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African Sister realizes dream

African Sister realizes dream - (09-09-2014)

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Photo: Sister MaryRuth Akuphe, BSB, wearing the blue habit with white-trimmed veil, is fulfilling her childhood dream of helping others by working at a home for African orphans, many with special needs. She is spending the summer with the Benedictine Sisters of Perpetual Adoration in Clyde, Missouri.

Editor's Note: Sister MaryRuth Akuphe has spent part of her summer with the Benedictine Sisters of Perpetual Adoration in Clyde, Missouri. A native of Cameroon, West Africa, she is visiting the United States to prepare for final vows and to share her life as part of the Good Shepherd Home for orphaned children.

As a teenaged girl coming of age in Cameroon, West Africa, MaryRuth Akuphe had already known heartache in her life.

She was just a young girl when she and her four siblings - all under the age of 9 - lost their mother. Twenty years later, she still remembers those final moments she spent with her.

“My mother knew she was going to die,” MaryRuth recalls today, learning afterward that her mother’s death may have been a result of foul play. “She was so very brave. At the end, she wanted to speak but couldn’t. Her voice was just too faint. So I sat with her, holding her hand when she smiled at me and drew her last breath. I was only 5 years old.”

After their mother’s death, MaryRuth, her three sisters and their 8-month-old brother were sent to live with their paternal aunt, Mama Mary Akwi.

“May God continue to bless her and give her long life. With her prayers and support, we were able to eat and earn money for school by working on the farm with her,” MaryRuth said. “One of the many good things she taught me was ‘where there’s a will, there’s a way’ even when life is difficult.”

It was that strong foundation in hard work and perseverance that served MaryRuth well in the ensuing years when there wasn’t enough money earned from farm produce. She worked during the summers as a nanny to earn money to pay for school fees, books and uniforms. Because education isn’t free for many in Africa.

She earned enough money to attend secondary school. She had yet to decide on a career path but clung to her vague childhood dreams of “doing something good for somebody when I grew up.”

Little did she know that the opportunity to fulfill that wistful dream would arrive courtesy of her little brother.

Humanitarian Crisis

UNICEF reports that over 11 million children under the age of 15 living in sub-Saharan areas of Africa such as Cameroon have been orphaned by HIV/AIDS. Thousands more, like Ruth and her siblings, have lost families to famine, war and natural causes. Many of these children are destined to live on the streets with no home, no food, no education.

No hope.

When Sister Jane Mankaa, BSB, a member of the Anglican order of the Benedictine Sisters of Bethany, learned how many of Cameroon’s children were lost to the streets, she knew God had a mission for her: to love these beleaguered souls and to give them a home.

With a $15,000 grant, she purchased property and founded the Good Shepherd Home in Bamenda, Cameroon. No child is turned away. No child is put up for adoption. They live at the home until they are ready to leave and can support themselves.

In 2003, the Lord set MaryRuth’s religious vocation in motion when her 9-year-old brother, God’s Will Akuphe, arrived at the Good Shepherd Home.

“I was so excited when I learned about Sister Jane’s new home and that my brother would be living there,” MaryRuth recalled. “I couldn’t wait for my summer job to be over so I could visit.”

That one visit turned into several. She often traveled to the home on weekends to spend time with her brother. She did the laundry and played with the children. A natural nurturer, MaryRuth loved being with the babies and witnessing the sisters’ charitable work - along with their dress.

When she saw Sister Mary Lynne Pfitzinger, CSJB, a visiting American sister, in her habit, MaryRuth thought, “‘One day I would like to dress like that.’”

It didn’t take long before she realized she had more than a desire to just dress like a sister. She wanted to be one.

So in 2005, at the age of 17, she entered the Benedictine Sisters of Bethany and became Sister MaryRuth.

