Pastor Nubako and Claudine Selenga from the Democratic Republic of Congo visited First Free Rockford two weeks ago with news from the Tabitha Center ministry in Kinshasa.
Tabitha Centers now number 255 throughout Kinsasha, a city of 15 million people and the capital of DRC. The centers give young women a way out of human trafficking and other harmful livelihoods. In addition to vocational training in sewing, cooking, hairdressing, cosmetology and hospitality, the women receive spiritual training and guidance from local Christian women. Each center trains about 25 women between ages 15 and 35.
First Free Rockford has funded 104 centers and sponsored 122 girls through GlobalFingerprints, the child sponsorship program of the Evangelical Free Church of America. There are currently about 5,000 total participants in Tabitha. More than 800 women have graduated since Tabitha Centers began.
“That may seem like a low percentage, but we have wanted to guard the quality of the graduates and not just graduate everybody,” says Jim Snyder, ReachGlobal’s executive leader for ministry in Africa. “The testing is rigorous. If they do not pass, a lot of the girls come back and take the program again. And there are others who just decide not to graduate but they go out and start working. A lot of them are afraid of the whole testing thing.”
The Selengas were in Rockford for the ReachGlobal Africa team meetings, held at First Free. We spoke with Claudine through an interpreter, about the status of Tabitha Centers in Kinshasa.
We know the centers had to close during the early days of the pandemic. What is the situation now?
We had a number of centers that started and got running no problem following COVID. Other centers have had difficulty in getting going, so we have been working closely with them to help them get back on their feet. The majority by far are doing very well. There are about 70 to 75 that have not restarted yet, or that are struggling to restart.
As the number of centers has grown, have you had particular challenges finding enough teachers and trainers?
It has been difficult finding teachers for some of the centers. One of the problems we are facing is that some of the teachers live so far away from the centers where they teach. It makes it really difficult to get them there and keep them going all of the time.
One of the good things, though, is that a lot of the girls who have graduated are now becoming teachers.
We notice you have added hospitality to the training offered by some of the centers. What does that look like?
Yes, it is training for the hospitality industry. They can possibly getting jobs working in a hotel, cleaning, making beds, etc. Or it could be cooking, being a chef or working at a restaurant where they know how to serve, set tables, etc.
How can our church be praying for Tabitha Centers right now?
This is a really hard time for a lot of the leaders, because this is right before graduation and they do a long period of testing of the girls to see how well they can do at each of their given skill sets. This is the first time I have not been there to guide the process. I have left it to other people — which is actually good, that I have been able to transfer the responsibility. So please pray for them as they go through this and evaluate the girls. We have already tested more than 100 people, and there are many more to go.
After they finish their training at the Tabitha Centers and before they are tested, they go to a practicum period where they apply their skills in a work context. A lot of girls are in that right now. Please pray for them.
And please pray for leaders and teachers. We don’t have any vacations. When the girls are done doing their practicums, the people in the centers are recruiting new people at that time.
We also ask for prayer during these two months when we are in the U.S. We are sharing with churches and hoping for a little bit of down time. Please pray that we will be restored and in good health when we return.
Do you ever marvel at the way God has used you so unexpectedly to lead a huge effort like this?
(Laughs). A lot. Thanks to the Lord and to our brothers and sisters here, he’s done a lot of things that are just remarkable.