In December 2012, before it had ever crossed my mind that one day I might travel to Rwanda, Cody and I donated to an orphan education initiative led by the non-profit His Chase. Mark and Chelsea Jacobs founded His Chase a couple of years ago and one of the biggest accomplishments so far has been sending around 250 orphans away from the Noel Orphanage where they lived and attended poorly run public schools to top-notch boarding schools. It costs $100 per month per child, so for $1200 a year, an orphan can receive room, board, and one of the best educations available in Rwanda. In fact, once they graduate from these private schools they will be the elite of the country. That's how good the schools are.
There is a huge stigma surrounding orphans in Rwanda. They are looked down upon, scorned, passed over for opportunities and jobs. It is much harder than I think we can even imagine to be a fatherless, motherless child in Rwanda. Even at the boarding schools, they endure teasing from the other children.
And for their entire lives they have doubted that anyone at all cares even the tiniest bit about them. They are often ashamed, discouraged, lonely, frustrated, afraid, hungry, and weary.
But when His Chase started sending these school-aged orphans to school, they also matched each one with a sponsor. Perhaps it was the person who paid their fee. Perhaps it is someone who was willing to pray for and encourage the child. However it all worked out, Cody and I were paired with Gasaza when we donated in December. Actually, we became paired with him January 14th, right at the same time I was making the decision to go to Rwanda.
I received his picture and name and was told he was at Sonrise School in Gisenyi. I would love to say that my heart was set afire in love and dedication to Gasaza at that moment, but sadly it was not. I was wrapped up in my own affairs, happy to pay for his schooling and say a prayer now and then for him, but I was cold and distant, unmoved by his plight.
But when I traveled to Rwanda and met this child in the flesh, I fell absolutely in love with him. Now I think about him all the time throughout the day, sincerely loving and praying for him and longing to see him again, longing to encourage him and show him God's love. I am ashamed that it took that step of actually meeting him to ignite my passion for him and the other orphans, but I am thankful God was gracious enough to allow me to travel there and receive what I could not receive at a distance.
Gasaza is precious. He is only 7, and very quiet and reserved. He reminds me of a timid rabbit, silently observing all around him. I spent time with him on 2 different days. The first day, it took a while for him to warm up to me. He would sit near me, holding my hand, but would not interact much and only when I initiated it. I hugged on him, spoke my limited Kinyarwanda to him (the youngest children do not know much if any English yet), stroked his hair, kissed his head, showed him photos of my family, and kept him close to me wherever I went.
The second day, he ran to me. He smiled much more often. I felt as if we interacted more. I tried to love on him as much as possible. And then the time came to leave. That was hard. We loaded the bus, and I held my hand out to him through the window. His eyes filled with water, then he started visibly crying. At that point I seriously doubted if I had done the right thing. Should I have loved on him for such a brief time knowing I can't stay...knowing I must leave...knowing it would be painful for both of us?
Later I looked back through my email and saw my Henri Nouwen devotional thought for that day and wouldn't you know it spoke exactly toward my concern:
Wednesday March 13, 2013
It is good to visit people who are sick, dying, shut in, handicapped, or lonely. But it is also important not to feel guilty when our visits have to be short or can only happen occasionally. Often we are so apologetic about our limitations that our apologies prevent us from really being with the other when we are there. A short time fully present to a sick person is much better than a long time with many explanations of why we are too busy to come more often.
If we are able to be fully present to our friends when we are with them, our absence too will bear many fruits. Our friends will say: "He visited me" or "She visited me," and discover in our absence the lasting grace of our presence.
I believe it is better to love enduring pain than to not love at all. And I know I will visit him again. I am at the beginning of a relationship with this child. He doesn't know yet that I am reliable, that I will keep loving him through the years. Over time the love between him and my family will deepen and grow becoming more trusted and more of a blessing with each passing year.
Meeting Gasaza was a tremendous blessing for me.
And here is a crazy story. Before I left for Rwanda, because of some photos posted on Facebook, it came out that another mom with a child in Lucas' Kindergarten class knows Mark and Chelsea, in fact, she sponsors a child at Sonrise school through His Chase, too! We had seen each other at pick up, had said "hi" a few times, yet were totally unaware that we were both involved with His Chase and Rwanda. She has visited Rwanda also, and has a close relationship with her sponsor child Patrick. While I was there I got to meet Patrick, give him hugs for my new friend, take his picture, bring a handwritten note from him back to my friend, and also record a video message from him on my iPhone. What are the odds that two random women with kids in the same class at school are sponsoring children through His Chase? Or is this perhaps less coincidence and more of God bringing people and events together in his timing for his purpose?
Gasaza in front of the chapel
Standing at the chapel, watching the kids come running to see our team
Timid at first, looking at the letter Ava wrote to him
I couldn't stop hugging this sweet child!!!
Patrick...my friend's child!