Today we are home with our families, happy to be reunited and grateful to them for keeping everything running while we were away.  Thank you also to the volunteers who have worked so hard ensuring the office could remain open.

Unfortunately two of our three cases have taken an extended holiday, we are not sure where they have decided to go, but we hope to be reunited with them before too long.

Thank you to everyone who has followed our journey, your prayers and messages sustained us during our travels.

As we begin to process all we saw, please pray for wisdom and resources to enable this vital work to continue, brining the love of God to those families and communities who face such overwhelming challenges.

We wake up this morning with the realisation this will be our last day here for a good while.
This afternoon we have been fortunate enough to spend a few hours with archbishop Mbanda and his wife Chantal, who makes a mean chocolate cake, who welcomed us to their home.
Rwanda is a beautiful country, we will miss the continuous hills, that undulate around us everywhere we go, patchworked and terraced in more shades of green then we could ever have imagined. We will miss the serious faces that break into the biggest friendliest smiles the minute we try our limited knowledge of their language.
   
   
The depth of warmth, the total contentment, the praise and love of God. Rwandans seem to have found a deep peace within themselves that we cannot help but marvel at. The country is developing fast, eyeing up the West as a life to emulate. Commendable to want electricity and clean running water in every home – but we hope they never lose the obvious love and contentment with life, that they display now. Chasing the dollar does not bring that inner contentment, wanting the next best thing does not make life better, for many it breeds discontent, and yes we feel everyone should get a fair wage, not starve and have clean water – we pray that the Rwandans hold on to their traditional values of love of community and friendship, which they have worked so hard to keep a hold of, despite the tragic events of 1994.
We are going to make the most of those patchwork hills and huge smiles today. It is with heavy hearts and tears in our eyes that we leave the friends we have made here. They say you never visit Rwanda only once – we definitely believe that. Thank you Rwanda – thank you Kigali, Butare, Shyogwe, Gasabo, Kibungo and Byumba Diocese’ for the warmest of welcomes, for looking after us so well and for your amazing hospitality.
We are currently in Kigali airport, delayed for one hour. Hopefully see you all tomorrow.
Posted in CHI

As if our shopping list is not long enough, today we went on a fact finding mission. Surprise, surprise, high in the hills of Byumba, why does no one live in the valleys? Thankfully they do at least have a murram road that leads right to the pastor’s door, but that is where the luxury ends.

The parish church is basic although it does have electricity, the parish has two further small local community churches but both are currently closed as they do not meet the government requirements, their congregations have to walk 3-4 hours to reach the parish church.

In this area Christianity is the fourth religion, less popular than even traditional practice. There are just 220 practicing Christians in the parish. There are many challenges here.

  • 80% of the population are in category 1 or 2, the poorest in Rwanda
  • Only 20% of the congregation own a Bible, although 80% are literate and would benefit from owning one.
  • Many children do not attend school. Education may be ‘free’ but the government require them to take lunch at school, for most an unaffordable luxury.
  • Most rely on agriculture but the soil is infertile, few can afford livestock.
  • Few can afford health insurance for their families

We met with the pastor, members of the mothers, fathers and youth union, together with the diocesan development officer and various other members of the church, all working hard to grow this small Christian community.

It is obvious to us that the first priority is to get the churches open, but there is so much more that could be achieved in this small parish. Some immediate emergency intervention together with an income generation project for self sustainability would make a huge impact and show the church working for the community, a wonderful opportunity for evangelism.

We are all very excited about this potential new project and the possibilities it holds. Please join us in praying for the resources to impact this community.

On the way back we stopped to look around a great church run TVET centre which offers the opportunity to learn skills to those who may not have completed their academic education. We were impressed by their ethos and endeavours to be self sustaining. Unfortunately many of those who would benefit from this training cannot afford the modest £100 for the six month courses.

A quick trip to the shops resulted in a surprise encounter with Saide, the young street boy we wrote about on Saturday, who, with genuine affection suddenly launched himself at Joff for a hug, He had been playing football with his friends, seen us and rushed over. His friends soon followed and everyone soon received a hug from us all. Our water was purchased together with a couple of bags of mandazi (doughnuts) which the boys were happy to share, at least they wont go to sleep hungry tonight.

Our day finished by sharing a meal with the bishop and members of the diocesan staff. A lovely evening of serious discussion and a lot of laughter. Sadly we had to say goodbye as tomorrow evening we head home.

When hail destroyed the crops and the storm removed the roof from Rumarangoga church, CHI were delighted to be able to assist this small community. Today was the day we were to see the result of this intervention, it was hoped we would be able to worship in the new church, however it was not finished when we left and there were no guarantees.

We were collected from the guest house by the bishop at 7.30am for a 9.30am service and Joff was advised to change his shoes!!! Trainers on we set off and 20 mins later we stopped at the start of a small track and were issued with sticks, Rumarangoga sits at the top a very high hill, and they do not have a road.

       

The path is narrow and very steep, the soil and rocks are loose and slide under your feet and the drop off the side is at times almost sheer, not an ideal combination for Carmen, who is not a fan of heights and whose balance is less than perfect. A very gallant Robert assisted and, after a couple of stops to ‘admire the view’ from a bench which had been very strategically place just for us, and magically appeared at 10 minute intervals, we arrived at the top 50 minutes later. We are ashamed to say that we were overtaken on numerous occasions on the way up. The community who live here collect their water from the valley floor, we cannot begin to imagine that climb with a water container on our heads.

We were greeted at the top  with song and dance to the most awesome backdrop of hills and valleys.

    

Then we were swiftly ushered into a small room for our second breakfast of the day, but not before we had marvelled at the astounding view. We managed the boiled egg and banana but had to pass on the cooked banana and chicken stew.

We emerged to an astounding sight, the path to the church was lined with members of the mothers, fathers and youth unions and a full band waited at the top, including Robert on the trumpet, is there anything this young man cannot do?

