“It’s time to go to the airport, honey!” my husband shouted.
The butterflies in my stomach seemed to leap into double-time. It was here.
“Hold on a sec,” I said, quickly walking away from my two boys and into my bathroom to shed some tears that I wanted to hide from them.
I was about to board a flight to Rwanda and leave my family for over a week.
I had been excited, no, giddy for months as a life-long dream of mine was about to be fulfilled. Yet here I was quietly sobbing in my bathroom so my kids wouldn’t see my fear.
“Am I crazy? I’m leaving my babies!”
“What if something happens to me while I’m over there?”
“What if they need me over here and I can’t get to them? I’ll be in Africa for crying out loud!”
Did I make the right call? Am I being selfish?”
“I’m boarding a plane that will fly over an ocean! What if my back pain bothers me? ”
All of these thoughts played over and over in my mind.
But I knew God had called me to this. So I wiped the tears from my eyes, looked in the mirror, and gave myself a pep talk. God had led me to this, so I was going.
After thirty-six hours of travel, our team from Rwanda Children arrived in Kigali, Rwanda.
Immediately, I was drawn in to the people of Rwanda. They had smiles a mile wide and were thrilled to meet those of us who had never been to Rwanda before. Those who recognized Vann, our co-founder, called him, “Daddy.” I felt eager to know them that deeply.
On day one, we drove to meet the children at our Momma Karen home. This is a home where we care for seven children who we rescued from life-threatening circumstances.
As the children saw our vehicle approaching they ran out to greet us. Those precious faces I had been admiring in still frames now stood before me. So moved, I fought back my tears. The highlight of my morning was being able to hug the very child my family sponsors. Her name is Providence.
The depth of love I felt as I hugged that child? I can’t even write this into words.
After lots of hugs and being serenaded by our children, we drove to the village’s church to attend worship. It was amazing! People were singing with such passion as they danced with such freedom and joy in spite of their circumstances. They had no material wealth, yet they sang with a rich understanding of the depth of the riches in Christ they had. I was almost envious, wanting to possess that level of certainty and faith. After the service, we met with the church leaders and, through our translators, were able to share our vision and thankfulness over some glass bottled sodas and warm salted peanuts. It was a remarkable day!
Day two was a full day. We visited the waterhole in our village.
It was steep terrain as we drove down in the valley to see where the villagers came to fetch water. The large hole was full of brown filthy water, yet this was all the villagers had to drink. I watched as men filled multiple large yellow jugs and strapped them to their bicycles to carry back up the mountain. Having just experienced the steep terrain in an SUV, I couldn’t imagine lugging so much back up on a bike!
One of the missions of Rwanda Children is to help bring clean drinking water to our village, so we were glad to have water filters to hand out to people.
After the water hole we visited the Ntarama Genocide Memorial, which was a former church where hundreds of villagers had been killed during the 1994 genocide. Our founder, Serge Gasore, had been there the day the grenade was thrown into the church. He survived, but his grandmother, who was with him, was killed immediately. It was sobering to think about the tragedy that had occurred in that place where so many came to seek refuge.
We also visited the district’s hospital and met with the doctor who oversaw the entire operation. It was impressive to see how hard these people worked to try to deliver care to so many in need. We visited the pediatric wing - again the tears flowed as I watched these mothers hovering over their sick babies lying in hospital beds covered in mosquito netting. There was no air conditioning to cool off these little angels. We handed out two water filters to the nurses in that wing. At least the children could have clean drinking water while they were being treated. Most of the children were sick with water-born illnesses, bronchitis, or pneumonia. If you have medical insurance in Rwanda, you are guaranteed treatment for sickness. Without it, though, you are denied treatment. One of the missions of Rwanda Children is to make sure no child goes without medical insurance. So far, we have been able to give life-saving health insurance to over 2,000 kids!
Lastly, we visited a clinic for mentally and physically disabled children. That was the most humbling experience. In Africa, these children are seen as a symbol of shame for the family, so they often are mistreated, ignored, or left to die. To see a place where they could receive care and love was amazing. The ladies who dedicated their lives to oversee their care were true heroes.
