Rwanda a week in review
Friday, February 26
Muraho – Good Morning Family and Friends,
I am sitting overlooking the misty lake in the beautiful warm, moist Rwanda air. I can hear the ladies in the kitchen singing as they prepare our breakfast and I am sipping a steaming mug of African ginger tea. Oh – did I mention the chorus of birds serenading me in the background? God is good! Can you see me raising both hands – palms out (Nyamacheke style) saying Allelujah, Praise Jesus?? How is it possible to so deeply love these dear brothers and sisters in such short a time? Although we are extremely grateful for the gift of this journey, our whole team has already agreed that it will not in any way be long enough.
“ Almighty God, Abba Father, by the power of Your Holy Spirit, open our eyes, ears, hearts and our very lives to Your presence
so that today we may worship and serve You in faithfulness and be a blessing and healing reminder of Your great love
to ALL those whose lives You allow us to touch in this blessed home away from home.”
I want to write about the last few days because there is so much to share. We are so sorry that it has taken a bit of time to just conclude that we will not be to communicate with you via the blog, which would have reach so many more but now we will try to keep the emails coming.
On Sunday we arrived at ‘Peace Gate Guest House’ at about 5:30 pm after an amazing day of travel up and down across the ‘Country of a Thousand Hills’. The view is honestly indescribably beautiful. I’ll try out a few words – rich vibrant green of the trees, foliage and tea bushes on the hills, misty valleys with the peaks of the mountains peeking out, red soil, wide teethy white smiles and waves along the road, shouts of “Masungo, Masungo!!”, goats everywhere (no dogs), bicycles laden with more bananas or charcoal, or chickens, or yellow jerry cans than you would believe possible, little black heads popping out of the grasses along the road, colorful dresses, heads carrying (with ease) larger loads than we can get our Canadian heads around – bananas, corn, water, hay, compacted bags of clothing etc. etc. And the children – oh the children!! They are everywhere – some shy with lowered eyes and a crack of a smile, others not so shy with high fives and bold greetings, green crocs…… OK, OK, I’ll stop now because I know I cannot capture it for you. Did I mention the strong eye contact and the gentle spirits of our Rwanda friends or that their country is pristine clean?
We settled into our lovely “huts” and then enjoyed a delicious meal prepared for us up in the dining room. Sleep came easy following our meal.
I am going to ‘bullet point’ our activities through the days and have our team members to tell you the stories that are a part of the transforming work God is doing already in them.
We were privileged to visit and be an important part of a general meeting with the church network in the sector of Bushenge. We drove through Rusizi and then veered off the paved road onto a red clay “road” into a more rural area. Did I mention that our drivers Isaiah and Rafiki are amazing?? We were greeted at the church by the pastors and wives in the district and promptly escorted to the front to sit on the ‘special chairs’. They stood from their rough wooden benches and gave us all a heartfelt welcome after we each introduced ourselves. We could tangibly feel the deep spirit of gratitude our friends had for World Relief and how they were taught to not compete as churches but to work together. They gave witness that they accomplished nothing until they learned to cooperate and work together. This was a quarterly meeting where they came together to report and discuss their mission to help and support the ‘most’ vulnerable people God leads them to. The meeting had a profoundly simple agenda:
- Pastor’s Reports – Each pastor gave a simple report that went something like this: we helped cultivate the ground for 3 families (with a hand held hoe) , we provided goats for 7 families, we provided health insurance for 9 families, we helped finish a home for a widow, and we helped a child be able to go to school. They all concluded their reports with these words, “…. and in the next quarter we will do more!!”
- Financial Report – simple explanation of how the money was raise to help meet the needs of the most vulnerable.
- Questions and Suggestions – They wanted us to be a part of bringing comments and suggestions. We were a bit at a loss to think we could offer any suggestions as to improve what they are already doing so well but we were able to offer words of encouragement and friendship.
- Sharing of Activities – a part of this general meeting included giving the gift of 13 pregnant goats out to most vulnerable families who had been carefully chosen. These families agree to be accountable to the church and to ‘pay a goat forward’ once the ‘kids’ are born. Following the giving of the goats the youth of the church preformed a skit for us to help us understand how they have been empowered by the church to be creative in how they welcome youth and raise funds. We also saw a part of the ministry that has trained a few women and men to sew and knit. They are providing an income for their families by sewing on antique treadle Singer sewing machines and operating 1 knitting machine. Beautiful work!!
Our team had a great debrief in the evening.
After our breakfast of fresh pineapple and eggs we headed out again into the Bushenge sector. Albert (World Relief field officer who helps implement the programs) had made the arrangements for us to help in this common activity organized by the church to continue the work of completing a home for a lady and her 5 children. Each of us had the opportunity to carry logs on our heads up the hill (to the joyful amusement of our Rwandan friends) to where the home was. These were hacked (no saws) off at the right length and then dropped into holes in the dirt to create the inside walls. Smaller green saplings were then strapped across these “studs”. We were not able to stay to help with mudding the walls as the rain was coming. If we did not leave when we did the roads may have become impassable. It was so humbling to be able to be a part of blessing this dear family. They had absolutely no earthly belongings except the clothes on their backs. World Relief, through the local church, gave us the privilege of gifting them with a mattress, a tub of plastic dishes and some food staples as we were leaving.
