Thursday, 28 November 2013

A Surprise From Basomingera!

Last Monday, I was delighted to receive the most amazing letter from my Basomingera Ada! I’ve been Ada’s correspondent for eight months, and in all that time, I’ve only received one impersonal letter written by project staff on her behalf. So when I got this letter, I was thrilled half to death! She answers some of my questions and responds to several things I had said to her in previous letters. And there was also something very special about this letter!

See the Winnie-the-Pooh and Little Pony stickers? Those are stickers that I had sent to her back in June! I still have a hard time believing that Ada took two of her precious stickers and shared them with me! From Canada to Rwanda and back to Canada… these stickers have had quite a journey!

And here’s the adorable letter she wrote:

Dear Hannah,

I greet you in Jesus’ name. May God’s peace and blessings be upon you. I am doing well at school and I am doing the end of year exams now. I will be in grade 4 next year 2014. I have my best friends, we share food and play different games together. My best friend is Sandrine. (I had asked her about her friends) My family is doing well. I miss you, I love you and I keep you in my prayers. May God bless you. Read Philemon 4-7 and Psalm 23.

I thank you for your previous letter you wrote to me and many more other letters you keep sending me and tell me that Jesus is a friend who can never forsake me. (In response to a letter about Jesus being a Friend of children) My greetings to Pastor Jesse who teaches and explains well. (In response to a letter about my pastor, who ran in a triathlon. I said that he tells people about Jesus and explains things so they are easy to understand) I thank you for the nice pictures. Please continue writing to me. (Always, my sweet girl, always!)

I can’t wait to pass on Ada’s greetings to my pastor; I think he will be excited that a little girl halfway around the world sends her greetings to him!

I can just picture her playing with her best friend Sandrine, playing together and maybe eating at each other’s houses! The next time I write to Ada, I’ll be sure to include a little something for Sandrine and ask if she attends the project with Ada.

Of course, my favorite part of the letter is when she mentions Jesus being a friend who cannot forsake her. If I never got another letter besides this one, I would content knowing my sweet girl got my letter about Jesus (I think, the most important letter I sent her) and that she understands that He will never forsake her. The most important thing to me is that all of my children know Jesus and have a personal relationship with Him. That way, I know for sure that I will see them all in Heaven one day!

Of course, the part, “I miss you, I love you and I keep you in my prayers,” is just too beautiful as well. This is the second letter from Ada, and both letters said, “I miss you,” even though I’ve never met her!

Oh, and the two verses she included are Philemon 4-7, which says “I always thank my God as I remember you in my prayers, because I hear about your love for all his holy people and your faith in the Lord Jesus. I pray that your partnership with us in the faith may be effective in deepening your understanding of every good thing we share for the sake of Christ. Your love has given me great joy and encouragement, because you, brother, have refreshed the hearts of the Lord’s people.” And of course, the 23rd Psalm (the Shepherd Psalm) which most people are familiar with.

How I love my beautiful girl!

Thursday, 21 November 2013

An Olive Tree In The House Of The Lord

"But I am like a green olive tree in the House of God; I trust in the mercy of God for ever and ever."
~Psalm 52:8

When you think of a symbol of peace, what do you think of? A dove, a white poppy, a peace sign, an olive branch?

When I think about a symbol of peace, here’s what I see:

To the casual observer, she’s just an ordinary little girl. And in many ways, she is; she lives with her mother, father, and two younger sisters. Like most little girls, she’s curious, playful, and loves to be the center of attention. She loves affection and hugs. Sometimes she snorts when she giggles. She has a charming smile and an adorable way of looking away and then peeking at you out of the corner of her eye. And she’s brave and tenacious.

She’s also my hero.

Her name is Olivia, which means “olive tree.” And like her namesake, she has had to be tougher and more resilient than most children.

You see, Olivia was born handicapped, to parents living in poverty. In Rwanda, having a handicapped child is not as easy as it is here. There is often a lack of medical care and parental support. Olivia’s mother had to stay at home to care for her daughter, all the while dealing with neighbors who said that Olivia would never be anything and who could not understand this faithful Mama’s dedication to her child. They often told Olivia’s family to just leave their little girl at some rich person’s gate; to get rid of her.

One day, while Olivia’s father was away doing a menial job, Olivia’s mother left the house to try to find some food for her children. As she returned, she noticed that Olivia had crawled too close to the river and was about to fall in. As Olivia’s mama rushed to save her daughter, a neighbor called out, “You should either carry it on your back or leave it somewhere else! Or… just let your hunger kill all of you!” Olivia’s Mama’s heart was broken by those words and she vowed to stay with her daughter and never leave her. But her heart was crying out for a miracle; for God to come and save them from their poverty and hopelessness. Little did she know that her disabled child would become the key to unlock poverty’s door.

