~ ~ where some see a hopeless end, others see an endless hope ~ ~

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

HOPE. IT CONQUERS: #3 cont: Runner Up Stories

 #3: The Universal Language(s)


If my time at Noel Orphanage in Gisenyi was easy to put into words... I'd have had 283 blogs posted about it by now.  This blog itself would be scaled into a much easier read.  But the truth is, I can't stop thinking about, therefore I can't stop digesting it.. therefore, I can't find the words to explain it.

But "that moment" I'm talking about?  The moment that hits you?  Those moments I told you earlier showed me that Music played a huge part while at Imbabazi.  The other ... well, here are the Runner Up reasons behind why I chose what the other Universal Language really is...

 #3: The Universal Language(s)
- Part B -

"Of Course"
I step off the bus, and like I remembered from my time in Uganda last summer... the 10-12 year old girls just flutter to my side.  Each one looking past, over my shoulder... as if there was someone else, someone better, taller, prettier, happier, or carrying more stuff.  Ha.  I fooled them.  I was the last one off the bus.  "This is all ya got girls, take it or leave it."  ...  And of course.  They swallowed me up as if I was their prize possession.  Of course, they drape their arms around me, grab me like I have 7 hands to spare, and look excitedly into my eyes, ready for the day, ready for some fun.  And of course..... two girls came out of the crowd, holding on the tightest.  Refusing to let go.

Benita & Amanda

Of course.

When I could muster the words, I tell them, "YAY!  Do you know why we’re goin to have such an amazing time?  Because WE were supposed to meet!  Bonita is my MOTHER's name!!  And NITWA (my name is) AMANDA!!” and it began...

"Holding Tight"
No judgments, only admiration for the ladies that can strap a baby to their back, husk corn all day, do dishes, wash laundry, carry water on their heads, all the while raising a family.  I had to learn.  So, after days of me insisting that our guide and translator, (I like to call her MJ--Mama Jane) hook me up with a bebe, she brought me into the nursery.  *Gasp*  WHAT?  Dozens, DOZENS of toddlers and infants just staring at me.  just longing to be held.  Just begging for attention.  Wanting to be loved on.  The nannies were amazing, yes.  But there definitely weren't enough of them I stood there.  Blank stares and crickets.

I knew they were looking at me, waiting for me to do something.  Anything.  Like, "Lady.  You got two hands and a mind.  Quit standing there and put yourself to use."  I could hear them thinking it out loud, really.

My eyes bounced back and forth around the room.  what?  who?  WHERE do I even begin?

MJ knew what was going on.  She knew I was scrambling for words.  For the 1st time the whole trip, she saw I was completely lost.  She grabbed my arm, grabbed some cloth, bent my back downward, ... and.  Well?  Started strappin' me in.  .... and the next thing I knew, there were shrieks of laughter, screams of giggles and claps throughout the room.  They weren't laughing AT me.  I knew it, I felt it.  They were happy because the torture of being so uncomfortable INSTANTLY faded from my face and was replaced with pure and utter joy as that little Boo hugged and cradled around my back.  My eyes were filled with hope again.  My heart burst at the seams.  I was holding tight to that Pure Joy and I didn't let it go all day.

"Me, too"
It didn't matter what I tried.  For the 1st 3 days, little Josephina and I just bumped heads.  In our click of girls around 12 yrs, she'd steal the spotlight, make jokes, poke fun, raise her voice, and give me attitude.  Minute in, day out.  I wanted to talk, she wanted to talk louder.  I wanted to ask a girl a question, she'd want to ask her another.  I tried to dance goofy, she'd step into the circle.  I showed compassion, she flirted with sarcasm.  I smiled at my girls, she'd yell in my face.  A.T.T.I.T.U.D.E....... the wall was built and the barrier was drawn.

Although it hurt at first.  Although it brought me to my knees in the beginning, I actually knew what it felt like to be a parent for the first time. She refused to let me in.  She didn't want to have anything to do with me. But, as I spent more time around her, I realized there wasn't ONE THING I didn't understand about little Josephina.  I read her like every Boxcar Children book I could read at that age.  I saw right through every front and facade she could fake.

But I didn't break.  I think the curtain began to tear when she called me a crazy Mzungu in front of her friends.  And rather than all my girls chiming in, laughing at her little game.... They defended me.  They stood up for me.  They told her I was their guest, their friend...their sister.  I wasn't a foreigner, I was a visitor.  their Friend.

My outreach to Josephina didn't stop for the 4 days.  I let her have her space, but when the time was right, I offered any love I had.  I could see it in her face that she clearly didn't understand why I was sticking around.  But as time passed, I'd catch her looking at me from across the room.  I'd see her sneak into any pictures we were taking as a group.  When I was teaching a dance, she jumped in to learn.  When I was teaching a song, she wanted to know the words.  And as our final chapter came to a close, on that last day I walked into their room to hug them goodbye--she stood there and stared at me.
my mini me.

