My name is Susie Keefer, and Miriam is my daughter. I didn’t give birth to her, but from the moment she reached her little arms up I knew in my heart she was mine.
God knew it long before me, though. The first time I stepped off the plane in the Congo in 2010 I had no idea what I was getting into. I felt called to go serve this country through what’s called the Central Congo Partnership, a relationship between the Central Congo Conference and the United Methodist Church that provides spiritual help, prayer and financial assistance. But even though I felt called, as we drove through the streets of the capital city of Kinshasa on a Saturday night I remember thinking how different this place was from the small town where I had grown up in Pennsylvania. Nothing about it was the same, and I didn’t know how I would relate to the people. But 10 days later, as I boarded the plane to go home I took one last look around and breathed in as deeply as I could. God was already working in my heart and soul that day, blessing me with a passion for the Congo and its people. And for little Miriam whom I had yet to meet.
I returned to the Congo the following summer. I decided to spend my entire two weeks at the Mpasa center working with the children’s nutrition program. Mpasa is a region on the outskirts of Kinshasa established in the 1980s for refugees fleeing the Angolan Civil War. In the mid and late 90s more refugees displaced from the eastern Congo and Rwanda relocated to Mpasa, which become a permanent community populated by the poorest of the poor. A small nutrition and medical center was built by the United Methodist church in the 1990s and is currently under the direction of Dr. Rebecca Yohadi. This center is where I felt called to serve.
Shortly after I arrived at the center this little girl came to me with her arms stretched up, asking me to hold her. It was Miriam and she was only two years old. I picked her up, and I didn’t put her down for the next two weeks. At the time Miriam lived with her father in a small hut nearby and came to the center for food. Her mother was very young when Miriam was born, and when Miriam was only six months old her mother decided she couldn’t take care of her. She was afraid of being inadequate, and eventually gave up her rights as Miriam’s mother to provide a better life for her. I returned the following December to the center. It was like I had never left. Miriam was in my arms again for the next eight days.
When I returned in 2012 everything was different for Miriam. Her father had died, and she was considered an orphan living with her step brother’s family. I didn’t know what would happen to her. I prayed fervently and talked to my husband, Ed, and then God answered our prayers in the craziest, most wonderful way possible. We adopted her! It wasn’t easy. At times it was downright hard and painful. But God prevailed, and after 14 months and two more trips to the Congo we officially adopted Miriam through the United Methodist Church.
Miriam’s Table was born out our desire to keep Miriam attached to her native country and our deep abiding love of the children just like her that are still there struggling to get enough to eat every day. In a village three miles from Mpasa are more than 150 children who need the same nutrition program to stay alive and healthy, but there isn’t enough money from our current Congo Partnership between the center and the Methodist Church to fund it. My heart broke to hear of mothers walking miles to our center begging for help. Ed and I talked and prayed again. And again God delivered. Miriam’s Table will feed these children a nutritious meal five times a week. We’ll also build a shelter to house the program and employ five people in a part of the country that desperately needs jobs.
Miriam is thriving in her new life with us here in the U.S., but we want the roots to her home and her people in the Congo to be deep and long lasting. What better way to honor her.