After 37 years of marriage, with two grown children in their late 20s, Susie and Ed Keefer, both in their 50s, have added a new member to their family.
Her name is Miriam and she is 5 years old, born in the Congo in Africa.
Roots for serving the needs of people in developing countries like Africa or sites in the U.S. such as the Appalachian area, run deep in the Keefer family.
“Even before I first went to Africa in August, 2010, I felt a calling to go there,” said Susie. She didn’t meet Miriam that first trip, but saw enough of Africa to know that she felt a kinship to the Congolese people.
“My church, Epworth United Methodist Church in Rehoboth Beach, is a member of the Central Congo Partnership through the United Methodist Church. I first went to Africa with a group from Epworth,” she said.
In 2011, Susie returned to the Congo. “I decided to spend my two weeks there at the Mpasa clinic,” she said, “working with the children’s nutrition program.”
Mpasa is a community of the poorest of the poor. In the 1990s, the United Methodist Church built a nutrition/feeding center there.
“Soon after I arrived, a little girl came up to me, reaching out her arms to me,’ said Susie. “She wanted me to hold her. Her name was Miriam and she was only 2 years old.”
Susie returned to the Congo and to little Miriam the following December. She and Miriam had bonded.
When Susie returned again in 2012, Miriam’s father with whom she had been living, had died. Her mother had long ago been unable to care for the child. “Miriam was an orphan,” said Susie.
Then, as Susie said, “God stepped in.” She and her husband Ed talked it over and decided to adopt Miriam. “It wasn’t easy and at times, it was downright hard and painful,” she said.
The process took seven months for clearance from the U.S. embassy instead of the 10 days she had been told the process would last. “We left to go to the Congo to get Miriam in September of 2013, and we didn’t bring her home until November 1,” Susie said. Miriam was 4 years old.
“At first, all we had seen was a picture of a beautiful little girl,” said the Rev. Pat Laughlin, pastor of Epworth UM Church “When the Keefers decided to adopt her, we gave them a baby shower and other help.” Miriam was baptized this year when she was 5 years old.
“Her English is now good, “ said Laughlin, “and she is enrolled in our pre-school and Sunday school.” Next year, her mother said she will move Miriam on to kindergarten.
In light of what she has learned about the Congo and its needs, Susie and Ed have created something called “Miriam’s Table” to raise money for projects such as a shelter for the children at Mpasa as well as the feeding of children there.
All through the process of learning about the Congo and the adoption of Miriam, Susie has used her own funds. She is a special education teacher at Sussex Central High School in Georgetown. Now, she hopes to involve others.
“My husband Ed has been and is very much a part of this work,” she said. He is a building contractor. “We have a website, miriamstable.org, and now, there is a video piece on the project.”
People are already asking Susie to speak about the project at churches and other places. Besides contributing funds on the internet, contributors can send checks made out to Miriam’s Table to 56 Delaware Ave., Rehoboth Beach, DE19971. For more information, Epworth UM Church can be called at 302-227-7743.
“Ed and I do this because of our deep, abiding love for the Congo and the people there, especially the little ones like Miriam,” Susie said.