Monday, August 29, 2016

Friends on a Thousand Hills - Rwanda 2016 Part 3

Yesterday we met sweet, tiny six year old Yvette. Yvette is a little girl in Africa New Life Ministries’ sponsorship program and is sponsored by our awesome Boise friends Michael and Shea, who were also awesome enough to send about twenty pounds of gifts to Yvette and her family, because why not bring seven bags of luggage across three continents. . . 

Sweet Yvette

Of all the children I’ve met in Rwanda Yvette is the shyest. I could see she wanted to hide behind her mama, but she bravely took a seat between Kevin and me on the sofa. But while she would sit with us, she spoke only a few whispered words. When asked she whispered she is in P2 (second grade) and math is her favorite class. As we pulled the gifts one by one out of the bag (and there were many, because if anyone has a bigger heart than my friend Shea, I haven’t met that person), Yvette stared but no smiles. Yet. Finally we took out the football, the American football, and in my expertise developed over years of watching Boise State football I demonstrated how to throw and explained, “You throw the ball to your teammate and then everyone on the other team runs after that person and tries to knock them down!” This brought her first smile.
But what really got her laughing was my husband. The always willing to be laughed at Kevin whom children adore because he is silly. He is really good at silly. He took the drawing pad and crayons sent by Shea and Michael and drew a self-portrait. As he finished the drawing she began to laugh, and her mama Rose laughed.
The Master of Silliness

As our visit came to an end Kevin prayed for them. He prayed for many things but he prayed they would have enough food. I’ve not visited a family in Rwanda who were so obviously food insecure. These were hungry people and so grateful for the food pack of maize, beans, oil, and soap Shea and Michael sent. When I asked where Yvette’s papa was Richard, Yvette’s social worker, replied he was out looking for food. The area of Bugesera where Yvette and her family lives is not easy living and the ground is not good for growing food. And while the future in Bugesera looks encouraging, as industry and factories are setting down roots, for now life is hard.

As we walked outside and said goodbye, I knelt beside Yvette and told her when I was a little girl I was the shyest girl you would ever meet, and I never wanted anyone to talk to me. But I grew up and now I’m a mom and I’m bossy (she laughed) and I’m not shy anymore (mostly). She smiled so big and I hugged her goodbye.

When we walked back to the car, Yvette and Rose followed us all the way. As we drove away, Yvette and I waved and waved and waved until we could no longer see each other.
Two Shy Girls
Our newest friends, Rose and Yvette

I’m so grateful Michael and Shea sponsor little Yvette, for I would never have met her otherwise. I would never have seen her smile or heard her laugh at Kevin’s silly antics.

Poverty is hard. Most of us in America have only the smallest understanding of poverty, because we haven’t looked into the faces of it. But if you want to take a stand against poverty. If you’re willing to look into the face of poverty, into the face of a little girl or boy like Yvette, please join Michael and Shea and sponsor a child. Bring one of these children into your family. You will be rewarded with a joy I cannot really explain as you receive letters and photographs from your child. The days when mail arrives from Africa New Life with photos and letters from our own sponsored child Umulisa (whom I cannot wait to see in two short days!!!), my heart feels bigger all day. I smile all day! I read her letter over and over (usually while crying) and think, “How is it possible to change a child’s life so easily?” Yet it is. And you can. 

Do not be overwhelmed by this world. Changing the world is really not that hard after all. It is just a click away.

Africa New Life Ministries Child Sponsorship is available right here.

Yvette's Home
Read Friends on a Thousand Hills - Rwanda 2016 Part 4 here

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Friends on a Thousand Hills - Rwanda 2016, Part 2

In two days Kevin and I will travel to the Gihembe Refugee Camp in northern Rwanda. We have a long list of friends to visit. Friends we have never met. Friends we love. Many refugees from Gihembe have been resettled to Boise. Refugees like our friends Agnes and Justin, and Lucy and her beautiful, energetic children. Refugees like Calvin and Jackson, twenty-something year old brothers who arrived three years ago, leaving mom, dad and siblings behind. Refugees like our friend Louisa and her beautiful daughters, Giselle and the rambunctious twins Agisa and Agisaro. It is their families we will meet in Gihembe. We have been planning this day for so long.
Agnes, Justin and Rachael

Giselle, Agisa and Agisaro

Weeks before leaving Boise I began receiving messages from friends in Gihembe. Messages like, “I will be eager to see you. May God protect you during this journey.” And another, “My family tells you that no matter when, we are available to welcome you.” And always this, “May God bless you.” And “We welcome you.” Do you know how humbling it is to be loved by individuals you’ve never met? It overwhelms me and simultaneously makes me feel incredibly special.

