January 20, 2012


Noel is a very special place for everyone on the team. This is probably the one orphanage that every person on the team made a friend. We were only there for two days but it seemed more like a week. The children were so friendly and we immediately connected with so many of them. It felt like home.
Some of our team preparing for the first day at Noel
Noel is the oldest and largest orphanage in Rwanda. They have over 600 children ranging from infants to early twenties. The orphanage sits on lots of land with pigs, cows, and goats. It is made up of dormitories, a library, clinic and two kitchens. It is huge! It is also a special place because there were over 40 infants, rooms full of toddlers, a special needs building, countless grade school aged kids and lots of teenagers. Everyone on the team found their 'niche'. 
They love their big pig. 
There were fields with animals everywhere!
There are 87 nannies that work at Noel and they spend most of their day washing clothes and feeding all the children. 
One thing that was cool about our team, was that with 30 people there were those who played basketball and soccer, some of us were holding babies, others were singing with toddlers, and there were some talking with the older kids. I loved being part of such a diverse team. 
Rwandans love their music. We had an amazing drum line performance. 
Sid from our team was singing with John (in the green shirt). Michael really connected with John because of his genuine kindness and purity of heart.  He also spoke very good English.  Because he is almost totally blind, he goes to a special school for the visually impaired that is nearly 4 hours away from Noel.  We were lucky that he was there for the holiday break.  John is also an amazing singer, and we had the pleasure of hearing him sing with the musicians in our team.
John represents for us the future of Rwanda--the leadership that will bring change in the country will be from people like him.
So many PRECIOUS toddlers. They had so much energy and joy. And lots of giggles. At one point there were three of us sitting on the ground and we were mobbed by 10 toddlers. They loved touching our hair and by the end of it we had some awesome hair dos. They were so entertained and we sat back and enjoyed the head massage. 
For those of you that have touch as a love language, no worries, you will have your share of piggy back rides, hand holding, kids in your lap, babies in your arms, and lots of hugs. It was wonderful! 
Me and Frans, she picked me from the moment I got off the bus. When time had gone by where I hadn't seen her I knew I would have a little hand in mine in no time, and without fail she always found me. 
I loved sharing this trip and all these memories with my friend Karlie!
Michael was nicknamed Drogba, a soccer player from Cote d'Ivoire who plays for a European team--he has a pony tail, too.  
The boys decided to take part in the bracelet making. They picked it up so fast!
Michael and Benouet
Me and sweet baby Mfutu. He looks like a little man. He was laying in his crib and looked up at me and smiled. My heart melted!

He was strapped to my back for hours while he napped. No, Michael and I did not take him back with us. But if adoptions were open in Rwanda, we may have ;)
Little baby feet..
If you have not experienced anything like this, I would really challenge you to go on a trip. Go to an orphanage with no agenda, except to love selflessly, and watch as God brings children into your lives that will change you forever. 
On the last night in Gisineyi we went to Lake Kivu for dinner. It is a beautiful lake that sits between the Congo and Rwanda. 
Rwanda will always have a special place in my heart!

**If you want to read more about Noel, follow Tara on her blog. She went on a Visiting Orphans trip last December (2010) and fell in love. She is now living at Noel for a year. She has amazing stories of these special kids!**

January 17, 2012

Rwanda Part 1

When many people think of Rwanda, genocide, war torn country, danger, etc. all come to mind. I want to change that image for you!

Rwanda is a country filled with hope, forgiveness, restoration and redemption. Not to mention it is one of the most beautiful and clean countries I have been to. It is called "Land of a Thousand Hills" and that name could not be more appropriate.
We spent our first day at the Genocide Memorial in Kigali. If you have ever been to the Holocaust museum you will understand the overwhelming feeling of complete terror and a feeling of reverence at the same time. It was very impacting to experience the history of Rwanda and to then go to an orphanage filled with joy.

I am glad one of our team members took the time to write down some of the facts from the museum. You can follow Elise's journey on her blog.
There was a part of the museum called the Children's Hall. The plaque above the entrance read:
In memory of our beautiful and beloved children who should have been our future

There were countless pictures of children with their age, favorite food, favorite subject and the way they were killed...
"Ariane Umuton. Age 4. Stabbed in her eyes and head."
"Irene Umuton and Uwamwezi. Age 6 and 7. They were sisters and Daddy's girls. Killed by a grenade thrown in their shower."
"Aulore Kireizi. Age 2. Burnt alive at the Gleondo Chapel."
"Fillette Uwase. Age 2. Smashed against the wall."
"Thierry Isimive. 9 months. Killed by a machete in his mother's arms." 

It was utterly heartbreaking. And hard to really comprehend. But remember, Rwanda is now a country of redemption and forgiveness and you can actually feel that there.

