I have been wanting to share my stories from my Rwanda trip and introduce you to the life-changing people we met there. I will also be sharing the links to the different organizations as I’d love for you to explore and research more about them. They are legit organizations with a legit love for Christ and a hunger to impact lives for God’s glory. I’d love for you to learn more and pray about ways to support or sponsor.
It took about 1 week upon returning to the states to begin to feel caught up and “recovered” from the trip…Mike too! Besides some hang-ups in our travel plans, including a day late send off and a 42 hr. trip home, the trip was a HUGE success. Unfortunately, the trip started off on a bad “leg”. We were forced to miss our very first flight and therefore a full day in our trip due to airline glitches, but we didn’t let that get us down. We were still able to fit in all our activities and plans in 5 days rather than 6.
This is the team of women I now call friends and sisters! We were blessed to experience the Rwandan culture through the lives of some superhero leaders and entrepreneurs who we now call friends. They have a heart that is so pure, loves God and His Kingdom, supports oppressed people, thrives in unity and community and an amazing ability to extend grace and forgiveness. The culture and people are so peaceful. After studying some of their history and the genocide that ended just 23 short years ago, it’s truly miraculous with how far they have come to unify themselves and wipe the horrific past away…it’s where freedom and peace live. We have a lot to learn from them! – specifically what it means to forgive and what unity really looks like.
This is how I feel on every “missions” trip I’ve ever been on. We go into it thinking of how much we are going to impart into a community and “bless” them. EVERY TIME, I leave feeling more filled up and gaining more wisdom in life than I could have given to them. Meet some of the new friends I made, what I learned and how you can support them from where you are!
Emily and The Flourish Market – Emily was one of our leaders for this trip. She was the one who invited our group from the US to meet her friends and connections in Rwanda. She owns an awesome boutique in Raleigh (and online at www.theflourishmarket.com) that supports artisans all over the world who work for a fair wage in healthy situations. It helps spread dignity across the globe and allows us to shop with a purpose…supporting the oppressed and giving dignified jobs. You’ll notice this is a re-occurring them with all of the organizations we ran into. I want to start shopping here more often…because the stuff is super cute and to give a purpose to my $$. This is Emily and her two dear friends, Jane and Sharon who you’ll hear more about.
Abraham – We learned a ton of lessons from Abraham Konga (https://abrahamkonga.com) From using the right tools to make jewelry to how to successfully operate a business. He is a Rwandan college graduate in IT and computers of some sort, but felt called to use his gift and passion for making jewelry to serve others. He has an adorable shop where he supports over 200 Rwandan artisans selling their goods in his store.
He told us how he uses faith to run his business by trusting God will provide since he buys all good up front from the artisans and then sells them in his shop. He also gave us a great story and lesson of the Nile River. It is a river that doesn’t branch off into other directions and it has a focus, goal and destination. How much I need to remember this lesson in all my ventures! He also taught us how to make a pair of earrings…his first design. How important it is to always use the right tools for creating jewelry…or a new business. I learned that I am not called to be a jewelry maker.
Sharon – she was the first young entrepreneur we met (to the right of me). She works with Emily on items for the Flourish Market in the US. She has hired one seamstress, named Claudine (on the left), who is uber talented with a sewing machine. Sharon owns the sewing shop and is a brilliant girl who loves to educate herself. Rwandans love to learn and are aware that it is a privilege to get an education. They don’t take it lightly and try to change the world with their knowledge and gifts. She hopes to lead and hire a few more seamstresses to give them dignified jobs and begin to grow her company. They were kind enough to make us customized clothing items with fabric that we got to pick out at the local market…that was a fun experience and now I have a custom wrap skirt made for me from my friends in Rwanda!
Jane and More than Sparrows (www.thesparrowstudio.com) was another organization that supports woman in Rwanda. (based on the scripture Matt. 10:31) It’s a co-op of 30 or so women who have been rescued off the streets, living in poverty, unhealthy situations and most are HIV positive. Jane is their fearless leader and another rock star 20-something world-changer…also friends with Sharon! Jane wanted to give back and support women who are oppressed, living on the streets, lacking jobs and an income so that they could support their families. She takes these girls in, gives them a dignified job, shares Christ with them and creates a beautiful, supportive and healthy atmosphere where they can grow deeper in Christ and with each other. They have created a beautiful community of women, built up from all ages and walks of life.
The hope we saw in these women was inspiring! They even let us participate in their daily worship and devotional time. Worshiping with women who have experienced true freedom in Christ after an oppressed life is an experience I’ll remember for the rest of my life. We worshipped in un-abandonment, to the beat of our own drum (literally), for about 45 minutes with dancing, tears and smiles. Some of the girls thought it would be fun to lift me up…and I was all game! My shirt decided to creep up too, but I guess when you worship in un-abandonment, it’s easy to be free about many things! (such as…muffin top exposure). The next 30 min. included them taking turns with us lifting them up and capturing pictures!
