There is a plate of food, perhaps not much more than boiled roots, put in the center of a circle with about 10 orphan children surrounding the plate. What happens next, Golden Acres Baptist Church Pastor Ray Cummings describes as a free for all as kids work to get their share. Perspiration covers their faces from the heat of the food because the children fear if they wait for it to cool, they may miss out.
It is likely their only meal of the day.
They might not get one tomorrow.
Sights such as this are the inspiration for Mercys Mission, a program of the Phenix City church that began this year which helps children in two African orphanages in the city of Goma in the Congo.
For $33 a month, a person may sponsor a child. At last count, there were 215 children and 133 have been sponsored.
Cummings and his wife, Amanda, have taken an even bigger step. They have adopted three children, a boy and two girls, and are bringing them here. Their arrival is expected sometime before the end of the year.
Their mother died of malaria. The father was killed in a civil war.
The plan was not to adopt three but we could not break up the family, Cummings remarked.
It is obvious Africa is on the minds of church members. Large photographs from Africa adorn the walls of the building on South Railroad Street.
Mercys Mission is just one of three programs helping people in that part of the world.
One project is Well Worth It. On Wednesday evenings members come to a service. They drink coffee, socialize and put donations into a large plastic jug. So far, the donations have paid for two wells in Rwanda and five clean water systems in India.
Another program is Peoples For Jesus, which trains native pastors in Rwanda.
Africa is dear to our heart, Cummings said.
Come Sept. 1, he will have been pastor at the church for nine years. Cummings is from Hattiesburg, Miss., the only other place he has lived.
The church has about 1,100 active members, he said.
He and Amanda have been to Africa on three occasions but just once together.
She said many of the things she has seen in the orphanages is heartbreaking.
The couple has two sons Carter, 11, and Camron, 9. They are looking forward to meeting their new family members, Cummings said.
The ages of the children are not known for sure because there are no birth certificates, Cummings explained. Aline is about 11, Mubaba is about 7 and Mercy is about 6.
He said the children need parents and need a place to know Jesus.
But not all the children will be as lucky as these.
They eat something called dal which we wouldnt eat, Cummings said of a dish consisting of dried peas or beans. Meat is something for holidays, though the children in the orphanages supported by Golden Acres get a little more thanks to Mercys Mission.
The name for the program comes from Hosea 14:3 in the Bible, In you, the orphan finds mercy.
Some people wonder why we was doing so much in Africa when there are people in need here, Cummings said. Well, we do help people here, but in this country, the government has programs to help the poor. There, the government is the problem. Our poorest people are well off compared to some people there.
We are blessed in America, Amanda Cummings said.
Cummings said the cost of a sponsorship is what his family spends on one dinner trip. Were just asking people to give up one dinner trip a month to help the orphans.
All of the money goes for food and education. The program director in the Congo receives the funds, buys the food and delivers it to the orphanages. He also pays the teachers.
We do that to avoid any corruption, Cummings said.
A written record is kept for each child in the orphanage. Items purchased for the orphanage are itemized and photographed at the orphanage to show they got there.
We want to be good stewards of the money, Cummings said.
The pastor said scripture teaches that Christ has a special heart for orphans and widows, and as Christians it is a responsibility to care for them.
To those who much is given much is required, Cummings said.
Amanda Cummings said some people ask her when they are going to stop and she said they have no plans to do that.
God has a plan, she said. I believe this is what we need to be doing. We cant turn our backs on these children.