As we focus on the topic of vulnerable children this month, my thoughts turn to the ministry of the Wholistic Development Center (WDC). Students at WDC come from a variety of backgrounds, with many of the same struggles faced by vulnerable teens in the U.S.—broken homes, child abuse, drugs and alcohol, poverty, and spiritual hopelessness.
One student, Sonya, arrived at the center from an especially challenging background. She is the daughter of a shaman (witch doctor) and spent her life in a village obsessed with the spirit world. It is a village where all daily activities revolve around the spirits. When someone enters or leaves the village, when they rise in the morning, and how animals behave all center around their beliefs about the spiritual world. It is a community heavily entrenched in spiritual warfare and resistance to the gospel.
When she was growing up, Sonya’s mother left and her father remarried. Her new stepmother would often beat Sonya or withhold food from her, leaving her feeling unloved and unaccepted. At age 16, Sonya’s family had found a suitable husband for her and was ready to marry her off. She was expected to marry young like many other girls in her village so that her birth family no longer had to take care of her, and so that she could begin bearing children for her new family. There were no other plans or dreams for her life. She was a girl with little education, and it was never thought that she would leave her village lifestyle. However, there were some people who saw something special in her bright eyes and bubbly laughter. They connected her with WDC.
When Sonya arrived at WDC she was looking for an opportunity. She wanted something more for herself than marrying at the age of 16 and living the rest of her life in fear of the spirits. Coming to the center was an opportunity for Sonya to break from the oppressive traditions in her home village. After the first few months at the center, Sonya felt inspired by the message she was hearing of God and the hope He brings. However, she was nervous about accepting this hope and believing in the message of God. Coming from a village with no known Christians and where her father was a highly respected shaman, there were huge implications of accepting Christ. After much prayer and mentoring, Sonya decided to accept Christ as her savior. Now she is joyful and happy to finally be free from fear of spirits.
WDC walks alongside Sonya and their other students with a program of intensive discipleship. The staff live with and mentor the students—providing the first safe and loving environment that some of them have known. And the Center provides real job- and life-skills so that by the time these young people graduate, they are no longer vulnerable teens but sought-after employees, future leaders and witnesses for Christ.