Rwanda day 4

It is truly amazing what children can do.

At one of our stops today, we met with a large group who have co-op projects farming corn and rice. They are in their second year of the program, but told us today that they are ready to graduate from Zoe. Later, when our host Gaston explained the Zoe model in more detail, he explained that this does happen from time to time. If the group has good leadership (which they elect), and everyone does well in the beginning, they can be self-supporting in less than 3 years. The group’s chairperson told us he wanted Zoe to help others who needed it more than them. We told them how proud we are of them and that we love them.

Also in this group we heard the story of Theo, who is 13, but looks like he is 8. He has been caring for two younger siblings for a few years. This group recently adopted him into their community. He told us his mother died a long, hard death of AIDS and he was with her when she passed. He began to cry and could not stop.  It was breaking all of our hearts to watch him stand across from us crying, so we motioned him to come over by us and we sat with him, hugged him and held his hand. It is hard for these children to accept affection, because they do not trust it or really know what to do with it. But we continue to give it.

Today we also witnessed a group who was quite remarkable. Many of their parents were killed in the genocide — by families of other kids in the group. They began to reconcile and take care of each other immediately after the genocide and continue now in Zoe. The amount of grace this must take is unimaginable to me. But today they were happy teenagers who shared a skit with us demonstrating life before and after Zoe. They shared their gratitude and thankfulness to God.

My heart is full and my eyes are tired. Thank you all for your prayers and support. What a gift it is to be on this trip. More tomorrow…

Rwanda day 3

Today, I was surprised by God. I don’t know why I am ever surprised by a God so big and so good, but he is working miracles beyond what I thought possible. In our visits today, the theme seemed to be one of orphans giving back to their community and to other orphans. These kids, who have only been off the streets for two years, now have their own businesses of farming, livestock, tailoring, construction, craft making and others. And, because they now have enough to live on and have some saved, they, on their own accord, decided to share with those around them.

One community went to train another younger community in their farming skills. Another group gave away ten goats to ten needy families in their neighborhood. They did not even know these families, but asked the local officials to direct them to those who were the most in need. It was a powerful moment when a child gave a goat to an elderly lady who could barely stand, then says it is because God showed him love and told him to show love to others by sharing with them.

We listened to Grace share her story of losing 9 siblings and her parents in the genocide, leaving her to live with an abusive aunt who eventually rejected her. As tears rolled down her face (and ours), she said that once she had a home and food to eat she went to find another orphan who she had met and adopted her. Grace is only 18.

We talked to a group of girls who were able to go to trade school through Zoe. Now they make beautiful clothing and are teaching others their trade so they do not have to pay for school.

We ended the day eating bread made by Vincent, who made enough to share with his group while we all celebrated their success. They gave us some beautiful hand-made gifts and a chicken. Yes, a live chicken. You will have to hear that story in person. That same young man apologized to his community for being a problem before Zoe. He said he used to steal, but now he is a respected leader in the group and is doing all he can to help his neighbors.

These kids are beautiful, humbling, and inspiring.  I wish you could all be here to see them and hug them, but we are showering them with love for you. Grace and peace be with you. More tomorrow…

Rwanda day 2

It has been a day full of stories, prayers, singing, dancing, celebrating, and cow-chasing. Yes, you read that correctly — cow-chasing. We were to present one of the orphan groups with cows, but the cattle were not cooperating. So, there were some “muzungoos” (the name for non-Rwandan people) running around, chasing cows and looking pretty silly.

We visited three villages that are all part of the community our church supports. Each of these groups are in their third year of a three-year program. They will graduate from the Zoe empowerment program later this year. This means they are almost completely self-sufficient now. They can provide their own food, they have homes to lives in and they can even make some food to save and help others. It is amazing because most of these families are led by children. Yet, this program uses their child-like faith, curiosity and energy to their favor. I tell people often that children can achieve great things just as adults, and this is a testament to that belief.

