Saturday, 18 January 2014

They Call Her Mama Jesus (Part 2)

This is the second installment of a two-part series. You can read Part 1 here: PART ONE
On Sunday morning, I again arrived as early as possible at the venue, not wanting to miss one moment of the excitement. As our band, Driftwood Cross, ran through our song list, I watched my friends and family trickle in. I noticed that Mama gave me a special smile and wave when she came in, and I glowed.
When you spend any amount of time with Jo and Jo (and now Mama too) you’ll quickly discover that they are amazing singers and worshippers. Their voices blend and weave together with such exquisite harmony that you’ll feel like you’ve been lifted into Heaven by angels. So when the girls requested that we add “How Great Thou Art” to our morning song line-up and offered to sing it in Kinyarwanda, we quickly agreed.
Isaiah 56:7 says, “My House will be called a house of prayer for all nations.” As the band sang in English and Jocelyne, Josephine, and Mama Jo accompanied us in Kinyarwanda, it felt like a small piece of Heaven had come down to earth. I believe we were given a glimpse of the day when every nation, tribe, and tongue will gather together in praise to our Father.
After our time of worship, Mama Jo began to speak. Josephine stood close by and acted as translator as Mama expounded on the Scriptures and told stories from her life. One thing that Mama said really stood out to me. “We are like a glass that the Lord fills with water. But in order for the Lord to keep filling us, we need to pour some out. Otherwise we will just sit, full of blessings but never giving any away and never receiving anything new. When we pour out of our time, resources, money, or whatever He has blessed us with; then He will continue to fill us.”
As Mama talked, I delighted in listening and watching her. Wearing a flowing, traditional African dress and shawl, she stood as erect as a queen. Listening to her low, slightly husky voice, I smiled whenever she said a word that I knew. Imana (God), imbabazi (mercy), amazi (water) and even amafaranga (money)! I marveled that this saint of God had come all the way across the ocean to teach us. It was kind of like having Mother Teresa in our midst.

