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

Sunday, 29 June 2014

Joy Comes In Letters

 I’ve received NINE letters from my children since my last update! It sounds like a jackpot, and it is; a letter from my precious Isimbi, two from handsome Mbula, and SIX from my sweet Shakira! The only one missing is Ada… I’m a little concerned that I haven’t heard from her in almost four months, but I’m afraid I may be guilty in her case… I’ve neglected writing to my children in the past couple of months, because my life has been so busy. I’m making it up for it now though, and there have been many bundles of love delivered to the post office lately!
First up, the letter from Isimbi. (Who, by the way, is going to be turning eleven in less than two months. Where does the time go?!)
Isimbi began her letter by greeting me in Jesus’ name and telling me that her family is fine. She shared that it is rainy season in Rwanda and asked how the weather is here? She then told me that she is studying well and she knows she will pass. (That’s my always-confident girl!) She told me to keep praying for her and added, “And I know you do pray for me.” (Of course I do, I tell her that in every letter!) She then told me that her mother, grandmother, and brother are greeting me (the first time she’s specifically mentioned her family members) and told me thank you for the last two letters I sent. “I was so glad,” she added.

Next are the two letters I received from my brother Mbula, who almost always begins his letters with “Hallo my friend?” which makes me chuckle because I imagine a British accent. The one deviation from his tradition was his second-to-last letter, which began, “First I would like to say “Hi” to you.” Isn’t that sweet?
 Mbula is fine and doing well in his “daily activities.” He’s also keeping busy at school and has been promoted to Form 2 (The equivalent of our grade 10.) His school had an athletics competition and they “participated very well although the game was tough.” They are preparing for football games in the next term and he requested that I pray for their team to win. He then asked about my favorite game and why I like it. Mbula and his family recently harvested their crops and have already replanted in preparation for the next harvest season. He also shared some interesting Bible verses with me.

Some of you might remember  me mentioning that there was a mix-up with the post office in Rwanda and Shakira wasn’t getting my letters. Thankfully the problem was resolved, and she received every letter that I’d sent her, about six or seven in total! I was worried that she might be overwhelmed, but I guess she wasn’t… since she wrote six separate letters back! She commented on all of my letters, shared details of her life with me, and asked some great questions! Her letters are too long to share in full, but here are my favorite quotes. What a personality this girl has!
“I was so happy for the photos you sent me, which are a souvenir to my friend Hannah.”
“Now the sun is shining, but in a few minutes is sunset.”
“I like dancing Rwandan dance type, I wish you could come and I teach you how to dance this kind of dance!”
“Rwanda is beautiful because so many people like to worship God.”
“They call me at home, Uwimana. I like your names Hannah --------- (She used my full name here.)”
“Now the sun is shining, it’s neither hot nor cold, if you hang your clothes outside they will dry.”
“I am writing this letter at 8h in the evening. Tell me, what time is it in Canada when in Rwanda we are at 8h in evening?”
She also shared news and greetings from her sisters and her mum, told me about her church and the youth choir she sings in (They have six choirs at her church!), told me her school results (She was second in her whole class… I am SO proud of her!), told me about the holidays they celebrate in Rwanda, shared some great Bible verses with me, and told me some more about the children in the “Shelter Them family.” (I’m so glad she sees all the other children as her family!)
But it was her next words that melted my heart and brought me to tears right in the middle of a lecture hall at the university where I was sitting with friends and reading her letters while waiting for the speaker.
She said, “My sisters expressed love to you that you have much love. The love you showed me I will also give to others because your love to me really amazed me. I am going to sleep and I hope to see you in my dreams. When I think about you, I rush to do my activities so that I can get time to write you a letter. I love you so much.”
If I had any doubts whatsoever about whether letters make a difference, these letters from Shakira cleared them right up. Through the power of a pen and paper, a fifteen-year-old girl halfway around the word has gone from being a face and a name to being a sister… a real, living, loving friend whom I love and value… and whom I also hope to see in my dreams as she hopes to see me in hers.
Before I end this blog post, I want to share a lovely song with you… This is a song called “Uri Umwami” (You are King) sung by the one of the choirs at Shakira’s church. It’s a beautiful worship song that turns into a joyous celebration of praise; I know you will enjoy it as much as I did!

