I knew from my first service at Crossroads Christian Fellowship that I was meant to go to Rwanda. A struggling believer and bookworm all my life, a book that stood out to me was In the Presence of my Enemies, a book about missionaries. While I believed in God, and knew that He existed, I wasn’t what you would call “missionary material.. Still, even while reading the book, I knew that was what I was supposed to do.
My family and I started going to Crossroads only a year ago. Our first service was when the 2013 Rwanda Missions team returned and shared their experience. I was hooked. I remember telling Anthony that I wanted to go next year, if they went. It seemed impossible, however. My daughter was barely 2 at that point, and I was an insanely introverted person who had zero connections to the church or to any believers. Besides..I had only been a Christian for a few months at that point. Mission trips are meant for those who have believed all their lives; strong believers who could recite the Bible forwards and backwards, as well as pull out any line of scripture at the drop of a hat. Obviously, not me.
I began to get more involved in the church. Not a lot, but a little. I joined the local MOPS group, and started growing in my faith, and relationships with other believers. I met wonderful women who challenged me and helped me grow. It should be noted, that I did not want to go to MOPS. I wanted to connect, sure, but again, the introvert in me was scared to death. But God’s timing was perfect, and I know that if I had not decided to start going to MOPS, there was no way I would have been able to go to Rwanda.
There was mention of a pending 2014 Rwanda mission trip, and I kept looking for it subconsciously in all the church bulletins. In January, we had our first meeting. Of course, Anthony was going to be at work during this meeting. So I couldn’t go alone…could I? I barely knew anyone at the church (besides my MOPS friends and leaders). After texting Anthony, expressing my concerns and worries, he encouraged me to go. It was just an informational meeting, not a commitment. I could always change my mind. So I went.
The one person that stood out to me that day was Debb Westlund. She just has this light about her, and this warm, welcoming presence. It was easy to approach her; my husband’s aunt wanted to buy a copy of her book, a journal from her missions trip last year to Rwanda. Can I again just say that I love God’s timing! She could tell my nervousness and helped make me feel at ease. She talked with me until the meeting began. I can honestly say that if it wasn’t for her, and her ability to sense my nervousness, I probably would have been too afraid to go any further in this journey.
I kept going to the meetings, even though the fear inside me kept growing. I had never done anything of this caliber in my life. And even if I had, I would have had my friends or family with me. There was no way Anthony and I could financially afford for both of us to go. Even if we could, we didn’t feel comfortable leaving our child without her parents for 2 weeks. This was going to be just me. As soon as I made my first financial commitment for this trip, I felt like I had swallowed a 15-pound weight. What had I done? There was no way I could do this. I was the kid that couldn’t spend the night at friends’ houses when I was younger because I would miss my family, along with other separation anxieties. How did I think I could go halfway across the world, alone, for 2 weeks? Not knowing anybody?
God works in mysterious ways, and it’s only when we fully submit to Him that we start seeing His plans unravel. My biggest fears going into this trip was that I would not connect with anyone, and I would be the “loner” on the trip. It is incredibly difficult for me to put myself out there and let others get to know me. I’m fine 1-on-1, but put me in a group and I am way more comfortable observing than I am participating. I will admit that I struggled with this until we left. That was all on me. A couple weeks before we left, I started praying heavily to God, to not let me miss any opportunity. What was the point of me going, if I wasn’t going to give it everything I had? He answered my prayers immediately. I began to feel more comfortable and at ease opening up and participating, and because I did, God worked wonders in my life.
One of my biggest strengths is that when I do something, I give it my all. I don’t want to make mistakes, so I make sure that I am heavily prepared for whatever task lies ahead. This trip was no exception. I prayed, studied my Bible, read about the culture, read countless books about the Rwanda Genocide, and short term mission trips. I thank God that Pastor Mel had us prepare so heavily for this trip. Without his guidance, I know for a fact that I would not have gotten as much out of this trip as I did.
Our Bible verse and motto for our team was 1 Samuel 12:16, ” Now therefore stand still and see this great thing that the Lord will do before your eyes.” I took this to heart. Every day prior to this trip, as well as on this trip, I prayed that God would open my spiritual eyes, so I would not miss anything that He wanted me to see. Let me tell you…when you accept that challenge, God delivers! I went into this trip with certain expectations: that my heart would be broken from the poverty I would be witnessing and that I would be so in love with the children that I would just lose my mind. I did, however, keep my spiritual eyes open. I knew planning was good, but if I tried to plan too much, I would miss out on the God moments. So I went in with eyes wide open. Because of that one decision, my life would never be the same.
I fell in love in Rwanda, but not in the way I expected. My heart was broken in Rwanda, but not in the way I thought would happen. I loved on all the children, but it wasn’t the love I thought I would experience. Because I let God take control, my experience was so much deeper and more meaningful. The people of Rwanda are the most amazing people I have met in my life. The way they love, care, and experience life and God…I am envious. My heart breaking from the poverty? No. My heart breaks that that is what “we” see when we look in on a third world country. They are way more rich than we could ever hope to be. Rich because they aren’t saddled down with material possessions. Rich because they experience and rely on God more than we could ever dream of. Rich because they love with everything they have, and worship with their entire heart and soul. Is there poverty? Sure. Material poverty. But I’ll tell you this: I’ll take material poverty over the spiritual and emotional poverty we are all guilty of here. Loving the kids? I did. My heart overflowed with love for them. But because I let my heart be open, I wasn’t consumed by that. I was able to be open to all the kids and really zoom in on the kids that needed it. Most of the time, I wasn’t aware until later that day that a particular kid that I clung to, or who clung to me had some sort of issue, whether it be emotional or otherwise. God used my ability to really empathize with others. I loved on everyone, but God used me to make a difference, more specifically to certain kids.
Two moments from this trip stood out to me.
1. While serving Eden’s Child-sponsored children and their parents, I loaded up a heaping plate of food for this little boy. His mother had her hands full: a plate of food for herself, and a baby in the other. So I handed it to the boy. I knelt down to his level and stretched the plate out to him. He got down on his knees, took the plate, and bowed. So humbling. I can’t even describe or put into words the powerful image of that moment. The humbleness of it. It brings tears to my eyes and hurts my heart to think about it.
2. Meeting my sponsored daughter. I thought I would be over the moon, and focused solely on her. I was incredibly happy to meet her, but it wasn’t her that made this meeting so special. It was her father. There was something in his eyes that instantly drew me to him. He spoke little English, and with the help of an interpreter, I was able to find out more. He was incredibly grateful for the support that my family and I had been giving to him and his family. The program covers schooling for Christella, health insurance for her and her parents, as well as uniforms/food/school books. It used to cover healthcare for the entire family, but not anymore (too many issues). I found out, though, that Christella has an older sister who is unable to move or speak. Because my family and I chose Christella, her sister is getting medical care now. How amazing! I now understood the gratefulness that her father had for me. Again, it is too much, and incredibly humbling.
I loved Rwanda with all my heart. I am so glad that God called me to go, and that I answered the call. I would do it again in a heartbeat and know that I will be going back. I don’t know when God will call me again, but I know that I haven’t seen the last of Rwanda.
I challenge everyone; whether you believe in God or not, to stretch yourself. Go outside your comfort zone. Do something that absolutely terrifies you. Live life on the edge. Only when you experience something new and frightening do amazing things happen. You will never regret taking a chance.
I have been involved in MOPS for 2 years, and it is hands down the best decision I have ever made. I am a mother to one daughter, Brooklyn, 3, and wife to my high school sweetheart, Anthony, for 4 years.