We heard many children tell stories of life on the street — begging, stealing, or working a full day for just a few bananas. When they went to the initial Zoe meeting in their communities some were disappointed because they just wanted food. They did not want to start a new life, work with others, or even trust adults who were trying to help them. They had no hope and no belief that they were worthy. Some said they did not even feel human. But now, two years later, they dance, sing and celebrate how good God has been to them. Their faith and perseverance are incredible. I wish you all could be here to see their beautiful faces and feel their hugs. Continue to pray for them, for life is still hard and there are still obstacles to overcome.

Rwanda day 1

It’s Wednesday evening, 7:00 p.m. here in Butare, Rwanda. We arrived at our hotel after two days of traveling by plane and bus, with little or no sleep. I’m pretty sure I’m delirious at this point, because I can’t quit laughing. After spending most of two days on a plane, you can imagine what we all smell like. So, we had an hour or so to move into our rooms and shower before dinner. The rooms are quaint, small and each has its own bathroom — a pretty big deal for Rwanda. Being that the room is small, I decided to unpack my suitcase and put my stuff in the armoire. (Please know that I never do this when I travel, because I would rather just pull my stuff out of the bag each time. It saves time and the fear of forgetting something when I leave). But, tonight I felt good about neatly putting away all of my things to leave room so I could walk around the bed. Really, I just wanted sleep, but I thought my other group members would appreciate it if I bathed before dinner. So, I remembered to brush my teeth with bottled water, which felt great! (Those little portable toothbrushes are good to freshen your breath, but just not the same as a good teeth scrubbing!) I was finally ready to get in the shower and then the power went out. I had been warned this happens often, so I just found the handy-dandy flashlight I had already placed by the bed, and went on to the shower (the power was only off for a few minutes).

The front desk had also reminded us to turn on the hot water heater for a few minutes before we needed to use it, so I looked for the knob. As I was doing so, I overheard a discussion in the hallway about my room and one other room that had to be accessed from outside. No problem, they were on it! And, I really didn’t care if I had hot or cool water at this point anyway.  So I turned on the faucet — drip, drip, drip. Uh oh. I looked around for a special knob and, finding none, I put my stinky clothes back on and tracked back down stairs to see what the problem might be. Our very kind host came to see for himself and, not being able to fix it, he decided I should change rooms. So a said, “no problem” and began packing. Just as I entered the hall on my way to the new room, it was determined that it was an entire floor issue and that the outside generator was to blame. So, back to my original room to unpack once more. This is when I began to laugh hysterically.

I’m about to head downstairs for dinner, hoping everyone else is stinky like me, and then to bed. Tomorrow we visit one of the villages our church has supported. I can’t wait! More to come tomorrow…

Rwanda!

Tomorrow I leave with 8 others from our church on a trip to Rwanda. This is my first trip to Africa and I am beyond excited! Zoe Ministry is an orphan empowerment program in Rwanda that our church has been supporting for a few years. In fact, today we celebrated the over 1000 orphans who are 2 years into the program thanks to the gracious generosity of our church. I can’t wait to interact with these precious ones and see how God is working in their lives. Please pray for me and the team, and stay tuned for updates!

Teaching Wisdom

Read the Parable of the 10 Bridesmaids in Matthew 25:1-13. Read this from a children’s bible or substitute the word “Bridesmaid” for “Virgin” in an adult bible. This will save you some extra explanation with younger kids!

The Bible story is about the ten young ladies–five had oil in their lamps (to be able to see where they were going) and five had none so they were not ready. The first five were wise. They knew they would need their lamps from experience, so they made a wise choice to get the oil and be ready when the bridegroom came for them.

Wisdom is about knowing what is right and then doing the right thing. The first five were wise; they knew what to do and they did it.

Ask: Why do you think the other five were not ready? (Maybe they thought they had plenty of time, maybe they were lazy, maybe they didn’t care, etc.) How do you think they felt when they could not get back in to see the bridegroom because they had not prepared? Do you think they regretted their choices?

Share about a time when you were not prepared and ready. Let other family members share as well. Discuss why you were unprepared. Was it laziness, lack of understanding, defiance?

Talk about the wisdom of being prepared. Plan a fire drill. Practice a setting when you see the fire occur (as in a fire while cooking), and a setting when the fire is detected by smoke alarms (as if you were asleep). Discuss what you learned from practicing and adapt your plan. This is wisdom in process. Knowing the right thing to do, practicing, using the experience to adapt, and then being ready to do the right thing.