"He will fulfill the desire of those who fear Him;
He also will hear their cry, and will save them."
~Psalm 145:19

In November 2012, a team of Canadians traveled to Rwanda with an organization called Shelter Them, a ministry that cares for orphans and vulnerable children. While on their three week visit, they were able to distribute several wheelchairs to needy families who could not afford one. Olivia was one of the children chosen to receive a chair.

The next day, the mission team decided to visit one of the families who had received a wheelchair. Jules, who helps to run the Shelter Them office in Kigali Rwanda, knew that Olivia lived nearby and offered to guide the team to her home.

What they saw, shocked them.

Five people were living in a tiny mud hut smaller than most Canadian bedrooms. Olivia’s father, an unskilled worker, had taken two jobs to try to feed his family but was still unable to provide for them. Olivia herself was forced to scoot on her backside, her usual method of traveling, through the mud and sewage that flowed around the tiny house.

It was an eye-opening experience for the team, who had never seen such shocking poverty.

The above picture is of two of the team members after leaving Olivia’s house, too devastated by her family’s condition to do anything but weep. They vowed to get her out, no matter what it took.

When God’s people come together, mighty things happen.

Just one month later, Olivia’s family was given the surprise of their life: a brand-new rental house, paid for by donations from people all across Canada.

But the story doesn’t end there.

Recently, Olivia was taken to the St. Mary of Rilima Pediatric  Orthopedic Center to receive medical attention. No one could have guessed that this little butterfly of a girl with sparkling eyes, forced to crawl on the ground like a caterpillar her entire life, was about to burst out of her cocoon.

What you see here has no other explanation than “God does miracles.” You’re seeing correctly… Olivia is standing, alone and unaided, for the first time in her nine years of life. And she is not just standing, but walking! Oh, she still stumbles and falls on occasion, and she struggles mightily at times to keep her balance, nearly contorting herself in an effort to remain upright, but she is doing it… one wobbly step at a time. Her determination is unbelievable; when she loses her balance, she catches herself, slowly gets to her feet, and forges on. And each time she does, she gets a little stronger.

I wonder, sometimes, if Olivia’s mama knew what a prophetic name she was giving her newborn daughter. The olive tree for which she was named is famous for its ability to grow no matter what the circumstances. Olive trees are virtually indestructible, their gnarled and twisted trunks proving to be one of the strongest types of wood. They remain untouched by storms, wind, and even fire, living for millennia. An olive tree is seen as a symbol of peace, wisdom, glory, strength, and purity. Perhaps it should also be seen as a symbol of hope; the same hope that gives strength to a little brown-eyed girl and keeps her looking ever onwards and upwards.

And I think to myself, if this little child can keep on pressing forward and reaching for her dreams, then what prevents the rest of us from rising above our most impossible circumstances and giving Glory to the very Lord who created the mighty olive tree thousands of years before a little handicapped girl would bear its name?

And if this little girl can keep smiling through situations that no child should have to experience, what prevents us from doing the same?

Each time we look at Olivia’s precious face, may she be a symbol of hope, of resilience, of bravery, and of strength.

Click this link to view a video of Olivia walking! Olivia Can Walk!

May she continue to grow healthy and strong; an olive branch in the House of her Lord.

Monday, 11 November 2013

New Photo of Basomingera Ada!

I promised in my last blog post to share Ada's photo update with you all, so here it is! First, I'll share her previous two photos to compare.

Here's her very first photo, around age 6 or so:

And here's her second photo, age 8:

And here is her brand-new photo update!

It's a change to see her standing in front of a wall instead of out among the trees like she is in her first two photos. I love seeing how she's changed and matured since her last photo update... she's gotten so tall! Such a pretty blouse and skirt she has on too, and good sturdy sandals. Most of all, I love seeing how her head is up and her shoulders are straight... it looks like her confidence has gotten a definite boost! What a change from her first photo. But she still has the same sweet expression and the same beautiful big brown eyes. I love my sweet girl so much!

Thursday, 7 November 2013

Isimbi Got My Package!

I got a letter from Isimbi a few days ago, but I’ve been so busy I haven’t had a chance to blog about it until now! It’s a bit of an odd letter as it was written by project staff instead of by her, which is unusual. Perhaps she wasn’t feeling well on that day, or she might have just been absent on letter-writing day for some reason. The good news, though, is that it confirms that she received the baggie I sent to her by another OC’er! I’m so glad it got to her safely. Anyway, here’s the letter:

Dear Hannah,

Your child greets you in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. She is doing so well and healthy. How are you doing over there with your family? She already started school in the third term of the final year. And she is studying hard to get good grades. She also prays for you always to have God’s peace, blessings. Thank you so much. May you stay healthy.Your child appreciates you for the letter with spects (I think they meant specs, as in sunglasses) pen, notebook, a bangle. (must be referring to the beaded necklace and bracelet. The Kinyarwanda also mentions a headband, which the translator must have missed.) May you be blessed.