Even after Mama finished her message, her words kept playing over and over again in my mind. They were so simple, yet profound. In order to receive, we must give… But then again, serving God is like that. The first shall be last, and the last, first. In order to find your life, you must lose it. We cannot be made whole until we become broken. It’s the opposite of the world’s system… which is why it works. Man could never invent something that sounds so illogical… giving to get. Dying to live. Losing to find. It sounds crazy, but it’s so simple. And it’s so beautiful.
That’s one of the reasons why I can hardly wait for my trip to Rwanda… I can’t wait to be broken. So I can finally become whole.
That evening, after the hustle and bustle of the day, a small group of us gathered at the home of friends Sherry and David, to enjoy a time of fellowship with Jocelyne, Josephine, and Mama Jo. I love to sit and listen to a group of friends talking together… you learn so much by just observing the way people interact with each other.
During the course of the night, as friends continued to arrive, we started to run out of space for chairs. David solved that problem by taking a seat on the floor next to Mama. It reminded me of one of the wishes I’d made my blog post Hurry Up and Wait; to sit at the feet of some of these precious Rwandan women and learn from them. At first I wrestled with the notion; it’s one thing to think something but quite another to do it, especially in front of a roomful of people. But it didn’t take me long to decide, “If David gets up and moves, I’m sitting next to Mama.
My chance came soon enough when David excused himself from the room for a minute. At the moment I didn’t care how foolish I looked; I quickly got down on the floor and scooted next to Mama’s knee. When David returned, he gave me a surprised look; I just grinned and said, “You find your own place, I’m sitting with Mama.” A round of laughter greeted that remark.
Mama squeezed my shoulders gently and then began playing with my hair. As the night wore on there were stories told, laughter shared, and even a few tears cried; but not for the world would I leave my spot on the floor. Even though I began to get stiff after a while, I scarcely dared move as Mama moved her fingers in small circles across my shoulders and gently slid her hands in and out of my hair.
At one point Josephine, who was sitting next to us, leaned over and told me, “She loves your hair. You know that, right?” She also remarked that Mama had never seen a muzungu (white person) with red hair like mine.
Finally, quite a while into the evening, after most of the stories had been shared, I gathered up my nerve and leaned over to Jocelyne, who was sitting on the other side of Mama. “Can I say something?” I asked.
Immediately Jocelyne called out, “Everybody listen, Hannah has something to share!”
I was flustered at the sudden attention, but explained, “You all know that when I first moved to Newfoundland over three years ago…has it really been that long?! Anyway, I’d hardly heard of Rwanda before… it was just a country to me. Then I moved here and Sherry and Dave were always talking about Rwanda, and then I began to get involved with it all, and then it became my passion. But I have to say…” Here I choked up, but struggled to keep going as Jocelyne translated, “…that one of my dreams was always, from the beginning, to meet Mama Jo and sit at her feet like I’m doing now. Because she is such a godly woman, and to me she is a saint… so one of my dreams is coming true, here and now.”
By this time my tears were streaming, and Mama leaned over and wrapped her arms around me and held me as I cried into the crook of her arm. She began to murmur in Kinyarwanda, and Jocelyne translated for me; “She says you are one of her daughters too now. She can’t wait for you to come to Rwanda and visit her, and she says her house will always be open to you. You may have to sleep on the floor, but she wants you to come.”
It was such a precious and holy moment. It was like this had been ordained from the beginning; that on this night, I would be “grafted in” to a precious family in my heart country of Rwanda.
As Mama continued to stroke my hair, she began to speak to all of us. Josephine jumped in to translate. “She says that her passport is now good for the next four years, and she says if God wills, she will be back again. She says that all of you are her family, and that Open Door is now her church. She also says that the next time she visits, she won’t visit her daughters in Ontario but will fly straight to Newfoundland…” A roar of laughter greeted that remark.
So, as we hugged goodbye at the end of the evening, there was no sadness even though our Rwandan family would be flying back to Ontario the next morning. There were only joyful exclamations of “See you in Rwanda in ten months!” Usually “goodbye” means the end… but in this case, “goodbye” is really only the beginning of a whole new adventure, and a big step along the Path that was laid out for me by the Carpenter from Galilee.

Monday, 13 January 2014

They Call Her Mama Jesus (Part 1)

If you’ve read this blog for any length of time, you will have heard me mention Shelter Them, the ministry in Rwanda that I’m so passionate about. I’ve written about Jocelyne and Josephine, the twin girls who started Shelter Them (you can read their miraculous story HERE) and I’ve shared the excitement of their visits to Newfoundland (read the details of one of those trips HERE). Life is never boring with the twins around, so when they made plans to visit Newfoundland this month, I got ready for fun!

I love hearing the girls’ stories of their family back in Rwanda; most notably their mother, Mama Jo. Since both Josephine and Jocelyne often go by the nickname “Jo,” we call their mother, Sumwiza Cesarie, “Mama Jo” or simply, “Mama.” But in Rwanda, she is also called by another name.

They call her Mama Jesus.

You see, Mama Jo has a reputation for taking in street children, pregnant teens, hungry mothers with children, and anyone else who comes across her path. She lives in a modest two-bedroom house, but her home is almost always filled with people sleeping on mattresses in every corner. Mama says, “It doesn’t matter if there are ten other people standing around with me. Someone will tap my shoulder and say, ‘I am hungry and I have no place to go. I see you are a godly person, will you help me?’”

And Mama always says yes. She has been stolen from on numerous occasions, because when you take strangers into your house there are no guarantees. She has been taken advantage of many times, but yet she keeps on giving. Besides her own ten children, who are now grown up and have left home, she is also raising five other children as her own. And besides that, she also runs the Shelter Them Batarure office along with her son Jules and his wife. Quite simply, they call her Mama Jesus (in Kinyarwanda, Mama Yesu) because she is His hands and feet in Rwanda.

I longed to meet her.

There’s something about stories the girls told me that drew me to her. My friends David and Sherry, who know her through their visits to Rwanda, told me how good and kind she was, how sweet and loving. I wished I could have the privilege of sitting at her feet and learning from this dear lady who, I felt was a saint in every sense of the word.

