Rwanda 2013

This is the "thank you" letter for a trip I made to Rwanda in June of 2013.

Did you know Rwanda is called “The Land of 1,000 Hills”? I certainly didn’t. But I can attest after experiencing a three-hour van ride from Kigali to Gisenyi, Rwanda is totally deserving of the name. It’s a beautiful country of green hills, sunny skies, and exuberant people. Because of my travels to Uganda, being in Rwanda felt a little bit like coming home; like discovering a room in my house I didn’t know existed, but as soon as I walked in, I felt like I belonged.

Rwandans are so kinetic! Full of life and music and laughter. My heart was captured right from the moment we arrived.

In Myanmar, I viewed myself as my mom’s sidekick. It caught me by surprise to be thrown into a speaking role. Here in Rwanda, I was ready to jump in with both feet and hold nothing back. It certainly helped to be part of team both incredibly gifted and incredibly selfless. Each one of them mentored me, empowered me, and supported me to take this newfound calling of mine to a new place.

We did a lot over a whirlwind few days. During the day, the team split into parts: men’s and women’s training sessions took place at the host church, and the children’s team visited a different school or orphanage each day.

We spoke to the 29 students in an English 1 class at a primary school. They were so little and cute! The children were excited to see us, and had even dressed up for the occasion. Can you see their homemade crowns? They say “Well Come”. So precious! Here’s where I confess that while I wanted to jump in with both feet, I was still a little nervous. Especially when Pastor Mike gave me half the teaching responsibility just a little earlier that morning! But it turned out to be a healthy fear – the kind that keeps you honest and reminds you to take the moment seriously. Once we got in front of those kids, I found my voice, all the puzzle pieces clicked into place, and everything turned out great. Not without a few bumps or funny moments, but when we left the kids were encouraged and reminded that they are valuable and loved. One of the clown skits used beanie babies as props, and we were able to give each child one to keep as a gift to remember our time together.

We visited a secondary school and talked to all 400 students in their central courtyard. It wasn’t long before we drew the attention of the neighborhood as well, so it was ministry in the round! They loved the songs, characters and stories we brought and kept pressing in closer to hear and see. It’s a good thing I have a nice, loud voice. The teachers asked us to wrap up at noon so the students could go home and have lunch. But as you can imagine, they didn’t want to leave! We spent quite a bit of time just hanging out and having fun with the kids before “hiding” in the headmaster’s office so they would actually go home and eat. (Feel free to giggle at my facial expression in this picture, but I liked the perspective. You can see how we had people all around!)    

Visiting a local orphanage was very special. It was founded in 1953 by a Catholic priest because he was heartbroken by a custom of the time – if a woman died in childbirth, the child would be buried with her regardless of whether or not it was a live delivery. His heart was moved, and the orphanage has been there ever since. It is currently the home of well over 500 children ranging in age from 1 week to 18 years. We simply spent time moving from room to room, loving on all the kids and sharing a plethora of little, unforgettable moments along the way. (For example, check out my super responsible violin-carrier!)

Thanks to your generosity, we were able to bring enough food to feed the orphanage for a day: 50 kilos of sugar, 100 kilos of rice, 75 kilos of maize, 8 liters of cooking oil. It all made quite a sight lining the center aisle of our van! We also bought a box of laundry soap and were happy to leave them with a large duffle bag full of soccer balls, frisbees, beanie babies, coloring books, crayons, and other goodies. Thank you for helping us feed their bodies as well as their spirits.

Your generosity also allowed us to give 1,500 custom coloring books, covering the story we featured in the evening program, to the women who attended the leadership training. They’ll be able to take the story and teach it to the children in their home communities.

Each evening, the whole team would reunite at a big field not too far from the host church to do the evening service – a special children’s program at the beginning, followed immediately by the things geared toward adults (though the children stayed for the whole night).

Here’s where I completely jumped off the deep end. Each evening for the children’s program we dressed up as clowns. The kids just loved it! From the songs with motions, to the animal parade in “The Tale of Two Lions” (we shamelessly recruited dignitaries to help), to the interactive skits, and beyond, they were the perfect audience. They oohed and ahhed and clapped and cheered and listened in all the right places. As a side note: though I was completely new at it, I apparently I make a really great clown. Being over-the-top, having no shame, and embracing physical humor works well for me.

Oh! I’d be remiss if I didn’t at least mention how much of a gift our translators were to us! In addition to having a skill with languages; Felix and Daria each also had an unmistakable heart for children, which made for a wonderful partnership.

Each evening, the crowd started at about 700 (over 500 of those being kids) and swelled to 2,000-3,000 by the end of the program. Rwandan national TV even came one night to do live broadcast! (So if you see me on YouTube, please let me know!)

As I said before, each member of the team is pretty incredible. I don’t think I’ve ever been part of a group that was so talented and well-rounded, while also being so humble and giving. By our powers combined, we were able to effectively minister to the whole community, and I think the local leaders were as inspired by our team dynamic as they were by the outcomes of our various efforts.

When all is said and done, there were over 2,000 children loved and encouraged (700 of them making a decision to follow Jesus), one orphanage fed and spoiled, and a smorgasbord of goodies given away. In a final act of giving, we left all the children’s ministry materials (clown outfits, props, puppet things, etc.) with a local church.

This is just a snapshot of all the pictures and stories I’ll treasure. I wish I could sit down and share them all with you. I cannot thank you enough for all of your support in helping me go to Rwanda. Something very special happened in my heart last fall, and this trip was a confirmation of everything that started there. If Myanmar planted the seed, Rwanda is where I got to see things begin to sprout. And whether you want to talk about fruit from a tree or ripples from a pond, I look forward to boldly walking through this door to discover all that lies ahead.

Wherever I find myself, I am committed to simply loving people the way Jesus would -- extravagantly and without getting tired.

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