Visiting Orphans

Hey everyone!  So today’s post is not really about my recent trip to Africa, but it is about the people who make my trips happen!  Both times we’ve traveled on an international mission trip, it has been through Visiting Orphans.  They are an excellent organization to work with, and we have been so pleased with our experience!  It has been a blessing serving with them as team members and also as team co-leaders.

I hope you take a minute to watch this video about Visiting Orphans and their ministry!  I also hope that it motivates you to GO BE LOVE and sign up for an upcoming trip!  Please let me know if you have any questions or are interested in going on a trip.  I’d love to talk to you about it more!

Post-Trip Processing

Hey everyone!  I’ve been back home for 5 days.  We are now faced with processing all that we saw and experienced in Africa.  Last year, it was HARD.  When I returned home last summer after my first trip to Africa, I was totally broken.  I had been shell-shocked by the overwhelming poverty I witnessed there.  The food mob scene in Ethiopia is one that gave me nightmares and seeped into my very existence.  I grieved over what I saw:  their living conditions, their disease, their lack of hope.  I also felt like the only people in the world who understood what I was going through were the people that were on my team.  I was thankful to have Blake nearby to confide in, but other than that, we went running to facebook to reconnect with our team members and help one another through the “processing process.”  My comfortable little world that I was living in, had been smashed to pieces.  And that’s how it needed to be for God to put all the pieces of my heart back together, just as He wants them.

This year, I feel so much different.  I was prepared for the poverty I would see, and it didn’t shock me anymore.  But more than that, this trip was wholly different than last year’s.  In my last post from Rwanda, I mentioned how much hope and inspiration I discovered there.  Between Best Family’s infectious “Confident Hope,” the kids at Noel Orphanage being given the opportunity to go to boarding school, and the incredible facility for the special needs children, there was no room for grieving — only rejoicing.  Rwanda, to me, has always been a symbol of God’s restorative power.  This trip just blew me away with how much progress they are making and how much God is working there.  Last year, I came home feeling broken; this year I came home feeling full.

There is still an emotional roller coaster that comes with being back in the States.  It’s so nice to enjoy hot showers, soft beds, and good food, but at the same time there is a small modicum of guilt that comes with enjoying them.  I’m happy to see my friends and family, but I also feel like a large part of my heart is still on the other side of the world.  Mostly, I miss my kids.  Belise, Pas, Sanyu, Jean Baptiste, Arsene, Thiery, and Shakour just to name a few.  I know that to most of you it seems ridiculous that I could really truly love anyone after only having spent a few days with them, especially since we can’t even communicate much in English.  But that’s just something that you will never understand until you experience it yourself.  I promise that the love I feel for them is deep and true.  I pray for them every day and will continue to do so (just as I have for those I met last year).

Today, God gave me a special gift.  Jean Baptiste is a young man I met at Noel orphanage.  I gave him a Bible, and he thanked me profusely.  He also said that he would message me every night on facebook and tell me about what passage he was reading and what he was learning from it.  This morning, I saw that Jean Baptiste was online on facebook!  We chatted for 6 hours straight!  We talked about Jesus, suffering, fears, joy, Heaven, and life in general.  He has so many questions about God, and he is so hungry for The Word! While we were chatting, I got the feeling that I had never done anything more important in my entire life.   It occurred to me that THIS is what it means to make disciples.  Yes, going overseas to hug orphans is great, but that’s not where it ends!

The Great Commission has two parts. The first is to GO.  Many people have already failed on this part because they think that missions is a “calling” when in fact it is a command.  They let their fears or their excuses win, and they never go.  The second part of the Great Commission is to MAKE DISCIPLES!  We so often substitute this part with our own formula.  Our version is “go and donate money” or “go and build a school” or “go and hold orphans.”  While all those things are good, they should all be for the purpose of making disciples!  We give money, build schools, and hold orphans so that others might see Jesus!  Not just for the sake of humanitarian efforts.

My 6 hour marathon chat with Jean Baptiste today was unexpected.  Yes, I had other things I could’ve been doing.  Yes, it’s challenging to work through the language barrier, especially through text.  Yes, I felt entirely inadequate when he asks tough questions like why he was spared in the genocide of 1994 but his parents were not.  But ya know what? Jean Baptiste is getting to know Jesus more deeply.  And there is nothing more important than that.  Ya know what else? Jean Baptiste promised to share what he learns in his Bible with Thiery, the 13 year old who was always at my side.  And that’s what it’s about, folks.  Disciples making disciples.  My heart could not be more full.

