Isaac, Harvin, Abby and I arose early to drive to Musanze (aka Rhugengeri). It’s just over a two-hour drive and is the city that is home to Chantal and (Bishop)Mbanda. Isaac needed to get back to school a week earlier than his brothers and sisters as he is in grade 6 and needs to study for national exams.
I slept a good chunk of the way (ya, like that comes as a surprise to anyone) and Harvin and Abby enjoyed a lovely conversation as they always do. Abby is such a special person, not only to Harvin and to me, but to the kids of New Hope Homes, her students and the people of Rwanda.
She has a huge heart, is really wise and speaks with a sense of love that is unmistakably Abby.
We arrived at the Cathedral that is the home of Bishop Mbanda’s just as the praise portion was starting. The people of Rwanda love to sing and dance to worship openingly. There is an electric energy that radiates. There are multiple choirs and dancers. At times, people come running from the congregation to simply dance in the front with the choirs etc. There is a traditional dance where you step twice and then jump as high as you can and then repeat repeat repeat. This brings adults and kids of all sizes out of their seats and to the front to join in.
Chantal always makes us sit in the front row. Yikes! Nothing like sitting in the front row of a church when you are friends with the Bishop and on display for all to see. It certainly does keep us all engaged despite the language barrier ☺.
I of course was the one that got us in trouble when we were first seated on the side. I was slightly waving at some young kids across the church. You know, the thing where you just flip a few of your fingers as a little game and then they do it back? Well ding dong Donna, forgot that sign language means that they should come to me. Any yup…right in the middle of the serious prayer across the church wander 3 young kids about 3 years old. Their Mom was in the choir right in front of me and snagged them as they passed by completely perflexed as to why they had gotten up. Of course no one knew why they wandered except for me…and yes of course Abby and Harvin who were seated right behind me and gave me endless grief for my bad behavior. Of course the 3 of us were now responsible for containing our giggle fest at my muzungo faux pax.
I could no longer contain myself so I leaned forward to Chantal to confess. She then joined in our effort not to laugh.
We are graced by a Pastor who translated the service and left 3+ hours (yes I speak the truth) delighted to have been present as we had the joy of being present when the community celebrated Chantal and Mbanda’s 28th Wedding Anniversary. Chantal and Mbanda were called to the front of the congregation to speak. Chantal asked Isaac to join them. Chantal was given the mic first and simply stood there in tears trying to find the words. She is a beautiful woman inside and out and feels things deeply. Chantal finally composed herself and began to speak about their partnership and love. How he treasures her and has been absolutely the best blessing in her life. She told people that while her other children in the States could not be here today, that Isaac would stand in for all of them as well as the other 28 kids of New Hope Homes.
She spoke for quite some time and then gave the mic to Bishop. He made a joke that they have succeeded for 28 years because he let’s her speak as long as she wishes. Everyone laughed. He then said their marriage works wonderfully 98% of the time, which later turned into lots of stories about the 2% to keep us entertained.
We took lots of pictures of their very special time together in front of the community with Isaac wrapped in their arms.
The community then celebrated by bringing small gifts of money to the baskets in front to begin to tile the entire front of the alter to replace the cement only current surroundings.
After the service we went as a group to Volcano Pizza to share some quality time with them. The time was spent learning about the vision Mbanda has to build a University to teach trades like hospitality, carpentry, plumbing etc. The government gave him a nice piece of property filled with old army barracks on which his vision could become reality. This man always dreams big. He has clarity of vision that ensures nothing overlooked and is of singular purpose. All of his plans involve uplifting people so they can stand on their own and ultimately support themselves and grow their community too. This trade university vision would be remarkable if we can find the funding. It would take about $100,000 US to launch phase one and $650,000 to do complete campus. As part of this he is looking for new or slightly used text books to use for the students. Do you know anyone with a connection in this area?
After lunch we drove to the new property which will be location of New Hope Homes. For those of you who have been with us on this journey for a while, you know that Chantal started the homes in Kigali, but 2 years ago her husband left is business career to be Bishop in Musanze thus needing to move their and commute back and forth. We have secured and absolutely beautiful piece of property one which to build our new home for the kids. The brilliant part of her vision is once we have the house built we should be able to be substantially more self sufficient. We can move our cows to the property and eliminate the cost to have someone bike 45 mins each way to fetch the milk. We can grow our own crops and thus provide much more of our own food and Chantal wants to line the street portion of the property with some small shops that people can rent for us, thus generating income to offset costs. Above the shops she envisions creating some tiny apartments that we can rent to create income to offset our costs.
It’s a beautiful vision, now to secure the funds. Step 1 is to sell our current homes, Step 2 is to raise the incremental funds and begin the 9 month construction process. We have someone taking a nibble on then 2nd and 3rd home compound. If he buys it, and perhaps in preparation, we may move the kids to rental home in Musanze to just get the ball rolling as showing the property with all of the kids running around and the chaos that is our life is challenging.
Chantal’s vision is to move from 3 separate homes for the kids to one vertical piece of property. This too will have costs. Harvin and I spent time with the architect to look at his current phase one drawings. The design approach is wise for the long term view of the kids as the boys and girls need to use alternate entrances to the home to get to the bedrooms. While all these kids are considered brothers and sisters…in the technical definition they are not, as the older kids approach their teen years she is purposely wise in creating the separation in sleep quarters. I have been trying to figure out what I should do about my future living quarters – Chantal has decided rather than having me build my own home on the property, I will have a permanent bedroom with an attached bathroom that while be dedicated to me. Thus rather than put all my things in storage each time I leave I will be able to simply keep everything in my room and make my transitions effortless. It’s exciting to take this step forward for me too.
