In the early 1980's, John and Lorella Rouster, ECM founders, thought about what they were seeing in Congo. Church after church in village after village was chasing the children out of the church before any teaching could be given. They were even posting church leaders at the windows so that the children could not listen to the teaching while gathered outside! The Rousters realized that the churches had to do something. The children were eager to come, and easily filled the small mud and thatch church buildings so that there was no room for the adults to get in. When chased from the church, the children often tended to gather about the windows, but when they did so, their little bodies cut off all air circulation, causing the temperature inside the church to rise with suffocating speed. In talking with church leaders, the Rousters saw quickly the reason the churches did not encourage the children to come at another time for their own service. No one knew how to teach them.
In 1985, the Rousters, with the help of many Christian friends, founded Every Child Ministries. From the beginning, there was a strong emphasis on training African Bible teachers for children and youth to minister in their local churches and help their churches establish Sunday schools and other ministries to youth. From 1985 to 1989, Lorella wrote ECM's Teacher Training manual for teachers, written first in the African Kituba language (later translated into English and four other languages spoken in Africa). The manuals increased the African churches' commitment to child evangelism and training.
Seeing what a blessing the Sunday schools were to the villages and how eager so many were to get one, God began to burn into Lorella's heart a burden. She began to envision Bible-teaching Sunday schools for children in every village of the Bandundu Province (an area roughly the size of Michigan and Indiana combined, with about 72,000 villages).
In 1991, the African Leadership Training Center (ALTC) was started. Although the large cement structure was not complete, classes began at first in a round thatch shelter. They were soon moved into the permanent structure, improvising with benches and portable blackboards while the rooms were finished. The African Leadership Training Center enabled Every Child Ministries to thrust forth ten to twenty Teacher Trainers every year, so the number of Sunday schools and other youth ministries began to multiply more and more rapidly every year.
Despite a Civil War and other troubles that hindered the work in years that followed, ECM's strategic plan has now enabled churches to establish more than 3,000 Sunday schools. ECM is thrilled with what has been done, but their leaders cannot help but remember Lorella's original vision and the fact that there are many villages who still have no program to teach God's Word to their children and youth. So, ECM presses forward into the future with renewed determination and trust in God. Every Child Ministries leaders know that their vision is ambitious, but they know they serve a big God, and "with God nothing shall be impossible" (Luke 1:37).
Since 1999, Every Child Ministries has also been working in Ghana, West Africa. Part of ECM's program in Ghana is training teachers and "Teachers of Teachers". Although only a few of the churches in Ghana needed help in starting a children's ministry, many of them were laboring with untrained teachers and were finding interest waning. They have been greatly helped through ECM's training, encouragement, and new ideas for active learning.
In ECM's early days, rural ministry was considered most important. At that time, there were many missions working in cities like Kinshasa and 85% of Congo's population lived in villages. Civil wars in Congo changed all that. Most of the missions left, including almost all the larger ones, so that today very few missions are left in Kinshasa. At the same time, the civil war created orphans, separated families, and swelled Kinshasa's streets with street children. ECM workers report high numbers of Congolese children entrapped in occult activities at tender ages, showing an immense need for child evangelism and discipleship. Today Every Child Ministries considers urban ministry, especially in Kinshasa, as a strategic need. Surveys conducted by ECM over the past few years showed that fewer than half the churches in this city of millions had any program specifically geared to children. In 2003, ECM opened an Urban Ministries Training Center in Congo. This one, based in Kinshasa, specializes in ministry to Africa's urban youth population.
Today, ECM trains not only Sunday School teachers and trainers, but also pastors and school teachers, through both The Way Home project, and the Afayo project. Our goal, as it has always been, is to train leaders in Africa who can then train others in their communities and churches.