Almost 100 children in Nigeria face futures that are more hopeful today because United Methodists in the Nebraska Conference committed 14 years ago to improve the lives of the poorest of the poor children in Africa.
The Jalingo UMC Orphanage (#3021070) in northeastern Nigeria is one result of a partnership formed in 1999 between the Nigeria Episcopal Area and the Nebraska Conference. It grew out of the United Methodist Council of Bishops' Hope for the Children of Africa initiative.
The orphanage in Jalingo, a city of about 118,000 people, opened in 2005 with 28 children who had lost their parents. Today it is home to 98 students, ranging in age from infant to 17 years old.
The residents came from far eastern Nigeria. Their parents likely died from one of the six most common causes of death in that region: snake bites, car accidents, malaria, HIV/AIDS, home accidents and liver disease. Other relatives became their guardians, but with limited resources, the children had little hope for a good education.
"The orphanage is also a school, and many of these kids weren't able to go to school and didn't really get three meals a day," said Dorothy Halvorsen, a Nebraska laywoman who chairs the Nigeria-Nebraska Partnership. "They get three really good meals a day (at Jalingo). They live in a family kind of atmosphere."
The younger Jalingo residents attend school at the orphanage, while the older residents go to a junior secondary school nearby.
"It's amazing the education these kids are getting with so little resources," said Kathryn Witte, director of communications for the Nebraska Conference. "It's primarily because there are some people there who care about them and are making sure they have a future with hope."
Halvorsen, who attends Syracuse (Neb.) United Methodist Church, admitted she "didn't have a clue" about how important mission work like the Jalingo Orphanage is until she got involved.
Urging continued gifts through The Advance, Halvorsen said, "This is a place where lives are really being changed."
Tom Gillem, freelance writer based in Brentwood, Tenn.
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This article was originally published in the November-December 2013 issue of Interpreter, www.interpretermagazine.org. Interpreter, the official ministry magazine of The United Methodist Church, is a publication of United Methodist Communications.