Talk about ways you can be wise in other settings (school, work, friendships, etc.)

 

Words kids need to hear

A while back my then 8-year-old son said, “Mom, what do you think I should be when I grow up?” My immediate thought was, “He could be anything he wants to be, but how do I communicate that to him so he really knows it in his core?” I decided to state the obvious. “Grayson, you are so smart and creative;  you could really be anything you want to be.” He just grinned and said, “Yea, you’re right.” He obviously had that message down!

We have discussed this topic over the years, but it is usually me bringing it up to remind him how much I believe in him. That is one of those core messages I want my children to get. You probably have a few of those messages as well. However, a lot of those messages only let children know what we think.  I would rather find words that build them up on the inside and give them the confidence they need to make it in this world.

David Staal, a former Children’s Minister has written a book called Words Kids Need to Hear.  It is a short and simple book that could easily be read in a day or two. I recommend it to all parents or people who have a strong influence in a child’s life. You can find it through Zondervan.com.  Staal gives us 7 phrases that can make a significant impact on our children. They are: I believe in you; You can count on me; I treasure you; Because; No; I love you, and I’m sorry, please forgive me. I really appreciate how Staal gives examples and stories to demonstrate how to pack these messages into our every day lives. If you are like me, some of these messages I am already good at passing on to my kiddos, but there are a few that I need to work on. What I love about these phrases is that there is a balance in them. Not only are we to teach them that they can count on us, but also to tell them we are sorry and ask for forgiveness when we fail.  We are to convey how much we love and treasure them, but at the same time use the word “no” when necessary as a way to demonstrate healthy boundaries.

Keep in mind I am not suggesting we should all carefully scrutinize or choose every word we say to our children. That would only set us up to fail. Don’t we beat ourselves up enough as parents? No, these phrases are meant to give you a few simple words that can have a profound impact on a child’s life, despite the other negative messages they receive and the various ways we mess up as parents.

All kids have their ups and downs. Some more than others. Kids need a person who they can share anything that’s on the mind. They need to hear loving words so they don’t believe all the negativity they hear everywhere else. Talk with your kids and find other adults who will be encouragers in their lives as well. Together we will tell them the words they need to hear.

 

You’re Unique, Stinky Feet

Helping kids find their true selves, the one God created them to be, is part of my mission in life. I long to see kids who are comfortable being themselves and growing into the person God created them to be. This can happen, but it takes a a lot of help from praying, encouraging, Godly adults. One such adult wrote a poem to encourage her own children, and it so strongly speaks to the God-Confidence I am trying to help kids find, that I had to share. Its cute, catchy and true. I hope you will share it with the children in your life.

You’re Unique, Stinky Feet

by Stephanie Keeney

 Do you have freckles or dimples? Are you messy or neat?

Do you have braces or glasses or big stinky feet?

Are you ticklish or pricklish? Or quiet or loud?

Are you a leader or part of the crowd?

Dark skin, light skin, tall or short?

Watch in the stands or play on the court?

Have an innie or an outie? Like the cold or the heat?

Missing tooth? Birthmark? Allergic to wheat?

We’re not all the same, it’s plain to see. It’s just the way we’re meant to be!

Brown eyes or blue eyes? Or hazel or green?

Or maybe a color somewhere in-between?

Long hair or short? Curly, wavy or straight?

Are you sometimes on time, or occasionally late?

Left-handed, right-handed, skinny or plump?

A homerun hitter or in a slight slump?

Are you wiggly or giggly? Little or big?

Perhaps you are bald, or wearing a wig?

We’re not all the same, it’s plain to see. Just be the best you that you can be!

God made you so special, and it shows,

Right down to the tips of your pinky toes!

So be proud of yourself and what makes you You!

‘Cause you’re unique, stinky feet…and guess what?

I am too!