I UNDERSTOOD Josephina.  I SAW her.  I heard her, knew her, and loved her.  I understood her because... I WAS her.  I was the exact little girl at that age, and I knew deep down she understood ME by the time we were leaving.

And it was that understanding that finally broke her.  "I will always always remember you, Amanda.  And I love you.  Always."....... "Me, too. Josephina.  Me. Too."

“ ‘Bull’ieve me” 
I’m the first to jump at the chance to sing and dance, believe me.  So, it was strange that when the rest of the team and hundreds of schoolkiddos took off for the music room that I decided to stay back.  Three of the older girls wanted to stay back with me, so we found the nearest tree and just sat.  We talked about everything.  We talked about food, favorite colors, snicker bars, and college.  We talked about love, about disappointments, about hope and futures.  We talked about America.  We talked about Rwanda.

They wanted me to sing.  (Good Lord).  But, I couldn’t disappoint them, so we wrote lyrics down to a song I knew and had them sing it with me.  They recorded it on their phones, and they copied the words into their notebooks.  For hours we just kicked it like we’d known each other for years.

It struck me that everytime I talked about America, their faces would light up.  And everytime I talked about Rwanda, sheepish blushes would grow over their cheeks.  They’d lower their heads in disagreement.  They couldn’t BELIEVE that I told them their country was absolutely beautiful.  They couldn’t believe that I told them the more time I spent there, the more I was falling in love with their city.  They just wanted to know more.  And more.  And more.  They were thirsty for this knowledge they thought I brought to the conversation.

“But!  What’s it REALLY like in America?  Where did you grow up?”  They kept asking.


You’ve GOT to be kidding me!!!!  As a bull cornered us around our tree, I shrieked in terror ! The girls erupted in laughs as I froze in silence!They let the cows just roam around the orphanage.  Oh.

“Girls, you’re not going to believe it,” I said, “but… THIS is where I grew up !  I grew up on a farm with cows and bulls!!  SEE !!  Rwanda is JUST like America !

And in that moment, if even for only a second… I became relatable.  They could believe my story.  They had a glimpse of hope and I knew why God wanted me to stay back.

"when Silence talks"
The last day.  Nothing needed to be said.  They all knew it.  My heart was breaking.  Words weren't coming, so everybody just left me alone.  We opened up the guitars and in the middle of the common ground, just started playing music.  Worship song after worship song.  And it didnt' matter that every one of them was in English.  The kids were magnetized to our laps.

Little Grace sat down on mine and didn't move.  I wasn't talking and she wasn't moving.  She just sat there.  Arms around mine, her little legs stradled as far as they could reach.  And as the immense heat from her fever poured over my chest, I sweat like I was running through a fire and my legs cramped up every two minutes.  But it didn't matter.  We didn't move.

For hours.  We just sat there.  Noella, Norine, Denize, Lillian, Amanda, Grace, Sandrine.. all my girls.  Hand in hand.  Arm in arm.  No words were said, and yet our emotions were screaming.  The mark was made and it was going to last forever.  The silence said it all.


"When you know you know"
I couldn't leave my nanny sistahs without saying Goodbye.  So I sat on the cold concrete floor with them, laughing and 'talking' as if we'd been friends forever.  Of course, none of us knew what any of us were saying....but it didn't matter.

We sat there, in a heap of babies.  No, literally.  There was about 20 babies, all just crawling all over each other in the middle of the floor, in a pile of preciousness.  All in line for their bath.

It was quite amazing, really...

Not wanting to, again... not do anything, I offered up my hands to take a lil one.  She reached into the middle of the pile, like she was reaching into a bucket to pull out a Bingo tile and threw me 'the chosen one.'... Yes, she THREW me a baby.

And I gasped.  Tears instantly sprung.  My heart lurched and a twinging pain ran through my veins.  I froze as I gently held her close to my chest and tried to catch my breath..... and it wasn't because she just launched a baby over a heap of others.

Out of all those little ones.  The ones crying.  The ones hungry.  The ones naked or needing a changing.  Out of about 2 dozen babies, she threw me, Mine.  ....The one I held the first day.  the one that I strapped to my back.  That nanny wasn't there that first day, she had no idea.....

and it was all the confirmation I needed.

~ ~ ~ You see, over the course of the 4 days I spent at Noel, there were hundreds of moments like these that will forever have an imprint on my heart.  I have been changed eternally because of these friendships and bondships I formed while in Rwanda...  And because of this time I spent there, God spoke loud and clear to me what the other universal language really is. . .