Here’s a picture of the package I sent her!

Mini Sharpie marker, necklace/bracelet set, mini notebook, pen, headband, sunglasses,
and smiley ball.

And I also squeezed in a giraffe Beanie-Boo! He’s so cute! Isimbi really treasured the stuffed lion one of our youth group members sent to her, so I hope she enjoys this toy as well!

ALSO: I found out that Basomingera’s photo updated today! I’ll share the high-resolution photo as soon as I get it from Compassion!

Saturday, 2 November 2013

A Cannon's-Eye View

This piece of prose is a result of a two things; a couple of hours spent looking out over Carbonear from the top of a cannon, and a late-night writing fit that struck me at about midnight.


When most people think of a comfortable spot to sit, heavy artillery usually isn’t the first thing to come to mind. But that’s where I am now; perched atop the broken, rusty muzzle of an old iron cannon. There’s a story behind it; what, I’m not sure. I’m feeling too peaceful to leave my seat and search out the story written on the informational boards behind me.

I sit astride, as if riding an iron horse. My toes don’t touch the ground, so I swing them a little as I look out over the water. There are actually two cannons, one facing left towards the open ocean, the other facing right into Carbonear Bay.


From my vantage point, I look out towards Carbonear Island and take a deep breath of the salt air. It’s easy to lose myself in time and space here. Stiff breezes and wheeling seagulls overhead mix with the dazzling glint of sun on water and spin themselves into a dozen pretty fancies.


Tossing my copper-colored hair out of my face, it’s easy to imagine that I’m an Irish maiden, perhaps a lighthouse-keeper’s daughter, watching the harbour mouth for the sight of her loved one’s ship returning home.

As quickly as it appears, my daydream vanishes, only to be replaced by another one. If I was a wildflower, I’d like to grow mixed in with the wild sprays that cover the hillside below me, nodding to me and to each other with cheerful greetings. If I was a butterfly, I’d curl up inside that nice big bloom over yonder. I wonder do butterflies dream? If they do, what do they dream of?

My gaze roves down past the flowery hillside to the sun-warmed rocks below, being washed by the swirling, sudsy foam. The ocean glints green where it touches the shore, and the colors gradually fade from turquoise, to teal, and finally to deep cerulean. The sun makes interesting patterns on the waves; rather like snakeskin… flashy diamond shapes flash and change with every blink.

I hear a faint roar and see a white speedboat cutting through the water, too far below me to make out her passengers. She cuts a wobbly V-shape through the water. From up here the water looks flat and calm, but from the way the boat’s engine roars and sputters and the way her prow dips into the sea before rearing up to point at the sky, I can tell there’s a heavy swell on.

Lost in thought, I shift my seat from one cannon to the other. I’m facing inwards toward the town of Carbonear now, squinting my eyes to try to make out the pinprick-sized houses and buildings. There; that red tower jutting up from the trees farthest to my right. That’s the clock tower of the Princess Sheila NaGeira Theatre, where John Schlitt once performed. Behind it, hidden from sight, is the Knights of Columbus building where a group of ordinary radicals who call themselves Open Door hold church every Sunday morning.

Swinging my gaze a touch to the left, I see the promenade around the pond that I often stroll on fine days. It’s amusing to watch the ducks marching out of the pond like soldiers on parade whenever they see someone promising who might give them crumbs.

 I can see both the school and the college from here as well; I have friends in both places.

Turning my gaze upwards a bit, I see TC Square. I’ve worked, eaten, and played music in this mall and am familiar with many of its storekeepers and employees. Even from here, the parking lot fairly sparkles with a sea of vehicles.

Swinging my gaze further to the right, I try to spot the U-turn Center, where our youth group meets every Wednesday night. I’ve attending many functions at this bustling center, and I squint in that general direction now, but the building is too well camouflaged among the trees.

Still further to the right; now I see the general hospital. I’ve visited friends here, and even sat in its emergency room. It, too, is a familiar sight to me.

My gaze wanders on, along the street where a friend of mine lives, but the houses are too tiny to make out which one is his.

Finally the sea of houses ends, and my observing eye briefly touches the dark green treetops covering the side of the hill before returning to the rocks that point out towards Carbonear Island once more.

No doubt about it, I feel more at home here than I do in my own community, which isn’t that far away. I believe that while your place of residence might be in one town, your true home can be in another; thus, I consider this cannon’s eye view to be my domain.  Because here is the stuff of memories… the cobwebs that cling, the fingers that grasp, the faint chuckles of laughter that dance in the wind. Good and bad, those memories make up who I am, and they play a very large part in my place in the world. Because they drive me and inspire me to reach for more memorable experiences, which will then be tucked away into my mind like their predecessors.