Another Piece to the Puzzle

Helping kids find their true selves, the one God created them to be, is a lot like finding the right puzzle pieces to create a beautiful picture. We see the pieces and they look nice on their own, but find the right pieces, put them all together, and it can be beautiful, mesmerizing, and even glorious. I am on a quest to help kids find the right pieces for their individual pictures, then put them in place to see them flourish. I want to help them find their confidence in Christ.

We know self-confidence helps kids avoid peer pressure, drugs, bullying and other negative behaviors. Nonetheless, I want to take it a step further. I desire to help our children create a more radiant picture with their puzzle pieces. I know God created all of us to shine brightly in this world. He wants us to stand out so others see us and are drawn to Him. But standing out in a positive way is counter-cultural.  It’s particularly hard for kids. As an adult, I have to daily remind myself that God created me to be me and no one else. I have to retell myself how much God loves me, just as I am, warts and all.  If it takes that much effort for us as adults, how much harder is it for kids who are in the developmental phase of finding their identity? What are the barriers to this “God-confidence?”

Dr. Brene’ Brown says shame is a major obstacle to any kind of confidence for most people. She explains we have these tapes playing in our head telling us two predominant messages. The first is “I’m not good enough” and the other is “Who do I think I am?” You know these thoughts; we’ve all had them.  Overcoming them takes courage and vulnerability. It is hard to try something different, approach new people, risk failure, or share a novel idea when we think we’re not good enough and have no right to achieve great things anyway.

Dr. Brown proposes empathy as a missing piece. She shares this analogy: If shame is put in a petri dish, it needs secrecy, silence and judgment to grow.  If we put it in the same bowl with empathy, it is stifled. Essentially, when we say to kids, “I understand” or “Me too” we fill in a hole that exists in their confidence puzzle. When we remind them God understands them and Jesus lived on this earth experiencing the same human feelings, we help them shape their God-confidence as well.

What if we not only added empathy to the puzzle, but also, “I love you despite your flaws, mistakes, and issues.” It’s the perfect love God provides. We strive to offer it to our children, but it’s hard because we are not God, we are human.  But we can remind our kids that God does provide that love. Remind them He created them to be radiant, beautiful individuals, and if they try to be someone else, the world is missing out on God’s gift.

We thank God our children are wonderfully made (Psalm 139:13-14), but finding the right pieces for each child’s puzzle is not easy or instantaneous. However, when we put adults in their lives who will offer understanding, compassion, empathy, and love, they may be able to run a new narrative in their heads. One that says, “I am worthy of love” and “I am a unique, special child of God.” What a beautiful picture that will be.

You Lost Me -part 2

After listening to a podcast by David Kinnaman, author of You Lost Me, I wrote down some thoughts about how we can keep from losing our own kids. Last week, I shared part 1. Here are some continuing thoughts:

Instead of over-protecting your children, embed discernment into them. I’m not saying we should not shelter our kids from certain cultural realities, but we should temper our protection with some gentle exposure and lessons about decision-making. Teach them how to consult others, listen to their “gut” and make healthy choices. As Kinnaman stated, “prepare your kids for the grime of life.”

Equip them for the freedom they will have at 18. Kids are already more “free” than ever before with access to the world through media and the Internet. Doors are open for kids to be entrepreneurs, consumers and producers of services and goods. While this is a bit scary, we can be thankful that we still have them with us when they make impactful choices at earlier ages. We can help them navigate this world by creating clear boundaries and allowing some choices within our protective walls.

Embrace technology. I know it is hard to keep up with the pace of change we are experiencing, but this is and will be the norm for our kids. As my 15-year-old daughter put it, “I know it seems like things change fast to you, but it’s just always been this way to me.” You do not have to be an expert programmer or technology whiz, but you should take an interest in the technology your child uses. And remember, technology is just a tool. Use it as a tool to build relationships.

Finally, you don’t have to lose them at all. Kinnaman’s research reaffirms that the biggest influencing factor on a young adult’s faith, is still their parents. Though you may see them rolling their eyes when you talk about God, or complaining when you ask them to pray, they are prone to follow in your footsteps. Even the church doesn’t have a stronger impact.  So live it out. Talk about it. Pray a lot. Remember the words from Luke 19:10, “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.” Be authentic in your struggles and watch as your kids catch the faith you are living.