Saying Goodbye to Family

Right now I am sitting in the Washington DC airport. Our journey home began at 7 am on Saturday morning. We took a 3 hour bus ride from Gisenyi to Kigali, ate lunch, and went to the airport. We had to say goodbye to 6 of our team members that morning. They were all staying behind to see sponsored children or making an additional trip to Turkey. We all hated having to say goodbye to our new family. Please continue to pray for them as they stay in Africa for another few days or weeks. We are already missing them!

Once in the airport, it took nearly 2 hours to get past the ticket counter in Kigali. If you ever wonder why most African countries struggle to get out of poverty, look no further than the incompetency at the airport. It pretty much summarizes it. Anyways, after that long wait to get a boarding pass printed, we boarded our plane. We made a surprise stop in Uganda, which was pretty cool, then jetted on up to Ethiopia. We laid over a couple hours there before the 16 hour flight to DC. Thankfully, we slept a lot on the way.

After landing and going through customs, we had to say goodbye to 4 more team members who were renting a car and driving home to North Carolina. These were hard goodbyes, especially because these 4 people were on our team last year, so we are truly connected through Africa. Those people have been family to us for a year now, and it was hard to stop hugging them.

After our prolonged goodbyes, we went through security for the 4th time in 2 days. Then ate a DELICIOUS bacon cheeseburger from Fuddrucker’s, even though it was 9 in the morning. We certainly missed our good ol’ American food! The really irritating part about today is our layovers. We are on hour 7 of an 8 hour layover in DC. Then after a quick flight to Charlotte, we’ll sit there for another 5 hours. So all in all, our travel time is about 45 hours.

Before we board our plane to Charlotte, we have one more goodbye to make to a team member traveling to Dallas. She boards her plane soon, and it will be another tough goodbye. She was also on our team last year and has also been like family to us. She was also my seat-mate for most bus rides and plane rides so it’ll be weird traveling on without her!

We are really looking forward to seeing our family and our sweet Jazzy girl tonight! It will also be nice to sleep in a soft bed and not need a mosquito net. Even though it’s nice to enjoy the comforts of home, there is always a tinge of guilt after having seen the conditions in which people live in Rwanda. It’s really not fair that my birthplace in the land of the free, home of the brave entitles me to so much more luxury and comfort than their birthplace. This is the point where our mission trip takes on a new purpose. We have to take what we’ve seen and experienced and mold it into purpose. We are advocates for the fatherless, and we must fight against injustice. This year’s experience was less shocking and heartbreaking than last year, but it is still full with just as much purpose. Sometimes short term mission trips get a bad rap (and sometimes they deserve it), but if people come back from their 12 day trip with a determination to serve others and love others more deeply, then it was well worth it. I pray that our team will please the Lord in how we use our experience for His glory. I pray that our actions will honor the orphans we met and loved so deeply in such a short time.

This Is Why We Go

Today was our last day of ministry in Kigali. Our time here has flown by, and we are all sad to be leaving so soon. But today was a day full of hope for the future.

Last year when we visited Noel Orphanage, there was a separate area for the special needs children. They received no education, no therapy, and no love. They simply were put behind a brick wall and received food and clothing, but that was it. No interaction, no attention, nothing. Out of all the heart wrenching things I saw on my first Africa trip last year, it was the worst. In Africa, when a child with special needs is born, people just say “oh well” and move on, never thinking that the child possesses any potential to be successful in life. But as I said…today was a day full of hope. Since last year, the special needs children at Noel have actually been given the opportunity to go to school at a community center for the disabled. This morning we visited the center, and IT IS AWESOME. It is far and away the nicest, cleanest, most organized facility out of ANY that we’ve visited in Africa. The director gave us a tour and told us about all of the programs available. They teach skills like sewing and jewelry making so that these people can make a living somehow. They also teach computer and music classes. A couple of the blind students there have even made a CD! They sell many of the crafts which the students make to support the center. They have a preschool of 3-5 year olds that includes non-disabled children from the community so they can have integrated learning. They have a special area for mentally challenged students, and they even teach sign language for deaf children! All together, they serve 320 students.

