In the Void of Poverty

In the void The running water in my comfy apartment cannot help the hurt in my heart today. The grande nonfat latte I picked up from my favorite coffee shop didn’t help, either.

American luxuries I once looked forward to now feel empty, as nothing fills the void that Africa left.

Someone once said, “Once you get the dust of Africa on your feet, it will never leave you.”

Every day further away from Rwanda, the more I ache to be there. It’s been six weeks since my return from Africa, yet some moments, I feel as if I just stepped off the plane and into this alternate reality called America.

What does a person do after experiencing poverty firsthand?

People were intrigued and interested for a short amount of time, but then the interest faded. And I’m left to pick up the pieces of my broken heart.

Leaving the kids I loved in Kigali, Rwanda, was like a death. It happens to most people who spend any amount of time away from home, and then return.

I cannot blame those around me who seemingly lose interest. The truth is, they have their own concerns, challenges, and broken hearts.

Life continued while I was away. It doesn’t mean people don’t care. It just means that new things sweep them up in the ever-flowing, ever-changing current of life.

So now I learn how to live post-Rwanda. I learn how to live with feet dirtied by the dust, heartache and beauty of poverty in Africa. Some days, my heart breaks and I lean harder on Jesus to help me through the sorrow. But I also want to use the sorrow to propel my heart to action.

God uncovered a deep passion in my heart for orphans in Rwanda who are hurting. Yet so many people in my own city hurt. So many in my own neighborhood are crying out for a Savior. It just looks different.

The U.S. is a stark reality when compared with the developing world. But for now, the Lord has me here in America, like most of you who are reading this. A dear friend of mine exhorted me: Don’t live in sadness.

Pray. Engage. Invest.

I need not be in Africa in order to shape Africa, to have a profound impact on a child in poverty. I simply need a heart that prays and longs for healing and blessing upon a continent too often overlooked.

I pray that each of us may turn the void in our hearts into an expanded place to love others at a level we have never yet experienced.

24 Comments |Add a comment

  1. Pam August 24, 2010

    Your article touched my heart. I feel the same way about Africa. I have been to Zimbabwe on mission 5 times. I have visited with 2 of my sponsored children. It is always so hard t leave the beautiful people there. I hope you get to return to Africa many times.

  2. Katy Balsis November 13, 2009

    @ Holly,

    Thank YOU for sharing. This comment came at a perfect time. I was recently have been struggling with missing my kids in Rwanda, and your heart for the kids in East Africa reminding me that there are others who feel the same! Thank you. 🙂

  3. Holly November 5, 2009

    Hi, I went to Kigali, Rwanda and Moshi, Tanzania in June & July of 2008 on a missions trip. I had never been on a missions trip before, I had never been out of the country before and to top that I had never been on a plane before. The entire adventure was by far the wildest and best thing I have ever done in my life. I helped with mass kids crusades in both countries and saw first hand the poverty you speak of. I remember sitting in that reddish-orange dirt with those kids and just playing, laughing and learning. We couldn’t speak the same language but some how we communicated just fine. The colorful dirt is still on my clothes and converse shoes! Leaving Africa was hard but I feel like I have it with me all the time, in my heart. And with this opportunity to sponsor a child in that country I love so much feels more like a gift to me. Thank you for sharing!

  4. Katy May 26, 2009


    Reading your story brings tears to my eyes. What a beautiful family you have and so few would chose to do what you’re doing with the settlement money. I believe God will be so glorified through this situation. You inspire me- instead of shrinking back in deep sorrow, you’re chosing to show deep love to Tuyishimire. Wow. Please let us know how that trip goes. I will pray that even now the Lord prepares your heart for Rwanda and continues to stay close to your broken heart with the loss of your daughter.

  5. Vicki Small May 25, 2009

    @Tricia – Tricia, as inadequate as these words are, I am so, so sorry about the tragic loss of your daughter! I can think of nothing more fitting and, I hope, satisfying to do with some of the settlement money than to go visit Tuyishimire. Yes, it will be very emotional, but I expect it will bring another measure of healing to the two of you and to your son. God bless you greatly!

