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