Sierra Leone (MNN) — Sierra Leone has been plagued by AIDS, Ebola, a civil war, and last year, massive mudslides and flooding. These disasters left hundreds of thousands of children orphaned. Many of them ended up on the streets.
When your life at a young age is about survival on your own, it’s no surprise that many of these orphaned street kids land in juvenile prisons for petty crimes.
Crossroads Prison Ministries works with orphans in Sierra Leone’s juvenile prisons. The kids go through the ministry’s Bible study program with a mentor where they can ask questions about God, Scripture, and even begin to follow Jesus. Crossroads’ Sierra Leone Director, Lahai Kargbo, personally mentors several kids in the juvenile prisons and shows them the care and love of Christ they so desperately need.
But Cynthia Williams, International Director of Crossroads, says a major challenge comes when juvenile orphans are released.
“These children literally have nowhere to go — no family, no home, absolutely nothing. So when they’re released, they will most certainly end up back in the streets again. And these vulnerable kids get caught up in the cycle of survival and then the return to prison and then long-term that really leads to a life of ongoing crime.”
Williams traveled to Sierra Leone in October and visited the juvenile facilities where Kargbo is ministering through Crossroads.
“Lahai and, of course, Crossroads were greatly burdened to not allow these children to be released back on to the streets. So as they’re being released, Lahai has actually been taking them into his own humble home which consists of just a couple of small rooms.”
She shares, “I remember sitting across from him and the tears were just streaming down his cheeks. He said, ‘We cannot walk away. If we tell them that God loves them and that we love them, and then we do nothing in their time of greatest need, what does that say to them? We’ll lose them both in life and especially to the faith.’”
Kargbo has taken in at least six orphaned children who were released from juvenile prison. All of them are students in Crossroads’ Biblical mentorship program. But more are continually released and he recognizes this isn’t a sustainable solution.
Williams shares, “We’ve been working with Lahai to find a long-term sustainable solution. Unfortunately, all of the orphanages that have been contacted in Sierra Leone have turned down requests to take the children, saying they cannot risk taking kids with prison records. We understand that.
“Then we’ve also been looking to the local churches to help. Unfortunately, this has not yielded positive results either. Not only does the church in Sierra Leone have few resources, it’s a country that is desperately impoverished, but again understandably, there is apprehension about taking these kids in that are at risk.”
Crossroads is continuing to seek God’s wisdom for a long-term solution for these juvenile orphans. Meanwhile, they have some critical financial needs.
“There are significant immediate needs for housing, for clothing, for food and schooling expenses for these kids as Lahai works out how to care for them as they’re coming out. And again, most of these kids are our students. All of them that he is taking in are Crossroads’ students, so they are particularly important to us.”
“We’re also looking to partner with maybe organizations that do orphan care. We’re still working on that part of it. So if there are those who have connections in these areas, we would be so glad if they would just contact Crossroads to let us know of any interest in coming alongside to help us in-country,” Williams shares.
“Our ultimate goal is to partner with organizations that then can partner with the local churches. We really want to empower the local church to take on this responsibility. So we need a lot of prayer.”
Click here if you’d like to contact Crossroads to see where they are at in caring for Sierra Leone’s orphaned juvenile prisoners and how you can help.
“The bottom line for Crossroads is that we are called to care for the orphans very clearly in Scripture. We are also called to care for the prisoner. Then how much more the orphaned prisoner? So we just would be so grateful for prayer that the Lord would raise up those who will be able to partner with us in this most important focus and ministry to care for the orphaned prisoners in Sierra Leone.”