Hey guys, this is Cory, writing my first guest post here. Paige asked me if I would mind telling a little about my trip to Rwanda. It’s been a long time coming, partly because I’m a procrastinator and partly because I don’t know how to condense such a life-changing experience with so much to tell into one blog post. I put it off as long as I could, until Paige threatened my life for breaking my promise to do this, so…here goes.
My trip to Rwanda was a joint mission trip with Barnabas X and Reach the Children of Rwanda International. A little background summary on why we went: RCRI is a non-profit organization which has offices in Kigali, Rwanda and Abbeville, SC and works to support very disadvantaged children in Kigali and the surrounding areas. RCRI currently supports approximately 430 children, many of whom are orphans or from single-parent homes. The support includes basic healthcare, bedding, clothing, food, and school fees. Due to shortage of funds, the staff in Kigali has been cut to RCRI president Benjamin Mushuhukye, his wife Josephine, and Gaudence Mukasano—three people to serve 430 children. Our purpose was to spend two weeks supporting the RCRI workers and assisting in construction on a church in Nyabihu, a small village two hours outside Kigali.
The team at the airport before we left. From left, me, Traverse, Janie (Traverse’s daughter), Nick, and Justin.
The first thing to understand about Rwanda is the hurt that resides deep in Rwandan hearts as fallout from the 1994 genocide of the Tutsi people group. Nearly every person in Rwanda over 19 years old is a genocide survivor of some sort, and every single person is affected in some way. It is important to Rwandans that we understand what happened to them, so we spent our first day (at Benjamin’s request) at the Genocide Memorial in Kigali.
These are the mass graves of the Tutsis slain during the genocide. At the back of the Memorial grounds, there are more mass graves that are left open to accommodate the bodies that are still being found today.
I spent the entire time at the Memorial in tears. Throughout the grounds and inside, there were Rwandans crying everywhere as they remembered loved ones lost and the trauma they experienced. There was a room that contained family photos of victims hanging on string and pins, followed by a room that contained skulls, some from children, with bullet holes and machete gashes. No one was left untouched by the horror.
The second thing, though, to understand about Rwanda is the deep love the people feel for each other and for muzungu, which is Kinyarwandan for “white people”. You never meet a Rwandan that is not happy to see you—you will always be greeted with a handshake and at least one hug. It is customary for all sexes and all ages to show affection by holding hands, and the children want nothing more than to hold your hand for a moment and practice their English.
We spent our first week visiting homes of children that were being supported by RCRI, meeting, assessing needs, giving out clothes, and praying with the families. As we visited these one-room homes with no floors, some no windows or electricity, no running water, and very little furniture, I was overwhelmed. It was a shock to my system—having never been to anyone’s home in another country, I have never been exposed to what would by American standards be nearly extreme poverty.
I was also overwhelmed by the response to our presence: the families in these homes were so grateful for muzunguto come into their homes, let alone hold their hands and pray for them, they would often weep or sing and thank us repeatedly.
I soon learned that these people believe so strongly in the power of prayer and in the power of American prayer, that they fully expect for everything to be okay simply because we prayed for it to be. What a lesson in faith for us spoiled Americans!
Of course I never pass up an opportunity to do a little Clemson evangelism.
Every Saturday, RCRI hosts a children’s program at a local school with an open invitation to all children supported by RCRI to attend. The children take turns leading songs and preaching short sermons, then give status reports, pray, and spend time together. Not only does this give spiritual guidance and growth to the children who may not attend a church on Sunday, but it also allows them to build a sense of community with one another and form a network for future support. We were privileged to be a part of the program while we were there, so after the children sang and delivered their lessons, Nick and Janie spoke and we sang a few songs with them. Afterwards we went into the school yard and played with the children.
Paige’s best friend made a pair of matching parachute cord bracelets–one for me to wear and one for me to give to a child. This is Claudine, the little boy that I made friends with during the children’s program, displaying his new bracelet. And his banana.
That evening, we packed our bags and journeyed to our hotel in Musanze, a city not far from Nyabihu.
Nearly all of the children in Nyabihu are RCRI-supported children. There is not currently a school there, so RCRI has arranged for the children there to attend school inside the newly-constructed (unfinished) church. As part of the deal, RCRI is required to provide partial funding and labor to complete the church. Simultaneously, a school is being built near the church by RCRI funding, and we were there to assist with labor in whatever way we were needed.
We awoke the next morning and prepared to go to church in Nyabihu, where Janie and Nick were to speak again and where I was to play a song (Break Every Chain by Will Reagan); however, when we got outside we found that our car battery was dead. After a lot of hand signals and struggling to communicate with the locals, we were able to get a young man out to charge our battery and send us on our way. We arrived late to church, but it didn’t matter, because the service is so long and they had made preparations for us to be there–we had only missed music and there was still much more to come! As soon as we found our seats, children from the village started bunching up around us–by the end of the service we all had two children in our laps. After church, we were given a tour of the church grounds and shown the progress on the school building.
