The Love of a Father is Safety for His Children - Day 8

*We spent day 7 at Akagera National Park in eastern Rwanda. This is the Rwandan version of Yellowstone where you can see wild animals in their natural habitat. There will be footage and images from this day in the film, but no post.

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We began the day with a tour of the Africa New Life church and school in Kayonza. The last time I visited this school was in 2011 and the campus has expanded quite a bit since then. The school now includes a large three story building with multiple smaller buildings that house science and physics labs. The big notable from this school is the large computer lab available for use by the students. 

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A unique feather at this school is that it has homes for both boys and girls. Each has about 18 students with either a mentor (for the boys) or a house mother (for the girls) who acts as the parent in the home. Meals are cooked in the home and eaten as a family. This provides the students of these homes with a sense of belonging that provides some much needed routine and stability.

After the tour we had a home visit for Ron Crooks's sponsor child Joseph. Ron has sponsored Joseph for about 9 years. I don't know that I've mentioned it before so I'll mention it now. During each home visit the sponsor brings a food gift that equates to about a month's worth of meals for the family. They also bring a gift of fabric for the mom and a gift for their sponsored child. The photo of Ron and Joseph walking was taken by Cecilia.

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When we returned to the bus we found Lisa and Mary surrounded by children from the community. They were handing out stickers and talking with each child. This has become a pretty routine aspect of our time here and it's been so cool to see them extending the love of Christ to every child. In fact, without Lisa and Mary our team wouldn't be complete. It's good to have a team of people who love so freely!

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After the home visit we returned to the school for the sponsored kids' party! This party was such a fun group of kids. The team served a meal followed by Bingo with Mary and Lisa. Ron facilitated the packets as usual and every child really enjoyed the time. It's pretty awesome to see how far such a small amount goes here. These kids were grateful for the gifts and asked questions about their sponsors.

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As the party came to a close our guide/translator/question answering machine JeJe said we needed to end so the kids could walk home. Without a moment of delay Ron Petersen hugged Jackie, his sponsor child, and said, "No daughter of mine is walking home!" He then arranged to have us drop her off at her house on our way back to Kigali. I personally witnessed this moment and it was incredible to see how happy this small gesture made Jackie!

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This kind act of Ron helped me better understand the love of God the Father and the fact that in His love, we are safe! Just as Jackie was safe. Overall it was a really good day. Here's a little more of what we saw.

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God's Heart for Rwanda - Day 6

Today we saw the heart of God for Rwanda. We experienced the love He has for His people and learned of the immense need this country still has for the redemption, salvation, and love provided through Jesus Christ. Though an incredible, daunting task, the mission Africa New Life has here in Rwanda is one that is surely God breathed and by His will shall come to full fruition.

Rwanda as a country has seen and eperienced many horrific things. Most notably the genocide against the Tutsi in 1994. In less than 100 days 800,000+ ethnic Tutsi and moderate Hutu were killed throughout the country. More than 20 years later the effects of this genocide, and the evidence it took place, are everywhere. It is impossible to travel anywhere in Rwanda without being surrounded by the dark history of genocide. 

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This afternoon we visited the genocide memorial at Nyamata. What was once a Catholic Church and house of faith is now the final resting place for 50,000 people who were killed in the surrounding area during the genocide. At this particular church more than 10,000 people were murdered by militia and government troops. The purpose of this memorial is to show the horrific nature of the genocide so that Rwandans, and others, never forget or repeat the genocide of 1994.

As explained to us by our guide there were more than 10,000 people who sought refuge at this church shortly after the genocide began in April, 1994. Churches were considered a place of safety and as a result many, many people gathered here. The women and the children were killed inside the church while most of the men died outside the church. These men spent their final moments on earth defending their families, even until death. A fact that caused the men of our team to take pause and reflect on how all men have this desire to protect their families in common. I can't help but cry as I write this, a response shared between the honorable actions these men took for their families, and the horrific actions of the killers who murdered them.

Evidence of the killings is seen in vivid detail throughout the grounds and building of the church. From the bullet holes in the ceiling to the grenade shrapnel damage on the brick walls and concrete floor. Darkened blood stains are still visible on the ceiling and walls of the church, and the bones of the victims are displayed throughout the memorial. Though extremely hard to process I believe this memorial is an important experience for anyone who desires to minister to the people of Rwanda.

One of our team members was so impacted by this experienced that they needed to leave before the tour completed. A touching moment (that I didn't personally witness) was had when our Rwandan driver, John, came and offered the comfort of a warm embrace. Surrounded by the evidence of hatred, evil, and death the love and light of Christ still shown brightly and won the moment in that hug. And really, that's exactly what Africa New Life is doing here in Rwanda. Christ has lit His lamp and they're holding it high, for all to see!

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After the memorial we made our way to the ANLM church at Bugesera, an area that was impacted the most during the genocide. Before the genocide took place the government began sending the Tutsi people to Bugesera as a kind of concentration camp. As a result the highest number of deaths happened in the Bugesera area.