       

This was the first time in 20 years the Bishop had visited, and the first time bazungu had ever braved the track. We were processed down the long winding path to the church with the band playing, to find an enormous crowd gathered outside. We expected the church to be empty but as we were ushered inside we found it was already full, except in Rwanda a church is not full until a body is squeezed into every last inch. To be honest it was completely overwhelming, the number of people the band and the realisation of what this day meant to this remote community.

       

People continued to pour in until every inch of space was filled, and still others were crowded in the doorway and looking through the windows. They had come from neighbouring communities and all had been involved in helping carry materials for the church up the hill. Even the Catholic and Pentecostal congregations had helped out.

The choirs sang, we all danced amidst the clouds of dust, prayers were said, introductions made and speeches heard, the bishop preached and then we started all over again. We were presented with gifts, memory baskets for Pauline and Carmen and a walking stick for Joff, they must have watched him climb the hill!!! Then more speeches, the blessing of a newborn baby and more singing until, after 5 hours of speeches, preaching and joyful worship we were led out by the band. The hillside was full of people, some must have walked miles to be there.

     

     

We learned how even the children carried rocks up the hill, getting up at 3am to play their part before school began, at this time it would have been pitch black, there is no water or electricity to this area.

There is still a small amount of work required to complete the church and we were told special permission was required from the government to hold the service as the building was incomplete.

After lunch we headed off to visit some of the homes where goats had been given, and then, as we carried on down the hillside, we saw the bishop’s vehicle on the road below us. Whilst steep enough, this had not been nearly such a challenging decent, and we can’t help but wonder if the bishop had been laughing all day.

Goodbyes were said to the crowd who had followed us from the church and it was back in the car to head home. Just like the community at Rumarangoga, this was a day that will live on in our memories forever. And we wouldn’t have missed that climb for the world.

    

Today we had the opportunity to meet with a group of the sponsored children. This started at 9am in the church with a time of song and dance, they were determined to teach us how and even Joff joined in without any arm twisting!!!

The youth lead the service, and then followed a time of testimonies telling how sponsorship had enabled them to remain in school, helped them overcome health challenges and even stopped them from taking the wrong path. They all gave thanks to God for their sponsors and requested we take home messages of thanks and love together with their prayers.

    

Then to the guest house garden where we spent a time of fun and games with these children who rarely have the opportunity to just be kids. There were a few guardians watching on but not nearly enough for the number of young children who had joined us. We showed them how to play wheelbarrow races, but it was heart breaking to discover that even the shoes that looked fair from the top had no soles. These children had put on their best clothes to come and meet us, but it didn’t take much scrutiny to see the reality of their lives.

Then it was time for lunch, when once again the pile of food on the plates of small children made our eyes pop. All the plates were cleared by the time the children left, what one did not eat another did, they don’t get enough to waste a mouthful.

One eight year old boy, Saide, who joined us was not sponsored, and Robert told us how he was a street child, the youngest of five children all by different fathers, his mother does not care about him and he is scared to go home as his older brother beats him. He does not go to school regularly but proved to be a bright confident boy. Robert has tried to mentor him and provide food but he is unable to do much without cooperation from his mother. He joined us for games and lunch and it was with large lumps in the throat that we said goodbye, only too aware of the future he is likely to face.

This afternoon Robert & Consolee took us to the local market, Pauline and Carmen took the job of helping the local community very seriously, we may need an extra case to bring back the material!!!

Then a lovely walk around the local area with the Bishop before being taken to his house for a meal. Walking there in the dark we were so sad to see children probably no more than eight years old, selling mandazi by the side of the road. Lots of laughter and some interesting discussions this evening has certainly given us some food for thought.

A short walk down a very steep hill began our day today, to the house of Federance and her twins James and Belize, two of our sponsored children.

They had been living in rented accommodation, constantly on the move as they were unable to pay the rent, We asked for prayers for this family and amazingly the funds were received to purchase a plot of land and build the family a home, and today we were privileged to visit them. Their new home is nestled in the hillside and gardening is not for the faint hearted!!!

Federance was in tears as she gave her testimony, telling us how the children had been unable to settle in one school due to constantly moving and how she had felt her life was worthless. She had considered suicide but was worried about who would care for her children, then she came to the attention of the church, they had counselled her and walked beside her, helping her to cope with the situation she was in. Then her children were sponsored and she gave her life to Christ.

    

She cannot believe that today she is living in her own house with enough land to grow some vegetables and no one can evict her.  The room was bare except for a bench and a mat but it was clean, no mean feat as her water source is at the bottom of the valley much further down the very steep hill. She is attempting to grow some vegetables but the soil is infertile, we think a goat and some chickens would make a big difference.

    

We imagine her life before was much like that of Grace whom we visited in Gasabo on day 14, to see her now fills us with joy and we thank God for the generosity of the donor who really was an answer to prayer.

After an hour and a half of murram roads through the most amazing scenery our next stop was the home of Silas. He incurred a minor injury playing football when he was about 6 years old, it became infected but was left untreated due to the poverty of the family, eventually Silas had to have his leg amputated below the knee. He is now 12 years old and it has been decided that CHI will cover the cost of a prosthetic limb, surprisingly affordable here. First Silas has had to undergo another operation to remove a piece of bone that had continued to grow, four weeks on and that is healing well. It was amazing to visit his home which is built on a ledge on the hillside, and we marvelled at the terrain he has to negotiate simply to move off the family plot, let alone go to school.

      

Despite his disability he enjoys caring for the pigs and sheep purchased with a gift from his sponsor which are benefitting the entire family, he is also top of his class at school and his father told us that the contribution of health insurance for all family members means they no longer have to worry about health care, if only this had been the case when Silas was 6.  The local pastor testified to the improvements in the family situation and Silas’ school performance since receiving support from his sponsor.

Silas has 7 siblings, 6 still living at home. The small home hardly seemed adequate for the large family, and the uneven mud floor will undoubtedly cause Silas some challenges as he gets used to his new limb. Maybe a cement floor is needed here.

