That was my day Tuesday in Rwanda.
The day began nicely enough. Kevin left early to guest lecture at Carnegie Mellon University in Kigali, and I jumped into the car with Fred Tumusiime, the sponsorship officer from World Vision’s Kigali office to make the three hour drive to Nyamagabo in Rwanda’s southern province. It was one of those drives that won’t let you to take your eyes off the road, even though I was low on energy and fighting what I thought might be a stomach bug. Rwanda’s beauty wouldn’t let me nap.
I saw things I hadn't seen before in Rwanda. Lots of pigs. Pigs are good money earners as each piglet brings a good price. Coffee washing stations dotted the side of the road. We even passed a station that said, “Roasters for Stumptown Coffee.” In the middle of rural Rwanda I found Portland’s own Stumptown Coffee. Crazy!
We arrived at World Vision’s district office in Nyamagabo, where I met district director Jean de Dieu and was given coffee and mandazi (Rwandan donut), a favorite of mine. I thanked Jean because just the day before, Prince, one of our young Rwandan friends in Boise had messaged me, “Have you eaten mandazi yet?” I hadn’t and didn’t want to get in trouble back home.
|mandazi - my favorite Rwandan treat|
|those clever fish farms|
So we jumped out of the car, and I grabbed the bag containing Noel’s gifts but I forgot my water. Oh water, water, water, water. I love water.
|Before I knew what I was getting into.|
|Alphonse - I thanked him a million times|
|My World Vision Friends|
I stopped to rest again, leaning against the terraced hillside, in the shade of a tree. I waited. I don’t remember fainting, but next thing I remember I was lying on the ground with my head in Christella’s lap. Fred was furiously fanning me with my scarf. A dozen people stood over me fanning me. Alphonse, a teenage boy, had been sent at a run to our car for water. Just before I woke, it felt like I was having a really nice dream, then I opened my eyes, realized what had happened and instantly started saying “Ni meza” (I’m fine) and “murakoze” (thank you) (like a million times). Fred and Christella got me on my feet. Noel hugged me. I was embarrassed. His grandmother hugged me. I was more embarrassed. I couldn’t stand by myself, so Fred and Christella held onto me until they sat me down on a chair in Noel’s home. That chair was the best thing I saw all day. I loved that chair. I fell into it and immediately began visiting with Noel and his grandmother, acting like I was fine but really I wanted to lie down so badly.
|Noel with his grandmother|
Suddenly Alphonse burst into the room wearing a backpack filled with bottled water, sweat pouring from his face. I drank a liter of water and kept visiting with Noel. You guys, our family photos are on their wall. Every family Christmas photo I’ve sent is on their wall. I wanted to cry. At least I’m good at that.
Noel and I sat together but he was so shy and never, ever smiled. Christella kept saying, “seka, seka, seka” (smile, smile, smile) to no avail. His grandmother encouraged him to talk to me, but he would only respond to my questions in whispers. I scared this kid speechless. Trying to make him smile, I told him he’ll have the best sponsor visit story of all his friends. He just stared at me.
The entire village had come to welcome me and crowded into Noel’s home, spilling out of the doorway. They danced and sang their traditional welcome for me. I love this welcome! Noel stood up and said the Hail Mary for me (I mean, I’m sure he felt if anyone needed it, it was me). The eldest gentleman in the room stood up and made a speech. I was overwhelmed. I felt so undeserving. I am just me.
Before leaving, we stood together for photos and Noel and I played a bit of soccer, but mostly I tried to stay in one place. And also upright. It seemed wise.
|Saying goodbye at the car|
World Vision took Noel’s family and me to dinner at a restaurant in town. It was the first time Noel had been to a restaurant. I will carry these memories with me always. Little Noel sitting across from me, his plate piled high with food, his eyes so big. Never speaking. Never smiling. Just staring at his wimpy muzungu sponsor. When we said goodbye I said, “Maybe someday you’ll send me a photo and you’ll be smiling.” I’m hopeful.
The “walk” up the mountain was hard, but I wouldn’t change it. I love these words my friend Alison texted me after reading an account of my day. She said, “What a picture of God’s grace. Here you’ve been helping Noel and he and his family had the opportunity to help you.” Every time I read her words I cry.
I collapsed into the car, and we made the long three hour drive back to Kigali. It was dark when I arrived. It had seemed wise to tell Kevin of my day’s adventure via text. . . and I fell into his arms as he opened the car door. Exhausted. Relieved. Embarrassed. Grateful. The entire staff at the guest house welcomed me. I had scared them all half to death. I was too nauseous for supper, so Emmanuel our cook made toast for me, but took it away saying it was too cold now and would make more. Rwandans love so well. I want that in all of us. Can you imagine that world?
I didn’t represent us muzungus very well that day. But I got up the mountain. I saw Noel and I loved him. I can’t explain how meeting your sponsored child changes you. It just does. You begin to love your child when you get the first letter or picture, but that first hug changes everything. From that moment the love you share becomes forever love. You never read those letters the same way again. Because you are never the same again.
Sponsorship may change a child’s life. But mostly it will change yours.
Please sponsor a child. It is good for your soul.
Africa New Life Ministries