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.

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.

Always Stretch Before Rwandan Church

Hello supporters and prayer warriors!  I’m still a day behind so I’m going to tell you about yesterday (Sunday). It was an emotional roller coaster for sure.

The day started off at church.  We were SO EXCITED about going to church here because last year in Africa we didn’t get a chance to go due to travel schedules.  We had heard that it’s crazy energetic, but that was our only expectation.  On Saturday, a few of us had gone to the church to speak to the pastor about how he wanted us to be involved in the service.  He basically said he wanted us to be a big part.  He asked told us that one of us would preach, and our team member Ben stepped up to the call.  He also asked if we could prepare some songs to lead in worship.  They said “Church starts at 9, please be there at 8:30.”  

One thing that is SO different about African culture than American, is their judge of time.  (Remember when Jean Claude said it would take 15 minutes to climb 2 miles up a very steep mountain? yeah.)  If they say they’ll be somewhere at 9, then don’t expect them until 10:30.  It’s just the way it is here.

So we got to church at 8:30, and there are a few other adults and about 25 little kids there.  Soon after we arrive, the kids get on stage and start singing to some INCREDIBLY LOUD music coming out of busted speakers.  Since there’s literally no one in the church we thought it was rehearsal or something.  Well, after a few minutes, the kids all just started running in place in time to the music.  Then they motioned for us to join.  I kid you not, we jogged in place to the music (which was just a beat that plays on the electronic keyboard like techno) for about 30 minutes.  Then there were maybe 10 more adults that had shown up.  They all start singing, and I’m still wondering if this is still a rehearsal of some sort.  But after we sang for whole ‘nother hour, I figured that this was actually the church service.  This is the best way I can describe to you the singing and worship time at this church:
2.  Singing in the correct key is optional, as long as you are VERY LOUD
3.  Here in Rwanda, blowing a whistle repeatedly with all the air in your lungs is worship
4.  It’s totally fine if halfway through a song, they decide to stop, have a huddle, and then choose another song
5.  Hype guys are definitely an improvement to church worship.  If you don’t know what a hype guy is, they run around jumping up and down, waving rags, singing, shouting, and just generally being super intense.  They were awesome.
6.  At times, there are more people singing on stage than there are in the audience.
7.  Each song will be at least 9 minutes long
8.  All songs will eventually degenerate into simply running in place to the music for an additional 5 minutes
9.  It’s a good idea to stretch before church, because cramping and calf aches are a likely side effect to worship

It was crazy, y’all!  But we loved it! Well, I didn’t really love the permanent hearing damage.  I also didn’t love when the whistle blower guy spit the whistle out of his mouth and his spit got all over my cheek.  But everything else I really did love!!

After about 2 hours of worship, they called us up to the front to sing.  We had prepared a few songs, even a couple in Kinyarwandan.  About 80% of our team is made up of musicians and singers so we actually had a pretty good muzungu choir!  Then they had testimony time, and a few of our team members got up and shared.  And then Ben gave a great message from The Word.  And of course we sang for another 30 minutes or so.  

After church, we went to lunch with all the Best Family kids again.  Then we returned to the school that BFR uses for activities.  We said goodbye to some of the older kids who had to return to boarding school.  Since this was the last time al of BFR would be together with us, Jean Claude gave a big speech (of course, cuz that’s what he does).  He presented each of us with a carved giraffe statue, and it was really beautiful to see how much the kids love their big brothers and sisters and how much they miss them at boarding school.  Several team members had some tears flowing at this point, by the way.

Afterwards, we thought this would be the best time to give our donations.  Our team brought lots of donations that BFR had specifically requested.  They said they needed shoes, backpacks, clothes, some sports equipment, jerseys for their sports team.  Our group brought TONS of stuff.  Especially our awesome friends April and Joe who brought like 100 pairs of shoes, and Rachael who brought the jerseys and backpacks.  We presented BFR with all of the gifts, and the kids were SO HAPPY!  They danced and sang and then danced and sang some more (cuz that’s what BFR does).  They loved it, and Jean Claude did too.  They were so very thankful. 

