Even as a child, Becky Sickels-Wahlers felt the desire to go to Africa to help others. “It was something I wanted to do from a very young age,” she says. “But then life happened, and I put it on the back burner for a long time.” Instead, Becky got busy raising a family and working as a registered nurse in Ministry Door County Medical Center’s Birthing Center, and later as a lactation consultant and obstetrical nurse in Ministry’s Women’s Center.
Then her mission called. “A new pastor came to our family’s church in Algoma, Lakeside Community Church, and he had connections with a grassroots movement that includes an orphanage in the Democratic Republic of the Congo,” she says. “As soon as I began to hear the story of this amazing place, the fire in me that I had stomped out was rekindled. I knew this was the right time to go.”
The orphanage, called Congo for Christ Center (CCC), also includes a church and a recently constructed school. The facility is located outside the city of Uvira, where local residents live in a subsistence economy and many orphaned children struggle to survive due to recent civil war and continued government corruption. The founder of the school, Pastor Rukukuye Jeremiah, established the orphanage in 2011, which now serves 57 children who live at the compound, located on a mountainside above the city.
Becky Sickels-Wahlers provides medical screening for a child, assisted by her daughter
Becky was granted a leave from Ministry, and in June she traveled to the Congo with her 17-year-old daughter Kaitlyn and a small group of teachers, health care workers and volunteers to spend 10 days at the orphanage. “As an RN, I was able to help provide basic health care to the children,” she says, “but there is no doctor.” Ministry Door County Medical Center donated medical supplies and multivitamins for children and staff, but Becky’s eyes were opened when she realized the facility lacked a safe and sanitary way to store the supplies. “There’s just one storage building, and it’s for everything – food, supplies and clothing. The children and ‘mamas’ (the term for the women who cook and care for the children) prayed that my husband would be able to return with me next time to build shelving.”
Becky with two young girls at the CCC orphanage.
Prayer infuses life at CCC. “Through daily worship, there is so much prayer and singing. There are three choirs, and they all sing at each service. Sometimes the teachers have to stop them or they would keep singing for hours!” Becky says that she has never felt closer to God than when she was at CCC.
During her stay, the newly constructed Mango Tree School was dedicated with great fanfare. The school serves the children at the orphanage as well as neighboring families, as local public schools are often corrupt and ineffectual. In true Congolese fashion, there were government officials, plenty of singing and speeches, and the ritual slaughtering of a cow that was cooked and shared as a meal with all of the attendees. Local families, who have endured exile, war and death, were overjoyed to have an educational opportunity for their children, and parents praised the school for its accomplishments.
Becky taught English and puberty class while visiting CCC, and she would notice groups of 12 and 13 year olds practicing what they learned with each other in the schoolyard. “How often do you see kids doing that?” she asks. “You can look at the people of CCC and truly say that they are among the poorest in the world,” says Becky. “But what I saw is that these children are incredibly goal-oriented and motivated to succeed and they can teach us that life isn’t about money or things.”
As Becky processes her experience, she knows that her trip to the Congo was not a “get it out of your system” experience. In speaking to community groups about the needs of the CCC, she shares the stories of the children who touched her. “I personally feel a sense of responsibility for the future of the CCC and specifically for the children there.” She hopes to continue to involve her church in the work of CCC, as well as support from Ministry.
Becky’s daughter Kaitlyn was also deeply affected by the trip. “She is headed to college next year, and is already looking into global health and nutritional studies programs,” says Becky.
Becky’s daughter Kaitlyn visits with a young child, with the CCC soccer field in the background.
“Becky embodies the spirit of Ministry,” says Ann Bretl, Becky’s colleague and supervisor in the Women’s Center at Ministry’s Sturgeon Bay clinic. “She understands that in caring for those who are the neediest, we are doing the most important work of all.”
As for Becky, she is changed, and grateful. “We were thanked, continually, for our work. But really, we were the ones who gained so much in forming these relationships that are given from God.”
To learn more about the CCC orphanage and school, visit www.global-outreach.net and search “Mango Tree School.”