By Sarah Schrock

Imagine the life of a child in poverty from a country afflicted with political upheavals, economic uncertainties and famine that dances on the heels of unpredictable rains. In a land where security means life behind iron gates and armed men for the privileged and elite, or in the sheer numbers of slum dwellers who can band together in a crisis. In such a world, family is your lifeline. Now imagine, that the child is orphaned at the age of 9, left with no relative capable or able to feed and care for her.

This is the beginning of the story of Nyoti Claudine Blessing Kasongo, from Lubumbashi, Congo. She shared her story at a small intimate gathering at the Mendro home on Poorman Creek last week. After surviving on her own doing household chores, Nyoti found her way to the Jamaa Letu orphanage, a facility operated by the United Methodist Church. There she was able to finish schooling, teach herself English by watching “Barney” episodes, and build a new family at the orphanage.

With dedication to her studies, Nyoti entered university on scholarships and earned her degree in nutritional sciences. She currently teaches English and social studies at an international school in Lubumbashi and was commissioned as a translator to United Methodist Pacific Northwest Conference of Bishops recently held in Portland.

Nyoti reflected upon her observations of charity and love at the Mendros’ home and again at the Methow Valley United Methodist Church on Sunday to give context to the supporters and faithful who care for the children of Africa who face similar struggles. Without the numerous sponsors and supporters for programs like Jamaa Letu and Peniel House (the orphanage steered by the Mendro’s network of sponsors), success stories such as Nyoti would not be possible. She shared her gratefulness and her reflections on the many acts of love with which she has been blessed.

With grace and poise, Nyoti spoke about her revelations and learning through her difficult life, she pointed to love as the guiding light. She shared her observation at a homeless shelter in Bothell, and her surprise of witnessing interfaith cooperation for the homeless here in the United States, where Jews, Christians, Muslims and atheists work side-by-side to assist the vulnerable.  “What I have come to know, is that the true God is the God of love,” she said.

When asked about her observations of life in America, she cited many striking differences to point out. First off, Americans don’t walk nearly as much as Africans. “Everyone here has a car and drives. It is not the case in Lubumbashi. Yes, we have cars, but most people walk,” she said. She also noted that the food here has more cheese and that people treat their dogs as family members as opposed to strictly guard dogs as they do back home. Technology is everywhere here, she noted: keyless entry for car trunks, escalators and elevators instead of stairs, automatic sliding doors at grocery stores, and toilets that flush themselves when you stand!

Wayne and Linda Mendro consider Nyoti their unofficial adopted grandchild. The Mendros have made many trips to the Congo to assist the vulnerable, disabled and orphaned through involvement with the United Methodist Church and on their own accord. Along with Patrick Tompousse, who came in May, Nyoti is the second visitor from the Congo to visit the Methow Valley and share their stories. Please send me more extraordinary stories to share and inspire to sjschrock@yahoo.com.

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