Our last stop of the day was the home of Brian, Carmen’s sponsored child. It is always an amazing privilege to visit our own children and today was no exception. Brian had been born with a hole in his head and suffers some challenges as a result. He was abandoned by his parents and is cared for by his grandparents who also care for another grandchild, Silas’ cousin, and have two grown up children living at home. They do not know the whereabouts of their other two children. Brian showed us his pig and sheep purchased with his gifts. This home is very remote and has no electricity…… a small solar panel seems like it might be a good idea.

We inevitably draw some attention when we visit these remote villages and today was no exception. Half a dozen children followed us (at a safe distance) as we walked to Brian’s house, we moved down the hill to see his pig and when we returned to his home it seemed most of the village were gathered on the ridge looking down on us, yes this house is also on a ledge.

    

We were followed along the tracks back to the car where we found another large crowd gathered. It was all too much for Brian to take in and we returned him to his grandmother as we said our goodbyes.

It has been an emotional day, it feels like so many families here live life on the edge in so many ways, and yet they are warm, welcoming and accepting of their lot in life.

Our shopping list for potential support is growing by the day.

We started today with a lovely breakfast of fruit, and fresh bread from the bakery, then it was off to visit the King Salomon Nursery School. This church run nursery is partnered with, and supported by, Open Door Toddlers in South Woodham Ferrers, Essex, and has benefitted from some infrastructure improvements as well as the provision of play equipment. The children were a delight, and every class had prepared a song and a poem to greet us. The school is bright and welcoming and every class is decorated with stimulating pictures and bright colours.

    

Having visited every classroom we had the honour of serving all the children with their ‘breakfast’ of posho (a type of porridge) and a cake from the bakery. For some this will be the only meal they get today. Whilst the school is privately run by the church, there are many children from poor families and the school offer some bursaries to help the children benefit from a Christian education. Looking beyond the smiling faces it was heart breaking to see the ragged jumpers and torn shirts worn by some of the children. They were all so polite and well mannered and once all the children were served we joined the baby class for breakfast. Much to our relief the posho tasted better than it looked.

    

Then it was break time, which is also time for some C…H…I (Causing Havoc Intentionally). The bag of tennis balls we had brought with us were soon flying around the play area and the children were teaching us some song and dance. Once again touching the muzungu and feeling our hair was a popular pastime, Joff’s beard was the star attraction and apparently doubled as a swing rope. All too soon the bell was rung and it was time to resume lessons.

The prayer is that soon the school will be able to provide lunch for the children to enable them to stay on at school and have an afternoon rest. Even at this age many of the children are left to fend for themselves after school finishes, or have to accompany their parents as they tend market stalls.

Next stop was the building of Hannah Ministries, a charity set up by the Bishop’s wife before her untimely death in 2015. This charity provides lunch for the poorest children, mostly from families affected by HIV/AIDs. As the children arrived from schools across the area, some walking for 30 minutes, we served plates of rice, beans and a high protein mix of greens, anchovies, beans & rice, the children also received a cup of posho. Each day 76 children are fed through this ministry. Unfortunately, since the death of the Bishop’s wife the work has had to be scaled back as there has been no one to fundraise and they no longer have any regular income, Consolee and Roland who provide the service are both volunteers who give up their time every day to cook and provide for these children.

After lunch we visited the King Salomon Primary School where the children from the nursery progress to. Once again we were impressed with the innovative ideas including crafts from waste materials and a debating session which involved the entire school, in English!!!

Our last stop of the day was the Piggery Project. This project was started by the Youth Union with support from CHI when Covid closed the bakery, the aim was to provide an alternative means of income and support for Youth Union members. Having started with just two pigs they now boast 14, including three very cute piglets. Four are males and will be sold, the income from these sales will provide the pig food and a wage for the individual employed to care for them. Eight Youth Union members have already benefitted from the gift of a pig having provided a suitable sty.

Employment is a real issue in this area, particularly after the recent closure of two local industries, and projects that help these young people to become self sufficient are vital for the economy of the area, and the sense of self worth that comes from self sufficiency.

Cases repacked yet again and an early start as we leave Kibungo for the first leg of our journey to Byumba.

Our first crisis was encountered at 6.30am when Joff discovered there was no coffee at breakfast, he needs at least two cups before he can start the day. Cases and a grumpy Joff loaded in the car we set off.

On the vastly improved roads this proved to be a straightforward journey and we arrived back in Kigali in record time with the car still in one piece!!

We were greeted like old friends at the guest house, which was our agreed handover stop, and had time to enjoy a much needed cup of coffee before saying a sad farewell to Lawrence our driver and Asifiwe, who has been our constant friend and companion during our time in Kibungo.

A quick trip to the shops to stock up on water and our transport to Byumba arrived in the form of Robert and driver Cyprien. We were quickly joined by Bishop Emmanuel who was attending a House of Bishops meeting at the guest house and had popped out during the break to say hello and apologise that he would be unable to join us until Friday when he returns to Byumba.

Then it was back on the road, for the one and a half hour journey to Byumba, the days of pot holes and rock falls across this road are long gone and this has cut the journey time considerably. The scenery is stunning as the road twists and turns up the ever higher hills.

            

Almost reassuringly, the Byumba guest house has not changed at all, and for the first time since we arrived in Rwanda we actually have coat hangers and can unpack our cases.

       

After a time to unpack and grab a coffee it was time to visit the Youth Union Bakery which CHI had helped to fund. This venture was planned and set up by the local Youth Union to create a self sustaining business and offer employment to the local youth. It was growing successfully prior to Covid but has taken a substantial knock back over the last two years. During Covid they used their profits to provide food for those in need in the local community, leaving themselves with no reserves to fall back on. These determined young men have not given up however, and production is well underway again, although rising prices and a lack of transport are hindering their growth.  We were treated to a tour of the ‘factory’ where the baker Jean de Dieu demonstrated his bread and cake baking skills. Everything is cooked in an oven heated by logs, we have no idea how he controls the temperature and he seems to know instinctively when things are cooked as there are no clocks or timers here.

