Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Looking Back: 2014

Whew, what a year this has been! I would definitely have to say this this been my craziest year ever, with ups and downs and twists and turns. There have been some pretty rough times, but there have been some good ones too and I’m thankful for that.


Blogging:

I haven’t devoted as much time to blogging as I did last year, mainly because my life has been so insane! Still, I managed to crank out 24 posts. I’m hoping that number will be a little higher in 2015!


My Children:



My four children are doing absolutely great, and I am so thankful! I have been blessed so much by their letters.

I was excited to hear that Mbula, my oldest, is aiming for a university-level education; I am so proud of him! He is up to his ears in soccer stuff, as always… he’s really been enjoying playing an attacking mid-fielder position. I also got an updated photo of him this year.

Shakira is also excelling academically… she’s #1 in every class! I got to send her a package of stuff last month and she loved it. She also wrote her first letter to me in English this year, and did so well at it! I have lots of photos of her from the Shelter Them Mission trip.

I was a little concerned about Isimbi this year, as she’s not been as chatty as she usually is. So I was really happy to hear that her favorite memory is when my friends visited her back in 2012. She calls me her best friend and always wants to know when I will visit her again! I also received a lovely updated photo of her this year

Ada has also been a little quiet this year, and she’s been struggling a lot in school… she’s a little trooper though, and tries so very hard! Her last letter said that she was happy to know that she was part my family. She also said that my “accepting to sponsor” her reminds me of how Jesus loves her and “accepted to sponsor” her. What a beautiful metaphor!

This year, I have sent a total of 40 letters to my children.

This year, I have received a total of 22 letters from my children. Here is the breakdown on that:

Isimbi: 4 letters
Ada: 3 letters
Mbula: 6 letters
Shakira: 9 letters

We also celebrated Shakira’s 16th birthday, Mbula’s 19th birthday, and Isimbi’s and Ada’s 11th birthdays (born a month apart)!


Shane Claiborne

I got a chance to meet Shane Claiborne, founder of The Simple Way and author of The Irresistible Revolution and Jesus, Bombs, and Ice Cream (among others) when he spoke at MUN in St. John’s.  It was pretty exciting to hear his stories of ministering alongside Mother Teresa in the leper colonies of India, advocating for the homeless in Philadelphia, and with a peacekeeping team in Iraq right after 9/11. And it was such an honor to get a picture with this humble brother.


Driftwood Cross:



This stands out as the year that we released our first album! Titled “I Wanna Be Free”, it features 8 songs including originals and covers. We sold out of our first run of 100 copies and are waiting on our second run.


Life:

This has been a strange year for me… I got a job, moved communities and got an apartment, left that apartment and moved to another one, left that job, got another one, and ended up having to leave that one; meaning it’s been a bit of a stressful year, to say the least!

We also got the news in early December that my dear grandmother, or as we say in French, Mémère, passed away. It was quite sudden, but thankfully my father was able to be with her up until a few hours before she passed. She slipped away to Heaven shortly after he left to fly home. I believe it’s better that way… his last memories of her will be of her alive and awake, and she will live on in all our hearts.

I had several “firsts” this year… my first time attending the symphony, my first time signing an autograph, my first 1,000 km solo road trip, and my first time packing a shoebox for Operation Christmas Child.

The past year or so has been a difficult one for me, I’ll admit. I’ve struggled with depression a lot in the past year, although this hasn’t been my worst year for that, thank God. I’ve gone through some rather extreme personal attacks in the past month as well and at times it has been a struggle just to keep my head above water. It’s hard to keep a smile on your face when you don’t know who’s falsely accusing you behind your back. I’ve had to hold on to Jesus tighter than ever before; and when I slipped, I’m thankful for precious people who carried me to Him.

Although I lost much of my joy in 2014, I’m still in the fight. I’m battered, bruised, and bleeding… but I’m not broken. I have much to be thankful for and I believe 2015 will be a different and hopefully better year! 


Thursday, 25 December 2014

Fog in the Ghetto - Fiction

This post is fiction. It's not the kind of story that usually gets posted on Christmas... but it's been knocking on the inside of my brain for a few months, ever since a random prompt generator gave me the title, "Fog in the Ghetto." When I get bored or stressed, I write... and this story is the result. 

I ran. I had no idea where I was going or what I would find when I got there; I just knew I had to get away. I stumbled over a crack in the uneven sidewalk and almost fell, before righting myself and plowing forward. The stiff, cold wind that was blowing brought tears to my eyes; my thin coat fluttered open, exposing the rip in my T-shirt.

“Tyrone!” My kid sister’s high-pitched wail broke into my thoughts. “Slow down, I can’t run so fast!” I jogged another half a block, hauling Jazmyn after me. I wasn’t stupid; I knew it wasn’t safe to stick around here. Finally I slowed to a fast walk, Jazmyn’s small hand clutching mine. I glanced down at her grimy pink sneakers and jean jacket; they wouldn’t keep her warm tonight. I had to think of something.

