Mike, Oswald and Kosto grew up in the war-torn Democratic Republic of the Congo. All three of them were able to benefit from Compassion’s Child Sponsorship Program. Today, along with Christelle from Rwanda, they share their incredible story through their dynamic band: The Sowers Group. In an article first published on Compassion Australia's website, Mike talks about the DRC and what life is like on tour as they speak up for children living in poverty...

The Sowers - Kosto, Oswald, Christelle and Mike.

"To be honest, the most distinct moment of my childhood occurred when I was 11. I heard the story of the blind Bartimaeus and something happened to me and that moment I gave my life to Christ. The joy and freedom I experienced that day has never left my memory."

What was it like growing up in DRC?
"Congo was under a dictatorship regime for more than 30 years, a season where the economy of the country dropped very significantly. Public workers could go for years without being paid even a monthly salary. On top of this general poverty, a war broke in the country from my home town Bukavu aiming to reverse the ruling dictatorial regime. Nineteen years later my country is still experiencing serious political and economic instability."

What was your family home like?

My father was a Pentecostal pastor. I never saw him though as he died when I was only two months old leaving behind a family of eight children and an uneducated widow without any investment, business or any other source of income. Hunger was a normal feeling in my childhood. I can't forget the experience of being asked by the school headmaster to leave the classroom just before we start writing our exams and watch other kids staring at me. I can still feel the shame, the anger, the pain."

What is the most distinct moment of your childhood?

"To be honest, the most distinct moment of my childhood occurred when I was 11. I heard the story of the blind Bartimaeus and something happened to me and that moment I gave my life to Christ. The joy and freedom I experienced that day has never left my memory."

There was a lot of conflict occurring in the Congo when you were growing up, is there a moment that stands out to you when you were the most scared?

"The day the first war sparked, we fled in the equatorial jungle. After a whole month walking by foot, escaping all kinds of wild animals you can think of in Congo, from snakes to lions to elephants, we got arrested by a group of bandits who were killing and robbing people. I was told to kneel down and they pointed a gun on me, ready to shoot. My brother Oswald who was with me was already screaming, crying for mercy. I was ready to die because these people had already killed the families ahead of us. I don't even want to remember that experience. I was scared to death. Then a miracle happened. They had a discussion in a strange language, then commanded me to stand up and run. We call that day a miracle because those who were behind us were shot dead on spot."

How did you come to join Compassion’s child sponsorship program?

"Due to the long and unbearable poverty experience, our mother decided to go and speak to some missionaries who were working with Compassion. They then decided to find a sponsor and my brother Oswald got one. We shared [the benefits of] that sponsorship."

How did you feel after joining the Child sponsorship program?

"That was a turning point in my life. I can't describe the joy I experienced knowing that we won't be asked to leave the exam room anymore. The word happy is not enough to express how I felt. I was rescued, saved from shame and despair."

How has Compassion changed your life?

"My first pair of leather shoes was a gift. A gift from Oswald’s sponsor. Because I could wear the same size with Oswald, lucky me. That sponsorship changed everything. The most critical part is when Kosto lost his father. We three boys shared everything."

Why do you think it’s important to speak up for children living in poverty?

"I believe every human being has the right for education, food and health care. These are not wants. Unfortunately, not everybody has access to these fundamental needs of life. Children in poverty need a voice. People who are enjoying more than enough need to be aware of the situation and do something about it. If I was not given a chance to study, I couldn't have become the person I am today. I believe it's not just important to speak for children: it's urgent and important to rescue these children who are dying with hunger, who are striving to find pure water to drink, who can never dream of the future while they've got intellectual, physical and spiritual abilities the world needs."

Why did you decide to start The Sowers Group?

"The Sowers Group is our platform to speak to the world about the love of God and the God of love. We use both music and words to make sure our message reaches where we couldn't reach otherwise."

The Sowers Group are touring Queensland over late February and early March. For full dates, see www.compassion.com.au/blog/january-2015/queensland-events.

Note: Compassion’s 22-year involvement in the Democratic Republic of Congo ended in December 2002. The decision to exit was made after ongoing conflicts and dangerous conditions called into question the safety of attending Compassion child development centres, with many local church partners ceasing program activities for safety reasons.