The church in Nyabihu
Group of kids that all hung out together–I called them the Goonies of Rwanda
The next day, we arrived in Nyabihu to find that the children had posted lookouts on the street, so we traveled up the hill to shouts of “MUZUNGU!! MUZUNGU!!” and found the children at the top of the hill running into the schoolhouse to prepare for our arrival. As we walked in, the children shouted in unison “Good morning, Teacher” to all of us as we walked in. They sang some songs for us before Janie took them to play games and the men went outside to work. This would be our routine for the week.
Kids with their homemade soccer ball after playing soccer all afternoon with Janie
Rwanda sees a rainy season each year that brings constant heavy rains for months. The people of Nyabihu use red clay mud as the mortar to lay bricks, and did so on their church. It was important that the joint between the bricks be pointed and tucked with cement mortar before the rains so that the mud wouldn’t be washed out from between the bricks. This was our job. Part of RCRI’s mission is to provide help, which often comes in the form of muzungu. It is a big motivator for American’s to come and begin a project–we started the week with around five helpers and finished the week with nearly twenty, and left with the church nearly finished.
The love we were shown by the people of Nyabihu–children and adults–was staggering. We were treated to African tea, which is made with Rwandan tea, milk, ginger, and honey as a sweetener, made with fresh milk from the village cow as all the children loved on us and the adults asked us questions about America and made fun of one another’s accents. Now that I’m home, there are people from Nyabihu that message me on Facebook when they can get to a computer just to let me know that they miss me and love me and are sending their prayers.
Okay, so I don’t hesitate to do a little Baltimore Ravens evangelism either
You may have seen Paige’s Rainbow Chevron 1st Birthday post here where she and her friend made decorations with a foam floral ball covered in Dum-Dum suckers. After the party, those suckers filled three 1-gallon Ziploc bags that I took to give to the children. It never occurred to me that the children would never have seen suckers before! They stuck them straight in their mouth, wrapper and all, until we showed them how to eat them–then they caught on really fast! They treasured the suckers like gold, which was a kick in the gut to me…we were using the suckers as party decorations and probably would have just thrown them away, while these kids were running home with them to show them off to their parents like it was a hundred-dollar bill. The children did the same thing with empty water bottles, or agacupa. They would spot someone finish a bottle and scramble to be the first to grab it, shouting agacupa! agacupa! at the top of their lungs; keeping it to hold their own water in. The child in this shot grabbed one and hid it in his shirt so that nobody could take it from him.
When it was time for us to leave at the end of the week, the children, with no provocation from the adults asked if they could pray for us. We were led into the church, where a rug was laid out so that we could kneel without getting dirty. We prayed for the children first, with the kids standing and our hands outstretched above them. Then we knelt on the rug as the kids gathered around and laid hands on us. The feeling of those hundreds of little hands all over our heads and shoulders and the knowledge that they believed wholeheartedly in the power of their prayer overwhelmed me as I heard the little boy pray for us–never for themselves, but for us–to be safe and healthy and thanking the Lord so deeply that we came to them. This was perhaps the single most incredible spiritual experience of my life.
I could go on forever. There is no end to the stories and things I could tell, the poverty I could describe, the love I experienced through hugs, meals, and things I was told, the movement of the Spirit in me and the people with us, and just interesting anecdotes from the trip–there’s so much to tell and so many pictures to share that I could never tell it all so I will just end with this: please pray. Pray for sponsors for these children. Pray for a full-time missionary who could do so much in Rwanda. Pray for Benjamin, Josephine, Gaudence, Onesme, Anastase, and all the families of these children who teach and support them. Pray for the love of Christ to reach all corners of the world. Pray for Rwanda.
Yesterday, I dropped my husband off at the airport for his first international mission trip. He is with a small team heading to Rwanda! I told myself over and over that I wasn’t going to cry. What a joke! I cried all day long…on the way there, while we were eating lunch, when I said goodbye, when his plane took off. Seriously, all day. I’m such a baby but two weeks is a long time.
The mission team at the airport.
Anyways…Cory has my camera so these are iPhone photos and some are blurry but it’s all I got to hold me over until he gets home.
This is his “stop taking my picture” look.
Heading through security and this is as far as I could go.
Cory’s prayer for the trip is: that our hands be His hands, our lips be His lips, our words be His words, and that our thoughts be on Him and not ourselves. Please keep him and the rest of the team in your prayers!