      

      

After a government inspection the only fault found was that the mixer was not big enough, we were a little concerned about the electrics though.

We watched stunned as Jean de Dieu removed the tray from the oven with his bare hands, oven gloves are obviously for wimps.

After the tour we enjoyed a time of discussion with the Youth Union members, all university graduates with other jobs within the Diocese, and learned more about their savings scheme and how it is helping local youth union members set up their own businesses and have hope of a better future.

On the road by 8am today, through the stunning hills of Kibungo to Cyamigurwa Parish. The tiny guard of honour from the nursery school that greeted us looked more scared than excited but they soon got over their fear and smiled.

      

Then in to the church where we were greeted by more song and dance, worship here is just so joyful.

After the formalities it was time to distribute 70 goats to the poorest families, these families are chosen by the community as being the most in need. The goats are purchased from within the local area and numbered, then the recipients draw lots to see which goat they will receive. Some goats are quite young and will not breed for a while, others are older and heavily pregnant, due to give birth any day, but there does not appear to be any resentment or jealousy, the recipients are just so delighted to receive a gift which they see as a way to transform their lives.

         

We spent a happy hour chatting and dancing outside the church where we met a lovely couple who had been married for 45 years. This is fairly rare in this area as so many are widows whose husbands were killed at the time of the genocide.

     

Then it was time for lunch in the pastors house. Pastor Divine was proud of the fact that she is the only woman pastor in Kibungo Diocese, she made us very welcome and together with all the other church elders and visitors we enjoyed a pleasant lunch, to a cacophony of bleating goats.

    

The pastors husband proudly showed us his pigs and the room he had built to keep hens. Although he works, he also breeds the livestock to teach the local community how they can improve their lives from very simple beginnings.

    

All to soon it was time to be back on the road. First a stop to visit the Archdeacon’s church and be welcomed in his home and then we headed to Gahima Parish where 70 goats were distributed in October 2021. They had been distributed between 5 sub parishes but the 20 recipients from Gahima were gathered in the church to greet us and give their testimonies.

The initial church gathering is very formal and so we soon moved outside where everyone relaxed and the usual hugging, dancing and hair touching took place. Despite the conversations being relayed through an interpreter it is lovely to share fellowship with the communities, they are interested in our families and children, and ask about life in the UK, and how our worship compares to Rwanda. We cannot lie, theirs is far more joyful and spontaneous.

          

Then en mass we headed off along the tracks to visit some of the homes where goats had been received. As always when we head off into the villages on foot chaos ensues, as local children surge around wanting to touch but scared at the same time, they creep up behind us but run away screaming if we turn to look at them. We usually win them round though.

     

The homes we visited were certainly modest and we prayed at each one for God’s blessings to be on the family and for the goats to remain healthy and be productive. Such a simply gift can ensure health insurance, school fees, food and clothes are not beyond the reach of these families.

     

This is our last day in Kibungo Diocese, and as we headed back to the hotel sad farewells were said to some of those who have accompanied us over the last few days.

Providing our washing is found before the morning we will be leaving early tomorrow (7am), and a new adventure will begin in the hills of Byumba.   Please pray for journey mercies as we travel.

Today we headed out to a remote region of Kibungo, to the edge of the Akagera National Park. It is fair to say that while some of the roads have improved, the improvements have not yet reached these two remote parishes. An hour and a half of dancing roads saw us arrive at Gasabo, a sub parish of Rushenyi Parish where the church had been built and Bibles provided with support from CHI, goats have also been provided in the parish.

It quickly became apparent that we had broken yet another car (this time the Bishop’s) and a puncture posed a challenge this far from a town, it appears we were not carrying a spare wheel!!!

       

As we entered the church to the now familiar song and dance our initial reaction was WOW. It was clean, tidy and beautifully decorated (although we think they might now be suffering from a toilet roll shortage!). It was also full. There were Christians from Gasabo and two other sub parishes seated on benches around the church. Having taken our seats of honour at the front the choir sung and danced for us, the joy and enthusiasm was contagious and we were soon all clapping and foot tapping along with them. After a time of prayer and the presentations, we heard how the church had grown from a congregation of 30 to 74 since it had been completed, the plan for the next year is to reach 100.  We also heard encouraging testimonies from those who had received Bibles, and learned how the gift of a goat had enabled school fees to be paid, homes to be renovated and lives to be improved.

       

After further song and dance the Bishop explained how the church needed to acquire a further strip of land to the side to comply with the government regulations on the minimum size of a plot of land for a church. The government here are very good at setting requirements, unfortunately they do not provide the funds to meet them. The gentleman who owned the plot was a member of the congregation and agreed to sell it. After a ‘sermon’ from the Bishop he asked everyone who would pledge a days wages (approx. £1 for a casual worker) to stand up, nearly all of those present leapt to their feet, there by followed a bizzare period of taking names and pledges, together with cash from those who had it. By the end approx £240 had been pledged or received, a huge amount for this small sub parish to find. They have a long way to go but this is how it works here, they start small and pray.

    

By God’s grace the puncture delayed us by 2 hours and we were able to spend time chatting, having our skin and hair touched to see if we all felt the same, and having endless photos taken. We asked if they received many bazungu visitors, they looked surprised at the question, you are the first we were told, what about before Covid we asked, no, only you. We were so blessed to spend time with this wonderful community and pray we will be able to assist them further.

      

Wheel changed and it was on to Cyambwe Parish, where we had been expected at 12.30pm to distribute 60 goats to individuals within the parish, and then for lunch with the pastor.  In the event it was lunch first whilst those waiting to receive their goats were forced to wait a little longer, we were uncomfortable about this but we have to comply with what is expected of us. Despite their wait they greeted us warmly and we were made welcome for the usual formalities before heading outside to officially hand over the goats. More photos and ‘conversations’ and it was time to leave to ensure we arrived home before dark. Joff seemed to think there may be a safer method of transport on the dancing roads, but the welfare of the animals must come first.

