The adventure began! I was asked if I wanted to be the team leader and spiritual director of a missions group called Nurses for the Nations (NFTN) for the Rwanda missions outreach. This amazing organization founded by Mary McMahon, sends nurses into impoverished countries to bring much needed medical, hygienic and practical assistance to those in need.
The tickets were secured, the lodging set, the luggage containing supplies was packed and on August 13, 2015 we boarded the flights to Kigali, Rwanda. Linda, one of our nurses, and I traveled together. We met up with our second nurse Kathryn in Atlanta. The flights went smoothly, and we arrived in Kigali the evening of August 14.
We were met by Pius, our in country host, and taken to our lodgings. Dinner had been prepared for us. It was a wonderful welcome. Prior to eating dinner, Kathryn began to settle in and opened one of the bags of medical supplies. She called to me and I joined a distraught young nurse on the floor. She explained that many items from the suitcases were missing. She grouped everything on the floor and counted it all out for me. She asked what we should do about it. I told her we would do nothing at the moment. That we would sit down and enjoy the meal so graciously provided for us and share none of the trouble with our hosts. I told her we would pray. That calmed her, and we joined the group gathered to eat. Dinner was delicious. The comradery and friendship between Pius and the three of us began to grow.
After Pius left, Kathryn adjourned to her room. Linda and I were summoned immediately. She showed us with awe that the medical supplies had been replaced, and not only replaced but there were more than what had been packed. The blessings of God had begun.
The following day we began by going to the Kigali Genocide Memorial. Rwanda experienced an assault perpetrated by citizens of their own country in 1994. Within 100 days close to one million people were massacred. Twenty years later the physical, emotional, and spiritual scars are still being courageously healed and restored. The memorial itself was jarring as it depicts savagery of a scale reminiscent of the Jewish Holocaust. It may seem like a strange first thing to do, but I believe it was important to start there. It set the tone for understanding the unique tragedy of that country and the tremendous courage and perseverance of a people torn apart and in the process of rebuilding.
In the Company of Little Angels
Our next stop was with the genocide survivors in the small village of Kinyinya. We were joined by two interpreters. There was an informal gathering of villagers as we arrived to the smiling faces of children excited to see faces of strangers among them. Sobered by our visit to the memorial, the delighted curiosity of the children as they flocked to greet us was as welcome and needed as it was unanticipated. The nurses were immediately surrounded by little ones, and as we moved to where the adults were gathered, the children found their way onto the laps of their visitors. One little girl about the age of three was crying. She wore a tank top and a little skirt. I welcomed her into my arms and sat her on my lap. I asked her what was troubling her. The interpreter translated that she was crying because she had lost her shirt. As I wiped her tears I realized that it was the only shirt she owned and would not be replaced anytime soon.
The survivors in the village were poor. Some sustained terrible injury physically, some psychological and emotional trauma as well. We were there to hear their stories and to pray. In the face of overwhelming practical need, praying can feel so inadequate, but we were to find in the stories and the praying that God works in amazing ways. I watched and as my nurses sat and listened and touched and hugged and prayed. What a gift to be among these women of God.
The Woman of Joy
I was listening and praying for the villagers, when Kathryn approached me to ask if I would see a woman that she thought might be suffering from a severe form of mental illness. The woman had a note from a clinic with a prescription to see a psychiatrist. She had no way to travel to the psychiatrist and even if she had been able to make the journey there was no way to pay. I finished with the person I was with and moved to where she was sitting.
Her countenance was depressed, down trodden and despairing. I sat down next to her and asked her if she would mind telling me her story. She began to relate what had happened to her during the genocide. Her son had been dismembered by machete in front of her and thrown into a river in pieces. The depth of agony and pain in her eyes was indescribable. I hugged her and held her. After a bit I asked her what caused her to think she was crazy. She showed me the referral to the psychiatric clinic and began to tell me about a recurrent dream. She told me she had dreams of her son standing by the side of the river in the light. He was whole, undamaged and happy. She told me that the dream made her feel peaceful.
I asked her if she knew Jesus and she said yes. Jesus had saved her life. I told her I didn’t think she was crazy at all. I explained to her that Jesus had given her a gift. The dream was her assurance that her son was safe and whole in heaven waiting for her. I asked if I could pray over her. She nodded. I asked if she minded if I anointed her with oil and touch her head. She said that would be fine. I prayed that Jesus would send His Holy Spirit to heal her heart and to lift her depression. I prayed in desperation and anguish for what she had suffered.