Blake and I spent much of the remaining afternoon getting pictures and videos for Best Family’s website and upcoming programs.  Belize had spent the whole day with me (as she had every minute since I stepped off the bus on Friday), but after a while of sitting there while we took pictures, she was getting a little antsy.  She asked permission to go play a game with some other people, and of course I told her that was fine.  But deep down I was a little sad cuz I knew this was my last afternoon with her.

After a while, we had the “goodbye ceremony.”  They sang many songs, but one was about being apart physically but staying in each other’s hearts.  It was really beautiful, even though it had such a mournful sound.  We also sang Oh Happy Day to lighten the mood.  Then they had some more share time from the kids about how much they loved having us.  Lastly, there was a prayer time, as we all prayed for each other.  At some point, we heard “Amazing Grace” being hummed and many others joined in.  Y’all…that got to me.  Being prayed over by these children who have so little, hearing one of the most beautiful and spiritual songs ever written, and holding Belize tightly, I got so overwhelmed. I really felt like crying (as many of my teammates were), but I wanted to keep it together for the kids.  

You should know, I am seriously not a cryer.  Anyone who knows me, knows that.  I never ever cry.  But Africa pulls on my heart strings like nothing else.  After our prayer time, we made the terrible walk to the bus to say goodbye.  I have made many friends at BFR in just a few days, but none like Belize.  I held her hand on the walk but just looked ahead.  I was telling myself to just choke down the tears until later.  When I finally turned to look at her, she lifted her head up and her lip started trembling.  Y’all I lost it.  I said “Don’t cry!” and immediately we were both in each other’s arms bawling.  I’m even crying as I type this.  I have never in my life made a connection like that in such a short time (much less with someone who doesn’t speak my language).  I had lots and lots of other kids coming up to me to say goodbye, and that just made it worse.  I wanted our goodbyes to be joyful and full of hope, not miserable.  I tried to pull myself together as we took some final pictures (where I look puffy and surprisingly like I’m trying to smile through tears).  It took forever for everyone to finally get on the bus because we had so many kids we had fallen in love with.  In addition to Belize, kids like Jado, Antoine, Florence, Maurice, Emmanuel, Jephte, and many more had taken a large chunk of my heart.

We finally loaded up the bus with our team and with the eldest kids of the Best Family.  We were taking them to dinner at a burrito place downtown.  As much as my heart ached, those burritos were AMAZING.  Way better than any burrito I’ve ever had anywhere else.  It did wonders for my mood, and I even got a MOUNTAIN DEW.  I enjoyed spending some extra time with the eldest BFR kids.  Shakour (#1), Shakur (#2), Grace, and Pascal just to name a few.  It definitely eased the ache.  

Days like that and feelings like that are what make me so certain that I’ll return.  How could I not ever see Belize again?  What does it mean for me to spend about 3 days with her and then leave?  It’s not just her but all of the BFR.  They really do love like family, and I am so blessed to be a sister to them.

I feel like I have so much more to say, so many more emotions rolling around.  But I’m just too drained and exhausted to try to type them out (fyi, it’s 12:45 am, and I have to get up at 5:00).  Maybe some other time, after I’ve processed this crazy emotional roller coaster I can write more about it.  I love you all and please keep praying for us!

Confident Hope

Hey folks!  So sorry that I didn’t get to post yesterday.  We had a super late night hanging out and sharing testimonies and getting to know one another more deeply.  I hate that you didn’t get an update yesterday, but don’t worry I’ll still share everything!  Since both days had so much involved, right now I’m just going to post about yesterday (Saturday), and be a day behind until I can catch up.