Of course, she learned that there was much more to religious life than just wearing a habit. Today, she works at the Good Shepherd Home’s annex in Batibo, Cameroon. It is an hour’s drive from the original home and provides shelter to orphaned children, some of whom have special needs. According to Sister MaryRuth, many of the children in that area have epilepsy, a condition caused by the high rate of home births or long labors.

“I love being with the children,” she said. “Each time I look at these children, I see me.”

When she first began work at the annex, there were 12 children under her care. Today, there are 50. Another 100 children, ranging in age from infancy to 18, live with Sister Jane at the main home in Bamenda. They support themselves with a bakery and a chicken farm. Eleven children are currently attending college. 

From sadness comes opportunity

It pays to have dreams and someone to help you achieve them.

Sister MaryRuth’s brother is now 21 years old and became a deep-sea welder. He has hopes to further his education in the United States.

Sister MaryRuth will make her final vows in December and looks forward to expanding vocations and making improvements to the Batibo home.

It is because of people like Sister Jane and Sister MaryRuth’s aunt whom the Lord inspired to help children who were orphaned or sent adrift without an anchor. From sadness came the opportunity to learn and to help. Now many of the children of Cameroon have opportunities today that would been impossible just a few short years ago.

“My childhood dream has come true. I am doing something good for somebody,” Sister MaryRuth said with a wide smile on her sweet face. “What I am not able to do I leave for God to take care of.” 

Trip of a lifetime

Earlier this year, Sister MaryRuth traveled beyond the Cameroon border for the first time in her life.

“It was my first time on an airplane!” she said excitedly. “I was so curious how the world would look from high above. Fortunately, a nice lady exchanged seats with me so I could look out the window and see the earth below. It was beautiful!” 

She arrived in the United States to visit the Community of St. John Baptist in Mendham, New Jersey, a group that has long supported the Good Shepherd Home. She arrived during late winter, which was a new and surprising season for the African native.

“We were driving from the airport to the convent, and I was so upset to see that none of the trees had leaves,” she said. “I said, ‘Oh, no! All the trees in America are dead!’ I had to laugh when the sisters explained it was just winter time and the leaves would return with the spring.”

Sister MaryRuth then traveled to the Midwest to spend the summer with the Benedictine Sisters of Perpetual Adoration in Clyde, Missouri. It is an extension of a relationship that blossomed years ago between the Benedictine Sisters and Sister Jane, who spent time with them at their former monastery in St. Louis.

“I was looking forward to meeting the sisters who have become such good friends of Sister Jane’s,” Sister MaryRuth said.

She has spent her time in prayer with the sisters, studying for her final vows, learning about altar bread production and sharing her African heritage.

“I have been learning more about monastic life and about community life. The story of my first trip out of my country would be incomplete with the Benedictine Sisters,” she said. “It has been wonderful to personally thank them for their support of our children throughout the years. May God bless and strengthen them all.”


The Good Shepherd Home houses 150 children at its locations in Bamenda and Batibo, Cameroon, West Africa.

The homes are supported by Benn’s Bakery and a store. They also manage the largest chicken farm in Bamenda. Chickens are raised for food and for profit. Chicken droppings are used as fertilization for organic farms. They also engage in vegetable farming, which teaches students the importance of stewardship of the land and for the environment.

Ways to help

Sponsor a Child - Donate $30/month to support one child, provides food, medical and clothing needs.

Food for Life - Donate $10, $20 or $30 monthly to help purchase staples such as grain, beans and fruit.

Scholarships for medical school.

Future plans

Provide running water to the Batibo home. As of now, children and sisters walk 50 minutes round trip twice daily to a stream to get water.

Build a new dormitory for the children in Batibo.

Establish the Good Shepherd Academy in Bafut, Cameroon - to provide access to educational opportunities closer to the children.

Increase vocations to the Benedictine Sisters of Bethany and build a convent.

Increase farming opportunities.

To learn how you can help, please visit www.goodshepherdhome.org or www.goodshepherdsustainability.org.