Sunday in Rwanda sees large numbers of men, women and children heading for their local church, for us today that meant a short walk to Kibungo Cathedral, the service was once again in Kinyarwandan with plenty of song and dance, including by the pastor (who seemed to be well practiced in microphone swinging), this seems to be the norm in churches in Rwanda. The readings were from Acts 2  and Nehemiah 8. Asifiwe did a good job of interpreting for us with the main message being how modern society interferes with our focus on our faith.

The church is currently collecting to assist a lady who had sickness in her family and an offering was taken for her, we failed to understand this part of the service, so were a little surprised when a second offering basket was uncovered. Fortunately we were able to access a few more Rwandan francs for the church. The lady was presented with an envelope, we hope she will be pleasantly surprised.

     

English services seem to have stopped following Covid, maybe everyone went home.  On more than one occasion we have been told we are the first Western visitors to come since Covid, and it has been a cause for celebration in this wonderful country where visitor are seen as a sign of hope.

This was followed by a very pleasant lunch with Asifiwe, his wife Juliette, and Frank, another member of the Diocesan staff.

Then we headed off for a meeting with Bishop Emmanuel to review our timetable and discuss challenges being faced, and future support by CHI for Kibungo Diocese.  We addressed a few issues experienced by us and the Bishop promised to take the necessary action. Our meeting ended just after 4pm and Asifiwe then had to go on a 4 hour bus ride to Kigali for a meeting tomorrow.  These young, newly qualified pastors seem to work 24/7, they really do give their lives to the church.

And so an early finish as we may even complete our reports etc in daylight. Probably fortuitous, we have an early start in the morning as we head for Gasabo Sub parish where a church refurbishment was undertaken just prior to Covid.

Posted in CHI

Today was Umuganda, the one Saturday in every month when Rwandans must give up 3 hours in the morning to clean and clear public spaces. We were exempt, so a leisurely breakfast (we tried to ignore the waiter determined to clear up around us as we ate) and a sit in the gardens, was a very pleasant way to spend the morning.

At 2pm we were due to visit the Gahima Agape School where we have a number of sponsored children. We were ready and waiting in good time, Joff and Pauline were excited at the thought of finally meeting their sponsored children, Asifiwe, the pastor who has been accompanying us, arrived to inform us we were waiting for Bishop Josias (retired) to arrive from Kigali, apparently he was accompanying us together with Bishop Emmanuel. Eventually, after a quick stop to see the site of the new Gahima Agape nursery/primary school currently being built, we arrived at Gahima Agape senior school. The marquee was up, the trees were decorated, and the entire school was seated on benches under the trees. Two Bishops and three bazungu obviously merit some effort.

After being treated to song and traditional dance (Pauline reluctantly took one for the team), the inevitable speeches (mercifully short) and a presentation of gifts, we were processed off across the compound, it turned out Bishop Josias was there to officially open a new girls dormitory. We also saw the new ‘girls room’ now a requirement in all Rwandan schools, a safe space for teenage girls to wash, change their clothes or rest when the need arises.

      

Ribbon cut, prayers said and it was time to meet the children. As we walked back we were delighted to see the new bathrooms and toilets erected with funds from CHI, these were required to enable the school to reopen after Covid. The ‘bathrooms’ consisted of a small square box with a roof and door, the bare cemented walls were unpainted and no light filtered in once the door was closed. They may have satisfied the requirement but we doubt the girls will be singing their praises. We made a couple of suggestions for improvements but are not holding our breath.

                 

Then, as the Bishops left, it was time to meet the students. First we had to C..H..I so rather than sit at the table prepared for us we took seats among the students to watch the presentation slide which had been prepared. Three of the students read poems and a speech and then it was our turn .

    

Determined to give the students a chance to relax with us we led them out under the tree where we finally had the opportunity to move among them and chat. Some had very little English but others spoke well and were thrilled to have the opportunity to practice.  They all wanted to pass messages to their sponsors telling them they loved them and prayed for them, we were constantly asked to show them pictures of their sponsors, they couldn’t understand why we didn’t have them available. The students were clean, smart and intelligent, they are starting their national exams next week so please pray they will all be successful.

Having overrun the schedule by about 2 hours we made it back to the hotel where the Bishops were waiting for us to join them for dinner. A pleasant  evening and all in all a successful day.

 

 

Posted in CHI

Poor murram roads in the dark and rain meant our previous visit to Nkondo Parish in 2018 was unacceptably brief. However, we learnt enough to know that there was more work to be done. At that time we had provided goats for the community and the testimony from Pastor Aaron about the large number of resulting baptisms was a great encouragement.

Since that time the community have come together to build a nursery school, we were delighted to assist with support for the roof, tables and chairs for the classrooms and some play equipment. Today we were delighted to have the opportunity to again visit this inspiring community.

After breakfast we were collected from our Hotel and a clear sunny morning and vastly improved roads ensured we had enough time to spend in worship, visit the children at school and even play with them with the tennis balls we had brought for just this occasion.

     

As the choir and church members, dressed in their best, together with the children from the nursery school, accompanied us back into the church we couldn’t help but notice the ragged children and adults alike who hid around the corners and behind the bushes. The children were nervous and ran away when we tried to speak with them, and a wave to the adults caused them to duck behind the bushes. Not to be deterred, a quick sprint across the grass and hands were shaken and greetings exchanged, with those who may otherwise simply have watched from afar.

       

Pastor Aaron’s wife provided a traditional Rwandan meal and it was a joy to spend time in their home.

Then all to soon it as time to say goodbye as we headed for Rurenge Parish where it had been arranged we would meet with the Bishop and distribute the goats for which funds had recently been sent. We were greeted by the sound of song and dance coming from the crowded church, we were processed in and, as always, given seats of honour at the front. Introductions, speeches and a short time of worship and it was off outside to do the deed.

A small green space, 60 goats and the recipients, untold numbers of the local community, 1 government official, 1 Bishop, assorted clergy and three clueless Bazungu, what could possibly go wrong???