After the museum, we went immediately to Kimisagara Orphanage. 
There I met Anthony. Him and 3 other men are running this orphanage of 90 kids. It sits on top of a huge hill that overlooks the city.
This is Anthony. He is amazing! He now devotes his life to raising up and caring for Rwanda's next generation. 
We found that at every orphanage we went to, the children pick you. The second we arrived I had two children on my side holding my hand. And they did not want me to let go. They craved touch and affection.
 This orphanage, of all of them on our trip, really stuck with Michael and me. It is probably because their need was so tangible and I could see myself really doing something to help them. They don't have enough beds, food or funding. We are praying to see what the next step might look like with Kimisagra.Our team was able to bring $450 worth of food. And yes, the men of the group and all the children carried 50 pound bags of rice up that hill! It was quite impressive!
Can I just say I LOVED having such a crafty team! We were learning how to make friendship bracelets on our bus ride so we could teach some of the older girls how to make them. I now have five on my wrist for each orphanage/ministry that we visited.
We then drove 3 hours to the town of Gisenyi where we stopped by Imbabazi Orphanage. Hands down the most beautiful orphanage in the world. It is currently a flower plantation and the grounds are breathtaking! It was founded by a American women named Roz Carr who fled during the genocide and then moved back to take in orphaned children from the genocide. There are only older children there and they are slowly phasing the children out once they hit 18. We had a blast! It was a genuine girl party! We made tie necklaces, played cards, sang songs, had a major dance off and laughed and laughed. It was really amazing to experience just being girls, our team mixed with the 30 girls there. We had so much fun.
We danced so much! It was awesome!
 All of us were crying laughing because we had NO clue how to play this card game. They were making fun of us because we kept doing the wrong thing and we were laughing because we could not figure it out but it was so much fun!
We were able to leave a brand new sewing machine and lots of burlap for the older girls so they can make bags to sell. They plan on using the money to buy lunches for the children when they are at school. 
We then had a tour of the grounds where we found some puppies! 
I don't have any pictures of what happened next but somehow all us white folk were pulled into a Rwandan choir in the gardens where they were shooting a music video. We had no clue what was going on and what we were supposed to be doing but me just lip synced and smiled as we swayed with all the lavender dressed people. Only on a Visiting Orphans trip....
 Here are some pictures of the grounds. It was hard to capture the beauty in a photograph.
The Director's house. The cutest cottage covered in vines. 
The gardens in front of the cottage. 

I mean really?!? We were in paradise. It was unbelievable. 
Now off to Noel Orphanage....

January 11, 2012

1st World Pains

I thought I would be updating my blog and getting pictures up immediately, during and after my trip to Africa, but that was not the case. I made a decision to not take a camera with me on the trip, though I almost always have my camera at my side. The problem is I become obsessed with getting the right picture, the right angle, the right moment that I actually miss the moment all together. I didn't want to live behind a lens. So I am now relying on all my friends to get their pictures up and then I will share.

I also did not plan on having such a difficult time processing. On paper I am a "seasoned missionary" for my age. I spent my first ten years in Kenya and have since gone on 10 short term trips around the world. This trip should be just like any other, right? Not at all. I forget that my last trip was right after I graduated high school. I was hardly an adult. I did all the wrong things. I wanted to take pictures with the kids so I would have a new profile picture, I wanted to make myself feel good because I was "sacrificing" my time to go to Africa, I couldn't wait to buy cheap souvenirs, and I made promises to children that I did not keep, like returning to visit. I was the poster child of Slum Tourism, the reason that short-term trips get so much flack. Well after reading parts of "When Helping Hurts", growing a lot, and simply being in a job that makes you aware of all these issues, this trip was unlike any I have been on.

I didn't expect to have reverse culture shock. I have seen poverty countless times but as an adult you can rationalize how much you really have. My two bedroom house no longer feels small, I am overwhelmed in the grocery store and TV commercials gross me out (One of my January goals is to watch less TV).

Michael and I started pointing out what some call "1st World Pains". Before the trip it was sort of a game for us to call each other out, but now it really feels like an attitude shift. For example:
-"The water coming out of the fridge is not cold enough and I don't want to put ice in it..."
-"The car in front of me is driving so slow..."
-"The volume on your computer is not very loud..."
-"My phone froze right when I was going to send a video to my friend..."- 1st world pain

I guess you could call this just complaining in general, but in comparison to what you experience in other parts of the world, it just can't be justified.

But going on a mission trip is so much more than coming home feeling guilty for everything you have. That is not the point at all.  The point is the individuals you meet and how those relationships inspire a different perspective which then drive you to do something. I will share in the upcoming days and weeks the individuals who absolutely touched my life. I am so blessed to be part of a team of 30 that were Jesus with skin on. I am so blessed to have met selfless men and women dedicating their lives to the cause of the orphan. I am so blessed to have spent days with children who had more joy than I could ever dream of having.

Your life will change whether it is your 1st time going or your 10th time going. It did for me. You will experience things you cannot put into words, you will see some of the most beautiful and disturbing scenery, you will find yourself becoming so close to people you just met, you will be stretched and pushed further than you thought you could and you will experience life on a whole new level.
Michael and I at Imbabazi Orphanage in Rwanda. Yes, my backpack is giving me a hunchback...
I drew this after I came home. Maybe that little house is a sign for our future :)

If you are interested in going on trip like the one I went on, go to Visiting Orphans or talk to me!