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

HOPE. IT CONQUERS: #3: The Universal Language(s)

 #3:  The Universal Language(s)

It was one of those defining “God” moments for me.  Those times when you feel Him just flick you right in the forehead and remind you, yet again… That HE’S GOT THIS.

This one… like many others, came to me when I was least expecting it and about took me off my rocker.  (Well… more like, bench.  Fragile, crickety, little, wood bench.  It ‘bout knocked me off my bench). . .

So, how do I wrap up all these feelings in one blog?  ….. Ya’ll know me well enough now, come on.  I don’t.  … :)

 #3: The Universal Language(s)
- Part A -  

After an amazing morning at the Best Family, we loaded up and headed out on our 3 hour trek to Gisenyi.  Now, if THAT trip wasn’t a God moment in itself…I’m not sure what is.  The landscape.  The breathtaking greens.  The thick and lush fields, flowering and cascading over the hillsides.  Waterfalls.  Tilapia ponds.  Brick-making factories.  Hills and hills and fields and mountains and hills and hills and fields.  There is nothing like it on all the earth.  Everyone walking.  Everyone talking.  Everyone scurrying about their business, something on their back, carrying something on their head.  Nowhere to really go, but always something to do.

And then?  Even beyond that?  There’s Imbabazi.

 "In the aftermath of the 1994 Rwanda genocide, Roz Carr, an American woman who had lived in Rwanda since 1949, converted an old pyrethrum drying house on her property into a shelter for lost and orphaned children. The orphanage is called Imbabazi, which in Kinyarwanda means “a place where you will receive all the love and care a mother would give.”  Since it opened its doors in December 1994, Roz and her staff have cared for more than 400 children..currently home to 110 Rwandan orphans.  In 1998, due to renewed ethnic violence, Roz was forced to leave her home and relocate the children to the nearby town of Gisenyi, where they remained for seven years, moving from one location to another. The last years of Roz’s life were devoted to creating a permanent home for the children at Mugongo, her flower farm, in the foothills of the Virunga volcanoes. The new complex consists of four large dormitories, a dining and recreation hall, kitchen, classroom, offices, bathing and latrine facilities, and a clinic and infirmary. In November 2005, Roz and the children returned to Mugongo and settled into their new, permanent home-- a haven of love and safety and a symbol of hope for all”  (excerpt from the website)

We had been readily preparing ourselves for these children, as we were told they weren’t as ‘needy’.  Not as demanding.  Didn’t necessarily want to interact with visitors.  A bit of a “tough crowd”, puts up a front per say….

mmmHmmm….. RIGHT.

Within thirty minutes, With the help of a little Bryan Adams, Justin Beiber, a few instruments, a few worship song invitations and instruction, We opened those gates.  the flood gates. These “hard” kids were laughing, jumping, shrieking in joy, hugging, dancing, high-fiving…. 

Your typical teenager if you ask me...

A little room, placed right in the center… right in the heart of the whole plantation, FILLED with the sound of music.  Music.  No one knew what they were singing, and they didn’t know what we were singing.  But it rang.  It echoed throughout the orphanage.  The sounds of joy.  The sounds of love.  The sounds of life.  The sounds of hope.

I distinctively remember three vivid moments that made it clear to me why we were supposed to be there.

As a group of us were jumpin up and down on stage, singin, dancin, and havin a good ‘ole time, I looked beyond the happy chaos to the back of the room.  No one around.  No other instruments.  Nothing but a couple desks, lit only from the sunbeams through the window, our team member Jacob and our little buddy (of course I can’t spell his name, so we’ll just say Jeffrey).  Jeffrey was our talented guitarist in the group of kids and Jacob was one of our worship leaders.  The moment caught me off guard because of the sweetness of it.  Jacob was teaching Jeffrey how to play guitar to one of our American songs.  And Jeffrey was taking EVERY moment of it in, deep.  You could see it radiate in his eyes.  Through his heart.  He was soaking in every detail, every word, every chord, every strum and lyric.  It was just such a raw moment, so pure and yet so full of life.  No worries about what was going on around them.  No worries about anything, really.  Just being in that moment…

And then there was a moment when a group of us were out playing football (yes, actually American football) and I heard through the doors, the echo of the most beautiful song.  Not wanting to miss even one moment, I took off towards the music room.  And there again, our team members Jacob, Cameron, and Jacque were sitting with a handful of kids going over lyric by lyric, note by note.  A couple girls getting up to dance.  Jeffrey soaking in every piece of the song…  They were singing “There’s no place I’d rather be…”  And I was confirming…there’s no place I’d rather be.

And then I was forever wrecked when the girls invited me into their dorm to show me around.  We had a great time hanging out, but what broke me was when they started singing to me.  They were so proud to share with me their native culture… but then.  As the Lord would have it with those sweet little kisses every now and again, the girls started singing, “You are my Sunshine.” . . .

and for those that know me, and remember me saying I’m a Daddy’s girl…. well.  This was his lullaby to US girls growing up…  This was one way he said, “I love you.”  And now, a world away, when these girls found out how special it was to me, they were so proud to be sharing the same tribute.