Somehow though the goats all ended up with a new home and after the speeches and photos we were invited to enter and bless the pastors home. As we faced a table loaded with dishes we were all grateful we had not eaten too much in Nkondo. Our third meal of the day and it was only 1pm!!!!

     

We learnt that the community were connected to electricity and that safe water was available nearby, the aim is for both to be available to all homes by 2024.  The one hour drive back was on good muram roads and we are impressed that even in the more remote locations the infrastructure is being improved. However, look behind the bushes and there is still extreme poverty at every turn. Raggy children not in school and painfully thin adults trying to scratch a living and cultivate infertile soil. So often we see them outside the church looking in through the windows, welcome but, we imagine, too ashamed to come in. Our work is certainly not done here, and many more goats are needed in these communities.

     

 

Today we said goodbye to the lovely staff at St Etienne’s Cathedral Guest House and headed for Kibungo Diocese.

Due to CHOGM many of the roads in Kigali were closed and what should have been a 3 – 3 1/2 hour journey on tarmac roads  ended up being 5 hours, about 2 of which were on some very interesting murram roads!!!  Unfortunately we never get the best pictures of these roads as we are too busy hanging on

By the time we arrived at 5.45pm we had kept the Bishop waiting for about two hours. He was very gracious and gave thanks for our safe arrival.

The church guest house in Kibungo is currently closed and so the Bishop had arranged  for us very preferential rates at a local hotel. We were stopped at a  barrier and the underneath of the car was swept by a security guard, a little worrying but we hope this was only to give us a sense of security!!!   The hotel looked far superior to our usual budget accommodation and before we left we had discovered it had a swimming pool, we had high expectations.

We were shown to our very large rooms, (one each, such a luxury as Pauline and I have shared until now) and wonderfully discovered the rooms have baths. The idea of being able to soak out the red dust filled us with joy.  Decision made, a quick shower, dinner and then an overdue soak in the bath. Our hopes were quickly dashed as we discovered the trickle of water from the shower had 2 temperatures, cold and colder

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The swimming pool is empty, and the electricity dropped out by 7pm although it came on again fairly quickly. The dinner we ordered at 6.30pm arrived at 8.15pm (not quite as slow as the 2hr toasted sandwich in St Etienne’s that wasn’t actually toasted). It is almost reassuring to find that some things in Rwanda really haven’t changed at all.

 

Discussions and evaluation with Chantal at the Diocesan office was the schedule for today, Joff breathed a sigh of relief, he has had enough emotion for one week. He did however have an appointment to speak to one of the sponsored children who is having a few problems, it was thought a one to one with someone outside the usual church contacts might just make a difference. He persevered through a difficult couple of hours and no noticeable progress was made, but we pray that maybe a seed has been planted that will bear fruit. In Him all things are possible.

After 3 hours of frank, honest and, we hope, productive discussions it was time for lunch. A very short walk saw us seated in The Fork, a very nice cafe with an extensive menu. The food lived up to expectations, two consecutive days of good food, we will be getting soft if this goes on.

Then it was off to visit two more of our sponsored children whom we had missed yesterday. The road led us past fancy new houses, but almost in their back gardens we once again found ourselves centre of attention in slums on the edge of the city, these were probably worse than the place we visited yesterday, the overwhelming stench of raw sewage warned us not to slip off the narrow ledges running alongside what was probably intended as a drainage ditch, which it was necessary to negotiate to move between the homes. The alleyways were unbelievably even narrower, and then we reached the home of converted Muslim Hamida and her children, Jeanette and Kevin who are sponsored, and Herisse and Jeannine. It seemed unbelievable that 5 people could even fit in this narrow space, let alone live, and yet we all crammed in along with most of the neighbourhood children who filled the doorway jostling to get a look at the bazungu.

       

The room was so narrow we could not face each other on the benches but had to angle sideways to fit our legs in, this space doubled as the boys bedroom. There was another equally small room behind the curtain, apparently mum and the two girls slept there. It was dark and stuffy, the light socket hung off the wall and there was no light bulb, electricity may have been connected to these places but it does not mean light is available to all.

            

Rent here is relatively cheap, the equivalent of approximately £12 per month, but the land on their doorstep is already being flattened and very soon this area will be cleared to make way for new houses, and Hamida and her family, along with the many others living here, will be forced to find somewhere else to live.

Hamida and her family outside their home

Pauline had shared with Chantal a family tradition to mark the birthday today of her sister who was taken too soon. Her favourite food was chocolate and strawberries and Pauline’s family ensure this is eaten every year on this day. Pauline was going to wait until she got home to mark the occasion, but despite large areas of Kigali being closed for CHOGM, Chantal then whisked us away to a large shopping mall, the road was closed but I guess if the Archbishop’s wife can’t pull strings who can? Having convinced the armed guard to allow us to park the car and walk in we enjoyed a lovely piece of chocolate cake and strawberry ice cream.

We all find it very difficult to witness the inequality here.  It is surreal and very uncomfortable to move between the slums and a high end shopping mall, surrounded by overpriced items that people don’t need and yet have an unquenchable appetite for.  It was lovely to be able to celebrate the memory of Pauline’s sister, but the cake caught in the throat somewhat.  Progress is happening in Rwanda at an astonishing rate but perhaps too slowly for some.  Our fear is that the rich will get richer and the poor poorer.  But there is an acceptance amongst the people that we speak to that the world is unjust and you just have to get on with the hand you have been dealt.  We haven’t met anyone that complains about their lot in life or about the daily hardships, of which there are many (just try cycling up these hills with a sack of potatoes!).  I’ve not met a more humble, hardworking, determined or dignified people. No matter how bad the hand they have been dealt, our friends here still praise God for His provision, knowing that all they need is Jesus. Halleluiah!

Tomorrow we move on to Kibungo and hope to be able to visit the genocide shrine at Nyamata en route. Please pray for journey mercies as we travel and for strength as we visit the shrine.