  6. Tricia May 24, 2009

    Your post excites and scares me! I have been a Compassion sponser for my girl Tuyishimire in Rwanda for nine years and have dreamed of meeting her face to face for so long! I never had the funds.
    However the heart breaking, shattering loss of one child has opened the doors for me to go and meet Tuyishimire this fall.
    My daugher Emily was in a one car fatal roll-over accident in a Ford Explorer. She was coming home for Thanksgiving from her very first semester in college, Nov.19,2007.
    I received a settlement from Ford and my son (who also sponsers a child in Rwanda)and I are using some of this money to go on the sponser trip to Rwanda in Sept. We both feel very convicted that it’s exactly what Emily would want us to do! She and Tuyishimire’s birthdays were only 6 days apart and considered each other sisters.
    My heart beats so fast and I become so emotional thinking of holding her in my arms and actually getting to really hug her. She’s been with me for so long!
    I know it’s going to be very emotional for me, and I’m sure it will be hard to adjust once I return home. Thank you for sharing these thoughts; it helps prepare me!

  7. Whitney Jean May 11, 2009

    Dear Katy,
    I can empathize with your pained heart. Thank you for your transparency. I have a child in Rwanda, and I am so thankful that you were able to go and encourage the children there. They will remember your visit for the rest of their lives, and cherish those memories. Seeing poverty makes me grateful and want to cry for my unthankfulness and my often-cold heart. Praise God for what we have; we must share as much as we can.

  8. Katy May 6, 2009

    Hello Everyone,

    Thank you for such a great discussion on this post. I appreciate each of you and your encouragement. Isn’t it a wonderful thing to know that we’re not alone in our struggles?

    I agree that it can be so frustrating when it feels like some people don’t understand or when you feel guilty for having so much. Somedays, I struggle with this more than others. But these days are also great days to educate others on the reality of poverty! On the really hard days, I have to remind myself to fight harder.

    Who am I fighting?

    Mostly myself! I have to remember that Christ has me here in the US at this time and has given me possessions and that I do have the ability to simplify my life and use the abundance of resources to help others in need. For instance, through our sponsorships!

    What are other ways you chose to simplify?

  9. Mike Stephens May 5, 2009


    Another thing I thought of why maybe you having the “aching” feeling is b/c you saw so much need and know that it is not out of your and our reach to help meet the need!!! I agree with you Katy that even by you praying for Africa that can easily have a more positive effect than you being there, but as you already realized the reality of being there helps you see the reality, feel, smell, touch, and live it!!! And helps you pray as well. I think there is immense satisfaction and growth in “doing” like you going to Africa. Like David throwing that rock into Goliath’s forehead. David didn’t just pray that the Philistines would lose or that they would march home. David went to the King of Israel Saul and killed Goliath!!! David trusted God, just as he had trusted God when he killed lions and bears.

  10. Mike Stephens May 5, 2009

    I am learning that God is a lot bigger than I realized or even imagined. I have only been to a handful of countries out of nearly 200 and I think I understand how everything is basically!!! I have no idea and realize that I have so much to learn and discover and see etc.

    I Peter 5:7 “Cast all your anxiety on Him because He cares for YOU!!!”

  11. Emily May 4, 2009

    thanks for writing this. i don’t even know who you are but you understand what hardly anyone does. African red dirt sticks in your blood. Its been over 4 months since I’ve been back in the US… it still seems like yesterday. And the funny thing is, I’ve done this before, the coming back from another country, many times, but Africa is different…

  12. Sara Benson May 4, 2009

    I think that the reverse culture shock has hit me hard every time I come back from a developing nation. I come back changed, and quickly become disilusioned with life in America. So many things seem so unimportant.

    Thank you for this reminder that we can still be helping there even when we are physically here.

  13. Amy Wallace May 4, 2009

    Katy, thank you so much for this. I haven’t been to a developing nation (yet) but I sometimes find myself feeling so guilty for everything I have.

    I’m going to Colombia this July with Compassion Canada, and I know God is going to tug on my heart strings like never before, but I will use that to make me even more passionate about reaching out to those in need, like you have.

  14. Pat Bell May 2, 2009

    Thank you for this post – I have felt the same way upon returning from my three trips to Nicaragua.

    Britt – “Compassion is something I’m so passionate about…and I just don’t understand how others don’t “get” it. ” I find my self feeling this way every day.

  15. Compassiondave May 2, 2009


  16. Compassiondave May 2, 2009

    I sometimes wonder why God gave us emotions when in His Word He says we should not let them control us.

    In that sense, emotions are to the choices we ultimatley make as miricles are to faith.


    What I am trying to convey is that faith comes by hearing the Word of God and miricles are the devices He uses to draw us closer so that we might hear Him.

    In that light it is a dangerous thing to jump from emotion to decision. The purpose of an emotion (at least as it pertains to this dribble) is to lead us to a place of spiritual investigation.

