Rwanda – An Amazing Blessing

Rwanda….the land of a thousand hills…and a million beautiful smiles!

As I write my final post on our blog (its taken me several days to get my thoughts together), I have so many emotions going through my head…joy, thankfulness, guilt, helplessness, love, etc.

To begin, I want to again thank all of those who so generously supported us and made this trip possible. It is very humbling to trust God, rely on others and be completely overwhelmed with gratitude at what God accomplished through all of you. Thank you from the bottom of my heart!!!

As many of you know, this trip for me was a huge step of faith. A year ago, I would have said that Rwanda is great for Matt, but I would support him from the comforts of the USA. :) All of this changed on January 16th, 2012 (Martin Luther King Jr. Day) when Matt asked that I bring Austin to an informational meeting at Africa New Life Ministries for details of an upcoming trip to Rwanda. I said I would take him and Trevor came along as well. As I sat through the meeting, I felt God start to tug on my heart. Before I knew it, God was giving me the desire to join Matt with our family in Rwanda and to trust Him with all the details. God called me to go to Rwanda with my family, I stepped out in obedience and faith and He blessed the entire experience more than I could have ever imagined.

The highlights of this trip are too numerous to count but I will do my best to share a few. The first big highlight was probably on the first Friday we were in Rwanda. We drove to the community of Bugesera, the newest community under the direction of Africa New Life Ministries. Our group split up and the Roth’s and Taylor’s were given the opportunity to deliver food for a month to an extremely poverty-stricken family. This family was so welcoming and appreciative. They huddled all ten of us into their 8 x 8 ft living area, finding most of us a place to sit. Matt then had the opportunity to share Christ’s love with them and the free gift of eternal life. They were overjoyed to hear the Good News. Through a translator, they told us that they had wondered if God knew that they existed. But because we came, they now knew that Jesus loved them and did know who they were. It was an amazing sight to watch Matt, with our children looking on, help lead this couple to the Lord…a scene I will never forget.

The next highlight would be meeting Isaac and Farisa for the first time on Saturday in Kayonza. We were unable to locate them when we first arrived but within 15 minutes, they had both found us. It was such a blessing to meet them in person and see the pure joy on their faces. I especially bonded with Isaac. He was with us almost every minute of the three days we were in Kayonza. I still remember back in early 2005 when we first selected our first two sponsored kids. The first was Frank (now living in Uganda) and then their was a picture of another young boy. I remember saying to Matt… We need to sponsor this boy also. It was Isaac. It has been amazing to watch him grow into a handsome, intelligent young man. He was so caring, helpful and open with us. A couple highlights with him were when on Monday, when Dylan was home sick for the second day in a row, he gave us a note he had written to Dylan, letting him know he missed him and was praying for him to get well soon. When we were doing home visits Monday afternoon, he asked to go to Doreen’s house first (our newest sponsored daughter) because he wanted to know where his new sister lived. :) The last highlight with Isaac was having him be our translator between us and his mother at Isaac’s home visit. It was so cool to see how much he had learned and progressed in the last 7+ years so that he could be our translator for three days and the most moving, our translator between us and his mother on his home visit. Seeing the tears roll down Isaac’s face when we were saying goodbye Monday afternoon (along with my many tears) and leaving him was the hardest part of our trip other than having to leave Dylan behind that morning with other members of our team and not have him with us on our home visits. Our time in Kayonza was my favorite of the entire trip!

A last highlight would probably be the basketball clinics and games that took place while we were in Rwanda. It was so exciting to see many basketball lovers, young and old, from our group come together with The Pebbles Africa New Life team and other basketball players in Rwanda for a shared passion of basketball and Jesus. It was even more exciting having LA Laker Steve Blake and his wife, Kristen, be a part of our group. He shared his testimony in front of thousands during our game versus the National Team. He and Kristen participated wholeheartedly with the group and were a joy to get to know. They were both transparent with the group and would stay up after our evening debriefings to chat with everyone and answer questions that many of the basketball minds were curious to know about. Steve even took a group with him to one of his early morning (5:45am) workouts and led them through a ball handling workout and played one on one with them. It was a highlight of Austin’s trip and great to have a positive role model for him to see!

The final highlight would be the fact that I was able to share this amazing experience with my entire family. I am so thankful I was obedient to God’s calling to go to Rwanda. We will all be forever changed!