Y’all, it was the most inspiring thing ever. I never in a thousand years would’ve expected this type of facility to be in Rwanda. The walls were brightly painted with cartoon images, the playground was well taken care of, and it actually looked like a place that truly cared for and developed young people. It is not at all like the downtrodden dusty buildings we were used to seeing. And what’s even better, it was actually started by two Rwandan orphans (one of whom does not have hands) who grew up at Imbabazi Orphanage. To have a center that nice, started by African orphans, and run by African orphans, and being so successful at what they do, is truly an act of God alone. We were so blessed by the people there, especially when we learned that all of the teachers are volunteers. What?! They give their time and energy to teach these disabled children that everyone else has just given up on. That’s also unheard of in a place like Rwanda where jobs and money are so scarce. It’s all God, y’all. I just cannot say enough about how awesome this place was. It really touched my heart to see those kids who were just lying on mats in their own urine last year at Noel, now learning English and making bead necklaces and making friends. To end our time there, we performed a few songs for the kids. I was super thankful for those songs I’d learned in sign language because when I started signing, the deaf kids just lit up and started signing along with me. It was my favorite part of our time there. Oh that and the little boy with downs syndrome dancing his face off. It was truly an inspiring morning.

After we finally pulled ourselves away from there, we went to lunch and then returned to Noel Orphanage. Each team member had been given a Bible to give away. Some people had been working with the little babies all week and didn’t really know of anyone that would really benefit from it, so some of us got more than 1 Bible to hand out. When we got to the orphanage, we gathered up several of the older boys we had been hanging with this week. It started out with 6 team members, about 10 orphan boys, and our translator Jean D’amour. We just started sharing some of our favorite verses and teaching The Word. After a while, more and more of the older kids started to walk up and even a few of the workers. It was so incredible to watch them read Scripture. It really seemed like the first time they had ever held a Bible and read it. (Sidenote: the orphanage is technically Catholic, and they only have 1 Bible that they keep locked in the office so the kids never have access to it.) We would tell them to read 1 verse, and they would just read the whole chapter. It’s like they just couldn’t get enough of it. At one point, we read a verse in Psalm that says “God defends the orphans.” The boys literally had a physical reaction to that verse. It was like they were shocked that God would ever notice, much less defend them as orphans. Jean Baptiste looked at me and said, “This verse touches my heart in a special way.” That’s what it’s about y’all. This is why we go.

I realized that when we would give them a Bible reference, they would be very confused and just flip pages randomly. Even though our translator was telling them the book in their language, they still had no clue how to find it. So we taught them about the table of contents and how to find the page numbers and then chapters and verses. At that point, it hit me that there are probably millions of Americans who also have no stinking clue how to find Psalms. People who grow up without church and without 5 Bibles in their house have no idea what we mean when we give Bible references.

Blake and I gave our Bibles to 3 boys named Jean Baptiste (18), Alsen (21), and Chiery (13). They were all thankful, but Jean Baptiste was just so overwhelmed. He thanked me profusely, and I love what he said to me. He said, “This Bible will help me so much. It will give me a whole new spirit. I will read it every night, and it will improve everything about my life — my behavior, my attitude, how I treat others…this is EVERYTHING!” In that moment, he blessed me so much. I made him promise to learn all he could about the Bible and to also teach the younger children and be an example for them. He promised me, and I know he meant it.

Today was entirely full of hope. When it was time to leave, we hugged necks and promised to connect on Facebook. It was still sad to be leaving our kids and tears were definitely shed by all. However, seeing all those boys with their Bibles in hand just gave me a peace. I knew that even though we were leaving them today, we were giving them something everlasting. I don’t want to go home, but I know that God’s purpose for me here has been fulfilled.

The Answer

Hello again! I first want to let you know that Blake and I are feeling much better. We are still having some sinus drainage problems, but the medicines and the prayers are working and we feel much more energized than we have the past couple days. So thank you for praying for us! Hopefully it will keep getting better each day.