As I finished praying, she looked up at me. Her face was a study in joy. She stood and hugged me and laughed! I asked what she was feeling and she replied, “I feel joy for the first time in 20 years!” Only God could do that. I left her side to continue to pray for others. When it was time to go she sought me out for picture. I gathered the villagers and my beautiful nurses and Pius in a circle, and we prayed for thanksgiving. The woman of joy began a song of praise, and the villagers joined in. She prayed with great thanksgiving. She has remained joyful. Later during our visit, she called Pius to ask him when he would bring us back.
The Genocide Widows
Another day we went to meet the genocide widows of Nyamata, a village in Rwanda. Nyamata is the site of one of the worst genocides. There is a church that houses a memorial. In that church 10,000 people, men, women and children were gunned down, tortured and hacked to death in one afternoon. The once church now houses the remains of its many victims. The clothing of the victims is in individual stacks placed neatly on the benches of the church. The widows we were to visit miraculously survived that attack.
They met us in a building that serves as a community center. We were unable to take medical supplies. Later we returned with more badly needed supplies. We took hygienic items and practical things like cups, bowls, and buckets for carrying water.
They sat in a large circle and we learned a little about them before splitting into three groups. Each of us listened to the stories they had to share. In my group was a woman in her forties. During the genocide she was a young girl. A killer took a machete to her face slicing it open from her ear to her mouth. She described how her face had hung open. She was beaten and thrown into a pit, left for dead among the dead. I asked her how she survived. “God saved me.” she replied. “There is no way that I should be alive.” A friend of hers, another young girl was hacked with a machete and she could barely walk. Somehow they found each other among the mounds of corpses of the people they knew and loved. They helped each other and eventually found a safe place. I asked her who healed her face and she told me that Jesus did. She said, “There were no doctors or anyone to help us.” The scar remains. She eventually married and had children. Her husband died and now she has taken in orphans. Like all the widows in the village, she struggles to find food and provision. Linda asked one of the widows in her group how they eat. The woman responded, “When there is food we all eat. When there is little food the children eat. When there is no food, no one eats.”
I was taken to meet a woman who was severely depressed. She was deeply discouraged that we were not doctors. She told the nurse talking with her that she felt abandoned by God and that she didn’t want to live. She had severe medical issues that could not be addressed that day. One of her symptoms was cardiac arrhythmia. I listened to her story and asked if I cold pray with her. It is difficult to convey how desperate I felt as I began to pray. There was nothing any of us could do to help her. Her pain would be addressed by God or it would not. The Holy Spirit filled her heart during our prayer. I sat down next to her after I finished praying and asked how she was feeling. She looked over at me and took my hand saying, “I feel peace for the first time.” Her arrhythmia had ceased and more importantly her spirit had been refreshed and renewed. Thank You Lord Jesus.
The following day we went to the “Catch-up Center” on the outskirts of Kigali. We were able to take medical supplies with us, and we looked forward to helping the Pygmies and to working with some street children in the afternoon. The Catch-up Center got its name because of the service it provides. Former street children, now placed in foster families, come to catch up in their education. The teachers receive marginal payment for what they do. There is electricity in only one room. The rooms are concrete structures with windows without screens or glass. Nights we stayed until dark we used the flashlights on our phones to continue working.
The Pygmies are a fringe group in Rwanda. The Pygmies are a quiet culture of gentle people. They used to live in the forests but they have been moved into cities where they have little resource or opportunities. We were all looking forward to meeting with them. Arriving on foot, they gathered outside the Catch-up Center for medical help. The nurses set up in one room and I was in another to minister to their spiritual needs and to pray with them. The nurses dispensed what they could in antibiotics, or parasite medication. Almost all had a complaint, some were too extensive for them to treat, but everyone got something whether it was a dose of medication, something for pain or just vitamins. The group started small, but word began to spread about us, so they came in droves. One of our nurses Linda described it this way; “It would begin with, “well I have a pain in my ear.” No sooner would the nurse dutifully examine the ear and prescribe a course of treatment when the person would say, “And oh, I have a pain in my back!” That would be followed with the same examination and prescription and another ailment would surface. These lovely people had not seen a medical person in a very long time and for some it was the first time.
