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.