Faith and I left for Africa at 4:00 a.m. on Friday June 29. We flew from Charlotte to D.C. where we met up with the rest of our 28 member Visiting Orphans (VO) team.
We arrived in Ethiopia on Saturday and jumped onto another plane that took us to Kigali, Rwanda. We spent Saturday night in that beautiful city, eating at Heaven restaurant and listening to 2 young men from the Best Family share their genocide survival stories with us.
On Sunday, we visited the Genocide Memorial. Rwanda was in the midst of their 100 days of remembrance of the 1994 genocide while we were there. Words cannot describe what we learned, saw and felt there. Overwhelming.
Thankfully, Rwanda is a resilient country with incredible people on a journey of forgiveness, healing and restoration.
After the memorial, we went to a local restaurant and ate pizza for lunch outside.
As we were leaving the restaurant, Faith needed to go to the restroom which was located in a separate building. When we got to the building, there was a beautiful lady with a big smile standing near the door. I sensed that God wanted me to talk with her, so I did.
Beautiful AgnesIn the middle of our conversation she said, “Are you a Christian?”
I said, “Yes. Are you?”
She responded by shaking her head yes.
Then, the Holy Spirit prompted me to pray with her. When I finished and looked up, huge tears were streaming down her face. She then began to share her story with me. She is in the middle of a divorce, has 2 sons she is fighting for and 1 of them is very sick. She has just started her new job cleaning restrooms in hopes of supporting herself and her children.
I know God put her in my path to encourage her and share His hope and truth with her that day.
It was hard to get on the van and drive away. I wanted to spend more time with her, but I knew that the role in her life that God wanted me to play had been fulfilled – as small as it was. So, now I just continue to pray for her and her family.
Once on the van, we traveled several hours to our next destination – Gisenyi. We stayed at a very nice quest house.
We spent our days at Noel, a Catholic orphanage with over 600 children. Right off the van, I met Mary. She held my hand as we toured the grounds and waited for me when our team went to visit the babies and toddlers.
While in the baby room, God gave me a very precious time with my own daughter. Two babies had already been fed and placed back in their beds beside each other. Faith called me over to them. She played with the baby boy while I played with the baby girl. Then we both started singing “Jesus Loves Me” at the same time to the babies. It was priceless! Both of the babies stared at us and began cooing. No doubt they recognized the powerful name of Jesus, even at such an early age. I will never forget that moment with Faith. Ever.
After our tour, we shared a Bible story, sang some songs and did a few crafts with the children. I am so thankful we had this time with them to get to know them and build relationships with them.
Originally, I thought I would spend most of my time with the babies and toddlers, and Faith would be with the children closer to her age (there were A LOT of 11 year olds at Noel and they LOVED Faith!) But as it turned out, Faith felt drawn to the little ones, and I felt led to be with the older ones!
Faith was so excited she got to help feed the babies. Unfortunately, we could not get the pictures from her ipod to download onto my computer so I could share them with you right now.
There were 20 to 30 children per room, starting with infants as young as a week old. I think the next room was 5 to 7 month olds. They continued to be grouped by age/developmental milestones from there.
Here are some pictures of the little ones from my camera:
The caregivers do a great job of taking care of God's little treasures!
Mary was practicing her English by reading to me from a Bible story coloring book.
Sweet Brigette (on the right)
This young man is a budding photographer! I let him use my camera and watched as he paid close attention to detail like lighting, angles, background, etc. It was so much fun watching him and encouraging him!
Some of the girls danced for us.
And yes, that is the joy of the Lord you see on this sweet girl's face!
Thankfully, we had the privilege of serving at Noel for 2 full days. For lunch each day, we would walk down the road to Tara's house to eat. Tara is a young lady who went to Noel on a Visiting Orphans trip about a year & a half ago. Soon after, she returned to Rwanda and served at Noel while living there. Recently, she moved into her own home and started a ministry/business called No. 41 for the older girls (college aged) at Noel & from the community. They make necklaces, handbags and feedbags. When you buy a feedbag for $60, you are feeding 1 child, 1 meal a day, for 1 year and helping these young ladies support themselves.
Tara and (most of) her girls
The sewing area
Faith getting Rwandan dance lessons!
We bought a handbag made by this young lady.
My friend Jen Rinko purhased 29 (pre-sold) feedbags!!! The ladies at No. 41 worked VERY hard to fill her order!
On Day 2 at Noel, Mary and I read a Bible story book together in English (thanks Rene for letting me borrow your books!) and the Bible together in her native language (which I was able to give her.) God really impressed upon my heart to talk with Mary about prayer. And wouldn't you know it, several of the Bible stories in our book talked about prayer too!!! GOD IS SO GOOD! HE IS SO FAITHFUL!When it was time for us to leave, I prayed with Mary. She tried to fight back her tears, but she couldn't contain them. She tried to hide them from me, but eventually she let me wipe them away for her. She was so sad! It broke my heart.
Honestly, I admire Mary. She is quite brave. She knew I would only be there for 2 days, and yet she still chose to let me be a part of her life. She took a risk, and I am very thankful she did.
Here are the little kids waving good-bye to us. The older kids were surrounding our vans making it harder for us to leave.
Before I left, I gave Mary a Bible with a note inside and a picture of me & my family. She gave me a card. I cried, especially when I read "God has put you into my life because you are full of joy." Mary had no idea that I have been praying specifically for joy for a decade now. No idea. But God sure did and this was His answered prayer to me.
"For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD...Jeremiah 29:11-14
As soon as we got on the van to leave Noel, Faith said, "I AM COMING BACK HERE! You don't have to come Mom, but I am! I am coming back!" Another (huge) answered prayer! Tears. Tears. And More Tears. To God be the glory!!!
Loving HIM with all my heart,