I watched our nurses be patient and loving to every single person. Their heartbreak was over the needs they could not meet. One woman was suffering from severe cardiac problems; another was riddled with probable cancer. One little girl had an abscessed tooth that was so severe she could no longer eat. Those are only a few of the many needs we were not able to treat. It took a great toll on me and my beautiful sisters in Jesus. We struggled with the disparity between own country, so rich in food and health care, and the impoverished people whose needs we had to leave unmet. Our two nurses showed immense compassion and empathy. At times the limitations upon us left us spiritually and emotionally raw. Coming from such privilege, it seared our hearts and humbled our spirits.
In a separate room, I listened to the Pygmies stories of hurt and pain. I listened to their great faith in Jesus. We laughed and cried and sang. I was and still am so moved by these people. Our connection was immediate and joyful. We were united in the love of Christ. It was an honor to spend time with them sharing the gospel and the love of Jesus. We didn’t finish with the Pygmies that morning so they were scheduled to come back. We were all very happy for their return, for the love and warmth we experienced among them blessed us all.
That afternoon was the first of several segments of time that we saw the street children. Pius arranged for them to be picked up on the streets and be bused to the Catch-up center. There they were to receive medical care and dinner. Street children are orphans in Rwanda. They have no home, no place to live and no-one to care for them. Many have not had a bath in years. They sleep in the streets. Their ages range from six (or younger) to late teens. I asked some of the workers at the Center where the Street Children went. He responded, “The younger ones sleep in the gutters and the older ones come and rape them.” It is estimated that 80 plus percent of the street children suffer from HIV. Most have a disease of some kind. Many have parasites. All suffer from malnutrition.
There is a Pastor named Theo who runs the Catch-up center. His wife at the time was in the hospital in Kigali. She suffers with cancer. Theo has very little. His resources come from donations. Donations are sparse in an impoverished country.
Early the next morning, I prayed with the Lord. I was devastated by what little we could provide. At least our nurses could give them medicine, and for those they could not help they distributed vitamins so that none left feeling they weren’t given care and love. But I had nothing tangible to give them and I wept before the Lord in sadness asking what I was supposed to do. The Lord graciously answered me. “Hug them Margie. Hug the children and hold them. They have no Mamma to hold them. Love them and tell them that I, Jesus love them Teach them a song about my love to sing at night when they are alone and frightened.” I did that. I hugged and hugged and hugged children until they were hugged up and ready to move on. I taught them about Jesus. I told them how special and valuable they are to Him. We laughed and prayed and sang and danced until night came. One young man about 16 couldn’t be treated by the nurses because he had been drinking. He had only been on the streets for two years. He drank to dull the pain. He was brought to me later that night before we left. He was tall. As we sat together on the wooden bench with no words to say, he leaned over and put his head on my shoulder and I held him and rocked him in the dark.
I watched Pastor Theo prepare dinner for those children in a cement hut with one open door and four big cauldrons over open flames. It took all day in the heat. It was dark one night before they could be served. The plates were piled high. Pastor Theo didn’t eat. I know that often he goes without. He teaches them about Jesus and self-respect. He dances with them and jumps around with them, and laughs with them. He feeds them. For the time they are with him, they are safe and cared for. Jesus has many faces. One of them is Theo’s.
And then, we had to send them back to the street.
We also ministered to the foster children who attend the Catch-up Center regularly. It was a gift to know that they have families and places to live. The people of Rwanda are not wealthy. The families in the village want for food and clothing. Yet they sacrifice to send their children to school, and their children know they are loved.
Three White Doors
We ministered to three groups of people. The genocide widows, the Pygmies and the orphaned children of Rwanda. Despite the trauma the country has endured, we continually encountered people in poverty. The widows banded together in villages for survival, and cared for orphans to love and nurture. The Pygmies support and care for each other with kindness and faith. The Street children care for the other street children. They are children taking care of children. The country is working toward justice and restoration through forgiveness. It was deeply moving and life changing.
Before we embarked on our journey to Rwanda, a friend shared about three white doors that were seen in a dream related to me. Three women were sent to three groups of people. Much was accomplished and much remains to be done. We were never alone. Accompanying us were the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, the Sacred Three.
You were with us too. Thank you to all of you who supported us for our trip to Rwanda. Whether through prayer or financial assistance or both, you were our companions, as we prayed and healed and loved with the heart of Jesus. None of what we were able to give could have happened without you. You are the hands and feet of our dear Savior. I am humbled and honored that you partnered with us.
‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ Matthew 25:40 (NIV)
– Margie McCaslin, Team Leader Rwanda 2015