We are Family
However, now that I have been home for 5 days and had some time to reflect on our trip, I felt like I should write another post about some things that really stuck with me after returning home.
Most importantly, I want to share about meeting Belyse’s family. On our last full day in country, we were able to visit her home. Just to fill you in if you’ve missed it, Belyse is our sponsored daughter through Best Family’s Kunda Sponsorship Program. My grandparents also sponsor her sister Nelly and her brother Irene. I had spent several days with Belyse, Nelly, and Irene, but I had never met their parents or their other brothers and sisters. Visiting them was one of the main things I wanted to do while we were there, and thankfully we worked it in on the very last day.
First let me tell you how most home visits go…you walk in tentatively, not sure how all of you will fit into such a small room. The mother who lives there will gesture for you to come in. In the dim lighting, the kids stand stiff and awkward in front of everyone, like they’ve been put on stage and are suffering stage fright. After everyone squeezes into the room, there’s an initial moment of awkwardness as no one really knows what to say at first. Then we slowly ask questions about the family, their lives, and how we can pray for them. Given the type of families we typically visit, their story is usually full of hardship and pain. They always thank us for coming and often apologize for not having anything to feed us, as it is part of their culture to serve food or drinks to guests. To me, home visits always feel awkward. However, locals in Rwanda, Ethiopia, and Haiti have all told me that these home visits bless the families so much because they are so honored to have us in their home. It never really made sense to me how just showing up at their house somehow honored them, but it is humbling to know our mission teams can mean so much to these families. I have seen mothers with tears in their eyes as they thank us for visiting them. In Ethiopia, a teenage boy apologized profusely for the mud outside that got on my shoes while outside his home. In Rwanda, we prayed for a mother who lost 8 of her children in the genocide, and she got on her knees before God, asking Him to take away her grief and trauma.
Home visits are humbling. They remind us of what we have and take for granted each day…things like electricity and toilets. But they also make us grieve for those families, who did nothing to deserve their plight but simply were born Tutsi in Rwanda and suffered at the hands of murderers, or who lost their family in the earthquake in Haiti. Home visits are awkward because their lives are so very, very different from ours, and it’s difficult to relate to them, even if it’s just for a few minutes. They are also a great opportunity to share the Gospel, because although we might not live similar lives, we do worship the same God. The God of all peace who can ease pain and suffering and offer eternal hope.
From the start, our home visit with Belyse’s family was different. First, her mother Diana came bustling out of the house and she grabbed me in a big bear hug. This was not a “hi nice to meet you” hug. This was a 10 second long, “WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN? I’VE BEEN MISSING YOU SO MUCH!!” hug. It was not a hug between strangers but between family. I immediately felt like I’d known her forever. Instead of the usual quiet entrance met with timid, peering eyes of children, all 8 of her children come careening through the door giggling and pushing each other as they race to sit in our laps and hold our hands. I noticed a stack of Uno cards on the floor, the birthday gift that we had given to Belyse. Diana walks in, and through our translator Emmanuel, says that she would like to pray. She begins thanking Jesus for us and for Best Family and for all God’s blessings. As she prays, her voice fills with emotion and she begins weeping. She repeats the phrase “Thank you Lord Jesus” many times before closing. Then she leaves the room to get mugs and hot tea for us. Y’all that tea was SO SWEET! If it had been iced instead of hot, it would’ve been just like bein’ in the South again. We were very humbled that she would serve all of us.
We chatted about her husband who is working in Darfur right now as a driver. He is supposed to return in October. We thought she only had 7 children, so we were surprised to find 8. It turns out that the oldest boy is not her own but a neighbor who is an orphan that she raised. Wow. Think about raising 7 kids of your own in a place like Rwanda and then raising an 8th. Belyse disappeared for a moment and came back with a photo album. They showed us lots of pictures of their dad, all the children as babies, and then we were surprised to find our own pictures in their family photo album! We had sent them to Belyse with a sponsor letter. There were also pictures of my grandparents that they had sent to Nelly and Irene. All of us were there together in that album. I told Diana that my grandparents were Nelly and Irene’s sponsors, and she laughed a big beautiful laugh. Then she said “We are ALL family!”
We chatted a little while longer and then took some “family photos” outside. I didn’t want to leave them! This visit was so different from our usual home visits. There was no awkwardness, no silence, no hesitation. We were all family, and God had finally brought us together. I hope that next year when we visit we will be able to meet their dad!
I found myself thinking about their father. It is so incredibly rare for a family to be intact, with both a mom and a dad. And I mean that about Rwanda, but it’s also true here in the States and pretty much everywhere else. When we travel on these mission trips, there is always a recurring theme of no male leadership. In many countries, even if a child still has his mother, he is considered an orphan because women are not allowed the same opportunities as men. The crisis of hunger and poverty will not improve until men start taking responsibility for their families. Although Diana’s husband is out of the country, he is working hard to provide for them. He was willing to travel to another country to find work. It was clear how the kids were looking at those pictures and talking about him that they love him dearly. I am so thankful for him and his commitment to provide for his family, even when it’s not easy.
There is one other thing I’d like to talk about in this post (even though it’s already way longer than planned). Best Family Rwanda is led by 3 men, Jean Claude, Emmanuel, and Salomon. But there is far more to do than these 3 men can accomplish on their own. So they instituted what they call the “Intervention Team” or I-T for short. The members of this team are the older students in BFR. Most of them are in college or have already graduated from university and are working on their Masters. These young people are responsible for tutoring the younger kids, visiting their schools to discuss their progress with their teachers, visiting their families to discuss their behavior with their parents, gathering them together for BFR meetings and then also leading those meetings, and generally mentoring the younger BFR kids. We also learned that they basically planned all of Jean Claude’s wedding and were in charge of every last detail. How many 18-25 year olds do you know that would be willing to do all of that? And do it for free?
This is us with the Intervention Team…
Jean Claude invited us to an Intervention Team meeting so we could see how they work. It was so inspiring to me! These young men and women have all faced so much on their own. They were not exempt from the hardships of poverty. And those that are old enough also experienced their own suffering in the genocide. They defied the odds and got an education. They have goals and dreams and a plan to achieve them. And while they were busy doing what so many people in their country have not been able to do, they are helping the next generation to achieve their dreams as well.
This organization really is like a family. The older ones care for the younger ones. They hold them accountable to very high standards of excellence. As I looked around the room during the meeting, I thought about what each of these individuals had overcome in their own lives, and now they are sitting here discussing how they can help those struggling in school to do better next term. I thought about the students that I used to teach. Some of them were ambitious and high achieving, but sadly MOST of them were not. It made me a little bit angry, thinking of my students in the USA who had all the opportunity but none of the drive, while these young people in Rwanda were committed to making a difference in spite of their circumstances.
I am so proud to be a part of Best Family Ministries and to work on behalf of this organization. They are helping kids change for the better, and the result is improving their communities and their country. It’s a beautiful thing to witness.