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The sights, sounds and smells of the market cannot easily be described, they just have to be experienced, and as three bazungu we hardly blended into the background. In general people were amazed to see us and most just wanted to say hello, especially if they spoke any English. From those touting their wares to the porters offering to carry our purchases to the car, we drew quite a bit of attention. Despite our desire to purchase a ton of brightly coloured fabric, we were actually there to visit the stalls of some of the beneficiaries of the Loan4Hope Project. We learned how the loan had helped them to grow their businesses, provide for their families and restored hope. The ladies all attended their local churches and gave thanks to God for His blessings on them.

       

Then off to Kimironko Parish where Pastor Maurice is the full time pastor, although he is not the ‘main man’. We were delighted to visit his parish and learn about some of the challenges they face. Whilst many of the homes by the church were quite affluent the parish also encompasses the slums.

The recurring challenge on this visit is that of underage mums rejected by their families. Accessing vocational training is their best hope for the future but of course the fees are beyond their means. We paid a quick visit to a privately run Christian Vocational Training Centre to see the courses on offer. This is an area we will explore once we are home.

After a very pleasant lunch Maurice drove us back to Nyarutarama where we visited Alphonse, one of our sponsored children, and his mum Alphonsine. We were surprised when we pulled up outside a very grand gated property and saw Alphonse peering through the railings. All became clear when Maurice explained how Alphonsine had had to run away from her violent and abusive husband leaving her 5 year old son with his paternal grandmother. She was taken in by an elderly widow in the church as a house maid, she then discovered she was pregnant. Fortunately the lady allowed her to stay and they now share her home. her other son remains with his grandmother.  For now they are safe, but with no other income we daren’t think what will happen to them once the old lady dies.

      

After a short drive into the slums on the edge of the city, and a less than secure bridge to negotiate, we met with Nice, a sponsored child, her mum Grace and her sister Sarah. We had been moved by Grace’s joyful and enthusiastic worship in the church on Sunday, and marvelled at her appropriate name. She is the most elegant, serene and graceful lady and she and her children are immaculate.  As the children took us by the hands and led us further into the slums, up tiny alleys where Joff’s shoulders touched each wall, we were once again the subject of curious stares. As filthy children teemed around us and dejected adults watched on suspiciously, we didn’t get the impression buzungu often ventured into this area.

     

And then we arrived at their front door, “come in, you are welcome” we were told. The windowless room measured about 6ft x 6ft and served as a bedroom separated from the front area by a curtain, with one mattress reaching from wall to wall, and a living room, all their worldly goods were neatly stacked in the corner and along the side wall. Water is collected from the tap in the alleyway, cooking is done on a fire outside and we assume there is a communal long drop at the end of one of the alleys, we were not going for a look!!!  As we all squeezed into her tiny room, 7 adults and 2 children (on our laps), we could not imagine how this wonderful lady could possibly remain so smart and elegant. The children proudly showed us their toys, a tiny teddy and a ball.  We learned how 3 year old Sarah is left alone in the alley while Grace goes to work. The door has to be locked for security and Sarah is apparently inventive as she passes the time outside. Grace cleans at the Cathedral but cannot afford to put Grace into nursery. Nice also waits outside once she returns from school.

       

         

We shared a time of prayer before we left this amazing family with tears in our eyes. How can we possibly help this family? Sadly there are so many others living in these conditions. We are throwing the starfish back but it feels like the tide is going out.

First stop Kinyinya parish. First visited in 2009 when we saw almost 90 nursery children crammed in the pastor’s office. The other class was being held in the dilapidated church, a new nursery building was underway. Today this parish boasts a nursery and a new church building.

A Parish project was started here just before Covid, the ensuing lockdown put everything on hold. Today twenty six women involved in the project turned out to greet us. Some were recipients of goats, seeds and training in health, hygiene and nutrition, some were also the parents of sponsored children. They were eager to give testimonies about the difference the project had made to their families and gave thanks to God for the support they had received.

These women meet as a group every week to pray, read the Bible and support each other. We learnt of depression and psychological problems that had been eased by becoming part of this group and having the opportunity to share their stories and the challenges they face. All the women now attend this or another local church.

Then it was off to visit the homes of some of the women. Our first stop was the home of 48 year old Gorretti, mum to sponsored child Shema, aged 12,  and 3 other children, two had grown and left home. We had noticed her during the meeting as she looked very sick, we are told she has Cancer but we are not sure if she really knows what is wrong with her.

Her nearest water source is up a steep hill and her home has no electricity, but that’s ok she said, she uses the torch on her antiquated mobile phone which she has to charge at her neighbour’s house.

She is very weak and her reasonably sized plot of land, on which she tries to cultivate some crops is obviously more than she can really cope with. Her three roomed home, which belongs to her late husband’s family, was basic to say the least but she welcomed us in.  As we sat on the chairs (probably borrowed) she squatted on the floor in the corner of the small windowless room. She apologised for not standing when she spoke to us, standing too long caused her head to ache.

      

She showed us the hen Shema had purchased with the gift money from his sponsor, it, and the recently hatched chicks, shared her tiny bedroom to keep them safe, she also showed us the rabbit he had bought with his gift money which lived in another of the tiny rooms, probably Shema’s bedroom.

Despite her desperate situation she praised God and told us she was happy because the gifts have enabled the children to have food and shoes, and she could die knowing they would be alright. Imagine the arrangements you would want to make if you thought you might die while your children were young. Providing shoes would probably not top your list.

We met Shema yesterday at the church, despite our best efforts we had failed to make him smile, now we realise why, hardly surprising given the circumstances he lives in.

        

Two more challenging visits later we climbed into our Toyota Land Cruiser V8, borrowed from the Archbishop, and were taken to the affluent end of town for lunch by his wife Chantal. The burritos were very tasty but they tended to stick in the throat as we processed the visits we had just made.

