Sunday, 26 October 2014

Operation Christmas Child: Love in a Box

It’s that time of year again… time to pack our OCC shoeboxes!

If you’ve never heard of Operation Christmas Child, here are some quickie facts!

1. OCC was founded in 1990.

2. OCC was officially “adopted” in 1993 by Samaritan's Purse, a Christian organization founded by Franklin Graham.

3. Since its inception, OCC has distributed over 100 million shoeboxes to kids around the world.

4. OCC shoeboxes are given to children regardless of race, gender, or religion.

5. Children who receive shoeboxes are also given the opportunity to attend a 12-lesson discipleship program called “The Greatest Journey” run by local churches.

6. Operation Christmas Child shoebox gifts are collected in Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Germany, Austria, Finland, Spain, the United Kingdom, Japan, Spain, and the United States.

7. In 2014, shoeboxes will be distributed in Uruguay, El Salvador, Guatemala, Sierra Leone, Guinea Bissau, Venezuela, Equatorial Guinea, Costa Rica, Guinea, Haiti, Nicaragua, Chile (including Easter Island), and Senegal.

What I personally love about this ministry is that it’s so easy to do that anyone can get involved!

Step One is to pick up your box(es)! Click HERE to find a Collection Center near you!

Step Two is to put those neat little boxes together (believe me, it’s not as easy as it looks but it CAN be done!)

Step Three is to decide what gender and age range your box will be for. You can select either boy or girl ranging in age from 2-4, 5-9, or 10-14!

Step Four is to start filling your box with goodies! Mine is still a work in progress, haha.

Started out with two items... soap and a toothbrush.

This flute was too long to pack... until I realized they come apart! 

A jumbled mess...

Remember that soap has to be put in a separate bag!

NOTE: The dollar store is a GREAT place to find items! If you’re looking for more ideas, here are 101 ideas compiled by Kelly Hancock.

ALSO NOTE: Remember that you should not include any liquid (perfume, hand sanitizer), anything that will break (mirrors, snow globes), anything that will melt (certain candies, lip balm), anything used (due to customs restrictions), any guns, knives, or war-related items (such as G.I. Joes or army men. Many of these children have been traumatized by war), or anything that will scare or hurt a child (Halloween items come to mind). Hard candies are okay as long as they are individually wrapped and double-bagged, such as pictured below!

Step Five is to include a photo of yourself/ your family, and write a note to include! The children are so blessed to know that someone loves them and to be able to match a face to their presents! If you live in Canada, HERE is a printable note that you can personalize! 

Step Six is to wrap your box (if you desire. If you choose to wrap the box, please wrap the lid separately to ensure staff can open the boxes to check the contents.)

Step Seven is to affix the label with the chosen gender/age of the child!

Step Eight is to include a $7 donation which will help cover costs to get the box to its destination!

And Step Nine… drop the box off at the collection center! And you’re DONE!

And just in case you need a little motivation to get started… take a few seconds to watch this!

Friday, 19 September 2014

Questions and Answers with Isimbi!

I’ve been a little concerned about my Isimbi lately… her letters seemed kind of repetitive and she didn’t seem to be putting much effort into them. Several months ago, I had sent her a letter that was strictly “questions” in hopes of getting her to open up. I also answered every question I sent her, so she would learn a little bit more about me. I had almost given up hopes of ever getting a detailed letter from her; until today!! I got a bubbly letter with answers to EVERY ONE of the EIGHT questions I had asked her!!

She began her letter by greeting me in the Name of Jesus Christ, as she does in every letter. She asked me how I was, and told me that her family was doing well. She then shared her school marks (A bit low) and that she hoped to get more marks next term. (May I add that her marks were still a significant improvement from what she’s shown in the past.)
Now on to the answers! In case her answers are a bit confusing, I’ll print the original questions I had asked in bold type and Isimbi’s answers in Italic type.
1.       Some things I am afraid of are insects and water, because I don’t know how to swim. What things are you afraid of? I fear water (lake) and wild animals.
2.       When I am sad, I like to talk with my friends and listen to music. What cheers you up when you are sad? I like funny things.
3.       When I was a student, my favorite subject was English. What is your favorite subject in school? I like Elementary Science.
4.       My best friends are named (here I listed four friends). Who are your best friends? My friends are Celine, Aline, Diane, and Hannah. (I wonder does she mean me or does she have another friend named Hannah?)
5.       I have known my friend R-------- for almost 15 years. How long have you known your best friend? I have been with Diane for 7 years.
6.       My favorite memory is of when I got to ride a horse for the first time. What is your favorite memory? When you came to visit me. (Actually referring to my friends’ visit, but still…awwwwwwwwww!)
7.       If I could go anywhere in the world, I would go to Israel, Kenya, and Rwanda. If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would you like to go? In America and England. (And Canada? Haha)
8.       What are some questions you would like to ask me? When will you come back to visit me?

