God is always moving in Rwanda – so sit down, strap in and hold on!
The 2018 Impact Team kept on the move to learn and share all God wanted to be known. It’s been 6 years since our last visit to Kigali, the capital, it was a visual festival to see Rwanda moving forward in tangible ways; a Convention center, new hotels, tall modern buildings, re-routed traffic for more public spaces. And for the first time, we met tourists: a couple from New York City who had read the NY Times listing the 10 places that were a must to visit in 2018. Rwanda was number 8. This was very telling, as previously, running into humanitarian missionaries or NGO workers was common; running into tourists was not.
Where we saw God most clearly was a ministry started by Gilbert Kubwimana. This faithful young man is following God’s call to help families of disabled children by starting “Love with Actions” ministry. We first met Gilbert in 2006 at his one-man business craft stand (outside of the AEE guest house) earning money for his dowry to marry Esther. He collected craft requests from team members and scoured the markets for these items. He brought Esther to meet us and celebrate the money realized for their wedding! His Love of God and for Esther along with his intense work ethic has only grown. Over the last two years, Gilbert has used his God-given gifts and skills to build a ministry to come alongside extremely marginalized families, for empowerment, treatment and educational/vocational skills. Here’s the story of Pacifique and her son Aime.
Deep in a grove of Bumbogo – in the hills above Kigali, Gilbert, with the help of the local Anglican Pastor Didas, found Pacifique and her three children living in a dirt hut with a banana leaf roof. Their living conditions were indescribable, bringing two grown men to their knees in tears. Pacifique was caring for three sons: Aime, Eric, and Jado. Eric and Jado greeted both men and then came Aime, dirt and scar-covered boy, pulling himself out of the hut by his only means: his arms. Aime, born with spina bifida (a birth defect that leaves the end of the spine in a sack-like defect outside the body just above the buttocks) had no control of bodily functions nor the use of lower limbs. In Rwanda, disability is believed to come from the devil, ostracizing and marginalizing the mother and her child. Gilbert raised funds on his visit to the USA, returned to Rwanda and moved Pacifique and her boys to a home in the village. He then took Pacifique and Aime to seek treatment at an orthopedic hospital. After meeting with Dr. Albert, head surgeon, a treatment plan began for Aime’s condition: corrective surgery for his feet, leg braces, physical therapy needed for his first steps.
Four months into Aime’s treatment, Gilbert asked us to join the first hospital visit with Pacifique since her son was admitted and we eagerly said “Yes!” We all shared the excitement of seeing Aime. Entering the hospital grounds, we heard shouting from the long outdoor hallway. We turned to see Aime joyfully taking his first steps to join us! There were many precious moments in Rwanda – this was different: it was sacredly filled with the joy of a young boy, after long months of treatment, viewing his world at eye level for the first time. God was clearly seen in the face and empowerment of this young boy. Tears of joy flowed from all of us with many hugs as Aime stood before his cheering team. The rest of the young patients gathered around us, some were “Love with Actions” kiddos in treatment and a spontaneous worship began as we sang and praised God for the blessings abundantly given. The kiddos clapped with joy; Julie led songs in Kinyarwanda to their great delight. We learned from Dr. Albert that very few muzungus (“whites”) to visit the hospital, let alone speak the native Kinyarwanda language. Gilbert is a man of great faith with unquestioning obedience to God, and a heart that has an inspiring capacity to love many and the least. This ministry – “Love with Actions” – is flourishing as God promises in scripture through Gilbert’s obedience. The word obedience has a meaning worth understanding: flourishing, joy, and empowerment.
It was tough to leave the hospital after giving hugs, smiles, encouragement, and prayers; loving on too many young faces with complicated medical conditions, each craving love and attention. Travel back to Kigali was a mixture of gratefulness for His blessings and crying out for children needing His tender hand.
Gilbert invited us to accompany Home visits the next day in Bumbogo. And we gladly did. But first, we shopped for sugar, flour, rice and cooking oil for the visit. We were like little kids joyfully filling each bag with much-needed supplies. To our great delight, the first stop was Pacifique’s house. She ran up the path and joyfully embraced us. She had spent much time alone with her two boys Eric and Jado while Aime was away for treatment. The village still shunned her as being possessed by demons as announced by her husband. As we descended the path to her house, we saw many villagers coming to the road curious about the visiting muzungus. She tearfully accepted the bag of supplies and left to put them away. The room filled with happy children from the village touching our skin and our hair; Eric and Jado among them. Julie spoke first, her voice and eyes near tears, thanking Pacifique for the privilege of being part of a tender and sacred moment shared the day before in Rilima. She admired Pacifique’s courage as nothing in this world is fiercer than a mother’s love for her child. Her sacrifices and avocation for Aime are inspiring. We reassured Pacifique that not all fathers are like her former husband. Her faith and Gilbert’s assistance would see her through Aime’s treatment and beyond.
We laid on hands and prayed for Pacifique and her two boys. As we walked out, more villagers gathered on the road above her house. Pacifique’s closest neighbors greeted us and watched the video of Aime walking. Villagers continued to grow in number. We said our goodbyes to continue our day of home visits. Gilbert shared that our small gesture of a home visit will have a profound impact for Pacifique in the village. White people visiting inside the home of a child with disabilities was big news. It would also help diminish the misguided thought that disability comes from the Mother being possessed by demons. As we entered homes of children with disabilities, villagers gathered outside and watched with great curiosity; emphasizing to us that the ministry of presence in Rwanda is essential and cannot be overstated or diminished.
Visiting mothers of disabled children outside Love with
Action’s Family Empowerment Center, Bumbog
Iman’ishimwe! Ndakunda Love with Actions!
Julie Munezero St. Peter & Frank St. Peter