Today we spent time at Noel Orphanage. I mentioned the other day (Monday) that we stopped by Noel briefly. It was eerie how quiet and empty it seemed compared to the chaotic, packed facility it was last year. The reason it’s so much emptier now is that most of the children, age 7 and up go to boarding school and no longer live full time at the orphanage. Also, many of the children have been placed in families as part of the reunification process. Both are great news! It is such a blessing for these orphans, and we are so happy for them…even if it means we don’t get to see the faces of those we fell in love with last year. Noel currently has children ages 6 and under as well as older children who are not in school because they might have missed so much primary education that they can’t catch up. There are also a small few who go to school locally and are not away at boarding school. I tried to get an estimate of how many total kids are there now, but I never found out.

So, needless to say, today was MUCH different than last year with 600 children battling for 28 people’s attention. I spent the morning in the 1-2 year olds area. They were super cute, but the smell in the small, non-ventilated rooms was enough to make me feel a little nauseous. I made the mistake of sitting down on the floor, and I was overrun with little ones. They’re like ants, I tell you. They were especially entranced by my hair. Obviously not a lot of Rwandans have fine blonde hair. What started out as curiosity and tentative stroking turned into an all out hair pulling fest. After that and then the kid who sat his poopy bottom on my lap, the Holy Spirit told me it was time to move on from the toddler room.

As I was walking out, I was told that Emmanuel, a boy Blake and I really connected with last year, had skipped school today to see us. We are obviously a fine influence. I went to go see them at the basketball court, and it was very sweet to see him get a little emotional. I would like to ask you to pray for Emmanuel. Last year, he was all smiles, being such a good big brother to the younger kids. He was very outgoing and sweet, always a good example for the little ones. We noticed through communicating on Facebook that he was less cheerful. We used to talk about the Bible and about how much we missed each other, but recently it’s turned to constant requests for money, laptops, and more. We hoped to see the old Emmanuel today, but that was not the case. We learned that a man from Europe had come to see Emmanuel. The man gave him money and a laptop, and promised to come back to get him and adopt him. Well, that never happened, and it has turned Emmanuel bitter. It seems he purposefully got kicked out of boarding school. Today, he rarely smiled and rarely talked. In fact, after a while, he went into his room and wouldn’t come out. I fear that he has lost hope, and the tough life of being a 15 year old boy in an orphanage, has broken his spirit. Please pray that God draws him near, and that Emmanuel will know he has a Daddy better than any earthly one, and that he is loved by people around the world.

I hung out with a few of the older kids (16-18), and I spent some time with the 5ish year olds, coloring and practicing our letters and numbers. Just nearby, our team member April was teaching the older boys (the ones who were too far behind to be in school) some English. It was really cool seeing them so excited about learning. They were loving every second of it. I really wish school in America could be like that, with everyone smiling and clamoring to answer, and feeling proud of themselves for accomplishing something.

After lunch we came back and did some amazing masterpieces in sidewalk chalk. This is when I met my new friends. I know I’m going to butcher the spelling of their names, but hey you don’t know how to spell them either: Chieri (age 13), Salem (age 4), and Igikurizo (age 6). The first two were really outgoing and walked right up to me. Igikurizo, however, hung back and looked longingly at our coloring and our pipe cleaner crafts. I called him over and he slowly came. Jean Baptiste (age 18) and Alsen (age 21, whom we sponsor at His Imbarage) sat with us too. Jean Baptiste told me that “Igikurizo” in English means “The answer.” I eventually coaxed him into my lap (once Salem relented to moving over a bit) and held them both. Chieri sat behind me with his arms around me. For the next 2 1/2 hours, we sat there in that position. The two little ones in my lap never moved a bit, and Chieri always sat leaning up against me and petting my hair. I chatted with Jean Baptiste and Alsen who have pretty good english.

As I sat there in a cow pasture (careful to mind the cow pies), with these 5 Rwandans around me, I felt so full. I laughed with the oldest boys as they argued about which is cooler: hip hop vs. R&B, and tight fitting clothes vs. big baggy clothes. They have been friends their entire lives growing up together in the orphanage. I cuddled with the youngest ones and kissed their heads. They investigated my pale hands and wrapped their fingers around mine. Even the 13 year old enjoyed cuddling, and he also liked telling me all about his school. I thought about Igikurizo’s name, and I understood “the answer.” This is what we are here for: relationships. Although the little ones may not remember much, and we can’t talk at al, their capacity for love was strengthen today. I would bet that they have NEVER in their lives been held for 2 1/2 hours straight. No one has ever been able to provide that for them and make them feel that loved. How many 5 and 6 year olds do you know that would sit totally still for that long and be totally content? The older ones get so much encouragement from our time together. They love teaching us Kinyarwandan words (and hearing us butcher them), and they like to be asked questions. They enjoy having someone to sit and talk to about their lives. They also like hearing about ours. I pray that I can maintain this mindset when I return to busy life in America, with all the trials and downfalls that come with everyday life. No matter what I’m doing or where I am, there will be people who need to be loved the way we love on a mission trip.

