By Kris Smith

Umutima wanjye uruzuye (My heart is full). I hope you have experienced this feeling – this incredible, overflowing, my-heart-might-just-burst-open-it’s-so-full sensation.

During this trip to Rwanda I was deeply moved as God shared with me glimpses into His great heart of compassion for people. I saw more clearly the breadth of His grace, the depth of His love, the tender mercy of the Lord for those of us that call upon His name, and even greater – for those who have not yet trusted in Jesus. I am humbled.

There were times this brought weeping, and others when I joined in laughter and song and dance. The presence of the Lord was something that rested on our shoulders, and He went before us and with us everywhere our team traveled. Our experiences ranged from the expected to the completely unanticipated, and many points in between.

As the days passed, I found myself thinking of Luke 2:19 – Mary treasured all these things, pondering them in her heart. I too pondered in my heart. On several occasions I very purposely paused, and took time to ponder, and to make a snapshot of the moment. Stop. Feel. Connect. Breathe in, breathe out. Notice the smells, the sounds, the sensations, the sights, the tastes, the above it all, the presence of the Holy Spirit. Be fully present, give thanks, and treasure the moment.

I’d like to share just a few of these moments with you. Words won’t do justice to these snapshots in my heart, but I would like to try to give you a glimpse.

IMG_9068A case full of bleached skulls – someone’s mother, brother, child…
Lives cut short in an inconceivable atrocity. Brutally murdered in the genocide, on display in the desperate hope that they will cause all who see them to remember the tragedy, and never allow such a thing to happen again on the face of the earth. Even here, in this place memorializing those who were lost, there is hope. A staircase leads up – out of the deep darkness and despair, and toward the stained glass window, symbolizing the hope that Rwanda will overcome this dark past; that new life will spring forth, and that forgiveness, redemption, and peace will be found by the grace of God. His presence can be felt here, even in this place, where the people of Kigali still bring the bodies of their loved ones who were killed in the genocide to rest in mass graves.

Muzungu! Muzungu! Muzungu!
As our SUV enters through the gates at Faith Village, it takes just moments before the kids are running alongside shouting muzungu! (white person) When the car stops, they crush in close against it, and we wonder how to even open the doors to get out. As we step out they grab our hands and look into our eyes. They stroke the hair on our heads and arms. They expect that we have come to bring a blessing. They try out their English, greeting us with, “I love you”, “How are you?” and “Good Morning”, while taking us by the hand to the field where they had been playing with their teacher Jared. Jared himself is just a teen. He was able to attend school through an FVA (our local partners) sponsorship, and is here giving back, with a grateful heart.

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We make a large circle, and play a game with clapping and dancing. We Americans fail miserably to catch on, but the children accommodate us, laughing and looking up at us with their big brown eyes and broad smiles. We spent several days with the kids; teaching and learning, singing, memorizing scripture, telling Bible stories, doing skits and activities, dancing, holding hands, carrying them around, and playing lots of games. We grew to know and love them – calling them by name, praying for them, and just spending time together. On the last day many respond to an invitation to trust in Jesus. In this place God is present in the hearts of His people, and there is so much joy.

“Imana yacu irahambaye, mu ijuru no mu isi mu bwenge, mu mbaraga mu rukundo, Imana irahambaye”
(Our God is an awesome God, He reigns from heaven above, with wisdom, power and love, our God is an awesome God.)

We stepped into the large tin building. As my eyes adjust to the dim light I begin to take in the sight, as our team is ushered on to the stage in the front of the large group. The heat, the smell, the sound of the choir, the crowd (700? more? all in uniform, and with shaved heads, and dark skin) almost overcomes me. We are at the 1930 prison in Kigali, expecting to meet with the women prisoners who are here with their children – this scene is not what we anticipated. We are here with the local Prison Fellowship ministry, and are about to see God move. As we are seated on the stage, the pastor asks that we preach, and share testimonies. No one is prepared, but in faith Aaron and Randy share boldly. God is with them. Then Karen steps up and she “brings the heat” while Sonia translates with equal passion. The truth of the gospel goes forth – “Jesus is the only way” – and an invitation is given to trust in Jesus Christ. Several young men walk forward and bow their heads. We pray for them – that they would repent and receive forgiveness, that they would come to know and walk with Jesus, that they would be freed from the bondage of sin and walk in new life and relationship. Here in this prison these men desired true freedom and redemption. God is here in His word, His spirit and in His people, to rescue, and bring salvation.

We sit around the table everyday, sharing the same food at each meal, laughing, talking, teasing. Piling into the SUVs we ride across the bumpy roads or in the crazy city traffic together, enjoying the adventure of it, and the breeze coming in the windows – even when it wreaked of diesel fuel. We share our devotions, songs, testimonies, and our lives. At bedtime we wait in line to use the “fragrant” bathroom, washing up in a basin, with water poured from a dirty yellow jug, then hit the sack in the bunk room, under our mosquito nets. And we become a team; a family, united in our purpose, our faith, and our call to this place at this time. God is here with us, and His Spirit fills and guides us.

The children here in Musanze are dirty and wear tattered, filthy clothing. Some are very thin, but have distended bellies. They cry “muzungu!” and chase after us. Willy (FVA staff) greets them enthusiastically. He engages them, and leads them in some songs while we wait to use the outhouse, right next to the pen holding the angry cow. We go on to meet 3 different cooperative groups. We learn about each, and work alongside them.

IMG_9880As we approach the group that are farming potatoes, the people break into song and dance. Rwandans really know how to sing, and their voices and clapping fill the air. They begin to dance. Katie is pulled in to dance with them – she smiles broadly and joins in. My heart is overwhelmed as I experience the compassion the Lord has for these people, and tears roll down my cheeks. The singing and dancing continue, and so do the tears. Warm soil fills my sandals, hot tears sting my face, and I raise my arms to worship my mighty God here in this potato field. Later we pray for this group. God is here in this place. He inhabits our worship, hearkens to our prayers, and He touches my heart deeply with His great compassion and love for these humble and joyful potato farmers, and I rejoice that my God is “Emmanuel” (with us)

There are many, many more “snapshots” in my heart. I hope that you can get a small picture of my experience in Rwanda through these few stories. God was so very present by His Spirit. I was humbled and blessed to see and know that in all things, the focus for us “in Christ” is on Him, and what He has done for us – specifically through His finished work at Calvary. In this Jesus is glorified, and my heart is filled.
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