Doing mission, from Slovakia to Africa
We are missionaries to Eastern Europe. What are we doing involved with kids from African slums?
When we started working as missionaries, Central and Eastern Europe were locked in communism. Our ministry had to be clandestine, and we focused on the individual training of church youth leaders, hopefully staying under the radar of the communist secret police.
In the last 20 years, we have seen dramatic changes. Slovakia, where we have lived and ministered for those years, is now a prosperous and democratic country with a functioning market economy. It is a member of NATO, the EU and euro zone.
Under the long period of oppression under communism, it was not possible for churches to engage in foreign missions. They had little information and could not send money or even travel outside the country.
As a result, when communism collapsed in 1989, the church had survived due to the courageous and committed witness of its members, but there was no foreign missions programme. This had to be rediscovered.
For the first 15 years of our ministry in Slovakia, we focused on evangelism, discipleship and leadership training. But, about six years ago, the Lord opened a door for us to begin work in East Africa as well.
My wife Caulene accompanied me on some visits to work on different projects there, and, as her burden is for children, she naturally wanted to see some projects in Kenya, working with needy children.
A few years ago, the Slovak organisation we work under, ‘Integra’, began a sponsorship programme for needy children from the Nairobi slums. In this, Slovak families are assigned a child to correspond with and are asked to provide €20 per month to help with the child’s food, health care, school fees and hygiene needs.
More than 250 Slovak families have signed up for the programme which is called ‘Malaika’, which means ‘angel’ in Swahili.
In the past few years this programme has extended through the support of other churches in addition to our own, including Lutheran, Baptist and Apostolic. Also, many from the general public have become involved.
Malaika now works to provide support for more than 1000 children in four programmes in Kenya and Ethiopia. We work through African Christian organisations, who provide the direct care for the children.
They provide care and education, and also help the children come to Christ and grow in their faith. Most children are orphans or from situations where their families (often single mothers with AIDS) cannot afford to care for their child. This can be life-changing for children in Africa, as in many cases it allows them a life off the street.
We are privileged to be able to travel occasionally to meet with our African partners and the children they care for. When Caulene travels, she spends time with the children and staff individually, helping to mentor them. At the same time, I am involved in working with the project managers on finances and strategies for development and growth.
Take one girl, Connie, who has just joined our programme. Her mom died and her father abandoned the family. Connie has been cared for by her grandparents, but they could not afford to send her to school.
The grandparents sent her, aged 12, to work as a housemaid, likely for the rest of her life. But she joined our programme in February, is back in school and being provided with food, health care, clothing and a future beyond cleaning toilets for rich people!
But the ‘Malaika’ program is transformational also for those Slovak families doing the sponsoring. Many families do it so that their children can learn to care, pray and support missions.
They feel that the African children are part of their family and introduce Slovak adults, children and churches to the mission field in a personal and memorable way.
These Slovak kids will grow up with an understanding of missions in a way their parents never could. One family from our church has ‘adopted’ five African children, one for each of their own children.
The Slovak children have decided to do without pocket money so that they can send donations to their ‘brothers and sisters’ in Africa. In addition to sponsorships, Slovak churches have sent several young people on short term missions to work with the children’s programmes in Africa.
These young Slovaks have returned transformed, with a heart for missions that spreads to their friends and churches. We hope and pray that the Malaika programme (see www.malaika.sk/en) will help to raise up a new generation of missionaries and mission-minded churches in Slovakia.
And we praise the Lord for the open door he has given us to help Slovak churches develop a missions programme.
Allan Bussard and his wife Caulene are originally from Canada and have worked as missionaries in Central and Eastern Europe since 1975. For the last 20 years they have lived in Bratislava, Slovakia, where they fellowship with the Brethren Church. In addition to programmes for children, Integra (www.integra.sk/en) supports medical, economic development and relief projects in Africa. Integra is a partner organisation of Central Eurasian Partners (www.cepartners.org.uk or email [email protected])