The support mothers: standing in the gap for missionary kids
By Furaha Kengela
In February 1996, the EMS children’s hostel opened in Jos, Nigeria, to provide a home for the children of EMS missionaries who were serving in the mission field. The idea was motivated by a finding that 25 per cent of missionaries left the mission field because of lack of proper education for their children. By the following year, the hostel was at a full capacity, home to 50 children. Events at the first anniversary celebration ignited the birth of the EMS Children Support Mothers, which later became Support Mothers International (SMI).
The anniversary took place on the grounds of the ECWA staff school where the hostel first started, and brought together adults and children belonging to the SIM and EMS families, members of the ECWA church, friends and well-wishers. Because the hostel had no room to house more missionary kids (MKs), the event aimed to raise support for expansion. Although a happy occasion, it was also a memorial gathering for Hyo jin Lee, an SIM missionary kid and friend of the EMS school who had died in a motor accident while on a trip back to Jos with her parents. SIM expatriate missionary wives and children volunteered to cater refreshments, and they served the guests so well that they made a deep impression on the Nigerian women in attendance.
Dr. Lami Bakari Ibrahim, the pioneer of SMI, recalls that right after the event, some of the Nigerian women stayed back and asked among themselves, “Why is it that after 100 years of having SIM missionaries in our country, they are still the ones serving us? What about us, the national ladies? What can we also do?” Their observation led to a follow-up meeting where they welcomed the challenge of mobilizing funds to expand the hostel’s capacity to accommodate more MKs. They spoke to friends and associates, and raised enough money to put up a strong, secure building—it was named after Hyo jin Lee. This marked the genesis of the Support Mothers’ commitment to standing in the parental gap for missionary kids. They decided to care for the MKs like they would their own children. They provided food, clothing, cleaning materials and more. Some of the Mothers took the children in during school breaks and others visited the hostel twice a week for bonding and activity time with them. Together, they made craft items such as redesigning old Christmas cards and decorating slippers with beads and ribbons.
The Mothers travelled throughout the country to create awareness about the needs of the EMS MKs. They took the craft items, now with the label, ‘EMS Lambs’, and sold them to raise money whenever they made presentations before various women’s groups in other churches. Some of the EMS children went along and did performances at these presentations. At one of SMI’s international conferences, they invited the women’s ministry of ECWA to take up the feeding of the MKs at the hostel. The women accepted and have diligently done that to date.
Dr. Lami explains that the Mothers do not receive donations directly. They share the vision, and publicize the various needs. They encourage women’s groups to visit the hostel and see for themselves areas of need they can help with. Over the years, several women have served as leaders and pillars in Support Mothers International, including Esther Chom, who was herself an MK. Others are Mrs. Eleanor Kiamu from Liberia, Mrs. Phoebe Sale, and Lydia Bossan who were part of the post-anniversary meeting that gave birth to the initial EMS Children Support Mothers group.
Dr. Lami expresses that although the group is not as vibrant as before, all the initial objectives for setting it up were met. Not only did they expand the hostel; they also acquired nine acres of land, put up school and staff buildings, and started a livestock farm. “In a way, we saw what we did as serving in missions, even though we were not in the field like their parents,” Dr. Lami reflects. The work of the Support Mothers demonstrates that as missionaries serve on the frontline, like a true family in Christ, those of us back home can stand in the gap their absence may have left in very meaningful ways.