For almost the last 20 years, Peace United Church of Christ in Alma, Kansas has partnered with a small, ecumenical mission involving both #loveofchildren and #loveofneighbor. Project Rescue of Amazon Youth (PRAY) was born when a group of three women living near Wamego, Kansas met over several months for prayer and discernment in search of greater meaning in their lives.
They often met at the home of the late Jennie Dieball, a lifetime member of Peace UCC. The other two women were Sally Savory, a Roman Catholic who has since joined an order that works among the poor in many locations, including Kansas City. The third member of the group, Maria Kientz, grew up in northern Brazil. She married a Peace Corps volunteer and moved to Kansas. Her family still lives in Brazil, where many are active in volunteering for PRAY.
The vision emerging from the prayer and discernment meetings was to offer a loving home to abused, neglected and abandoned children in northern Brazil. Ambitious? Impossible? It seemed that way.
Maria and her husband set aside several acres on their farm where the three women and other volunteers grew and sold what many found to be the tastiest melons ever grown. The money raised was used for transportation and the building of a compound offering beds for about 23 children. With the cooperation of the local judge and the local government (support that waxes and wanes with each election) children are referred to the mission where Brazilian houseparents (whose own children may join the others living at the mission) offer love, counseling, faith, nutritious food and a safe environment.
The stories of the children’s lives before PRAY can be heart-wrenching, although in some cases they are referred by a loving parent who can simply no longer care for the child. Some have serious health or developmental issues. Physical health issues are addressed at the free community medical clinic that has been added to the mission (sharing Love of Neighbor).
Some children stay only a short time. For others, PRAY becomes their home. Jacunda, the city where PRAY is located, is highly impoverished and offers little in the way of quality education. So when the children become teens they have an opportunity to move to Tocantinopolis, a town with more to offer. In Tocantinopolis, members of Maria’s family have opened their own homes to the teens, offering a very modest but very welcoming place where the teens become part of the family and are given love and discipline. Here they can obtain a better high school education. Some have now graduated and are continuing their studies. One is studying to be a teacher. Another is already a nurse, equivalent to an RN. Another is pursuing a nursing degree. One is about to receive a degree in electrical engineering; another in computer science. Some of the “children,” now well into their 20s, are married with children of their own.
Not all stories are successes, of course. Yet the barriers these young folks have been able to overcome are truly amazing. Today, the operation and support of the mission is being done more and more by the people of the village. The goal is for PRAY to become a mission of the local community. There is a Brazilian Board of Directors. Local folk donate most of the food and a lot of volunteer hours. US involvement is now mainly in handling repairs, educational expenses and other costs that are not routine, although money is often sent to add meat to the children’s diets. Today the US board is beginning to discern where the next project might be. Love of Children has called forth Love of Neighbor, both at home and abroad, where God’s love made all things possible.
#loveofneighbor #loveofchildren #3GreatLoves