human brokenness is restored to wholeness—physically, mentally, socially, economically, emotionally, and spiritually.
Frido N. Kinkolenge is a missionary with the General Board of Global Ministries and the EmK Weltmission (United Methodist Church in Germany). He serves as the director of children’s ministries in the Liberia Annual Conference and as project manager for the EmK Weltmission in Liberia. Kinkolenge’s particular focus is on the ex-combatant Liberian children and their reintegration into the community. He is originally from the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Photo 1: Missionary Frido Kinkolenge (first row standing, third from left) poses with the student volunteers who helped to prepare the BFC for the new semester.
Photo: Couresty BFC
Photo 2: Lunch break at the BFC.
Photo: Frido Kinkolenge