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Imagine a country with its lowest point at more than 4,500 feet above sea-level. Imagine a country that is completely surrounded, not by water, but by another country. Imagine a country inhabited by 2 million people, but where nearly 60% live below the poverty line, and where 29% are infected by HIV/AIDS.

This is Lesotho (pronounced Lesootoo), the country where our new Circuit Project is based. Our aim – to support two centres which are run in association with the Methodist Church, and which care for children orphaned by HIV/AIDS.

On 9th June we had an inspiring evening at Woodley, when after sharing a meal together, Patrick and Tara Baanen who run one of the two centres, whilst they were over in this country visiting family, gave us an illustrated talk about the project, and particularly their work at Semonkong. The other orphan centre is at Pulane and is run by Tara’s mother Jill Kinsey, a missionary, who began the whole project.

Jill had already been working in Lesotho for a few years when, as she says: “The Lord put a desire in my heart to establish a centre for destitute children.” So that became the subject of her prayers. It was not long before she was approached by the Superintendent of the Methodist Church in Lesotho with a request to establish a children’s centre in their compound at Semonkong. The only problem – there was no money to support the work.

But that did not deter Jill, and the centre at Semonkong was opened in February 2006 to 21 of the most desperate orphans in the area. At Easter 2009 this number had risen to 85. In addition there are 50 orphans at the centre in Pulane that only opened in October 2008.

And so 135 orphans now have somewhere to call “home”, somewhere where their basic needs can be met, where they can be sure of food and water, clothing, a bed, love and safety. Education is also available, usually in local schools. But the centre in Semonkong also provides education themselves for numbers of shepherd boys – children, often as young as 7, who are employed during the day, sometimes for long hours, to care for sheep on the hills, and are therefore only available for education in the evening. The centres also offer food parcels each month to orphans who do not have a place in the centre itself.

With no money coming directly from the local Methodist Church, fund raising is obviously important. The centres have connections with churches in both Holland and Portugal, and recently a charity established jointly by Prince Harry and Prince Seeiso of Lesotho has offered money on a regular basis which meets about 20% of running costs. But the ongoing needs are considerable and there is always more work that could be done.

We hope therefore that over the next 12 months we will be able to raise a significant amount. One of our churches decided at their recent Church Council Meeting to get things moving by making a substantial initial donation from their funds. A Circuit Steering Group has begun to put together a programme of fund raising events. We hope that each church will be considering what they are able to do.

But fund raising is not the only thing. This article is only the start of making sure that we are all aware of the problems that the people of Lesotho face, and ensuring that we are kept in touch with what is happening on the ground.

Prayer is also vital, and some people who were at the launch in June will already be praying for individual children about who they received information that evening. But so that everybody can be involved, there will also be information coming around the churches to enable us to support this project in prayer in the coming months.

Michael Sparrow - Circuit Co-ordinator at The Ridge.
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