Meeting Merveille...


We are offering you a closer look into one of the most beautiful, tragic, and thought-provoking stories we can share. It is the story of Merveille, and yet it is so much more than her story. It is also a story of the many who surround her life and thus create a chorus that was started years ago and sings on today. Our storytelling shares the voice of Cecile, a Dutch mother, wife, volunteer, change agent who was living in Congo, who came to know Merveille a few years ago…and from that day, she would never be the same…

Now that my thesis was out of the way I felt ready to take on a new challenge. Helping Cheryl setting up her dream to open an orphanage was one of them. [The hospital director of Mercy Ships] mentioned that his wife had been looking after a handicapped girl and was hoping for someone to look after her when they would leave. So this is how I got to know this beautiful girl: Merveille, although at the time I didn't see it like that. 

I went with some of the crew members of Mercy ships to visit Merveille; when we arrived I was a little confused as I followed the others down a mud road and then another side road which was almost impossible to walk on. It had rained heavily the day before, and there was an unfinished church on the one side and a pile of rubbish on the other side. The path led to a small opening where hidden out of sight was a small wooden house (in my world we would call this a shed), to them their home. Merveille’s mother came out and looked sad and happy at the same time; she welcomed us and got the only three chairs they owned outside so we could sit there. She then got Merveille…

Once home, I told my husband about my day and how terrified I was that they all thought I would now continue to care for her. ‘Babe, if you don't feel comfortable then maybe you shouldn't do it,’ was his reply. That made me think though: moving to Congo made pretty much everything I did uncomfortable…Im pretty sure he knew I was going to do this anyway. 

The first times were horrible, uncomfortable and so incredibly awkward. I don't speak their language but here I am….another Mundele (white person) that comes along to save Congo/ Africa. This is what I felt like. I would come up with so many reasons not to go but always ended up going, and every time felt a little less awkward. The people in their neighborhood started recognizing me. I got into a routine of washing, feeding and singing or dancing to Merveille, and it felt good. It never felt rewarding, but it felt good enough to continue. 

Her mother cherishes this one picture that she has of Merveille from before her handicap where she looks happy and healthy. Before Merveille turned, 3 she got meningitis; the family didn't have the means to pay for medical treatment, and when they finally got money from family members and brought her to see a doctor, they didn't recognize the disease and she never got the proper treatment. The Congolese believed that this was work of the devil and the family became outcasts. Soon after, the father disappeared, leaving the mom in an almost impossible situation: to take care of a child so severely handicapped in a country that has no room for people with disabilities.

Merveille’s mother struggles with depression in a survival-culture where depression is a luxury. She confesses the story now that she tried once to poison Merveille, yet God’s hand intervened and Merveille dropped the plate on the floor and it broke, scattering the deadly food. 

We slowly make progress and there are days where I feel she would be better off dead. I am a problem solver, but the amount of problems I see when I am there are overwhelming and impossible to solve. Where do you stop helping? Is it accepted to stop helping? I feel often that my help is never enough, but I still continue with the little help that I can offer them. I employ a local woman to visit Merveille daily to wash and care for her. I buy them groceries, necessities, I love them…but sometimes I wonder the difference it makes?

That’s when I remember my friend Cheryl who has the best attitude: One child at the time. So I keep telling myself this and force myself to see the good, when I hear Merveille laughing, when I walk onto the path towards their home and smell all the smells, I remember…one child at a time.

Merveille’s story is just one of many, many desperate and tragic ones like it in Congo. Working with orphans and vulnerable families daily brings the opportunity to be overwhelmed, discouraged, heartbroken; yet we know these stories don’t have to end as tragedies. No matter how small, we believe that we can make an impact. It starts by faithfully offering to those we serve their God-given dignity as precious and valuable individuals. Join us as we seek to make a difference…one child at a time. 

Wellon Bridgers