Her last question broke my heart… especially in light of my last post, which talked about how I won’t be traveling to Rwanda this year. But at the same time, it touches my heart in a deep way that her favorite memory was of my friends’ visit. To a child growing up in rural Rwanda, it must have been very like having the king and queen visit… a sponsor visit is that important to a child. I only wish I could write back and tell her that I’m on my way… I pray the next two years go by quickly, and that the time will come for me to see her and hold her in person.

Isimbi showing some love to my friend David.

 Isimbi closed her letter with, “Thank you for the letter you sent to me. I got it and I liked it. Thank you so much Hannah!”

You’re so very welcome my sweet child!

Sunday, 14 September 2014

Sometimes It Hurts

Sometimes, it’s hard to pretend you’re okay. It’s hard to keep your smile fixed firmly in place, pretend that your eyes are sparkling from happiness rather than unshed tears, and keep your chin up. It’s hard to look up when you feel like your heart is spiraling slowly downward, when you clench your hands where nobody can see and grit your teeth to keep from breaking down.
It was hard last night.
I was sitting in the back row at a Shelter Them fundraiser, where I and one other member of Driftwood Cross had come to sing and support the team who will be traveling to Rwanda this November. During the course of the evening, all the team members who would be traveling to Rwanda were asked to stand and come forward. I thought I was ready… I thought I had prepared myself for this moment. But nothing could prepare me for the clench in my gut when the team members filed forward… without me.
As I sat stiffly in my seat, with my gaze trained towards the front, I smiled and nodded while my heart screamed, “What about me? I belong there too!” And as I listened to our team talk about how excited they were to visit Rwanda, my heart kept insisting, “But you have no idea. If this was a trip to Sudan or Ethiopia or Uganda, you would feel the same. Cute children and great need. None of you can possibly love Rwanda like I do. You don’t know the language, the culture, the customs, like I do.”
It was hard again today, as I re-watched the video of my friends meeting our co-sponsored child, Isimbi. I always tear up when I watch the video of Isimbi… always have, probably always will… but it was always a “I love you so much and can’t wait to see you,” kind of cry… not a “I love you so much and may never get the chance to meet you,” kind of cry. As I watch her lovely dark eyes flicker from one person to the next, watch her shy smile when she is handed a gift, see her shy pride when she presents the team with a present she picked herself, note her interest as she intently studies a photo that she is given, see her slim brown arms reaching for a hug, watch the blooming confidence in her precious face… my heart crumbles into bits and rains down to the floor. Oh, my sweet child… will I ever have the chance to know you?
It gets still harder when I re-read the letters from my darling sister Shakira in Rwanda… She promises that she will teach me to dance “Rwandan dance type” and says, “I will be so happy when you come and visit us in Rwanda.” Jules (The director of Shelter Them) has assured me that “Shakira is a good girl, she is sad to hear you are not coming but she understands.” That doesn’t stop my heart from breaking… Shakira has no mother, her father is in prison and she has only met him once. She had five older siblings who are all deceased. Her aunt abandoned her. I recall her words, “The love you have for me really amazed me,” and I look at her smiling photo and think, “Am I one more person who has let her down?”
It gets harder still when I see the bubbly posts on Facebook… “Can’t wait to see you guys in a few weeks!” “The countdown is on!” “Can’t wait to visit Rwanda again!” “So excited!”
At times I must come off as annoying or desperate, as I beg the team members again and again; take lots of pictures of my babies. Bring them presents from me. Tell them how much I love them. Tell them how much I wanted to visit. Tell them how proud I am of them.
All the while my heart is asking, “When will it be my turn?”
Yes, it hurts. It aches. It burns. I won’t pretend that it’s easy. I can’t pass it off and say, “Oh well, next year.” I can’t pretend that my heart doesn’t break a little more every day. It will be hard to watch the team set off on their journey… it will be even harder when they return, overflowing with stories and photos. I don’t know why this had to happen… that for the third time, my trip is cancelled. I won’t pretend that I don’t have my moments of asking, “God, why?”
Sometimes, on those days when I can almost feel the heat of the Rwandan sun, can almost smell the rain-scented air, can almost feel the red dirt road beneath my feet, all I can do is stretch my hands to Heaven and say, “It’s Yours.” I don’t understand why, and maybe I never will... I can only hope that I will be there someday, in the homeland I’ve never been to, holding my beloved children in my arms. Until then, I will trust my Father to hold my children tightly, to protect them, keep them safe, love them, and guide them; until such a time as I am able to hold them in my physical arms. And until then, I will hold them in my heart.