In His love,
Julie

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Dylan’s Final Thoughts

Overall, it was an amazing trip. I was so excited to meet our sponsor kids and hang out with them again. The basketball clinics were amazing and it was exciting watching the game vs. the Kigali Basketball Club along with working alongside Steve Blake. The game park was awesome, seeing all of the animals and staying at the lodge with the baboons. The one to three hour drives to our different places during our stay were never bad because it was always so interesting looking outside and seeing how differently people live in Rwanda and how little most people have there. Even though I was sick for a couple days on this trip, it was great and it will change my life forever!

Dylan

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Trevor’s Final Thoughts

Today, the team will depart from Rwanda and begin our long journey home. This trip has impacted my life more than I ever thought. I want to go home as a changed and better person. And I don’t mean a few good decisions here and there. I want it to be consistent. I feel that God has blessed this team in many ways and has answered all of our prayers. For example: we got all 50 bags!

It will be difficult saying goodbye to this great group of people as I have developed a very fond relationship with every member of the team. And I want our team’s connection to continue forever. I must give a huge shout out to Angie for leading this team so well. I thank God for selecting each of these wonderful people to join me on this life changing adventure. I want to so badly go to Rwanda again, but I wouldn’t want any person on this trip to stay behind. I can now call this team my family.

Some of my highs of the trip were meeting our sponsored kids, Doreen, Farisa, and Isaac, going to Akagera National Park, interacting with the Rwandan kids and, of course, the bus rides with Kate and Megan! Haha! Some of my lows were having to leave my sponsored kids and getting a 103.8 fever. It was miserable. But it was fun being able to watch the other kids have a great time together at the guest house.

Coming to Rwanda, I expected things to be a lot worse than they are. It is truly amazing to see the work God has done in this country since the genocide. The guest house staff always made sure we had what we needed and made us feel safe and comfortable. One time when I was sick, I was laying out in the hammock and it broke down and I collapsed to the ground. I tried to fix it but I fell again. Then Peter, a staff member, came over and fixed it for me. It was very kind of him.

I cant wait to share all of my stories and show you guys all of my pictures when I return home. I ask that you pray for safe travel home. Thank you for everything!

Lots of love, Trevor

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Sunday – Heading Home!

In about 3 hours, we will be on our way home for a 35 hour trip, including a 17 hour flight. Africa has been very life changing and simply an amazing experience. Some of my highlights from the trip were playing soccer with all the kids, helping out with all the projects like painting, doing the basketball camp with the kids, playing in the game against the national team and also getting to do many basketball things and talks with Steve Blake! I was unsure about this trip before but after the trip, I am so blessed I got the opportunity to go. I truly feel like I have learned so much and to really invest in the people that are really important to you like family, extended family, and those really close, good friends. Looking back at my life before this trip, I can see that, yea I was a good person but then at times, I really wasn’t and I made mistakes with many things, especially the people I cared about the most. I was selfish and only thought about me a lot of the time. I really pushed away people and didn’t give those I cared about the time they deserved. Hopefully, with this trip, it will show that I’m changed. So I am looking forward to coming home changed, changed as a person, changed in my spiritual walk with God, and in every area of my life. Africa has been something that will stay in my heart forever. Thank you guys for all the prayers and I look forward to seeing all of you when I get back.

With love, Austin

Saturday – Shopping and African Bagel Company

For our last day in Rwanda, we got our shopping in and then had lunch at African Bagel Company. The shopping was pretty crazy and we only had a couple hours. I learned to barter and the ANLM staff helped tremendously as well. Unfortunately, Trevor now has what Dylan had so him and Matt stayed home from shopping but Matt got to go shopping for a short while in the afternoon. The kids also played soccer, cards and football at the guesthouse. We have spent the afternoon packing, having fun and relaxing. We will be having our final dinner and debriefing before we head home after church tomorrow.

Please pray that Trevor gets better before we head home tomorrow. This afternoon his temperature was up to 103.8 so we are trying to get it down with medication. Also pray that no one else in our family or the group gets what Trevor has.

Other than sickness, it has been an amazing experience! I hope to have each of us make one last post on the blog as to our highs and lows and what this trip has meant to each of us.

Thank you to all of you for following along and for your prayers for our family. Please pray for safety on our travels home as well!

Love,

The Taylor Five

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Friday – A day in Kageyo

After a relaxing morning at the lodge, we set off for an hour plus drive to the village of Kageyo. This was by far the most poverty stricken area we have seen. It started as a refugee settlement camp in the 2007ish and Africa New Life Ministries partnered with the government to start a school and church in the community in 2009. As of today, over 900 children are sponsored in one section of Kageyo and another section of Kageyo will be starting a school with ANLM in the next few months, in which ANLM is hoping to have 300 kids sponsored by the fall.

