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Vernon family building hope for kids

Mary Anne, Boss and Ray Bale are enjoying some time in Vernon before returning to Burundi and the Congo.  - richard rolke/morning star
Mary Anne, Boss and Ray Bale are enjoying some time in Vernon before returning to Burundi and the Congo.
— image credit: richard rolke/morning star

With atrocities and despair virtually around every corner, hope is a precious commodity. But Ray and Mary Anne Bale remain optimistic.

The Vernon couple has spent the last 11 years in the central African nation of Burundi caring for  children orphaned by civil war. They now begin a new chapter by launching a sweeping array of services to youth in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

“I have hundreds of children. That’s what keeps me going. I love those children,” said Ray.

“As long as they have hope, I will do everything I can for them.”

The Bales — including nine-year-old Boss whom they adopted as an infant in Burundi — are currently in Vernon visiting friends and family.

On March 3, Vernon Christian Fellowship will hold a benefit concert for the Najenga project, which will begin with a school and eventually branch out to include a health centre, housing and farms.

Najenga is Swahili for rebuilding.

“We are building hope, peace and reconciliation,” said Ray, adding that eastern Congo’s society has been shattered by murder and atrocities.

“It may take a generation to change but they have been at war since the 1960s. Something has to change. We may not heal all of the Congo, but if we touch a few lives, it’s worth it.”

Breakthroughs have occurred through compassion and love, but getting there isn’t always easy.

“For the first few months, he was so angry. He didn’t recognize trees, flowers or nice things. He was just all over the place,” said Mary Anne of one boy.

But the rigid boundaries he had established began to collapse as he sat on Mary Anne’s lap.

“After half-an-hour, he let me hug him and he started making noises — a mixture of crying and anger. Soon he put his head on my shoulder,” she said.

“The change he has made is so dramatic. These children have gone from not being able to draw pictures to wanting to be an astronaut or engineer.”

The Bales are part of New Hope Centre and support for the Najenga project is coming from Kelowna’s Hope for the Nations and Canadian Communities for Africa.

“We don’t do it alone. We work with the Congolese people,” said Mary Anne.

Critical to establishing a sustainable country is encouraging the Congolese to become teachers.

“We’re not just bringing missionaries over. We believe in investing in the local people so they can train others,” said Ray.

Widows will be hired to tend to the farms and become house mothers for the children at Najenga.

Mary Anne has developed a bond with many of the women, some of whom were raped.

“They don’t sit around and talk about hardship. They are such a resilient, strong people. They don’t talk about what they don’t have,” she said.

The Najenga Project benefit concert takes place March 3 at 6 p.m. at Vernon Christian Fellowship. Among those performing are Cod Gone Wild, The Creeks, The Band of Exiles, Some other Time and the Ord Family Band.

Tickets are $15 and they can be purchased at the VCF office (4506 29th St.) or at http://najenga.evenbrite.com

Beyond attending the concert, North Okanagan residents are urged to support the Bales’ ongoing efforts in Africa, particularly by sponsoring a child.

Returning to Vernon for a visit has provided Ray with some perspective.

“What someone spends on coffee for a month, I can feed a whole family for a month,” he said.

For information on sponsorships, call 250-545-2927.

With 14 grandchildren, it would be easy for Ray, Mary Anne and Boss to remain in Canada. But they will return to Burundi and Congo March 25.

“Africa is still in  our heart but we are torn between two lands because Vernon is still our home,” said Ray.

“We love the people there (in Congo) so much and we want to help our family there.”

 

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