But Mama was in Rwanda, and although she had applied for a passport to visit Canada many times, the answer was always, “No.” For fifteen long years the girls tried to bring her for a visit. They visited her in Rwanda as often as they could, but they hoped that someday she would see their “adopted” country for herself.

And then one day, the miracle happened, and Mama’s passport was approved. She was on her way to Canada!

I was beyond excited when I heard that during the course of Mama’s three month visit, Jo and Jo were bringing her to Newfoundland. I knew she didn’t speak any English, and of course I only know a little bit of Kinyarwanda, but I began practicing in earnest so I could at least greet her in her own language.

Finally, the day came when I was to meet her. Our church, Open Door, held a meet-and-greet for Mama and the girls, with finger foods and music provided by our band, Driftwood Cross. I was one of the first people to arrive, so eager to see my Rwandan sisters again and meet Mama Jo that I simply couldn’t wait!

I’m a withdrawn person by nature, so rather than bounce up to Mama and introduce myself, I hung around in the background and watched her as she conversed with her daughters and with others. She was just like her pictures… beautiful and elegant.

Finally Sherry noticed me standing there and asked, “Have you met Mama yet?” I believe I was too overwhelmed to say anything, so I just shook my head. Of course, Sherry grabbed my hand in hers and tugged me towards Mama. And then she turned and looked at me… and I blurted out, “Witwa Mama Yesu!” (Your name is Mama Jesus!) And all of us broke out in laughter as Mama’s face lit up and she hugged me.

I don’t think anything could have prepared me for how loving she was… as she crooned in Kinyarwanda and touched my face and my hair, Jocelyne translated, “She says you are so beautiful, and she is so happy to meet you!” And when Josephine told her that my chosen Rwandan name was Uwimana, (meaning "daughter (or son) of God") she lit up with delight. Jo translated, "She says that is such a beautiful name, she loves that name!" We conversed for a few minutes, with Mama grasping my hand and speaking directly to me in Kinyarwanda, and me smiling and looking to the girls for help understanding. I could see now who Jocelyne and Josephine get their beautiful, affectionate personalities from!

As the night wore on, I was more and more impressed with Mama’s passionate faith and humble spirit. With Josephine acting as translator, she expressed her love to everyone who attended the gathering and told us, “I am so amazed and humbled that you would all leave your warm homes and come out on a night like this just to meet us...”

By the close of the evening, I felt like Mama was part of my family. As I prepared to leave, I put my arms around Mama and told her, “Ndabakunda cyane.” (I love you so much.) She replied with the same words, and I was so thankful that I had taken time to learn a few things in Kinyarwanda so that we could share at least a few words of conversation with each other. We gave each other one last squeeze, and then I left the building, anticipating the next day’s adventures!

This is the first installment of a two-part series. Click here for Part 2: PART TWO

Monday, 6 January 2014

No More "Extraños Y Extranjeros."

It was one of those Northern Ontario winter days when the reflection of the sun on the snow is enough to blind someone; one of those days when the sky is a stunning blue with not a cloud in sight.

I was sitting on the corner cabinet as I so often did, swinging my legs and watching my mother working at the stove. When the phone rang, I paid little attention to it. However, when I heard my mother’s intrigued voice, I paid closer attention. Something was up. I could tell that it wasn’t one of our family members on the other end… and from my mother’s questions, I knew that we were in for some excitement!

By the time my mother hung up the phone, I was practically prancing in my eagerness to know what was going on… after all, a girl in her early teens growing up in a tiny town in the middle of nowhere seldom sees much excitement. I listened as my mother told me about our odd phone call.

The call had come from a woman in our community, a motel owner, who told my mom about a family from Mexico who had recently moved to town. The whole family; Mother, father, and grandmother, were now working at her motel. Even their two little boys were running errands.

“They’re Christians, and interested in finding someone to have fellowship with,” the lady explained to my mom. “You folks are churchy… would you be interested in meeting with them?” Of course, my family agreed immediately. Plans were laid to visit the family within the next couple of days.