As we arrived, we met one of our friends sponsored kids, visited with her and presented er with her gifts. She was very sweet and shy. She took pictures with us, we prayed with her and she headed home while we headed out to the new school to paint. We drove for about 30 minutes on some really bumpy terrain. Little kids lined the dirt roads and came running from their homes, yelling Muzunga (white person) and so excited with smiles on their faces. For many, they may have only seen a white person just a handful of times, if that. We painted for a while and were then interrupted and asked to come to the community meeting, where the village was all gathered right next to the school. After some announcements with the vice mayor, they entire group broke out in song and then began to dance. In their traditional dance, they walked over and pulled each member from our group to dance along with them. After the dance, Mike, our pastor at Grace, was invited to speak, and thru a translator, gave an impromptu salvation message, in which about 3/4 of the group accepted Christ as their Savior. It was awesome! We sang and danced some more, played with the kids and visited with people after the community meeting, had lunch, and started our long journey back to the guest house (3 hours). Tonight we are being served traditional Rwandan dinner to wrap up the night.

Today was a good but tough day. It is very hard to see such poverty and not be able to help more. At the same time, it is very humbling to see how joyful these people are with so little…A good lesson for us all!

Dylan and Julie

PS – I have heard that many of you are inquiring about the weather. It has been amazing. Highs around 75-80 degrees and lows around 55-60 degrees with a nice breeze most days. A few days have been a bit warmer but nothing like I expected. :)

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Thursday – Akagera Game Park & Lodge

Today was a fun, but LONG day!!! Half of our group left the guest house at 3:30am to head out to Akagera National Park. We figured that if we woke up around 3:00 instead of 4:00, we wouldn’t really notice the difference. Plus the earlier the group left, the more animals we would see. As we neared the entrance, we saw the sun rise. It was a glorious sight. People were working on plentiful plantation and there was actually some zebras! The bus arrived around 7:00am and started the tour a half an hour later.

Because of a fire started by poachers, it was hazy and that made it difficult to notice animals. The first section of the trip was land full of many trees. In the area, there was several impala and bush bucks. We actually saw to male impalas fighting with their long horns! Then, after about an hour, we emerged from the trees, and entered a vast plain. There were a few trees scattered here and there. Herds of zebras and water bucks all galloped in the same direction. Attached to its mother, was a baby zebra. It was very cute. The bus left the plain after a while and entered a land of many hills and trees. By now, it was scorching hot. The group sweltered under the blazing sun.

There was not very many animals that we saw in the area, but we heard that this was a great place to see giraffes. Since the group so badly wanted to see one, the guide took us off trail to try and find a giraffe because there were none along the road. We searched and searched for some for a while. The ground was very rough and bumpy with several slopes. The group was afraid that we would get stranded out there with four flat tires and a punctured gas tank. Haha! Alas! The tour guide had found us not only one giraffe, but a whole family of them. A dad, mom and juvenile giraffe. We made sure to take a lot of pictures before they ran off.

Next, we approached a colossal lake. We soon saw hippos, but they quickly entered the water. They were gigantic! We even saw a hippo with a bird perched on top of it! As the bus drove along the perimeter of the lake, we saw a fish eagle chasing a crane. The fish eagle just grabbed ahold of the crane with its claws before they flew behind a tree. I so badly wanted to see a crocodile but I didn’t. Some of the group did see a head of the croc peering out of the water, but I only saw the bubbles and moving lily pads after it went back under the water.

The other half of the excursion seemed really long, for we saw very few animals. We were in elephant territory for a while but didn’t see any. I bet if the bus would have went off road a ways, we could have seen one but there were too many trees to go around. The guide said that there were about 120 elephants in the game park. We waited as the hours dragged on, swatting horse flys in our bus, which was the highlight of the day for some of the boys at the back of the bus, who turned it into a game. :)

We finally arrived at the lodge around 1:00pm. After lunch, we moved our overnight bags to our rooms and then, went for a swim at the pool. The water was frigid, which made it very refreshing. After swimming, we walked around the grounds of the lodge, looking for baboons. We saw quite a few, including three that swung themselves up onto the roof from a tree and the second story of the lodge rooms. It was quite a sight! Jadon and I liked to mess around with the baboon sticks used to fend off baboons by the staff. That night, my dad actually paid the staff for two of them for Jadon and I. It was very kind of him. After dinner, we headed back to our cottage for bed. Since it was dark, we were very cautious not to run into baboons. Daniel guided us back safely.

