Hungry and neglected street boys in Jos are being given the gospel in a pioneering new ministry.
The Gidan Bege orphanage, part of Serving In Mission project City Ministries, is reaching out to them by offering some of the most basic care imaginable.
Claire McKeown (above and right with some of the street boys), has just returned from Jos after spending nine months in the region on our Immerse mission intern programme. She explained: “The orphanage had been offering the boys food but wanted to do more than that.
“So they decided to open up a room in the orphanage so that the boys could come in for two hours a week, take a shower, get a haircut, get their nails cut, be taught how to brush their teeth and also get some food.
“As part of the programme, they would also be told a short Bible story and encouraged to think about who Christ is and how he could transform their lives.
“I was there the first week it started and we had about 20 boys. But as word spread and the ministry developed, we started seeing more and more come in so there are now about 100 each week.”
No one knows how many street boys — and it is almost exclusively boys — there are in Jos, which is the Plateau State capital. The city lies on the edge of the area in which Boko Haram has been active and there have been sporadic outbursts of violence over several years.
Some of the boys live in large dormitories and are ‘cared for’ by a few adults. Very often, those adults will demand a share of whatever the boys can get during the day, whether that be food, drink or money from begging.
Very few of the boys have had any schooling and are highly vulnerable on the streets. They can be lured into all sorts of illegal activity and are prey to many temptations.
The boys who come into Gidan Bege are aged anything from 5–15 but, in truth, no one really knows how old they are, or even who they are. Few of them know when their birthday is, while many claim to be called a different name each week.
Claire said: “Some of them are worried about being discovered going into a Christian orphanage so never tell you their real name, others just think it’s fun to keep you guessing.
“But each week we sit them down, take care of their basic needs, and then show them a Bible-based DVD.
“Someone will then give a short talk, based on the DVD, and we might also give them some advice on personal hygiene.”
At first, the boys’ behaviour was terrible, mainly because so few of them had ever been to school that they simply had no idea how they were supposed to behave.
But, with a good deal of prayer and patience, their behaviour has improved to the point where most now sit and listen to the talks.
Claire was one of two missionaries and six local staff involved and admits her battles with the Hausa language caused problems. But even though she only had limited ability to communicate with the boys, she had no doubt God was at work.
She said: “It was amazing to see him working through me, even with my very limited ability to speak to the boys.
“I taught them how to do a high five and some of the English alphabet – I tried to show them God’s love in action. It truly has been a life-changing experience for me and I really loved those boys.”
That the street boys would keep coming to the sessions and be impacted by the Bible teaching.
That Gidan Bege is able to sustain the ministry despite the many financial challenges and other demands.
That more mission workers would be raised up, both in Nigeria and from overseas, willing to serve in Jos.
Mohammadu was one of the first street boys to come into the Gidan Bege orphanage.
Aged about 10 or 11, he attended very regularly and was different to many of the boys, in that he really listened to the Bible stories and took them in.
One week a leader called Yusuf gave a talk on forgiveness. Afterwards, Mohammadu asked Yusuf if he could find out more about Jesus; he wanted to know Jesus.
Yusuf said he should come back at a different time, outside of the sessions. Yusuf wanted to be sure Mohammadu’s desire was genuine and not just a way to gain favour.
Wonderfully, Mohammadu did come back and Yusuf has started discipling him. Mohammadu has started walking with Christ and is eager to know more.
He has been taken off the streets and is living in the orphanage, all the while growing in his love of the Lord.