On day three, we were able to visit the Twa Village, which is a minority tribe in Rwanda that suffers from extreme poverty and isolation.
The Twa children ran to us fighting over our hands to hold. We were taken to a large field in their village and everyone gathered around to meet the chief of their tribe. Upon our meeting, an older tribe member began to sing aloud and before I knew it, they were banging a ceremonial drum and singing and dancing for us. I looked up at the sky and shook my head. This was the stuff dreams were made of. It gave me chills as I watched them perform for us. I’ll never forget it.
While there, we were informed of two small children who were in need of immediate care. Their mother and father were mentally unable to care for the brother and sister, and we were told that the children would probably die if left in their current situation. We immediately began preparations to care for the children and get them the medical and physical care they needed. They are now the two newest family members of our Rwanda Children family! Deny and Diane are doing wonderfully under the care of a strong Christian family near their village.
Day Four was an amazing day!
Rwanda Children held a large ceremony at the school in our village to honor those killed in the genocide of 1994. We were surprised at the amount of people who showed up to be a part of this special ceremony. It was my favorite moment to see all 800 students lined up in their school uniforms marching from the genocide memorial to the school.
After the ceremony, we gave a large donation to the school. In Rwanda, education is key to helping these children grow up and reach their full potential and to avoid another genocide. It was humbling to be a part of this special event. And, we got to wear special Rwandan attire to the service! Once the service was over the teachers on our team from America held a special luncheon for the school’s teachers and handed out school supplies they had collected. The teachers were so appreciative. They lack so many resources to teach over there, so our gifts were monumental.
Day five was a special day to unwind and learn more about the country of Rwanda.
We visited Alkagera National Park and did a safari. The country was so beautiful and the animals we saw were breathtaking. I couldn’t help but pinch myself a few times and wish my two boys were there with me to see the animals in their natural habitat. It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Our last full day in the country was the most heart wrenching. We visited the National Genocide Memorial in Kigali, where over 250, 000 bodies were buried.
Kadox, one of the precious workers who oversees the caring of the children in Rwanda went with us that day. He was also at the church in Ntarama where the grenade killed so many of his friends, family, and neighbors. He was five years old at the time of the genocide and barely escaped with his life that day.
I asked him, “How do you go in there and see those images?” He replied in his broken English, “When I see picture of the church, that’s when it comes back to me.” I asked him how he does not cry. He said, ”I feel it here (pointing to his throat) and here (pointing to his heart). But, I must be strong.” I have never had to experience that kind of darkness or pain. I pray the Rwandan people never have to again as well. I continue to pray for God’s healing for so many who still deal with the after-effects of the genocide.
Our final morning in Rwanda was spent visiting our precious children again before we left to fly back to America.
My heart was so full as I spoke with Momma Denise, the house Mom who so selflessly cares for seven of our children. We used our precious translator, Kabibi, to tell one another how much we loved each other and shed tears as we hugged good-bye. I closed my eyes and soaked in the last few hugs from the kids and looked around to breathe in my surroundings. This place now held a piece of my heart.
This trip was more than what I could have imagined. It changed me. I am so thankful God helped me overcome my fear and led my steps to this place. I am happy to be able to serve Rwanda Children and pray God continues to use our small organization to do great things to bless the people of Rwanda.
If you would like to join our team and help us bless the children of Rwanda, visit our website at www.rwandachildren.org. We are always praying for God to lead people to us who have a heart for this ministry. It will bless your life more than you can ever imagine. It isn’t for the spiritually elite. It’s for those who are willing to give of themselves in the name of Jesus. Please continue to pray for us as we build our houses and work towards providing safe, loving homes to more children in the name of Jesus.
Brianne Hendrick is the National Volunteer Coordinator for Rwanda Children. She is from Alabama but resides in New Jersey with her husband and two boys. Determined to be salt and light through the messiness of motherhood, she occasionally gets a complete thought and blogs at www.briantics.blogspot.com.