“I know there is a God because in Rwanda I shook hands with the devil.” – Major General Romeo Dallaire, Force Commander, United Nations Mission Assistance in Rwanda.
But where evil is strong, hope is stronger.
I’m an employee at Compassion. I work as an assistant for our International Program Communications Director. I love my job and I love working for Compassion.
However, for years my heart has ached to travel to East Africa. I wanted to see firsthand the children that haunted my dreams and now consume my days as I work to help release children from poverty.
Last year, my boss agreed to let me take a two-month leave of absence to work at a Rwandan orphanage. I just got back a couple weeks ago.
While in Kigali, I experienced more hope and more devastation than I thought possible. But it’s because of Compassion that I am able to bring you this story about love, hope and sorrow in Rwanda. About some orphans, some widows and some abandoned children who when they have nothing left, cling to Jesus. In the midst of extreme poverty, they choose hope.
Rwanda. It seeped into every part of me. The only phrase that seems appropriate for this country is “Devastating Beauty.”
In Kigali, I saw more beauty than words can express. However, in some of the same moments, the realities of poverty and sickness overwhelmed and haunted me. All I know is that it profoundly changed me.
Like many 25-year-old girls in America, before I left for Rwanda, I attempted to define some characteristics of young men of integrity. In Kigali, I found examples of those men.
The first: Gilbert. Gilbert is 26 years old and just learning English. During some of our talks I asked him to tell me his story.
He became a man when he was 11. It was 1994, and he watched his parents brutally murdered in the genocide. He then had the responsibility to care for his three sisters.
In broken English and with tears in his eyes he said:
“After the genocide, a man from the village came to me and told me I had to come to a meeting to represent our family. He said, ‘YOU are now the man.’ I remember thinking, ‘What? I am not a man, I am 11 years old! How can I be the man?’”
With no other options, he accepted responsibility, and to this day continues taking care of his family. His story is similar to many of the Compassion children you help sponsor.
But the young man who had the biggest impact on me in Rwanda was a 7-year-old named Innocent.
Besides possessing a divine name, Innocent carries an amazing heart. He is mature and selfless. He picks up the emptied plates at the dinner table and then rushes to help the babies eat, or work on his studies. Never once did I see a poor attitude or an inkling of complaint from this boy.
Innocent works hard in school and plays hard at home (He beat me in soccer every single day!). When I looked into his eyes, I saw hope for Africa. Hope that young boys like Innocent will continue to grow into men of integrity. Hope that in the midst of incredible evil and unbelievable circumstances, the young children of Rwanda will grow up to be leaders who follow hope and pursue Christ.
Hope for Africa. Many moments in Kigali, as I walked down the dusty streets, grief-stricken by the poverty I saw, I wondered if there really was hope. How can there be hope when I see little children begging on the streets in rags?
Despite this, God is evident in Rwanda. In the aftermath of the genocide, His presence is everywhere, especially in the eyes of the children.
While at the orphanage, I developed a special relationship with Deborah. This 2-year-old has unique needs, as she has cerebral palsy.
With shame, I admit my initial discomfort with Deborah. She drooled constantly. She smelled of urine as she wet her diapers frequently. She was always covered in dirt from frequent falls.
However, this could not touch her startling beauty. Of the 29 incredible children I lived with at the orphanage, Deborah had an extra glimmer and shine in her eyes. Oh how I long to see the world through her eyes! When she saw me, she squeaked with joy and ran to me, longing to be picked up and held.
So much hope can be found in a hug and a smile. I found hope from Deborah on my worst of days.
I remember one particularly hard day in Kigali. I felt utterly exhausted and wanted to escape the daunting presence of poverty and evil. I walked back into the home, and Deborah was at the gate, waiting for me. She ran as fast as she could, drooling, wet and dirty.
Yet this time, as I picked her up, I couldn’t let her go. I wouldn’t. Tears rolled down my cheeks as I hugged this little one. In her eyes there is love. In her eyes there is hope. And there is no shame.
Yet again a child taught me a lesson about our Jesus. I am Deborah. I am handicapped, weak, smelly and covered in filth. So many times while in this state, I am too ashamed to come to Jesus, to run to Him. I want to clean myself up and not be seen as I really am. But in that moment, Deborah’s vulnerability deeply impacted my heart.
Only weeks ago, little Deborah was in my arms. Now, in America, thousands of miles away and in a completely different world, my arms ache to hold Deborah again. I pray that someday each of you will get the opportunity to visit the country that stole my heart and see the hope that rose from the ashes of the genocide.
Yes, in April of 1994, the presence of the devil was strong in Rwanda. However, this April of 2009? This April, people will mourn and remember, and look toward the future with glorious hope. Hope best seen in the eyes of our children