Our team landed in Rwanda last night. It was a pretty exhausting trip but for no other reason than it’s just a long trip. All of our baggage made it, no significant travel delays, and I’m thankful.
I was quite exhausted but now it’s 4:30 in the AM and I’m wide awake. I started thinking about my first time to Rwanda and my first day, all of the new sensations. On that trip, January of 2005, our first day in country was New Year’s Day. We spent the day with the street kids. They were having a New Year’s party. They were laughing, having a great time. They filled their plates like a mountain and went back for seconds. We played some soccer. They were quite athletic and started doing all sorts of acrobatic jumps and flips that reminded me of the Summerwind skippers. It struck me that they were GROWING UP on the street. These boys lived on the street together, knew each other and were like a family. And siblings play, they fight, and they protect each other. The afternoon closed by some time of worship songs and testimonies led by the Africa New Life staff. I remember these boys standing up, taking the microphone, and sharing all the ways they were thankful and felt blessed by God. I vividly remember one boy who looked to be about 8 yrs old, saying he lived on the street because his mother had died and his father was in prison for acts of genocide. But he was thankful to God because he was sick earlier in the year and God healed him. Another boy was thankful because he had been a drug runner to survive on the street and he was thankful for Africa New Life because he was able to get food a few times a week. Another boy told a story of being sick and couldn’t outrun the police so he ended up in jail. The government sometimes goes on sprees whenever there is room in the prisons and they literally just perform these raids and go arrest every child they can catch on the street. Why? Because the kids are a problem for the city, they steal, they look and smell bad, and to survive they have to run drugs. So it’s assumed they have committed some crime and they get arrested until the jail is too full again. This particular boy was sick but the police let him go because they didn’t want him to die in the prison. He closed his story by thanking God for making him better.
We left that party and I completely lost it emotionally. I was raw and couldn’t process that these young boys not only lived and played and were growing up in cardboard boxes. What made me lose it was their testimonies of how they were thankful. I’m sure I cried at other moments during that trip but other times when I expected to be crying as I was visiting the genocide memorials….I wasn’t. These street boys MARKED me and forever shifted my paradigm of the world, my perspective on life, and was the beginning of why I’m again back in Rwanda 10 years later.
I’m going to give a little history lesson of how the street child program has since evolved. For years, the program had bi-weekly program where about 300 boys would show up at Africa New Life, bathe, get some wound care, eat, sing and dance with worship songs and hear about God. ANL and KTSY became connected and KTSY started doing radiothons to help support this work. I drove out to Caldwell to help and went out to dinner with some of the staff. I sat next to one of the US staff members who told me his story of how convicted he was that we weren’t doing enough. He had tears in his eyes. At the end of the day, these boys needed an education, they needed a skill, they needed a future and ANL didn’t have the resources or the program infrastructure to really help them. They needed more. Some boys made it off the streets. You see, some of these boys found sponsors to go to school. But the effort to get them sponsored was largely unsuccessful because their primary needs of shelter and food weren’t being met. They had no stability, they had no home. So most of them couldn’t make it in school. The problem was too big, too multi-faceted.
But slowly, things changed. The program was re-structured. Many of the older boys (too old to go to kindergarten) were enrolled in vocational programs like wood-working. Some of them were able to find sponsors and go to school. One of them is Christian. He was probably one of the last older boys who found a sponsor. His sponsors emailed one of the missionaries in country and asked if there was a boy who really needed a sponsor. The missionary immediately thought of Christian because he is older and doesn’t look as cute as the young kids so it’s harder to find a sponsor. But, guess what, this missionary worked with the boys and knew he was smart, knew he was motivated. So he started school. Guess what, we learn he is really smart.
Fast forward five or six years and the street boy program has evolved into the Dream Boy program. Depending of funding, anywhere between 50-100 boys get enrolled in the 12 month program. ANL arranged for a school to take them for 1/2 the day. Then they walk to the Dream Center/Africa New Life campus, get a meal, and have tutoring for the rest of the day. The year in the program builds some stability into their lives. And we all hope and pray that in that 12 month program, they find a sponsor. So I’ll make a plug for these boys who would otherwise most likely grow up on the streets. If you’re on the fence of sponsorship but decide you want to, go to africanewlife.org and you can see some of this year’s class. They are designated DRM boys. Sponsorship literally changes their life and gives them hope, gives them a future.
Changing subjects, I know this trip will be different. My family tragically lost my sister this year and it’s been the hardest 4 months of my life. I think that I will see and experience Rwanda in a new way. There is a hole in my heart and my family and I understand the meaning of pain, suffering, and grief. My story is definitely different and my life has become hard in a different way than a lot of the people that will mark me in the next 10 days. But, Esther reminds me of what is important in life, what matters and what doesn’t. Being a part of what God is doing through Africa New Life is incredible and it’s something that matters. So here we go!
February Medical team 2015!