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We spent some time talking with Fred, the man in charge of the Africa New Life case workers in Bugesera. He told us some more about the history of the Bugesera area and pointed out a hilltop nearby (clearly visible from the church) where 500 people were killed in less than two hours during the genocide. 

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The most important part of our conversation involved the power of child sponsorship and the incredible forgiveness of Christ that's at work in Bugesera. Fred explained to us that, when a child is sponsored it impacts the family spiritually, physically, emotionally, and economically. The change it makes for them is HUGE! When a sponsor writes their child and says I love you it may be the first time that child has ever heard that they are loved. Child sponsorship has been changing the country.

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Fred told us about the forgiveness of Christ that he's seen in Bugesera. There are children in the Bugesera area with no parents who live nextdoor to children with parents. The children with parents are the parents who killed the parents of the children with no parents. And the incredible part is that these children have forgiven their neighbors for killing their parents. A forgiveness that is only found in Christ, and I'll be honest, hard for me to fathom.

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As with the other areas, we met with the sponsored kids in Bugesera and had a party! We served them a meal, played games, prayed with them, and told them about their sponsors. One of the more touching aspects of this trip is when the kids ask us to tell their sponsors to come and visit them. We explain that every sponsor would love to meet their child one day but given the cost of traveling to Rwanda it isn't always possible for sponsors to visit their children. They understand, and I suppose the fact that they desire to meet their sponsor shows how important a sponsor is to these children. 

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During the party some of the kids from the surrounding community began to gather outside the church. Though we were there to meet with the sponsored kids we also had an opportunity to spend some time with the kids from the community. Eventually when they made their way inside the church Mary and Lisa gave them some of the stickers and sunglasses we brought with us. It was so obvious these kids needed love and no accident that they showed up. I'd consider it a divine appointment. Nothing more touching than a child who simply wants to hold your hand and stand close to you! 

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Today was a day that showed us the extremes of sin, but more importantly the depth and height of God's love for His people. The forgiveness of Christ, and the true transformative nature of Jesus's bride, the church.

Here's a little more of what we saw today.

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The Long Road to Kageyo - Day 5

Today we went to Kageyo which meant an early morning for the team and a lot of hours in the bus. The trip to Kageyo from Kigali takes about 3 - 3.5 hours with good traffic. 

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Today was similar to yesterday with another home visit and a party for the sponsored kids. Cecilia had the opportunity to meet her sponsored child's family and spend time talking to them about their daughter, her school work, life, health, and everything in between. It's such a humbling experience to be invited into their homes.

One similarity shared between all parents of sponsored children is their thankfulness for the aid and opportunity that sponsorship provides their children. It's pretty obvious that the families are extremely thankful.

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Mary and Lisa are often found playing games while surrounded by children and today was no different. Shortly after arriving they attracted a crowd and began teaching them how to play "red light, green light." I am not 100% certain the children fully understood the rules of the game but they enjoyed the time with Mary and Lisa none the less. Rwandan children are such a joy to be around! 

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The highlight for me was running into Patrick, a child I met back in 2011 who followed me around and held my hand as much as he could. I immediately recognized him and asked if he was Patrick. He said yes and when I told him, "I was here in 2011 and I remember you." He lit up with such a joy! He remembered me as well and when I told him I would pray for God's blessing on his life, he turned to me and said, "You pray for me, I pray for you!" It was such a heart warming gift from God to see Patrick again. 

Here's a little of what we saw today.

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Genocide Memorial - Day 3

Our power went out around 10pm last night and stayed off until the early morning hours. Though inconvenient it gave us a much needed early night that allowed us to catch up on sleep!

We began the day by joining the Africa New Life staff for their morning devotions. It was a powerful time of worship and message. Something you can't help but notice while here is how in sync everyone is. The staff of ANLM are an extremely dedicated and kind group of people and its obvious to us that they're committed to the work they're doing here.

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We had the chance to meet with John Africa who works directly with sponsored kids as they transition from high school to college. He shared a lot of information with us about the program and the challenges kids face as they transition and I am planning to include some of that in the video about this trip.

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We spent the rest of the day at the Kigali Genocide Memorial and I'll include some of the team's reaction to that in the video as well. Due to time constraints this morning I'll need to cut this post shorter but we have home visits and our first sponsored kid party this afternoon so the post for day 4 should more than make up for it! :)
 

 

God With Us - Day 2

The African sun is arguably the best way to wake up! A big, bright, warm and daily reminder that God is always with us.

This morning we met the ANLM administration and staff who manage sponsor relations and gained a better understanding of the incredible job they do. Africa New Life Ministries has over 9,000 kids in the sponsorship program and desires to maintain a strong relationship with each of them, including their families, through face to face interaction with ANLM social workers. Each worker has anywhere from 250+ kids under their care at any given time. This is no doubt a huge undertaking, but one that is lovingly done with a heart of compassion and a desire to build a real relationship with each and every child. 

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Next we were given a tour of the Dream Medical Center which is still under construction. Upon completion this facility will have some 60+ beds, two "emergency care" rooms, multiple delivery beds, a state of the art lab, as well as Rwanda's only CAT scan. Dr. Sam Kagali is the physician in charge and a man who's love for the Lord, and the people of Rwanda is an obvious part of who he is.