Ok so yesterday was our first full day at BFR.  One thing you have to understand about BFR is they are very ceremonious.  Every event includes a lengthy speech from Jean Claude, several songs, chants, and a share time with multiple kids.  So things take a loooonnnng time.  With that in mind, this was how our morning went yesterday:

We get off the bus and were immediately reunited with our “family” that we met the day before.  My lil girl, Belize, found me before I even stepped off the bus.  There are few feelings that can compare to looking out the window, making eye contact with that little girl, and watching her face light up with a giant smile and wide eyes.  It made my heart sing, y’all.  Maybe all you parents out there can understand that feeling, but it’s new to me, and it’s incredible.

Anyways, we all went to the Catholic school that allows BFR to use their campus for activities.  We crammed into a little classroom, and the singing and dancing picked right up where we left off.  We seriously sang and danced and jumped and praised for a solid hour.  Then each of our team members introduced ourselves and shared a bit about our lives.  Then many of the BFR kids got up and “shared their happiness with us.”  Basically, it was a talent show, but I like “sharing happiness” better.  They rapped, danced, sang, drummed, did comedy skits, and more.  It was so much fun to watch!  There were even little bitty kids getting up there singing and looking adorable.  (We have some awesome videos to share when we get home.)  It was so cool to see Confident Hope, BFR’s motto, so clearly displayed in these kids.  They are the poorest of the poor, yet they exude joy in every way.  Of course the whole time Belize is cuddling with me on the hard wooden bench, and whenever she took the stage for a talent she would always look at me, smile big, and wave.

Then, we had some free time to play.  Everyone broke off into groups and played volleyball, soccer, catch, frisbee, painted faces, painted nails, colored in coloring books, and lots more.  It was so much fun, in spite of the blazing midday sun.  All of us went to lunch (hungry and probably also dehydrated), where we dined on potatoes, rice, pasta, and goat liver.  Yup, goat liver.  It tasted like a really tough pot roast.  Officially my 2nd Rwandan food I can’t stand.

The afternoon consisted of more share time from the kids (with the standard speeches from Jean Claude, songs, and chants along the way).  It was  super sweet and all to hear them say how much they love us and appreciate us, but it was a  statement from a 3 year old boy named Maurice that really made me thankful for what we are doing.  He actually lives in the home on top of the mountain that we visited Friday.  He got up (in his too long tshirt and his too short jeans), and said, “Thank you for visiting my home yesterday.  I thank you for coming to us when we needed your help.  I especially like the mattress.  You make us so very happy.  God bless you.” Oh my gosh y’all…he’s three.  He’s had more struggle in his 3 short years than I’ve had in my 25, and he handles it with a smile and a blessing.

We also saw Jean Claude handle a “family issue”, which was pretty cool.  It had come to his attention that one of the children who is 3 was living on the street with her mother.  Apparently a couple of the older kids knew about it and didn’t tell Jean Claude.  He was not happy.  It was kinda like when you’re in class and suddenly the teacher starts scolding the kid next to you, and for some reason, you start getting nervous too.  We all watched as Jean Claude (aka The Godfather) told his children that if they have a problem they should bring it to one of the older siblings to fix or to JC if they can’t fix it on their own. And if a child knows about his brother or sister’s struggle, they should also share it with him and not keep it secret.  And this is where it gets really cool…he set on the floor a deflated soccer ball and took up an offering (yeah, an offering from poor kids).  Then he sent out some of the older BFR kids to use the money to purchase shoes, toiletries, and any other necessities.  He also wanted to know about her living situation, so they were to bring back a report about what they saw.  It was encouraging to see the family structure of BFR at work.  They really do act like a family, and they were totally transparent with us.

We came back to the hotel exhausted and FILTHY, but full of confident hope. 🙂

Blessings on a Mountaintop

Today was PACKED with stuff.  I’ll do my best to summarize and shorten, but just settle in to your chairs cuz this might get lengthy.