As the city grows, the land on which the slums reside is becoming prime real estate, land is being purchased, families relocated and obscenely opulent properties are being built on the doorstep of those like Gorretti. This is the first time I have seen this mix of relative opulence and abject poverty side by side in Rwanda, those who have wealth see it as progress but for those less fortunate it must feel very unjust.

Then it was off to Rutunga to visit the home of Sonia, Pauline’s sponsored child. Having almost put the Archbishop’s vehicle in a ditch trying to cross a narrow bridge, we reached her home. The circumstances for this family were better and Sonia, who was very shy, and her little sister Sandrine were delightful. We were made very welcome and it was good to end the day on a happier note, although I think we may all be crying in our pillows tonight over the visit to Gorretti.

Today we attended a two and a half hour service in Kinyrwandan at the Holy Trinity Cathedral in Kibagabaga. We met Hope, the field assistant who oversees the sponsorship, unfortunately Chantal was in Geneva so we were unable to meet with her.

After the service we shared lunch with about 75 of the sponsored children and some of their parents, and then a time of interaction which was, as always, an absolute joy.  Ranging in age from 5 to about 19, once they got over their shyness and reluctance to try out their English, these children and young people were mainly bright and engaging. Many gave us messages for their sponsors, asking us to tell them how much they loved them and appreciated the support they had received, they were especially grateful for the food they received through Covid, many telling us how they would often not have eaten at all without the food they received when their sponsorship was not required for school fees.

      

More than one child was overwhelmed as they hugged us, and shed tears of joy that they could see us face to face, often reluctant to let go of our hands. We would have needed hearts of stone not to be moved by these children.

Covid has delayed their education by two years, for some this means that they are 16 – 18 years old and still in primary school. Realistically these young people will be unlikely to progress to senior school. We will be considering if support can be offered for short vocational training courses for those for whom it is appropriate.

Back to the guest house for 5.30pm and a surprise visit from Maurice who was our driver when we visited in 2013. Now a pastor and married to Hope, it was lovely to see him again.

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We said an emotional farewell to Bishop Jered and his team as we headed for Kigali yesterday.

Our accommodation has moved across the road to Mercy House where the team stayed on previous visits. The view is still the same but the place is unrecognisable from the ‘home’ we knew and loved. The place has been refurbished and extended, the leaky veranda where many pleasant evenings had been spent is now a conference room, much of the garden has ben built on to provide extra accommodation and the rooms all have ensuite bathrooms, with HOT WATER. It is modern and comfortable but has also lost much of its charm.

           

As we drove through Kigali we marvelled at the new roads with pavements, learnt that livestock must now be kept within the confines of the property, local people can no longer graze their goats and cows along the grass verges. We saw the Eco Park where wildlife is returning, green and smart with walkways to encourage tourists. Previously this area was inhabited, but homes have been cleared and families relocated, not always by choice. Kigali is undoubtedly smarter and more modern, and for those able to capitalise on the new economy their lives will undoubtedly improve, for those who do not fit this new image however, we can only wonder about their future. Unfortunately, like the guest house this growing city has lost much of its charm.

A short visit to a school with Bishop Nathan saw us entertained with song and dance by the students, then back to the guest house for a quick freshen up before enjoying a lovely meal at the New Cactus with Bishop Nathan and his wife Ester.

We are looking forward to a day off today when we hope to have the opportunity to explore the local area.

This afternoon we will meet with Merard, a previously sponsored child who now has a prominent job in the government, followed by a visit to Archbishop Onesphore (retired) and Josephine with whom we worked for many years.

There will be no blog tonight.

 

The long and bumpy road led to Gisanga Parish today. There was a point when Joff would have preferred to get out and walk, but eventually we arrived safely.

One of CHI’s early Parish Projects. The first thing we noticed was a large number of goats, we were later delighted to learn that the process of breeding and passing on the first female kid was continuing, and many more families have benefitted.

We met with Jennifer who told us how her goat had produced two young and she had passed on one, then it had produced triplets, she passed one on and sold two to pay for hospital treatment after having an accident. She is now waiting for it to give birth again.

Covid had a huge impact on this community and it is likely many of the goats were sold to provide basic needs for the families.

We had a tour of the school, and whilst we were impressed with the general condition of the building, we were horrified to see the unprotected broken glass in the classroom windows.

       

Next door we saw the church building, originally built by the community and roofed with funds from CHI. It had then collapsed in a storm as it was being officially opened. As Covid hit, the community were unable to start rebuilding but today they have again reached roof level. Despite salvaging some roofing sheets and metalwork this huge building, designed to seat 500, now requires iron bars and some roofing sheets, which are currently beyond the means of the community, they are not discouraged however, with unwavering faith that God will provide they continue to fetch sand and stones in anticipation of being able to cement the walls. This roof needs to be completed by September before the rains come or the walls are likely to be damaged again.

We were also delighted to meet with some of the pastors who had received bikes, they had used them to come and meet with us. They told us how much they assist them in  visiting their communities, and apparently they are also very useful for collecting goods from the market.

After a full Rwandan meal we returned to the guest house at around 3pm to discover they had prepared lunch for us, we did our best but requested they did not prepare any dinner. After a short break we met with Bishop Jered to discuss our thoughts on the projects and areas we had visited. He had to be finished by 5 said his secretary, as he had another engagement. Phew, an early finish and time to write the report, blog and Facebook post we thought, maybe there was a chance we would go to bed before midnight.

At 5pm were were instructed to follow the Bishop, it turned out we were guests of honour at an event to mark his 25 years as Bishop of Shyogwe Diocese, no time to change or freshen up.   We had an amazing evening, arranged by staff who obviously have great love and affection for a man some have worked for for 25 years, others have been mentored, supported and taught by him since they were children. There were the usual speeches, then we sang, danced (it seems to be a recurring theme in this Diocese) and oh yes, it included a meal and, much to Pauline’s delight, a cake!!!!

So here we are at 11.45 pm still trying to post the blog!

A lay in tomorrow as we head back to Kigali, we don’t leave until 10am, our first visit is not until the afternoon. Please pray for journey mercies as we travel.

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