Muzungus in the Mist

Happy Anniversary to my wonderful hubby! 3 years ago today, I married my best friend, and neither of us had any idea Africa would be such a huge part of our lives. I am so blessed and honored to have a husband who loves God more than anything and desires His glorification above all else. Seeing him here in Africa loving on little children just touches my heart in such a special way. I love him, and I couldn’t have asked for a better person to do life with.

Today was our “day of rest” which was very, very needed as the team seemed a bit rundown and sickly after the past few intense days. Blake and I, as well as a couple other team members, are still battling this sinus infection stuff. We are all blowing our noses and hacking up our lungs. To me, the worst part is just always feeling SO TIRED. Whenever I sit down, I have to fight to stay awake. But we are thankful for Sudafed and Nyquil and Z-packs.

We went to Imbabazi Orphanage…well…it used to be an orphanage, but over the past few years, they have been placing all their orphans in homes as part of the reunification process. So now there are no kids there (hence why it was a “rest day”) but they will still be actively involved in checking up on their kids and providing community ministries. If you’re familiar with the movie “Gorillas in the Mist”, it is about Roz Carr (I honestly don’t know how to spell her name, and I don’t have internet to google it) and how she came to open Imbabazi. They even filmed some of it at the property where we were. The entire Imbabazi land spans 140 acres and has TONS of crops and beautiful gardens. It’s actually pretty high up a mountain and it’s elevation is 8,000 feet.

One thing about going to Imbabazi is the road leading up to it. There’s a long dirt road lined with houses, and kids will come out when they see the bus and scream, “Agacupa!” which means water bottle. They chase the bus and wave frantically. For this purpose, we had saved ALL of our water bottles. We were locked and loaded 4 big cases full of empty bottles to throw. Y’all, it’s seriously like we were throwing hundred dollar bills out the window. They would run alongside the bus, and when they got a bottle, they’d say “I GOT IT I GOT IT!” and it was really precious. Their faces just lit up when they saw a bottle hurtling toward them. It was cool.

After stepping off the bus, it was easy to see why this was chosen as our resting location. The flowers and gardens and expansive fields just screamed God’s glory. Even the 6 friendly dogs just made it feel so homey. I may have fleas now, but whatevs. We started off with a quick tour of the gardens. Then we had some worship time with just the guitar and our voices, while laying out on the grass in the sunshine. It was so relaxing. I may or may not have fallen asleep. But I’m sick so I’ve got an excuse. I promise I love Jesus and I love singing worship, I promise. Afterwards, we all split up and found a spot to sit, read The Word, and reflect on what God is showing each of us. It was just a beautiful time of worship through Scripture and prayer.

We ate lunch there which was delicious, followed by a traditional Rwandan dancing group. They walked up, decked out in their ancient tribal gear, and they stomped the mess out of that grass. They were tearing it up, I tell ya. It was a fun little activity where we could just sit and be entertained. We also got fresh rhubarb cake which was ridiculously good. It had started lightning and thundering towards the end of the dancing show. And I don’t mean in the distance, I mean like right on top of us and incredibly loud…like rumbled the ground we were sitting on. But since it wasn’t raining, we thought we’d go for a little walk til we had to report back to the bus. So we went on an adventure….

Our adventure began with a search for a cave. One of our team members had been there before and had told us about a cave, and we all really wanted to go spelunking. She said it was out in the middle of a field. So we walked through an open field…in a lightning storm. We saw bolts of lightning striking up ahead of us, but no one actually suggested we turn back so we just kept going. Along the way, children from the village saw us muzungus and started following us. They were just giggling and pointing, and we all walked in a big group toward the cave. We think we found its entrance, but it was really overgrown with weeds and stinging nettles so we decided against going in (and also Frank told us we couldn’t). We started to head back towards the house when a woman with a baby walked up to us. She was talking in Kinyarwadan and holding her baby out to us. I definitely thought she was trying to give us her baby, and I panicked a little inside. Then she started rubbing her chest and just reached in and pulled out her boob. We gathered that she was out of milk. I honestly have no idea what she wanted us to do about it. It was more than a little awkward….especially when we just kinda turned around and kept walking while she stood there with her boob out and her baby extended out toward us.