You see… these moments might seem like nothing to the average heart.   May seem like such minor moments on a trip when there was so many other things that could have played into my “Hope Conquers” theories and experiences.

But you see, it was two moments when that was all there was.  Music.  and Hope.

Nothing else needed.  Nothing else wanted.

You see.  When I look back at Imbabazi Orphanage, it was these moments that didn’t need anything else and yet have been permanently etched into my heart.  The language barrier.  The stand-off'ish facade.  The wall that was built up-- immediately torn down with something as simple as music.

You see… we started those relationships through music.  And we polished those relationships with music.  And we broke any barriers with music.

We all connected by music.

So when another team member Kassie said, “It’s Music.  MUSIC is the universal language ! “… no one argued.

Hope. It Conquers
 #3: The Universal Language


“Rwanda is my home, and it is here that I intend to spend the rest of my days. Its beauty is my inspiration. Its struggles have been my struggles. Its grief has been my deepest sorrow. Its people are my strength, and its children are my greatest joy.” ~Rosamond Carr, excerpt from Land of a Thousand Hills

Monday, June 04, 2012



So I admit.  Leaving Kimisagra, I couldn't help but feel that recognizable feeling of hopelessness.  Just driving through the city and during our 3 hour drive to Gisenyi, all I could think about was... how are we going to get these children fed?  How are we going to help these children from sleeping on the cold, wet concrete floors?  And how...are we going to do it from the United States when I have to leave in a few days?

I was letting that spirit of helplessness win over any feeling of HOPE.
God has been speaking loud and clear to me lately, and it was before this trip I promised that I would do my dang'dest to listen.  I would try and really hear Him when he's telling me, "No."... We can't do it all.  We can't do everything.  In fact, He doesn't WANT us to.

That's never been his intentions.

I've been hearing Him tell me that it's his desire to see these people, native to their own countries, rising up as leaders and role models for generations to come.  That we might be able to guide them, but ultimately, we're supposed to empower them to find the way, sustain it, and then flourish it.

And growing up in a 'fix-it fast', 'we can do everything' western culture, this is a hard lesson to learn, and sometimes I don't understand why he doesn't want us to just Jump In.  Fix it.
... until we visited Best Family in Kigali.

There isn't any other word that can describe the work they're doing here, other than Remarkable.  oh... and of course, full of HOPE.

The 3 leaders, no older than myself but wiser beyond my years, lost their families in the Genocide.  Growing up as orphans, they were fed with the lie that there was no other way, and that suffering and poverty was their inheritance.  And their will to survive was no stronger than the enemy's will to conquer.

But these 3 men had a choice.

They began to pray.  And pray. They were filled with Hope.  They were filled with determination.  And they then began to grow and build and ... flourish.

And today, these 3 young men run one of the...well, probably the most inspiring programs I've yet to come across in the mission world.  The children at Best Family are given a place to live, eat, sleep, and study in safety.  They are given the tools and resources to succeed in school, and most all the children are testing first in their classes.  Upon graduation, everyone has an opportunity to return to Best Family to work.  Should they choose the workforce in the outer community, they willingly commit to a promise that a percentage of their pay goes back to the mission of Best Family.

These men are raising these children as their own.  Teaching them, inspiring them, empowering them that taking and receiving free handouts will not get them anywhere in the long run.  That they must learn to do it themselves and become resourceful and useful....and HOPEFUL.  Unlike the children at Kimisagra, these children have someone.  A family that supports them, encourages them, laughs with them, smiles with them, provides for them and just truly loves them...

And it's their LOVE that makes anything possible.

Because it's their love that gives them hope.

The children at Best Family are some of the most beautiful angels I've seen--and it's because they have HOPE and it shines through their smiles.  You see, in Rwanda... the word SMART means beautiful. But the family at Best Family claims the definition of both. They are the smartest and most beautiful role models for so many people.  Especially the US.  Especially me.

During our short visit, not once did any one of the children or leaders ever ask for anything.  Not once did they tell us they were in despair.  Not once did they offer a tour--as a way to show us their 'poverty-stricken' ways.   Not once did they make us feel obligated to do ANYTHING.

And it only made me want to do SOMETHING more...

And I literally felt the spirit of helplessness and hopelessness immediately leave my heart.

See, when HOPE -- everyday, CONFIDENT HOPE, is at the foundation of anything... Everything will be okay.

Everything can be done.

And everything will be done.

All we all need is a little HOPE.

Best Family showed ME how.....

Through HOPEful eyes

We can... and WILL... do anything.


Jean Claude.
A founding brother.  An inspiration to follow