Let me start by saying that mission trips rarely go as planned.  Today’s entire day went almost nothing as we planned it.  And while that may irritate type-A people like me, I know it’s totally God’s hand working.  Our morning got a slow start due to some translational communication issues.  We told our guide (Peter) that Jean Claude would be guiding us through the Genocide Memorial.  Well, Peter understood that to mean that he wasn’t needed as our guide today, and was just going to take today off.  We sat in the bus outside our hotel for about 40 minutes waiting for Peter (which in Africa, he would still be considered “on time”).  Then we got in touch with him and realized the communication error.  Whoops.  Oh well, we’ll just head to the Genocide Memorial and meet Jean Claude there.  Well, we show up (45 mins later than planned), and JC is not there.  So we wait another 30 minutes.  Finally, Emmanuel and Salomon, the other leaders of Best Family Rwanda, walked up and explained that Jean Claude was taking his mother to the hospital because she is not doing well.  Of course we understood and continued on as planned.

The Genocide Memorial is a very heavy place.  Our team visited last year, just as all VO teams to Rwanda do.  Since the majority of our team has been to Rwanda before, most already knew the terrible history of the genocide in 1994.  However, that didn’t make it any less powerful or sobering.  It’s incredible to see how far God has brought this country in 19 years.  It is truly a beautiful picture of Christ’s redemptive and restorative power.  I will never get over the love and joy found in these people, in spite of their bloody past.

Afterwards, we went to Jean Claude’s law office and the Best Family internet cafe.  It was cool to see it in person after hearing so much about it!  It’s on a very busy street, and our big group of mzungus (white people) got several raised eyebrows from the locals.  Then we enjoyed a buffet lunch together.  It was mostly rice, potatoes, fruit, and a meat.  There was also a tray covered with foil.  I peeked under to see what it was, and the worker there thought that meant I wanted a whole bunch of it.  He plopped a chunk on my plate and said “Maize…bread.”  I looked at this big square chunk of white stuff that strongly resembled soap and thought, “corn bread? Hmm”  Lemme tell ya, they have no idea what corn bread is. That junk tasted like eating uncooked grits.  Officially my first Rwandan food that I could not stand.

Then (finally, 2 1/2 hours later than planned), we went to the home of Best Family Rwanda.  I have been SO looking forward to this after Blake and I have been so involved in this ministry for a year now.  It was everything I expected and more.  We were greeted by many of the children (there were 50ish there today).  Instantly, I was reminded of the feeling I had last year–that we come here to love these children, but they teach us so much about love.  They don’t wait to know your name or your status or your similar interests.  They just simply love you for being there, and that’s it.  A lil girl of 10 years old named Belize grabbed my hand and didn’t let go.  I had my arm around her and she would pull it even further around her so that we could barely walk we were so entangled.  She didn’t care at all.  (Granted, she might have cared if I slipped on the very treacherous terrain and took her down with me, but luckily we didn’t have to find out).

At the BFR house, the room was electric with energy.  They sang and danced and did chants for us.  They presented us each with personalized cards (how thoughtful is that?).  They spoke many times of how we honor them with our presence and how much they love us.  Seriously y’all, my face was hurting from smiling so much.  I have never in my life been in a place that just bubbled with such overwhelming joy (ahem, American Church, take note).  If I had more time, this could definitely be a blog post in itself.  I cannot express just how much love was in that room.

In case you don’t know, Visiting Orphans’ motto is “Go. Be. Love.” and it reflects the emphasis they put on being relationship driven rather than task driven.  Jean Claude announced that when he came to America, he asked the staff at VO to explain more about their motto.  He decided that he wanted to implement something similar at BFR.  So, beginning this year, BFR instituted a program called “Come and Be Loved.”  On the first Saturday of every month, the BFR kids go to the house of someone in need and serves them however they can.  They collect firewood, clean houses, bathe children, cook food, donate money, build latrines, and more.  This floored me.  BFR is made up of the poorest and most vulnerable children, yet they are the ones going out into their community and serving others.  What a picture of Christ (ahem, American Church, take note), and a testimony to those in their community.