By now there were about 15 village kids in our group. We went into a grove of trees to take a picture with them. They were the picture of abject poverty, with their filthy bodies caked with dirt and dust, their tattered clothes, and protruding bellies. But that didn’t stop them from giggling and jumping up and down in our pictures. We finally said goodbye to the kids and headed back to the house. On the way, we passed one of the many cows out in the pasture. Well, we thought it was a cow, but turns out, it was a bull. And uh, when we got in it’s general vicinity he did not like it. He actually charged at us…like full on trotted with his head down right at us. We all ran away from him and maybe also wet ourselves. He turned around when he was satisfied we weren’t gonna bother him. It was pretty terrifying but makes for a good story.

To end our wonderful day of rest, we ate dinner at the Palms Resort on Lake Kivu. It’s a really beautiful place, and it was a great way to finish the day. Tomorrow we go to Noel Orphanage where we’ll love on some little bitty ones (under 5). Please pray I don’t get too much pee and poop on me.

Mission Trip Cardio and Empty Orphanages

Hey everybody! We have a little bit of extra time at the hotel tonight, so today’s post will include yesterday and today (Monday and Tuesday), and then we’ll be all caught up.

Yesterday, I woke up not feeling so great. I had a VERY sore throat that made it difficult to swallow. I also had symptoms of a sinus infection with sneezing, congestion, coughing, etc. And to top it all off, my stomach was having some bathroom problems, if ya catch my drift. The sinus stuff was bad, but to have stomach issues when you’re out in a village where there are no toilets is even worse. So I took some medicine and prayed I would feel better. Thankfully, my stomach did feel better soon, but the sinus infection lingered and really just made me feel weak and fatigued. Plus, me and other members of the team were feeling a bit emotionally drained after saying goodbye the day before to our other BFR kids. Blake has also developed the cold symptoms (along with a couple team members) so please be in prayer for our health and that we would be energized!

In spite of feeling sickly, I was still excited about seeing Gasharu village after hearing so much about these new children. First I’ll give you some background: In April, Best Family Rwanda welcomed 30 new children from Gasharu, ages 2 to 11, into their family. This is a “Genocide village” where homes were given to widows and orphans of the genocide. It is a very poor community. Very few men live here as it is almost all women and children. In this culture, it is difficult for a woman to find work, especially if she also has to care for children all on her own. Many of the mothers are very young and are victims of rape or of just being taken advantage of by older men. When the girls get pregnant, the men deny that they are the father and provide no support. Also, many of the children are being raised by people who are not their parents (like grandmothers, aunts, etc.) because they were abandoned or their parents had died.

So yesterday, on our last day to spend with the BFR, we visited these 30 children in Gasharu. The morning was EXHAUSTING but tons of fun. As always, when we got off the bus, we were rushed with kids as they grappled for hands and arms to hold. A 10 year old girl named Sanyu and a 4 year old boy named Pascience (or Pas as we called him), latched onto me. As with all BFR activities, it was mostly comprised of singing and dancing. Since all of these kids are under 11 years old, it was SO CUTE seeing all of their little bodies wiggling and their sweet high pitched voices. They had prepared a few dances and songs for us. My favorite part was when all the kids stood up front, and one of the BFR leaders would point to them and say things like “What are your dreams?” “What do you wish to be?” “How will you help others?” and so on. They all answered without hesitation, “I want to be a teacher!” “I want to fight for the rights of children!” “I want to be a nurse!” and y’all after being there only about 15 mins, it was starting to hit me what an impact BFR makes on these kids. I mean, 4 months ago, they probably didn’t have any dreams or goals. They weren’t in school and lacked the “Confident Hope” of Jesus that Best Family instills in its children. It was really moving.