Later that day, I sat in my room and wondered about the family. It must be hard to have to go to a strange country to live and work. The two little boys especially… they probably had no friends here.

“I wonder…” I mused to myself, hauling out a couple of totes I had under the bed and digging through them.

“Ah-ha!” I  pulled out just the thing I was looking for… a little toy Volkswagen. When you pulled it backward along the floor a few inches and let it go, it shot forward a few feet. Just the thing for a little boy.

“Now, what about the other one?” I mused. I didn’t have many toys that young boys would be interested in, but there was one thing… I reached into another tote and pulled out a little stuffed dog. Don’t all little boys like dogs and stuffed animals?

Tucking both toys into a bag, I thought about what I could do for their parents. Suddenly, I remembered something that I had received as a free gift from a Christian bookstore… a Spanish Bible! Having a fascination with languages, I had kept it; after all, you never know when another Bible might come in handy.

I hurried to look up some Scripture verses in my English Bible that I thought would be appropriate, then laboriously copied their Spanish versions into a little card. It wasn’t much, but at least I would try to make them feel welcome.

To my immense disappointment, I was sick the next day and unable to go with my parents to visit the new family. Sadly, I handed over the toys and card to my parents, so they could pass on my greetings.

And that was the end of the story, or so I thought.

When my parents came home, they were buzzing with excitement. The family spoke little English, but they knew just enough to communicate! My mom said that both of the little boys adored their new toys… apparently the younger one had a fascination with cars while the elder loved stuffed animals! I believe that God Himself had guided my selection of those particular items.

But it was the next story that overwhelmed me… my mother said she had passed my little card with the Spanish Scripture verses over to this precious Mexican lady, who opened it, scanned the verses… and instantly burst into tears.

I’ll share those Scripture verses with you here:

“Que Dios nuestro Padre y el Señor Jesucristo les conceden gracia y paz.” Efesios 1:2

“Por lo tanto, ustedes ya no son extraños y extranjeros, sino conciudadanos de los santos y miembros de la familia de Dios.” Efesios 2:19

“Porque Cristo es nuestra paz; de los dos pueblos ha hecho uno solo, derribando mediante su sacrificio el muro de enemistad que nos separaba.” Efesios 2:14

Here is the English Translation of those verses:

“May God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ grant you grace and peace.” Ephesians 1:2

“Therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of God's family.” Ephesians 2:19

“For he is our peace, between the two peoples has made one, knocking down by his sacrifice the wall of hostility that separated us.” Ephesians 2:19

It was truly the hand of God that led me to those particular verses on that particular day, to speak comfort to a family who felt very much like strangers and foreigners in Canada.

My mother then continued her story by saying that at the end of their visit, everyone present joined hands together and shared a time of prayer in their first languages… my mother in English, my father in French, and our new friends in Spanish. Nobody understood what anyone else was saying, but yet, they were all one in that moment of time. Surrounded by the presence of an Almighty God Who reaches beyond borders, boundaries, and even transcends languages.

Happily, I was able to meet our new friends a few days later. They could only stay for a few minutes, since they were in a hurry, but I’ll never forget that precious lady throwing her arms around me, a perfect stranger, and saying over and over again in her limited English, “Thank you! Thank you!” They had to leave quickly since they were on their way to the motel, but I stood at the doorway in the icy wind and waved to their boys, who piled out of the van to giggle shyly and wave back to me calling, “Hola! Hola!”

I wonder, sometimes, what became of that beautiful family… we never heard from them again after they returned to Mexico. I believe God orchestrated our paths to cross for some reason; what it was, I’m not sure. Perhaps to teach me the power of a few caring words. Perhaps to teach me the impact of a few caring words spoken in someone’s original language; which may have sparked the passion for languages I have today. Perhaps to teach me about the power of friendship. Perhaps even to teach them something, although what, I don’t know.

But I do know that I learned a powerful lesson about God’s all-encompassing love and faithfulness.

May we all love one another more as we follow His Path in the coming year.