Anyways, tomorrow is actually the first Saturday of July, but because we are here visiting, they decided to have “Come and Be Loved” today instead.  This is where things went even more off-book from the itinerary.  Jean Claude said we would all be serving a family that lives in the forest and survives on very, very little.  It’s a woman who has 5 children (3 of whom are in BFR), and her husband has a drinking problem and is often gone.  Jean Claude said it would take about 15 minutes to walk there.  Um…FALSE!  Y’all…WE CLIMBED A MOUNTAIN.  I am not kidding you.  We just started following the BFR kids, having no idea where we were going, and the terrain got more and more rugged and steep.  We straight up hiked at least 2 miles on a very steep incline on soft dirt that kept sliding out from under our shoes (there were a few falls, but no injuries).  It took us over an hour to reach our destination (apparently we need to teach Jean Claude how to tell time, cuz no one could’ve made that in 15 minutes).  The views on the way up were stunning.  I can’t wait for y’all to see our pictures!  The BFR kids are all apparently part mountain goat because they had no trouble at all traversing the mountain in flip flops.

When we reached the house, I paused to think about 5 young children, all under the age of 12, making that trek each day to get clean water in heavy jerry cans or to collect firewood.  Then I imagined them making that journey with their infant little sister strapped to their backs.  It’s nearly impossible to imagine, but they do it every day.  The house itself is just a mud hut with no electricity.  The leaders of BFR had given us all a small item of food to donate (like flour, sugar, etc.).  They also bought a mattress so the family would no longer have to sleep on the dirt floor.  Inside the house, we found Sahda, the mother, holding her infant child.  We prayed over her and her children, and she prayed for us.

The house could only hold a few of us, so the rest of the BFR children stood outside.  And once again, that bubbling, uncontainable joy could be heard.  They were singing, shouting, jumping, hugging, and more.  In fact, they had been singing and shouting all the way up the mountain (while the mzungus gasped for air).  It’s so beautiful to see them all so happy together.  They are a picture of “Confident Hope” that is BFR’s motto.  We joined in and sang, danced, and laughed together.  Unfortunately, the sun was going down, and we definitely did not want to climb down the mountain in total darkness, so we had to cut our visit short.  Before we left, we prayed again for Sahda.  We put her in the center of the circle and laid our hands, both white and black, on her.  We all prayed together at one time for her in whispers, and y’all that was a GOD MOMENT.  When there are about 60 people all praying to God Almighty, in multiple languages, all at once, on a mountain overlooking a city that has been restored to beauty after horrific tragedy, God. Is. There.  It was powerful stuff.

We climbed down the mountain and returned to our bus.  Then returned to our hotel for dinner, worship, and team debrief.  It was an incredible, unplanned, beautiful joy filled day.  I can’t wait to go tomorrow to spend the whole day with BFR!  I’ll let you know how it goes 🙂

P.S. Thanks for the concern about yesterday’s hair dryer fiasco.  My hand has been trembling all day, but the fireman on our team says as long as I can still feel it and move my fingers then I’m good.

We’re Here!

Happy Liberation Day!  I mean, Happy Independence Day!  Today on the 4th of July, we landed in Rwanda.  Not only do Americans celebrate our independence on this day, but Rwanda does also!

After about 26 hours of travel (give or take a little because I am so completely confused on the date and time), we have finally made it to Rwanda!

The morning in DC was a time of reuniting with old friends from last year’s trip and quickly making new ones.  After that, we boarded the plane for the trans-Atlantic flight.  Long flights over the ocean are always boring and exhausting.  This one in particular was a strain because it was CRAZY HOT on the plane.  I’ve never been on a plane that wasn’t freezing cold, but this one had me sweating and feeling like I spent 14 hours breathing in someone else’s hot breath.  However, it was awesome that all of our team was sitting together within 3 rows of each other.  Well, everyone except Frank who flew first class.  I’m sure that between eating his 4 course meals and sleeping in the giant bed-like seating that he wished he was back there with us.