Monday, 23 June 2014

Music Monday: When Life Gets In The Way Of Living

I can’t believe how long it’s been since the last time I shared a “Music Monday” post with you all! Life has been a little crazy lately, with twists and turns and ups and downs. I have high hopes of getting back to blogging regularly though… be on the lookout for a LONG post with lots of updates!
And now, since life has really gotten in the way of just living lately, I have a really good song to share with you all… “When Life Gets In The Way Of Living” written and performed by my friend Blair Lane. Blair is a Nashville recording artist who lives right here in Newfoundland and has written some beautiful songs. This one is off of his second album, also entitled When Life Gets In The Way Of Living. I hope you all enjoy this wonderful song… and don’t forget to take some time to just enjoy life to the fullest; it goes by far too quickly!

Friday, 11 April 2014

Down Home

Shivering, I put my hands between my knees to warm them. A strand of hair blows loose from my ponytail and whips across my face; the wind is getting steadily colder, but still I stay, not wanting to seek the warm refuge of the car just yet. I’m fascinated by the sight in front of me.
It’s early April in Newfoundland, and far from what most people would consider a pretty time of year around here. Blustery winds seem to cut right through you and, with the sun scarcely showing his face long enough to thaw us all out, it can seem downright miserable. A carpet of dead, yellowed grass underfoot and a leaden sky overhead seem to go hand-in-hand. Looking up, I can literally see fingers of gray clouds reaching across the occasional patches of blue, like great wolves’ teeth chasing the white cloud-sheep across their pasture.

Looking out at the ocean, which matches the sky, I see a couple of herring gulls playing tag. They don’t seem to mind the approaching storm, cavorting like a couple of youngsters and screaming insults at each other.
Looking around, I have to wonder what it is that draws people about this place. There’s just something about it that pulls one back… it’s common knowledge that every Newfoundlander, or “Newfie” as we’re sometimes known, will find his way “down home” at some point or another, no matter how long he’s been away.
As I gaze out at the grim, frowning cliffs, with their faces eternally washed by rains and  decorated by moss and gull’s nests, I wonder what the early settlers of Newfoundland thought of their first glimpse of the rock they would come to call “home”. What possessed them, I wonder, to stay and eke out a living here?

The sensible part of me, of course, knows the answer to that; a wealth of fish. Early settlers were fishermen who made their living battling the ocean and forcing it to give up its codfish treasure. They came home at night exhausted from their work, but never too tired to enjoy a song and a few tales around the fire. Brave wives fed their families with what little they had… a bit of hardtack, (we call it “hard bread”) soaked in water overnight until it became edible, a few potatoes and turnips grown in the rocky soil out back of their houses, and salt fish from the sea. Even now, you will commonly find fish, potatoes, and hard bread cooking in many a skillet across the Island. We call this dish, “Fish’n’Brewis,” (Pronounced “brews”) and it remains a favorite with down-homers and a special treat to folks from “away.” (If you want to try cooking Fisherman's Brewis yourself, there's a recipe HERE.)
The earliest settlers of Newfoundland, my ancestors, passed down many traits through the generations; kindness, a genuine concern for one’s neighbor, generosity, a willingness to work and to work hard, and a kind of cheerful stubbornness that always keeps one looking for the sunny side of things. And, of course, a lilting accent spoken by young and old alike which instantly identifies one as a Newfoundlander.  That manner of speaking has been made fun of, had songs written about it, been captured in “Newfie Dictionaries” and everyone wants to speak it, although it’s hard to learn...
Thinking it over, it’s no wonder so many people call this chunk of rock sitting in the Atlantic Ocean “home” and why so many visitors either elect to stay or wish they had. There’s something about this place that’s magnetic… whether it’s the good home-cooked meals, the lively and sometimes haunting music, the tall tales and good old laughs, the feeling of being called, “My darling” by perfect strangers, the rugged and awesome landscape… perhaps it’s a combination of all of that.
Or maybe it’s a little something more; a sense of pride and ownership of this rock that belongs to each and every person that sets foot here.

Monday, 31 March 2014

Music Monday: Overcomer

This Monday I want to share with you a song that I only discovered a few days ago! I’d heard of it and knew that people were saying it was good, but I just never bothered to look it up. This week has been kind of a struggle for me, so a friend of mine sent me this song. It was exactly what I needed to hear at that moment and I think it’s become this week’s theme song for me! It’s a “get up and dance” song, so turn your speakers up LOUD for this one!
Without further ado, here’s Mandisa with her song, “Overcomer”!