In the afternoon we walked in the torrential rain over to the Congo Border and after supper we were privileged to attend World Relief University under the wise and gentle teaching of Ngoga (Director of church Mobilization & Empowerment, World Relief, Rwanda). He presented to us the ‘Reader’s Digest’ version of the Local Church Empowerment Zone (CEZ). I love the new term he used “The Sacrament of Presence”. Abba and I will spend some time together pondering this!
We visited the Shangi Church Network. As before, we were so graciously welcomed to be part of a general meeting of a network of churches. The pastors gave their reports and then we were introduced to Mobilizing for Life activities (ministries helping to fight against HIV/AIDS) in 2 different churches.
At the Gabiro Pentecostal Church we danced and sang in a time of worship and then enjoyed a skit they had planned to help us understand how they encourage people to come for free testing. The stigma is gradually disappearing as more and more are a part of the training and people are not as afraid to be tested. Susan, our team nurse, was invited to assist in the taking of blood samples for testing.
As we descended the hill that approached the Presbyterian Church in Shangi, we were welcomed by a colorful group of people singing, drumming and dancing. (Nelda and Tara-Leigh were given personal dance lessons! It is so humbling and such a blessing to know that they had anticipated our arrival with such joy. We packed into a little building where they conduct their HIV/AIDS training. As in every meeting, there is prayer and a word of encouragement from God’s Word and personal testimonies from people who have received help (life skills) that God has used to transform their lives. As we left, these dear brothers and sisters escorted us up the hill with singing and dancing.
After supper, Bishop Amoti Nathan gave us a history of the Anglican Church in Rwanda. His humor made the presentation very captivating and informative.
In the morning we sat in on “Savings for Life” group meeting in Shangi. This is World Relief program that empowers the most vulnerable in communities that lack access to even the most basic financial services. Again, a profoundly simple financial plan that involves a metal cash box, individual green ledger books, three keys and a group of lovely people who commit themselves and their meager resources to each other for a period of 9 months. Their stories of transformation are so powerful as they personally experience their theme “We are elevating ourselves out of poverty”. The room was filled with a tangible spirit of HOPE.
We walked from the church to meet Saraphina and her husband. She is a beneficiary of the ”Savings for Life” program. She proudly showed us her beautiful yard and her newly purchased cow (long horns!!), and explained that she had nothing but through this program has been able to raise her standard of living so significantly. She has also recently purchased a piece of her own land to farm. She has broken the generational poverty she grew up in.
Then we saw Rachel’s tears. Rachel is a beneficiary of World Relief’s program for Orphans and Vulnerable Children (OVC). She is a part of the “Savings for Life” group that we met earlier. Six years ago, at 13 years of age, Rachel lost her mother and a year before that her father, leaving her as the sole provider for her and her 5 siblings. They were left destitute – with absolutely nothing, not even a home. The community came together and built a home for her. We met 3 of her siblings – Chantelle, Ephraim and Josephine. The others were not there. Chantelle shared (also with tears) that she was ‘pushed’ out of school (secondary level 3) because she does not have the funds for school supplies and tuition. Rachel rises every morning and walks to the fields to find a place to work to be able to feed her family. When asked what her dreams are she replied “Just to make it through each day and provide for my family”.
Today our team woke with anticipation again. We have been invited to be guests in the home of some of our dear Rwandan pastors. We will divided into 3 groups of 3 and spend this afternoon and overnight in their homes. In the morning we will work with them, have lunch in their homes and then head back to the Guest House. Can’t even express how excited we are for this opportunity. Watch for our “news” tomorrow or Sunday.
As a team we all need the gift of time to be able to peel back the layers of what God is up to in our lives through this experience. We have seen and heard so much. Here are some of the ‘take aways’ from our evening team time yesterday:
- Our participation in supporting the most vulnerable in Rwanda is largely about trusting God as He uses World Relief to mobilize the churches
- Here is a community of God’s people who are somehow thriving even though they only have the basic necessities and sometimes not even that
- As the most vulnerable in Rwanda benefit from the way they are empowered through the local church (and World Relief) it has a powerful rippling effect into the next generations. This is the personal stories of our friends on the World Relief Rwandan team.
- We are so encouraged by how the World Relief leadership constantly refers to the importance of keeping a firm biblical foundation
- It broke our hearts to be with Rachel and her siblings. It became personal as we related to our own families and the abundance we live in
- We were challenged as to how it is easier for us to give than to receive and how important it is to discover the strength in ‘community’
- There is profound blessing in doing life simply
Representing Jesus and CRC in Rwanda,
Neila, for Rwanda Team 2016