Even when it hurts. 

2012 Original drawing by Uwimana Hannah

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

When Life Gets Crazy

Wow, I can’t believe how long it’s been since I posted here! My life has been kind of crazy… believe me, there are times when Uwimana Hannah hangs by her fingernails just like everyone else.

 In the past six months, I have gotten a job, moved to a different community, gotten an apartment, left my job, found another job, left my apartment, and found another apartment! I’ve tried to keep up with writing regularly to four kids whose letters seem to be arriving faster than I can respond to them. I’ve met with the members of Driftwood Cross and kept up with leading worship every Sunday with them. I’ve struggled to find time to blog or even write prose. And I’ve tried to find time to read God’s Love Letter to me (the Bible) and spend time with Him. Ultimately, I’ve failed. Sometimes, all I have energy to do is say “Lord, I’m so sorry… and I do really love You,” as I lay my head on the pillow to sleep.
Thank God He is merciful.
In the process of all this, sometimes it’s hard to find time to sit and think… to do what the Bible describes as, “being still and knowing that He is God.” But thankfully, there have been little revelations of God’s goodness all along the way. Now that my life seems to be settling somewhat, I look forward to sharing some of those serendipitous moments with you all. I’ve missed writing and interacting with my friends on my blog and on my Facebook page so much!

With that said… be on the lookout for some fun updates VERY soon!

May God keep you under the shadow of His wings!

Saturday, 19 July 2014

Where We Began: My Introduction to Sponsorship

I still remember the first time I’d ever heard the words, “child sponsor.” I couldn't have been very old at the time… maybe 7 or 8? My parents and I had gone to attend a concert in a neighboring community. It was my very first concert, which I enjoyed with wads of tissue in my ears because my mom was worried the loud music would give me a headache. During a break in the music, the band’s lead singer talked about World Vision and the impact they were having in so many countries.

After the concert, we found ourselves in front of the World Vision table. I still remember my dad reaching for his wallet and telling my mom to “pick a child” as he nodded towards the table. We came home that night with a new member of the family… a beautiful teenaged girl from India named Rajini.

I still remember telling my mom, in all my young wisdom… “Usually the big sister takes care of the little sister. But since we’re looking after Rajini, and I’m younger than her, the little sister is looking after the big sister!”

I sadly don’t remember much of our relationship with Rajini… I do know that we never wrote, being unfamiliar with the impact that letters have on our children and unfamiliar with child sponsorship in general. I do know that a few years later, Rajini’s parents removed her from the program. World Vision then sent us a packet for a new child… a little girl from either Sri Lanka or Bangladesh. Her name was Arti. But Arti only stayed in the program for a year or so before her family moved.

So, we began again… and this time we received a packet for a little girl in Romania. Her name was Livia.

This is the first picture we saw of Livia… she was only five, and lived with her parents in a very poor area. I still remember writing a letter to her for the first time… I was older now, and hungered for the relationship that comes with being a child sponsor. (Probably the reason I now have four kids!)

We’ve been so blessed to watch pretty Livia grow up. Now that she is older, she and my mother exchange letters regularly and are developing a beautiful relationship. She is in every way “my mother’s child”; which I suppose makes her my sponsor sister!

What a change from her first photo!

I remember being surprised at how much older she looked in this photo!
Livia working hard at Mathematics in school! Love the green socks! 
Still working hard in math years later! (Some of her photos have been misplaced)
My favorite picture of her... this one is frameable! I love how World Vision
makes an effort to stand the kids in creative poses for their yearly updates!
Livia loves flowers... lilacs and tulips are her favorites! (Mine too!)

The most recent photo update... age 14. I love her long hair!!

Livia just turned fifteen years old… which means she has been part of our family for ten years. She’s become a staple in our household, and for sure, she is my introduction to sponsoring children!

