Recently a co-worker and I were able to go to Africa on a mission trip to be the hands and feet of God. Specifically, our company, Mary Square, graciously sent us to Rwanda and Uganda to find out how we can sponsor more water projects and find more needs to meet. Seeing the well dedication in a remote village where people were in desperate need of clean water really put our tagline, “more than a gift”, into perspective. All of the stainless steel water bottles our company was selling specifically for funding water projects actually had a face to it now. We are not all meant to be traveling missionaries but that does not mean that we sit back and do nothing. One water bottle purchase can truly change the lives of thousands of people.
I have been on a couple of mission trips before where we've built schools, medical buildings, hosted clinics and evangelized in the community. You always go into the trip thinking of how you can change the world and be the gospel. How can you help these people, preach the Word, and leave behind a legacy? It shouldn't be surprising because I have been through these trips before but it's always the people you interacted with that change you. I went into this African trip thinking about the kids, how I could plant the seed and how I would become attached to those little faces. I would joke about how many kids I would want to bring home or if there was an easy way to fit a few in my suitcase.
I fell in love with Rwanda right from the start, but it wasn't the kids that I became attached to. Don't get me wrong, I loved on those children and babies, and they clung to me, five on each arm at times. But the resilience and motivation of the young adults pulled on my heart strings. A country torn by genocide in now united in forgiveness. You see it in their eyes and work ethic. Whether their job is sweeping the streets of dirt or working at the local coffee shop, every local we came in contact with had a smile on their face. They genuinely wanted to make their lives better and in turn make their country better.
The moment that stood out to me was at the co-op farm. The co-op is a small farm just outside of the city in a valley where livestock (chickens, goats, rabbits) are raised and then sold to provide families with critical nutrition. You've probably seen the catalog circulate during the holidays where you can buy a goat for a family in need and customize a card to honor the recipient. These are the animals that we got to see! The widows that raise these animals at the farm are nothing short of amazing.
These women have lost their income-earning husbands and are working in the fields planting cabbages and tending to the animals all while their children are in school. One of the women working on the farm was 61 years of age and had her 3 grandchildren on the farm with her. She does not have a house, so she and the grandchildren live in the chicken coop at the farm. The kitchen she cooks in is a small wood hut with rocks piled in a corner to smoke meat on. There was no clean water nearby, so walking for miles to acquire clean water is a part of the daily routine. The 3 kids share a small bed, equivalent to a single bed in the States, and a tattered mosquito net barely covers the length of the bed. Miriam, the grandmother, has a separate room with an old mattress and pillows made from hay. No mosquito net. The sacrifices that Miriam has made for her grandchildren really made me want to help her. After visiting these women and seeing the conditions that they live in, we prayed for them and left some salt, sugar and soap behind. To our surprise they wanted to pray for us. They wanted to pray for US! Us Americans who have it all, a home, families, clean water right out of the tap, food within reach...US! They broke out in song and dance and praise. I broke out in tears. Here are these hard working women in the slums with no water, no home, no financial security and they want to bless us. This is the picture of Rwanda. A country once defined by the largest amount of deaths in the shortest amount of time now on the mend becoming successful and reducing poverty and inequality. This is why we go to Africa. This is why we partner with organizations that directly help women like Miriam. This is why giving up one coffee a day to pay for Miriam to have a small house is a dream that may actually come true.
Mary Square is well on its way to changing the lives of thousands just like Miriam. Whether it is putting school supplies in the hands of scholars or digging a well in a remote village, there are many needs that we can meet. I will always remember the faces in Africa. The ones hoping for a chance to go to school. The ones happy to sweep the streets clean of dirt and mud. And the ones that long for a chance to fill up their life with purpose. We can all be the hands and feet of Jesus.
"Yours are the eyes through which He looks compassion on this world. Yours are the feet with which He walks to do good.Yours are the hands through which He blesses all the world."