It was a great day! Tomorrow we head to Kageyo!

Bye for now, Trevor

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Wednesday – Kigali Sponsor Visits and Pebbles vs KBC-Kigali Basketball Club

We started off the day with delivering gifts to 9 of your sponsored kids in Kigali at The Dream Center. It is always humbling to see how truly thankful they are for their gifts. I truly believe they love even more when somebody hand delivers it. They quickly connect when you show them pictures of family and friends. Mom and Dad you will be happy to know Tony spotted Sandrine just as we were leaving as we thought she was not there.

I was not able to be a part of the basketball clinic in the morning but showed up at lunch to the team doing a clinic with about 150 kids….the plan was to have about 20 to 30.:) There is such a huge need for solid instruction and equipment. I have made a lot of new friends….none more meaningful than Igor the captain of the Pebbles. He is a lanky 6′-6″ player who is all about his teammates first. He is a great example to his team through his attitude and hustle. The Pebbles ended up being a pretty decent team with a couple of players who could have played collegiately in the US had they gotten the proper instruction early. NBA Steve, Igor, and Lion (he is good) led the team to a very surprising 95 83 victory over the Kigali Basketball Club. As my partner in Rwanda Rogers said, they never had a chance without God on our side. :) It was a great two days of basketball that ended well. So many wonderful things have happened this past week I can’t possibly name them all. I apologize for the late post but the power in Kigali was out last night. Julie, Austin, and I took cold showers in the dark! My wife has done things this past week that would make you all proud! Trevor should be posting soon about our long but fun day in the game park! The baboons are everywhere!

Matt

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A Day of Basketball in Rwanda

Today was a full day of basketball in Africa. We left at about 8:30 in the morning and got home at 7. We started out in the morning doing lots of skill and individual work with The Pebbles (Africa New Life Ministries National Basketball Team…ages 18-24). The second part of the day was a lot of team drills. We then played a game against The Pebbles! the team we helped out today. They were very athletic but lacked some skills. We played four 10 minute quarters. We started out slow and got down by 10 or so but then got hot…Well mostly Steve Blake haha! It was very fun to play a game with refs and a regular game in the Rwanda National Stadium playing along side of Steve Blake, whom I have had the opportunity to cherish some amazing time with him that I will never forget. We ended up winning the game by 20 or so…it was a lot of fun. I have really had a blast on this trip and it is has been truly life changing. This trip will be something I never forget. Thank you guys for all the prayers and I look forward to seeing you all when I get back.

With love, Austin

PS – We added a picture of the scoreboard because we thought it was super funny that they called our team “Steve Blake”.

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Last Day in Kayonza

This morning, some of the team awoke at 5:40am so they could join Steve Blake at his workout. For the first time, there was light in the gym, due to the radiant suns rays. But unfortunately, the hoops didn’t come down until the end :( .

After a fulfilling breakfast and team devotions and debriefing, the group took off prepared for our last day in Kayonza. It was too bad that we had to leave behind Rachel, Dylan, Mike and Cynthia, who took care for the sick ones. I felt bad that they didn’t get to go to the home visits and say goodbye to our sponsored kids but also for our sponsored children for they were not able to have Dylan there that day. The day was glorious, the sun shining greatly. First, the gang continued their projects from yesterday, the people who did brown bear books the day before, either helped with the library or the grace home. But we got to meet Doreen, our sponsor child for the first time. She was a very sweet girl.

After lunch, half of the team did sponsored kid home visits while others finished the painting and library project. My family and I got to visit Doreen’s wonderful family. Her mother and stepdad were very pleased and happy to see us and thanked us many times. We even got to see their goat that the Russell’s purchased for them (thanks Patty)! Afterwards, we headed off to Isaacs house. His mother was there along with his brothers and cousin. The mother had already met my father. She was also very joyful to see us and prayed for our family. She actually gave my father and mother a gift. Both families were great. We left back to the campus after the visits were over. Soon after we arrived, we had to go back to Kigali. It was very, very difficult to say goodbye to our sponsored kids.
They are such amazing kids. We are now home and have had dinner and did team debriefing. We are going to bed soon so bub-bye!

Trevor

PS -The funny story of the day is one of our groups home visit’s received a rabbit as a gift. See picture below. :)

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