After a layover in Ethiopia, we arrived in Kigali around noon.  We were a bit nervous because the luggage carousel went around and around, with NONE of our luggage on it.  Thankfully, after waiting a while, ALL of our luggage came out.  And for a team of 16 people, each with multiple bags, that’s a miracle in itself, y’all!

We got to our hotel and knew immediately that we would not be “roughing it” for this portion of our journey.  It’s really nice, and the shower is better than any we experienced last year!  Yay for hot water!  I also got excited when I plugged in my blow dryer and it worked!  Then I was not so excited when I felt pure electricity running through my hand from the blow dryer.  (It still tingles a bit, but don’t tell my parents).

Our team is super exhausted at this point after all the traveling and little sleep.  At dinner it was almost silent because we were all fighting to stay awake.  After dinner, our friends Jean Claude, Emmanuel, and Salomon from the Best Family came to visit our team!  We just visited together, laughed, and talked about the great ways God is moving in our lives and in the life of Best Family.

To cap it all off, Blake even got to drive around Jean Claude’s moped.  He really enjoyed it, and it was hilarious to watch.  Tomorrow we will visit the genocide memorial and then spend the rest of the day with the BFR kids!  Now for some much needed sleep…

Our Itinerary!

OH MY GOSH I AM SO EXCITED!!!  That’s right, folks, it’s only FOUR days until we start this crazy epic journey back to Africa.  I wanted to post our itinerary so that you could know what we will be doing each day.  This way, you can pray for us specifically as we travel and serve.

Here are some general prayer requests, that we would love for you to be praying over:
1.  Safe and uncomplicated travels – pray that our flights will be on time, that we will make all of our connecting flights, and that our luggage all makes it there when we arrive.
2.  Team unity – pray that our team bonds quickly, and that friendships are forged in the service of Christ.  Pray that everyone gets along the whole trip, even when we are tired and cranky.
3.  Pray that the message of the Gospel is apparent in our actions and our words, and that the people we meet will be drawn to God through us. (even after sitting in an airport for 13 hours, without having had a shower in over 48 hours).
4.  Pray that God uses this experience to change lives — both of the people in Rwanda and our team members. Pray that this trip incites a change in lifestyle and becomes the catalyst for living life as James 1:27 tells us to.
5.  Pray for Blake and I – this is our first time leading a team, and we are feeling the pressure!  Pray that God gives us wisdom and guides our every action as team leaders.  Pray that the team members will respect our authority as it has been given to us, and that we have no major crises we have to handle while we are there!

This itinerary might be a bit more detailed than you’re looking for, but I thought some of you might like to know when we are in the air, and what our flight schedule is like.  I’ve notated whenever there is a time change, and in case you’re wondering, Rwanda is 7 hours ahead of the central time zone.  Our brief time in the Ethiopian airport is 8 hours ahead.

Throughout the post, I will be mentioning ministries whom we will be partnering with while we are there.  All of these organizations do a wonderful job of serving the orphan and living out James 1:27 on a day to day basis.  Please click on any of the colorful buttons on the side of the page to learn more about these ministries and how you can be a part of the amazing work God is doing in Rwanda!

Tuesday, July 2nd
8:00 am (Central time) – We will get to the Birmingham airport and say goodbye to our family.
10:27  – We fly to Houston where we have a SUPER SHORT layover when we’ll have to jog across the airport to get to our next flight.
12:46 – We fly to Washington DC
4:55 (Eastern time) – We land in DC.  We will stay the night in DC, and spend the rest of the evening at our hotel, meeting some other team members who will be flying in that day as well.