Soon, they joined us in the dance party. I kid you not, we danced for nearly 3 hours straight. We did traditional Rwandan dances, we did a conga line, we taught them the macarena, we did the hokey pokey, and mostly we just swung and spun kids as they giggled. All of us were POURING sweat by the end of it. It was a serious cardio workout, y’all. I think I burned 3 times as many calories as I ate that day. Afterwards we had a little free play time before lunch. Some played soccer, painted faces, blew bubbles, colored, etc. We also had balloons which were a huge hit. No matter what country you’re in, no one wants to let that balloon touch the floor. No one.

After lunch, we went on home visits. We split into 2 groups, and we each saw half of the children’s homes. We continued to take pictures for the sponsorship program as well. So for the next few hours, we walked all over the village, meeting families, shaking hands, and learning more about these kids’ lifestyle. All the homes are made of clay. Some were only one room the size of a closet while others were several rooms with decent space. But no matter the size of the house, the stories from the families remained the same: “this child’s parents abandoned her” “this one’s parents are dead” “this one has HIV” and so on. Whether or not they had a large living room did not change the fact that these children are living without parents and without the means to go to school and have a better life…until BFR that is. All the families were SO thankful to BFR for providing school fees and insurance. Not only the kids, but their parents also were given hope through this program.

So finally, after a looooooonnnng day of playing and dancing and singing, we went back to the hotel for dinner. But our day didn’t stop there…Jean Claude asked if Blake and I could meet with him, Emmanuel, and Salomon about the future of BFR, the sponsorship program, etc. So the 3 guys came over to the hotel to have dinner with us and then we met together afterwards. Um…how bout our “lil meeting” lasted FOUR HOURS! It was a very successful and very detailed meeting. I’m really glad we were able to have that discussion because it’s so much easier talking in person rather than through emails. Our team member and Best Family Ministries secretary, Kim, joined us and took minutes. We are so grateful for her and her 10 pages of notes!

After the crazy long day, not feeling well, and being super emotional about leaving BFR, I was SO ready for bed. We still had to pack, and I still had to blog so it was 1 AM before I got to bed and then I woke up at 5:30. Needless to say, I woke up this morning still not feeling so hot, and Blake and I both felt a little worse than yesterday. But thankfully today was not quite so busy.

This morning we drove from Kigali to Gisenyi. It’s the same road we drove last year with breathtaking views. The lush green landscape, the volcanoes towering in the sky, the waterfalls, and even the monkeys on the side of the road all make for a truly beautiful drive. Once we got here, we went to No. 41, a ministry that employs women from Noel orphanage to make bags, and other sewn goods. Each bag sold feeds a kid for a year, so it’s a really really cool ministry. It feeds kids and provides women who grew up in the orphanage with a consistent income. We also visited His Imbaraga which is very similar. The difference is it is men who grew up in the orphanage, and they make leather goods. We were very excited about going there because we sponsor a young man named Alsen. Totally thought his name was Arsene before today because that’s what he has on Facebook…In fact I’m still not sure which is correct, but whatevs, we love the guy. He recognized us instantly so that was cool. He speaks very little english but that didn’t matter.

Lastly, we went to Noel Orphanage for a very brief visit to say hello and let them know we will be returning later this week. We visited here last year, and it was an awesome experience. There were over 600 kids living there last year, and it was like being in a giant mob when you stepped off the bus as kids all tugged and pulled at your fingers, wrists, waist, and clothing. They were all clamoring to be held. This year, however, most of the kids are now going to boarding school through an awesome program called His Chase. So the only kids at the orphanage are the little babies who are too young for school. It was eerily quiet walking into Noel without the hundreds of kids screaming and mobbing us. It’s super disappointing to not see Nirere and Emmanuel, my two kids that I fell in love with last year. They are the ones that accepted Jesus as Savior the last day I was there. I long to ask them about their walk with God, about the Bible that I gave them and what they’ve learned. But I know it’s for the best that they are in school. Empty orphanages are a good thing. Several of the team members do feel a great deal of disappointment at not being able to see their kids from last year so please pray that God will heal our hearts in that area.

After our quick stop at Noel, we came back to the hotel. We are so glad to have gotten in a bit earlier as we are all feeling exhausted and weak, several of us battling sickness. Please pray for strength and healing! Thankfully tomorrow is our “day of rest” so hopefully we can recharge our batteries then. Thanks for your prayers.