Dumnezeu să vă binecuvânteze, Livia! God bless you!

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Oh, Olivia!

For those of you who aren't familiar with Olivia, I highly suggest you click here: Meet Olivia Manirafasha, for an introduction to our sweet girl and here: An Olive Tree in the House of the Lord, for an incredible update on her story!
“Oh, Olivia.” I sometimes whisper those words with a smile when I see her precious face.

After all, it’s kind of hard not to fall in love with those shining eyes and that crooked-toothed grin! And when I realized that it’s been months since I last gave you all an “Olivia update” I couldn’t wait to dig up some new pictures of her! Our precious girl has been thriving since her family’s transition to their new home. As I shared with you in my previous update, An Olive Tree in the House of the Lord, Olivia has received medical treatment at a well-known orthopedic center in Rilima and she is now walking all over the place!
She was quite the star at Shelter Them’s Christmas party that was held for all of our children! Isn’t she precious?
I still find myself shaking my head at her total transformation. From a helpless, crippled child crawling through the gutters with no hope and no future, Olivia has opened her arms to embrace the possibilities and is taking over her world with her dimpled grin. She pushes herself in every way. She hasn’t let her past hold her down, not one bit… and there’s far more to that mind of hers than we first realized.

When our team first met Olivia, they were told that she was physically and mentally handicapped. In the above photo, her mother supports her as she tries to dance to the music. She was completely unable to stand on her own. But as I studied the photos and videos more closely, I started believing that “mentally handicapped” was an unfair label. Olivia displays signs of cerebral palsy, which doesn’t affect a person’s intelligence at all. How terrible, I thought, with everyone thinking you are mentally challenged. Locked in a body that won’t obey you, trapped by a faltering tongue, and with poverty shoving you down and refusing to allow you a voice. My suspicions were confirmed when I watched a video of Olivia and Jules, who runs the Rwanda branch of Shelter Them, having a conversation about the family’s then-recent move.
Jules: “What should we tell the twins?”
Olivia: “We moved!”
Jules: “You moved?”
Olivia: “Yes!”
Jules: “How is your new place?”
Olivia: “We moved to a very beautiful place!”
Jules: “What should we tell them?”
Olivia: “Thank you and may God bless you!”

That, I thought, doesn’t sound like a mentally handicapped child to me. That sounds like a normal child her age… well, one who has never had a chance at any kind of education anyways; especially if she was treated as less-than-intelligent.

As it turns out, I was right… because as soon as Olivia finished her treatment at Rilima Othopedics Center and began walking, our team turned to the next thing on the “Olivia Bucket List”; school!

In the words of Jules; “I remember her asking me: ‘Uncle, will you take me to school? Will you buy me books?’ Her statement pushed me to go for seeking appropriate school for her.”

It wasn’t long after that that we got the news: A school had been found, and Olivia had taken a big step forward and begun the 100 km journey away from her family to attend a boarding school for special-needs students.

In the above picture, Olivia (on the left) stands with a new friend and classmate that she met at school. Our little “butterfly girl” is bursting out of her cocoon and soaring off to new adventures! With an education, nothing will be able to hold her back… I dream of seeing her become a motivational speaker and/or advocate for handicapped children.

Looking at this photo, it’s amazing how far she’s come… in just two years, Olivia has gone from being a “gutter child” with no future to a sassy, confident diva with a heart-stopping grin! Even her physical stature is changing… she’s grown so much taller and stronger.

No longer can we call Olivia "handicapped"… I think she’s proven herself to be more than “handi-capable!”

I just can’t wait to see where her journey takes her next!

Monday, 30 June 2014

Music Monday: From Sea to Sea

In honor of Canada Day tomorrow (July 1st) I want to share a very special song with you. It’s not on You Tube so I was unable to embed it, but you can click on the link below and view it. This is Luc Gingras and his wife Nathalie, ministers at La Place in Granby, Quebec, singing one of Luc’s original songs. The song is called “From Sea to Sea” and it is a prayer for the nation of Canada. It is based on Psalm 72:8, which states "He shall have dominion also from sea to sea, and from the river to the ends of the earth." Canada is the only nation outside of the middle East whose modern-day boundaries are clearly defined in Scripture.

I hope that this song touches and blesses you as we pray it over the Dominion of Canada. 

Sea to Sea - Luc Gingras