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After our tour of the Dream Medical Center with Dr. Sam some of our team was measured for custom tailored clothing while the rest enjoyed an iced or hot drink from the ANLM coffee shop. The proceeds from both benefit the women's ministries here at Africa New Life.  

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The highlight for myself was the opportunity to see my brother and my parent's son in Christ, Philemon Mugenzi. It's been over 5 years since the last time we saw each other but it was as if a day had never passed. Such a kind, loving young man who seeks the Lord and desires to use his life for God's glory. Today when you pray please ask God for a special blessing for Philemon. I am so thankful that the staff at Africa New Life have not only pursued an education for my brother Philemon but a relationship as well. The fruits of their labor are paying off in his life!   

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We returned to the ANLM guest house and had lunch with Philemon and some of the staff. These candid times are always such an honor for us because they allow us the opportunity to glimpse the heart Africa New Life has for the ministry they do here in Rwanda. And let me tell you, it's a big heart!

Susan, Leslie, Lesley, and Donna reported during our debriefing this evening that they've already begun to see breakthrough in the women they're meeting with. The big success for today was establishing trust and an understanding that locking our past away in silence can be a bondage that prevents true healing and forgiveness from taking place. I plan to speak with the women's team more in the coming days so I can offer a more thorough report of their progress. But for now, please continue to lift these women, and the women they're meeting with, and the ANLM staff in your prayers.  

The rest of the team spent the afternoon with the Dream Center Kids. These are children that come from broken homes or homes where parents either can't provide, won't provide, or in some cases, aren't present to provide for the needs of their children. I spoke with Ida, their teacher, and she explained the difficult circumstances facing these kids. To provide a little perspective, for some of these kids the only meal they get each day is the meal they eat during the ANLM program they attend. Regardless of the harsh reality these kids face, they're some of the happiest children you'll ever meet.

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We played lots of games, hugged, high fived, sang, dance, and genuinely just loved on each other. These kids were the highlight of our day and children who God loves deeply. It can be difficult to meet children who face such an uphill battle in this life because, as Americans, we're so used to solving problems. But not every problem these children face can be solved so easily by men. Because of this it is so good to know that ANLM is here to advocate for them. To remind them they are loved by Jesus. To show them they are not forgotten by God.

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As I sit here and reflect I am reminded that these are the kids who's entire life can be changed by a $39 per month commitment to ANLM. These are the children for whom God has a future and a hope! These are the children we can advocate for by sharing the opportunity sponsorship provides with our family, friends, and acquaintances. Today was a gift for each of us, but most of all, today showed us that God is a God who loves His children. Each and every one!

Here's a little more of what we saw... 

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Welcome to Rwanda - Day 1

Twenty-four hours of airports, airplanes, thousands of faces, and over 9,000 miles of safe travel gives witness to how big our God truly is! 

Our time in Rwanda began around 7:30pm Saturday night. We were met at the airport by ANLM mission staff member JeJe and spent the majority of the first evening getting organized and meeting the rest of the staff who run the Africa New Life guest house. They offered us a warm welcome and some freshly squeezed passion fruit juice! A nice welcome to Rwanda after a long day of travel.

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This morning we woke around 7am for breakfast and then left for first service at New Life Bible Church. The worship service and message were both powerful times of God's presence. It's hard, if not impossible, to ignore how joyful, welcoming, full of life, and love the people of Rwanda are. They've already offered us hundreds of handshakes, hugs, smiles, and welcomes. It's comforting to be surrounded by the family of God in a foreign country. There's nothing quite like the true brothers and sisters of the faith who, though strangers in flesh, are family in Christ.

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After the church service we had a chance to sit down and listen to Pastor Fred (Pastor Charles's brother) share some of his testimony, the history of Africa New Life, and the vision for its future. Pastor Fred spoke highly of The Summit Church and expressed his gratitude over and over for the warm welcome he has received while visiting, the baby shower the women gave his wife, but most of all for the long term commitment the Summit has given Africa New Life.

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ANLM currently has more than 9,000 kids sponsored and the best schools in Rwanda since 2010. Pastor Fred told us that the government has actually given ANLM control of three diffferent government funded schools and that all three are the best in their districts. He mentioned, "When kids fear the Lord, honor their parents, honor their teachers, and have food. They succeed."  Africa New Life strives to be the church in word and deed and provide the children with everything they need to be successful.

After church and our meeting with Pastor Fred we ate lunch, exchanged money, and purchased fabrics to be given as gifts during the home visits. For anyone who hasn't been to a Rwandan market it's a little like the Wild West as negotiations over price and quantity take place. We returned to the guest house for dinner, a devotion and debrief, and to prepare for the events of tomorrow; our first day with the Summit's sponsored children.

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As a team we want to express our thankfulness for all who gave to make this trip possible. We thank you for your support, your prayers, and ask specifically for prayers of good health while we meet with and minister to the people of Rwanda. Not just for us, but also for them. 

Here's a little more of what we saw today.  

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