Wednesday, July 3rd
7:30 am (Eastern time) – get to the DC airport and meet the remaining members of our team!
10:15 – We begin the looooong flight overseas

Thursday, July 4th
7:45 am (Ethiopian time) – we land in Ethiopia where we have a layover for a couple hours
10:30 – Board our flight for Rwanda!
11:55 (Rwandan time) – We land in Kigali, Rwanda!  So looking forward to seeing our guide there to greet us!
We’ll spend the rest of this day recuperating from our many hours of travel and getting to know one another on our team.
Blake and I might also get to have a brief meeting with the leaders from Best Family Rwanda to learn more about their ministry’s future, and how we might be able to help them through The Co-Mission (the non-profit for which we serve on the Board).

Friday, July 5th
In the morning, our team will visit the Genocide Memorial in Kigali.  It is a somber site, dedicated to the memory of the 1 million people who were slaughtered unjustly.  The leaders of BFR, who all suffered a great deal of loss during the genocide, will lead us through the memorial, and provide a firsthand account of the horrors of genocide and the glory of God’s restorative power.

Afterwards, we will go to the BFR campus to have lunch with the children and then spend the afternoon playing with them and loving on them.

Saturday, July 6th
We will spend the entire day with the kids of BFR!  This day will be full of soccer games, face painting, blowing bubbles, singing, and dancing!    Our goal is to love them like Jesus.

Sunday, July 7th
We will attend church with the BFR kids.  This is something I am SO excited about!  Last year, we did not get to visit a church in Africa, and I can hardly wait to experience it!  It is so exciting to praise Jesus in another culture, in another language, on the other side of the world.  There is just something so holy about The Church, the universal Body of Christ, joining together in worship of our Lord and King.

After church, we will again eat lunch and spend the rest of the day with the kids of BFR.

Monday, July 8th
On this day, we will visit the village of Gasharu, just outside Kigali.  This village is comprised of society’s poorest, many of whom are outcasts.  A large percentage of its population includes widows, orphans, and teenage mothers, and many are also HIV positive.  We have learned that many young girls in Rwanda are raped or taken advantage of by men. Then when the girl gets pregnant, the men pretend they don’t know her, and the girl is left to care for herself and her new life on her own.  These girls are often shunned by their community and have no way of providing for themselves, often ending up in the exceedingly poor Gasharu village.  BFR, “adopted” 30 children under the age of 10 from this community to be a part of the Best Family and to help meet their needs.  We will be visiting the homes of many of these children and sharing the Gospel with their families.

Tuesday, July 9th.
We will take a 3 hour bus ride through the beautiful hills of Rwanda to the town of Gisenyi.  Here we will have an afternoon of rest before dinner on the shore of Lake Kivu.

Wednesday, July 10th – Friday, July 12th
We will spend these 3 days at Noel Orphanage.  This is the same orphanage we visited last year, and we are so looking forward to seeing some familiar faces that we’ve missed so much!  Again, our days will be full of playing and loving.

We will also visit 2 other ministries in Ginsenyi called No. 41 and His Imbaraga.  They employ orphan artisans to make bags and jewelry.  The profits go to help supporting these young men and women and also to feeding children in school.  Check out their website from the buttons on the side of the page!

Saturday, July 13th
The long and sad journey home begins early in the morning.  We will drive back down the mountain to Kigali.
4:00 pm – Fly from Rwanda to Ethiopia
10:15 pm (Ethiopian time) – Board the flight back to the US

Sunday, July 14th
8:30 am (Eastern time) – land in Washington DC.  This is the saddest part, where we have to say goodbye to many of our team members as we each travel home around the country.  We sit in the airport for nearly 8 HOURS before our next flight.
4:10 – Fly to Charlotte, NC.  Sit in this airport for ANOTHER 5 HOURS
10:35 – Fly to Birmingham
10:56 (Central time) – Land in Birmingham where my awesome parents will be there to greet us.