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February 7, 2013

Why send the children away?

If you've followed VOM for any length of time, you might have seen reports about a children's home in Nigeria. The Stephen Centre, run by a VOM partner, is home to more than 300 "Nigerian Special Children."

Almost all of these children lost at least one parent in religious violence in northern Nigeria. So they have come to the south, to a safe place where they live together on a small campus, have all their needs met and attend school. It's a long, expensive journey back to their homes in the north, and the children make that trip just once a year, during the July-August summer holidays. The rest of the year, they have to make do with a few phone calls to help connect them to the rest of the family. Pray for Christian children in Nigeria.

To our Western ears, this may sound like an awful situation for a child to be in. It's not ideal, obviously. We'd prefer that these children's parents were alive and able to care for them. But the reality is that when these men are killed (it's usually the men who are killed, though not always), the mothers struggle to support their families. VOM helps address this through job training and small business creation, but often it's still not enough.

One of the driving principles of VOM's international work is to come alongside the persecuted church, ask them what they need and help them accomplish it. In the case of the children of martyred parents in Nigeria, that need is education, room and board. Their remaining family members were willing to send them to a safer place to study while they maintained their Christian witness in the North. For many, it wasn't an easy choice, but it was a necessary choice.

In Africa, there's a strong tradition of children being sent to live with relatives far away to gain a better education. Africans, and especially Nigerians, who have to pay for even elementary-level schooling, understand the crucial importance of an education. Many of the mothers of children at the Stephen Centre work as "petty traders," selling produce, cloth, grain or wares in a small market. Today, their children are dreaming of becoming doctors and lawyers. And through the help of the Stephen Centre, those dreams can be fulfilled.

YOUR TURN: Can you imagine having to live apart from your children in order for them to be safe and get an education? How will thinking about that separation affect the way you pray for Nigerian Christians?

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