    In other words, “OK God, you have my attention, now please lead me in the direction You want me to go.”

    In contrast, the worst thing we can do is dismount an emotion like one does a rollercoaster and then pretend it never happened or worse yet,strive to continually get back on that ride for the sake of the sensation it brings.

    From God’s perspective, the prized treasure of an emotion is what is discovered in its wake.

    In regards to emotion and our life in Christ, godly purpose has so much less to do with getting back up on the horse and so much more to do with what you might find as you walk back to the stable.

    That was more for than anyone else…

  17. Vicki Small May 1, 2009

    I have been to only one developing nation, nowhere near either India or Africa. But I saw stark, bottom-line poverty, there–the kind that robs the human spirit of any hope, at all; the kind that says, “It’s no use. Things will never be any different.”

    But, yes, God has placed many of us right here, in the U.S. But wherever we are, we have been given voices with which to speak for those who cannot…the widows and orphans, the children of poverty, children anywhere who are abused, neglected or abandoned, the oppressed . . . throw in any category of person who has no voice that will be heard. We can use the sadness of the poverty we’ve seen, and even the anger we sometimes feel toward those around us who don’t seem to care, to motivate us to be real advocates in God’s Kingdom. And we need to remember that the real poverty in this country is a poverty of Spirit.

  18. Britt May 1, 2009

    “I cannot blame those around me who seemingly lose interest. The truth is, they have their own concerns, challenges, and broken hearts.”

    I have found this to be very true…and have had to remind myself of this. Compassion is something I’m so passionate about…and I just don’t understand how others don’t “get” it.

  19. Margo B. May 1, 2009

    Katy: Thank you for these fabulous words! You take us deeper into the heart of God for Africa…yet leave us hopeful that we can change Africa by being in the U.S. if that’s where God wants us for now. Your writing reaches minds and hearts. Keep it up!

  20. Carrie McGinty May 1, 2009

    Hi Katy,
    I know you feel, even though my trips have been shorter to third-world countries. You described it perfectly. I came back and felt spoiled. This is a beautiful article. I enjoyed reading it.
    Keep Blessing it Forward! Carrie.

  21. Katy May 1, 2009

    Thanks, Stephanie! It encourages me to hear from you. We can pray together for the continent that we love.

  22. Sheryl May 1, 2009


    Your words gripped my heart! This reminds me of my experiences with India.. the concept of the ‘dust never leaving your feet’.. what a TRUE statement! It’s funny how the dust in Africa is the same dust in India and in America.. and we are created out of that dust. We are all created to love, honor, and serve one another! My heart sank in for a moment when I read that line, because I still feel as though my heart is still in India.. in the hands of the orphans, widows, and the disabled – but, I can’t help but think.. what better place to leave my heart.. in God’s hands. I’ll be returning back to India this October and I really ache to see Africa for the first time, all of the beautiful people it encompasses! Please, keep writing and sharing. Thanks for blessing.. may YOU be blessed!

    Just a verse to soak in: “The Lord is near to the broken-hearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” -Ps. 34:18
    ..God is at the hem, reach out.. this is the BEST place to be.. NEAR Him.

  23. Stephanie G May 1, 2009


    I love what you wrote! I, too, am thinking of visiting Tanzania next year to meet my children there and often find myself thinking of all the life-changing possibilities that may lie ahead.Until the time comes when I can actually take that trip, I’ll remember what you said… “I need not be in Africa in order to shape Africa, to have a profound impact on a child in poverty”.

    Thanks for sharing!

  24. Mike Stephens May 1, 2009

    You bring up a great point!!! I think what is so great is we have the choice to go and be where we want!!! You chose to go to Africa and it made a profound impact on you. I have never been to Africa. I am thinking about visiting Tanzania next year to visit Bushiri who I have been sponsoring through Compassion. I was able to go to Nicaragua last year and am going to the Philippines in about 30 days, both on Sponsor Tours. What helps me is I plan to go again so nearly everyday for the past 7-11 months I have been saving, thinking, and praying for and about the Philippines Sponsor Tour starting June 6 so that occupied me a little. At first I wanted the trip to be delayed so I could pay for it, but then once it was paid for I sort of wished it came much quicker. But since I promised Angelo I would dunk a basketball for him when I visited with 2 hands I started to hope the trip might be delayed so I could have more time to train for the 2 handed dunk!!! I am really starting to sweat it now. I am close but have some serious work this last month.

    I Peter 5:7 “Cast all your anxiety on Him because He cares for YOU!!!”

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