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 Imbaraga) 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 all, 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.