I have safely arrived back home after an incredible experience in Rwanda with Operation Christmas Child. I am going to try to highlight just a few stories from my days there, so bear with me as this email might get lengthy.
If I had one word to describe my time in Rwanda it would be beautiful. I mean that because the country itself is beautiful with green rolling hills, but the people are also beautiful. Everyone was incredibly hospitable and welcoming, profusely thanking us for visiting and stressed that they wanted us to go back and share their stories.
Quick facts: I was in the country for 5 nights and participated in 6 shoe box distributions. Each distribution had about 100 kids, except our first distribution (which had 200 children) was done at a local church (except one on Thursday… read below). In addition to receiving shoe box gifts, each child received The Greatest Gift of All booklet that shares about Jesus and during our presentation we shared the Gospel with the children.
We began the week on a heavy note, to understand the history of Rwanda. The genocide of 1994 lasted 100 days and took the lives of nearly 1 million Tutsis. We visited the Kigali Genocide Memorial Center and Nyamata Church. The memorial center had three exhibits regarding the Rwandan genocide, other genocides across the world and the Rwandan children lost. Some of the most impactful moments were seeing more than 2,000 photos of those lost and reading the stories about the children that were killed.
Nyamata Church was a site where more than 10,000 were killed in and around the church. It was very emotional to tour the facility – to see the markings of the bullets and grenade explosions, clothing of those lost and then mass graves outside. As I left the church with the breathe sucked out of me, we heard children laughing and singing. A school about 20 feet away from the church had let the children out to play. It was a reminder of the hope and future that God has in store for Rwanda.
Tuesday we began shoe box distributions! Our first distribution had more than 200 children and God provided just the number of boxes we needed. As we handed out the shoe boxes to all the children, they were calm and patiently waiting with the boxes on their lap. These children had not received a gift before and it was hard for them to understand when we counted down to open their shoe boxes, that these boxes were truly for them!
At our second distribution of the day, Pastor Innocent told us that he started the church with 3 people in 2009 and heard God say he would have visitors. Now, more than 700 adults attend his church and he called us an answer to his prayer. Talk about a powerful moment!
For lunch Wednesday, we had the opportunity to hear from 3 government officials. They shared their genocide survival stories and how the leadership of the country worked to quickly start the process of reconciliation. Nelly, a young woman who works in the President’s office shared how her father was Tutsi, but out of the country visiting family when the genocide began. She later found out her mother, a Hutu, had been part of the prepetrators of the genocide. She spoke about how her identity is not in who she is related to, but in who she is and the hope for Rwanda she has. I won’t be surprised if she is president of Rwanda soon — Rwanda already has more females in parliament than any other nation!
On Wednesday we went to the church of the Rwandan discipleship coordinator, Gatesi (who is one of my dear friends). I had the opportunity to introduce the team to the children (saying about 3 words in the local language and explaining that we love them and so does Jesus). After I sat down, a little girl in a floral dress came to sit on my lap. She was fascinated with my hands and kept clapping them together and putting them on her face. She was absolutely precious! After the distribution, we went to buy coffee and when we came back a man was standing by our bus with a note. It was written in English and said that he saw our distribution and that he wanted to know Jesus too. We prayed for him and Gatesi promised to follow up with him. God is moving in Rwanda, beyond just the children we loved on!
Thursday was another incredible day with 2 distributions. The first one was my absolute favorite. We went to a center that was started by the government for genocide survivors. There are 80 home for genocide orphans and 102 homes for genocide widows. We sat among the children, I even got pulled to dance a traditional dance – and then it was time to distribute shoe box gifts! I grabbed the box I had specifically packed for a 5-9 year old girl and scanned the area to see where God would lead me. A little girl in an adorable striped dress grabbed my eye. I handed her the box and she had the biggest smile. I sat down her as she opened it and her smile was infectious. I placed the sunglasses on her and played, then she spotted a bag of lollipops that my friend, Bethany, had added to the box. Her smile widened (if that is even possible). I opened the bag and gave her one. Then I showered her the jump rope. I finally got a translator to come over and learned this little girl’s name was Teddy, she’s 9 and she loves red. Her favorite item in the box was the sunglasses. Most of the kids had left at that point, so I said good bye, and then we went to walk around to see the homes. As we were walking, Teddy came across our group and then she grabbed my hand. We walked and then I picked her up in my arms. I could not get enough of her! I almost walked to the bus with her in my arms.
Our last distribution was so much fun, I think I had more fun after the shoe boxes were handed out. There were lots of children outside that did not receive shoe boxes – the need is more than the supply, so pack more shoe boxes so Operation Christmas Child can impact more lives – so I went outside to play with some of them. My office had recently bought some inflatable beach balls that I brought with me, so we had a good game of catch going on. Then We went to play soccer for a little bit. I ran for about 2 minutes toward the ball, but realized the boys were serious players, so I decided to go find some other kids to settle down with. One older boy had a bottle of bubbles, but he didn’t know what it was. I opened the bottle and blew a few bubbles. He laughed and then I had him blow some bubbles. When I looked up, we had a group of kids around us, all wanting to blow bubbles. Such joy in such a simple gift!
I apologize for the length of this email — all I have left to say is thank you. I felt God at work from the moment I arrived at the airport in the US, to the moment I returned to my apartment. It was incredible. Thank you for being part of this special experience with me.