Leaving Rwanda

As I write, I am on a plane heading for the US. I already miss Rwanda. I miss the breath-taking landscape of rolling hills, green trees, and farms on the sides of mountains. I miss the language and the way the natives speak it so beautifully. I miss the way I could see God working all around me in the community groups, the mentors, the kindness of the people, and the tremendous courage I saw in each child.

I am forever changed. These children are imprinted on my heart. I cannot think the same. I cannot love the same or speak the same. Every thought, action and word will be tempered with what I have experienced. I saw God at work in new ways that I did not think possible. I saw the power of a tiny inkling of hope. I experienced the power of community and prayer and love and grace. I saw a big God working in the lives of little people. I believe Zoe Ministry is changing the face of Rwanda and Africa. I’m thankful God let me be a small part of his work. I love serving a big God.

Rwanda day 7

Today was our final day in the Butare area of Rwanda. We visited a few more groups and a few individual families. These are all in their first year of Zoe and they are filled with hope for their future. Each are working on group farming projects and beginning their individual businesses.

We met with one particular family who has a horrific story. Their parents were both survivors of the genocide. They lived comfortably with their five children and a grandmother. In 2010, when the community trials began for the genocide in their area, perpetrators of the genocide threw a grenade into their home so they could not bear witness to the crimes. The three older children were not at home but the two little ones (age 2 and 3) were with their parents. The parents were killed instantly, one child was not harmed and the other was hit by much shrapnel. The killers came into the home and told the babies their mother was sleeping and to go lay by her. So they did. You can imagine how traumatized they were. In fact, Epiphany would not allow us to ask their story as is the norm when we visit the children. She told us ahead of time and allowed the children to tell us only of their life for the past two years, before and after Zoe.

We ended our day in Kigali, where we would be staying for the night. We ate dinner at Hotel de Mille Collines, otherwise known as Hotel Rwanda, made famous by the movie that tells of refuge offered at the hotel during the 100-day genocide.  It was a very nice hotel and we ate by the pool with excellent service and a band playing in the background. We felt the stark contrast of our experiences over the past week with this extravagant setting. How do we justify to ourselves this difference? Not only then, but as we enter into life in America again. Where poor means an entirely different thing than in Rwanda. Where all of us have more than we need. I don’t have the answers. I only know what Jesus tells us and that is to love God above all else and to love our neighbors as ourselves. When we act out of that love, we use all that we have to serve others. I pray I can love that way.

Tomorrow we visit the genocide museum before boarding the plane. Grace and peace to you all.

Rwanda day 6

Everything in Zoe is done through working groups of 80-100 children. At their first meeting they elect a chairperson, a secretary and a treasurer. They also select a few mentors from adults who have been kind to them in their community. Then, they have regular meetings and decide how to distribute resources. They attend trainings and learn to have compassion for one another and build each other up. When one child is struggling, the others help.

Today we met a young family with the head of household (the oldest child) at age 14. He and his two siblings, twelve and eight years old, had been alone for seven years when Zoe found them. Because they were struggling more than others, the group helped them build a garden and an outhouse. That the other children can share so soon and while still struggling themselves is amazing.

Another pair of brothers, ages 12 and 13, had their small business of charcoal production stolen. They will find solace in the group. They are going to start a co-op with others and begin to watch out for each other. The mentor and other group leaders will work together to help them.

I am in awe of God at work in these children. A completely desperate situation can be turned around in a matter of months with hope, love and support of community. These children still have a long way to go. Their road is still hard. Continue to pray for them and support them in any way you can.

Final visits tomorrow as we head to Kigali for our last night in Rwanda. I am in love with this country. It will be sad to leave.

Rwanda day 5

God’s house is big. Today we joined our Rwandan friends for worship in a local church here in Butare. This is not like any church I have been in before. It was open air, on the top of a small mountain, with a gorgeous view. One of the Zoe staff told the church leaders we would be coming, so they graciously welcomed us and provided interpreters as well. But, I found the interpreters were not necessary. When the Holy Spirit is moving you can tell what they are saying. You know when they are praising God or singing songs of love for him. They did sing a few songs in English, including one that states, “this is your house, this is your home, we welcome you, we welcome you today.” It was a beautiful song and I was overcome with joy that God is truly everywhere. This is his house. Here in Rwanda; at home in Texas; everywhere. God is big enough.

We also visited a few homes of orphans who are in the second year of the program. One young girl remembered Pastor Mike and Teresa from 2 years ago. When they met her last she was new in the program and still struggling quite a bit. She is the caretaker of one sibling and a grandmother with mental illness. She told us stories today of having to sleep on the ground and being bitten by snakes before Zoe ministry. Now she has a home and a business selling avocados. Her grandmother is still sick, but is getting better with proper nutrition.

We were privileged to witness a few children graduate from trade school today. They had been trained in sewing, knitting and construction. Each group received tools for their trade along with their diplomas. It was a special ceremony.

Tomorrow we will see children in their first year of the program. We are preparing our hearts for the sadness. These children may still be struggling to adapt to the program and survival will still be at the forefront of their minds. Please pray that our presence will provide encouragement and love.

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!