Rwandan Genocide: Hope Lives

“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.

child smiling

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.

girl holding smiling childHowever, 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

19 Comments |Add a comment

  1. Shannon Sears October 21, 2009

    Thanks for sharing your story! God speaks through his children…

  2. Amanda Cacciotti April 17, 2009


    I have also recently been in Rwanda and have very similar thoughts. I am contemplating putting together some sort of book about Rwanda. I’m not sure yet what I want to do, but I know that there are many stories that still need to be shared about what’s happened in Rwanda since ’94. If you are interested, I would love to hear more of your stories and maybe someday include them into a book. This book idea is still new, so I don’t know what God really wants of me with this. But I do know that I am very glad to have read about your experiences. It confirms once again for me that what I saw and experienced in Rwanda is true. You can email me at ([email protected])

    Amanda Cacciotti

  3. Kees Boer April 13, 2009

    Hi, Katy,

    I’m really glad to hear that! Those children as well as all the children are precious. (That’s not to say that adults aren’t)


  4. Katy April 13, 2009

    Hi Everyone! Thanks so much for your interest in the beautiful children of Rwanda, specifically the ones I mentioned. If you’d like to see more pictures, feel free to click on this link:

  5. Katy April 13, 2009

    Thanks, Britt. I agree… Innocent is a good reminder to me of the importance of being thankful for what we have!

  6. Katy April 13, 2009

    Hi Kees! Thanks for reading. Actually, Deborah is well taken care of already. Thanks to Compassion, specifically my incredible boss, I was able to volunteer at a place called New Hope Homes, where I lived with Deborah. New Hope Homes is ran by the wife of Compassion’s Africa VP, Dr. Laurent Mbanda. New Hope Homes provides love for 30 orphaned and abandoned children. I pray I get to see her again someday soon. I miss her, and the other children, terribly!

  7. Juli Jarvis April 12, 2009

    I love this story — it touched my heart.

  8. Vicki Small April 11, 2009

    One of my sponsored girls is in Rwanda. She is 15 years old. Every time I have sent a little extra money, her letters of thanks have lifted my heart and my hopes for her, her family, and Rwanda. There is wisdom in their use of every gift, with purchases that provide more opportunities for breaking the cycle of poverty.

    Katy, thank you for this statement: “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 am broken by my sin, painfully aware of those parts of my past that stink, and then broken by His love.

  9. Barbara M. April 10, 2009

    Katy, Thank you for writing about your time in Rwanda. Do you have more photos or writings of your time there? I would love to see more pictures and read more about the time you spent there. I suppose to say it was”life-changing” would be an understatement.

  10. Mike Stephens April 10, 2009


    Thank you for the exhortation

    ” I pray that someday each of you will get the opportunity to visit the country that stole my heart”

    I very well might visit!!!

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

  11. Jill Foley April 9, 2009

    I agree with Mary…beautiful story and beautifully written!

    My favorite part….
    “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.”

    Very powerful. Thank you for sharing with us!

  12. Britt April 9, 2009

    Speaking of Innocent: “Never once did I see a poor attitude or an inkling of complaint from this boy.”

    How often should I remember this!!! I complain so incredibly much! Thank you for the reminder…I will be praying for Innocent!

  13. Susan April 9, 2009


    We are so proud of the sacrifices you made to follow your heart. You are a great writer–keep it up!

  14. Mary April 9, 2009

    Beautiful story and beautifully written. Thank you.

  15. Amy Wallace April 9, 2009

    Thanks for sharing this Katy! I want to go to Rwanda someday and see the work God is doing in that country after the genocide.

    I will keep Deborah in my prayers!

  16. marca April 9, 2009

    wow katy.
    your story hit a soft spot with me. little children are my true love. you have blessed them as they have blessed you. way to go.

  17. Jeff April 9, 2009

    “In her eyes there is love. In her eyes there is hope. And there is no shame.”

    What a beautiful analogy for the way Jesus views us. Thanks, Katy.

  18. Sarah April 9, 2009

    Thank you for sharing this beautiful experience!

  19. Kees Boer April 9, 2009


    That’s a beautiful story. It brings tears to my eyes. Is it possible for you to sponsor little Deborah when she is a little older?


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