Thus we have the property, the vision and now we simply need the funds.
Do you know anyone who has a dream and or funds to help us? We are a 501©3 thus all donations are tax deductible.
The rest of the evening was spent meeting some wonderful people that had flown in from Memphis to help teach VBS – vacation bible school this coming week for about 1000 kids. The people from the states, are training the people from Musanze over the next 2 years and then they will go forward on their own. The local people welcome the American’s with a joy filled celebration of traditional song and dancing. Early on they invited people forward to try some of the dances. Harvin was seated a few seats from me and gave me the ‘shall we?’ look…my immediate reply back was a ‘yes glance’ and so we leapt to the dance floor to help get this party started!
Then came another dance that required volunteers…out of nowhere Chantal emerged and grabbed my hand to join in. Moments later they had Harvin on the floor too. We put on a toga like sheet and did a dance with two steps and then you jump up as high as you can and tuck your legs in. It’s really fun, but challenging in the altitude when the dance goes on for a long time. At one point the dance area as packed and I got bumped over by Harvin again – he looked at me and said “omg, the altitude is killing me. We both laughed and kept at it. Of course Harvin’s 1st few jumps were super dooper high so his reserves got depleted early.
Harvin and I wanted to spend a little time with Isaac in the evening as we were leaving at 6:30 the next day to get back to Kigali. As you know, Harvin has great connections with all the kids, but his connection with Isaac is especially strong. Isaac also hates goodbyes. When the kids take us to the airport they like to take us to the front door and get lots of kisses and simply stay with us as long as possible, but Isaac seems to slip away and get back to the van to cry in private. He also starts to withdraw the last day as he begins to steady his heart for another separation.
Remember, these kids have all been orphaned or abandoned thus goodbyes – even it when they are – see you later – hurt in a way that no of us can even begin to understand. The kids of New Hope Homes as each remarkable in their own way. Truly. But they all share a common element of protection. Some lots more than others. If they came to us as babies, then this is all they know. If they came to us as 4+ year olds they remember their life before. They remember the loss of their parents, they remember being on the street, and they remember what it’s like to not have food or a consistent safe place to sleep. All of this they remember. All of this they hold deep in their hearts and is rarely processed. I wish we had the funds to get grief counselors to work with our kids, but alas the first needs are school, food etc.
Harvin had one of those break through moments with Isaac on his last trip which unlocked mounds of tears – thus they have a very real connection.
I asked Isaac if he wanted to come hang with Harvin and me for a bit…his reply “ it would be good”. We wandered to her bedroom to hang but the second he began to feel some emotion he decided it was best to go back out to the party. Harvin and I stayed back inside the house for about 20 more minutes to chat with “Tom” who was the organizer of the people who were coming to help with VBS. Even if you are not a person of faith, then simply think of the gift these people are giving. 30+ people paying their own travel, lodging expenses to simply come make the difference in the lives of 1000 kids in Rwanda. Yes, there are so many good people in the world.
Isaac didn’t realize that we were standing in the entrance as he tried to slip back into the house unnoticed. I snagged him as he flew by. “where are you going?”…his reply “I’m going to bed, I’m tired” which of course was code for I thought I would slip into bed and pretend to be asleep so I didn’t have to say goodbye. My heart ached for him.
Harvin and I spoke about it. We both needed some goodbye time with him, but we didn’t want to prolong it as it simply meant more heartbreak and a flood of tears from him. I suggested that Harvin get the real quality time and I would do the brief one. I walked into his room to find him cuddled up and crying while trying to type an email to Sue Whitehouse as it was his last change to use my iphone to connect with her. I tried my best to fight back the tears but when you see his beautiful big eyes trying to be brave but the floodgates open it is impossible not too. I told him I would do my chat quickly so he could be with Harvin. My normal exit is to spend 5-10 minutes of quality time with each of the bigger kids to tell them why I a proud of them. It’s a special time to simply let them know “I see you. I see YOU…I see lot of special things about YOU…that I want YOU to know.” The standard list is 5. I asked him if he wanted to hear the list while he was typing with the iphone. His reply was a simply nod and tears. I zipped through it, hugged and kissed him until he attempted to laugh and then exited wanting to go crawl up into a ball and cry the night away too.
Harvin and Chantal were seated on a couch outside of his room. I said a silent prayer for Harvin as he entered. Chantal and I used the time to chat more about our vision for New Hope Homes and simply enjoy our limited time together. Bishop then joined us. Harvin eventually emerged from Isaac’s room depleted of all resources but focused on this final words of ‘until we meet again’ in French.
Bishop, Chantal, Harvin and I sat together for another 30-40 mins trying to soak in the day and simply be. Somehow we kept finding time to laugh about the 2% Bishop had mentioned in his chat about Chantal in church that morning…you know…the 2% when things aren’t perfect….it was one of those had to be there moments…but it was just the levity that was needed.
In their presence you feel love. You are absolutely 100% confident in their work and vision. You are assured that if funds can be raised, the lives of so many people will be uplifted in Rwanda…from the smallest child to the new widow.
So much work to be done.