When Claire McKeown returned to Nigeria in May, she had no idea of the warm welcome she’d receive from hungry and neglected street boys finding eternal hope at the Gidan Bege orphanage in Jos.
Last year, Claire, who is sent by Newmills Presbyterian Church, Northern Ireland, spent nine months in the region on SIM’s Immerse mission intern programme and returned this year to look after the summer interns.
“As it wasn’t a full-time job, I was able to get involved with some of the ministries I was a part of last year and the highlight was working with the street boys and the Gidan Bege boys again.
“It was really precious when I arrived at the Gidan Bege orphanage. Fifteen boys came running out of the room to hug me at once crying, ‘Auntie Claire is back… Auntie Claire is back!’” she recalls.
The orphanage, part of SIM’s City Ministries project, takes care of the boys’ basic care needs. Most have entered the ministry due to being a double orphan or due to one parent getting remarried and the step-parent being abusive.
“Every Thursday afternoon, I went to do a programme — some weeks doing drawing, painting, playing with balloons or games such as football, hopscotch, etc — but each time, I’d start with reading and teaching a different Bible story,” explains Claire.
“At one session, we read the story of the crucifixion and afterwards, I let the kids paint what they wanted to. A couple of the boys painted Jesus dying on the cross. When I asked why they painted this, one told me that he painted it as a reminder to him of what Jesus has done for him.”
She adds: “Through the orphanage, these boys are hearing about Jesus and what he has done for us and even though some are so young, they can pray the loveliest of prayers that are heartfelt. It truly has been a life-changing experience for me and I really miss my Gidan Bege boys.”
Claire says it was also a joy to get involved in the street boys outreach again on a Tuesday afternoon.“I was there the first week the outreach started and we had about 20 boys,” she says. “But as word spread and the ministry developed, we had a steady number of about 80 boys each week with nearly 100 boys sometimes. Every week, they come for a programme in which a Bible story is taught, they are bathed, fed and get haircuts.
“It was lovely to be able to take a small group of boys and help them learn how to read and write different letters each week. Most of the boys have never been to school and so it was difficult for some as they have never even held a pencil before.
"At first, their 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.
“As a well done for being able to complete the alphabet, I organised a sports fun day teaching them new activities such as three-legged races, sack races, ring toss and bowling. This was a real hit with the boys as something fun and different for them to get involved in and it gives me such joy seeing the smiles light up their faces.”
And although Claire only has limited ability to communicate in the Hausa language, she has no doubt that God is at work speaking into the lives of the boys. “I’ve tried to show the boys God’s love in action and it’s been amazing to see him working through me."
Praise God for the wonderful times Claire spent working through different Bible stories with the Gidan Bege boys.
That the street boys would keep coming to the sessions and be impacted by the Bible teaching.
For wisdom for Claire as she prays about what do next.
By Kerry Allan