We had a fun experience called “A day in the life” with an organization called Azizi Life https://azizilife.com/ This is another impressive organization that supports sustainable and dignified jobs for Rwandans living in more remote villages, yet have gifting’s and talents that the world needs to be a part of. We were ecstatic to spend a day learning from and living a day with the cooperative group of 15 women called, Twivanemubukene cooperative (We come out of poverty cooperative). You can find them on the Azizi site. They make “soccer balls”, jewelry, boxes and bags out banana leafs! We cultivated their land with them, visited their homes, cooked and ate a meal together, fetched water (1 mile round trip) and attempt to carry it back on our heads, just like they do…super impressive skill and one that they make look easy! We also took time to dance and celebrate life whenever we could. Such a free life they led in so many ways.
Africa New Life http://www.africanewlife.org/ was an organization we visited on Sunday morning for their Sunday church service (again, they can worship!) and returned on our last day to learn more about them. Sharon was raised up through this organization and received her education through a competitive and esteemed high school for girls called The Ester House. They sponsor over 8,000 children in villages all over Rwanda as well as have a sewing and hair styling school in Kigali for women who want to learn a trade and earn an income. We had a quick and fun visit to the preschool where the student-mothers drop their kids off for the day. Some of them walk 2 miles with the little ones on their back to attend class. Makes me look at my small commute in an air conditioned car a lot differently! We then got to see the women in class at the sewing machines or “salon” learning their trade. They are so gifted and so proud too! This is an organization that you can get involved with easily by sponsoring a child and developing a personal relationship with them…maybe even one day visiting them! I hope to do that with my family one day and we will sponsor someone special!
In the middle of our trip we visited the Rwanda Genocide Memorial in Kigali and then a remote village church memorial in which 10,000 Rwandan’s fled to for safety and shelter during the 1994 genocide. All but 7 of the 10,000 people (men, women, children) were killed. In a breathtaking and humbling experience, we had the unexpected privilege of meeting 1 of those 7 survivors. My heart sank. It was a middle-aged woman who showed scars physically, mentally and emotionally. Seeing the physical and emotional pain she’s endured and then to return to the place where it all occurred so that she could pay respect to those who lost their lives was chilling. I have never experienced a sadness that palpable and heart wrenching.
After that humbling and sad experience, we took some time to speak with and ask questions to a man named, John who is a leader among many in Rwanda. We sat in the middle of a beautiful courtyard at a hotel in that village. (picture insert) The setting was gorgeous…as all of Rwanda is! John is the founder of Arise Rwanda (https://www.ariserwanda.org) and is also a Colorado State Alum. He spoke of how his entire family was taken in that church in 1994 (he was a refugee in Uganda at the time), however it’s evident they do not want the death and destruction to label and define their culture…it’s opposite in fact. They strive to represent unity, grace, peace and forgiveness. I learned in that moment that forgiveness heals all. It opens a space for God to work miraculously in our hearts as He can change cultures, alter history and redeem lives and relationships. He WILL work miracles when we are open to allowing Him to move in our hearts and lives. If they can forgive the evil people that killed their families, surely, we can find a place to forgive for the insignificant issues in our lives.
They believe in and live for UNITY.We met so many people who continue to live along side, love on and do life with the very neighbors who killed their families. I asked, “how do you not hate them?” They said, “No, no! I need them and I love them. I can’t do life without them. They are not just my friends, they are my family.” That comment that left me speechless and hard to wrap my brain around. That response is so supernatural and can only be attained through an open and humbled heart seeking restoration and unity above all…doesn’t make sense to the mind, but a moldable heart gets it.
Their culture is a true testament to the fact that forgiveness and love can heal ALL wounds. It’s sad that we as Americans, are so privileged and “advanced”, yet so poor and lacking in the lasting things in this life…forgiveness, grace and loving relationships. We have much to learn from a country who in 23 short years has revolutionized themselves from death and destruction (over 1 million Rwandan lives lost from the genocide) to COMPLETE restoration through unity, forgiveness, grace and a hopefulness and fullness of life. I have never been more impressed with a culture and it’s people than the Rwandan culture and the people there. I hope to take my family back there one day and meet a sponsored child (or 4!) through Africa New Life.
From the bottom of my heart, thank you for your prayer, thoughts, financial gifts and encouragement during this trip. It was life changing and I hope to impart many of the lessons I learned from the strong leaders I met into my life and the way I run a family and a business. Thank you to those who helped on the home front and thanks to mike for being such a Rock-star Dad to take care of the 4 kiddos and their schedule while I was gone…no easy feat!
Grateful for the opportunity,