Ministering to street children in the Democratic Republic of Congo

When Frt. Giresse-Mecene Etung, SVD started working with a population known as the “street children” in his home country, the Democratic Republic of Congo, he says it made him want to cry.

These kids, some of them just four years old, are alone in the world after being rejected by their parents. Most of them get thrown out because their families decide or are told by a pastor that the adolescents are involved in witchcraft. Parents are warned that if they don’t get rid of the troublemaker, their family will be cursed with poverty and misfortune or even killed by the child.

Divine Word Missionaries in the Democratic Republic of Congo work diligently to collect the discarded children and bring them to one of five centers they’ve established as safe places where the little ones can live. The missionaries enroll them in school so the kids can continue their educations.

Frt. Giresse’s first assignment during his formation with The Society of the Divine Word was to live and work in one of these centers with the abandoned youngsters. He helped them with homework and taught them songs and prayers.

He said he noticed that one boy in particular would often sit in a window looking out as the other children were engaged in activities. The boy was closed off at first and it took time for Frt. Giresse to earn his trust but after a while, a relationship was formed.

So one day the seminarian asked the child why he spent so much time in the window. The boy explained that a while back, his mother and stepfather dressed him up in his finest clothes and took him on an outing. When the three of them were in a public place, the couple ran away, leaving the boy alone. He confided in Frt. Giresse, saying that he sat in the window because he was hoping his mother and stepfather were out searching for him. He wanted to be somewhere visible so they would see him and take him back home.

Many children in the Republic of the Congo call the streets their home.

Frt. Giresse said most of the kids he encountered were traumatized and hesitant when they first met the Divine Word Missionaries. It took patience, consistency and genuine interest in their wellbeing to help them open up. 

“I cannot provide them with material things – just moral support. I tried to show them some kind of love. Then they opened up to me,” he said. “The day I was leaving they were crying and they wanted to go with me.”

After his Novitiate, he was assigned to Ghana where he learned English and worked in parishes. He said the language, food and weather in Ghana were challenging at times but he was grateful for the experience. In 2019, Frt. Giresse came to Divine Word College to learn about American culture and get accustomed to American English.

His next assignment is expected to be in the St. Anselm Parish on the south side of Chicago. Frt. Giresse is happy to have an opportunity to serve the community there and anywhere else that The Society may send him in the future.

“We can always give something to people, even if we don’t have material things to give, we can give them our smile,” he said. “When people are really suffering, we need to show them our love.”

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