Here is what I know. Friendship changes everything. It can relieve loneliness. It can bring joy. It can cure hatred. It does change the world, one person at a time.

When my friend Agnes arrived in Boise in the winter of 2014 with her son, they arrived alone with no family to protect them from loneliness or help them learn a new culture. When we discovered they had arrived and were living in a hotel while awaiting permanent housing, Kevin and I brought them to church each week. Justin (now 14) recently told us he was amazed the first time we picked them up. He thought, “White Americans (muzungus) are driving me to church!” This was incredible to him. As they languished in that hotel room for several weeks (the housing market is very tight in Boise), we took them to the mall for a small excursion. Nothing exciting, a stop at the Apple store to play with the iPads, a fruity Frappuccino from Starbucks, and a lot of window shopping. When we returned to their hotel, Agnes spoke to Justin and he translated these words for her, “My mom wants you to know this has been the best day of her life.” Friendship changes everything.

You guys, be friends with the men, women, boys and girls in your cities, in your neighborhoods. Love them like your own family. Love them like you want to be loved. We don’t know what sadness lies inside each other, but we do know how and who to love because Jesus showed us how to do exactly that. This is the way of Jesus. This is the way of Christianity. This is how we bring heaven closer to earth.

“God’s will be done, God’s kingdom come, on earth as it is in heaven.” Matthew 6

Let’s bring heaven down friends. Let’s love so well and so widely that heaven is seen on earth more and more and more and more. Let’s bring it down so our neighbors are lonely no longer - hurting no more. Let’s bring it down so your neighbors, your city know you by your love. Know Jesus by your love.

As we visit our friends, please pray we bring God’s kingdom down in Gihembe as it is in heaven. 

Historical Note: Gihembe was established in 1997 to host Congolese refugees, most fleeing the aftermath of the 1994 genocide which began in Rwanda. More than 15,000 people live in Gihembe. Over fifty percent of them children.

Read Friends on a Thousand Hills - Rwanda 2016 Part 3 here.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Friends on a Thousand Hills - Rwanda 2016, Part 1

It’s hard leaving home when life is full of people to love. Family, friends, our kids’ bible study, and so many babies! Do you know how hard it is to leave those babies who need me to hold them? Two month old Rachael and I just perfected our own language (note: there are a lot of vowels)! How can I leave so much sweetness?

Yet here I am again in the little city of Haarlem in The Netherlands on my way to beautiful Rwanda. This time my sweet husband has joined me, and I’m eager for him to see with his own eyes the beauty of Rwanda and meet our dear friends there.

After a week of goodbyes to our Boise friends, in the midst of weekly children’s bible study and back to school preparation for the kids and visits to hold those heart-stealing babies, finally we left Boise Tuesday morning. We, along with our seven suitcases filled with clothes and gifts from our Boise friends to their families in Rwanda, boarded the first of several fights which will take us the nine thousand miles to Kigali, Rwanda.

My dear friend Lori drove us and our seven fat bags to the airport Tuesday morning. As we stood at the curb, Lori prayed blessings on our journey. And her prayer brought tears. I’ve always struggled to explain why we go to Rwanda. We aren’t on a mission trip. We aren’t aid workers. We aren’t building anything. We aren’t making sick people well. We are just Kevin and Shawna. But as Lori prayed she thanked God we were going to Rwanda. She said thank you that Kevin and Shawna are going to show the people of Rwanda - especially those living in refugee camps - they are not forgotten. She prayed those family members left behind in the camps would know they are never forgotten. They are loved. They are remembered. They are missed. They are valuable. There is hope.

Lori’s prayer made my purpose clear. We go to Rwanda because we love our Rwandan and Congolese friends in Boise and their families in Rwanda are a part of that love. We go because our friends in Boise cannot go. We go to take tangible love to our friends in Rwanda. We go because hope is everything. We aren’t just taking seven overstuffed pieces of luggage with us to Rwanda. We’re taking hope and love and remembrance.

Romans 12:10 “Love from the center of who you are; don’t fake it. Run for dear life from evil; hold on for dear life to good. Be good friends who love deeply; practice playing second fiddle.”

Future Presidents of the USA

Ivan and friends

Gavin let his parents be in his photo

and Miss Rachael whose language I speak

Read Friends on a Thousand Hills - Rwanda 2016 Part 2 here