Too out of breath to keep running, I sank down on the filthy concrete steps of an abandoned brownstone building. Jazmyn nestled into my side and stuck her thumb in her mouth. Even at five years old, she kept doing that. It drove me nuts, but I wasn’t about to tell her off. I could already see a bruise forming on her dark chocolate skin and the swelling around her eye. Wasn’t the first time I’d seen that on her either.

Normally it wasn’t this bad. Sure, Mama’d slap us around a bit if we mouthed off or asked too many questions when one of her “boyfriends” was coming over, but we’d retreat into the back bedroom and I’d tell Jazmyn stories until she fell asleep. Then I’d sneak out and find something for both of us to eat. I hated leaving her in the tenement by herself, but we had to eat. Sometimes Mama wouldn’t come home till the next day or even two days later.

Sometimes, if Mama got too mad, I’d take Jazmyn outside until she and her man left for the night. Then we’d return to the one-room apartment. I didn’t like Jazmyn being around Mama’s boyfriends too much… I didn’t like the way they looked at her. She’s only my half-sister, but I kinda gotta look out for her. I’m her big brother after all.

This time, though, it was different. This time, we couldn’t go back.

I’d known for a long time that Mama was on crack. She knew that I knew, but she didn’t care much… as long as I kept my mouth shut and kept Jazmyn from bugging her, she pretty well left us alone. It’s like we weren’t even her kids. She told us often enough how much trouble we were, how her life would be better if she hadn’t had us. It used to bug me, but I tried not to think about it a lot. I didn’t care what she thought about me, didn’t care about her either.

For Jazmyn, though… this’s no life for a little kid like her. She’d never cry, even when Mama slapped her around. She knew better; if she cried, it’d hurt a lot more. I wish there was a way to get her out of here. Brooklyn ain’t exactly the best place for a kid to grow up.

I was yanked out of my thoughts when a cop car screamed by, siren on full blast. Jazmyn hardly flinched. The sound wasn’t new to her, having lived in New York for all of her short five years.

I shook my head and tried to formulate a plan. We could wander around for a while, but night would fall soon enough and I didn’t want her exposed to the horrors that lurked in these city streets. I shivered at the thought of a gun pointing at my baby sister, going off… or worse, pointed at me. If something happened to me, where would Jaz end up?

As the siren’s wail faded into the cacophony of city noise, I thought briefly about trying to find a cop. We could go to a police station… but I knew that idea was as dumb as it sounded. They’d probably put Jaz in a foster home or something where I’d never see her again. And I’d probably be headed for juvie. I had to think of something else.

“Tyrone.” I pushed the thought of juvie aside when Jaz’s hand tugged my coat. “Ty-ty, I’m hungry.” I swore, but only inside my head. Jazmyn heard enough of that at home… I didn’t want her hearing it from me.

“Okay, okay. Lemme think.” I put my head in my hands for a few seconds. If I could ditch Jazmyn somewhere, while I tried to scrounge up some lunch money… but then again, where would I leave a five-year-old in Brooklyn? It wasn’t like I could just abandon her somewhere.  If only mama hadn’t brought that creep home with her, I wouldn’t be worried about this…
(
Flashback) “Nice girly. Pretty little thing, ain’t ya?” His big, tattooed hand reached towards my sister’s curls, letting his gaze rove over her. She backed away, her huge brown eyes even bigger than usual. I narrowed my eyes and tried not to gag at the stench of alcohol coming from him.
“Leave her alone.” I spat the words at him, daring him to lay a finger on her. Never mind that he was about four times my size.
“Shut up.” He sounded bored, but I knew I’d gotten him mad. “I’ve got a pretty little present for her if she’s good… you a good girl?” He directed these next words at my little sister, who continued backing away until she bumped into the worn couch.
“Marcus. Come on already baby. We’re gonna be late.” I glanced at mama, taking in her smudged lipstick and too-bold eye makeup. If she could just get the creep out through the door…
The dude she called Marcus winked at my little sister, and I felt cold shivers run down my spine. “…She part of the deal?” He asked.
I lost it then. No way was I letting this punk anywhere near Jazmyn. She was the only thing I had left… I sure as heck couldn’t count on mama to protect her. “I said, leave… her… alone!!” I hollered at the guy.
He moved so fast I didn’t see the blow coming. If he hadn’t been half-drunk, he probably would’ve knocked my lights out and then some. As it was, I couldn’t stop the pained tears from filling my eyes. I grabbed Jazmyn and shoved her towards the door. He grabbed at my t-shirt and caught it, but thankfully the cheap material tore as I jerked away. Jazmyn burst into wails as mama tried to pull her away from me.
Down the hall, I barely had time to notice a neighbor poking his head out of his door. I was too busy lunging back inside after Jazmyn. I wasn’t letting mama hand her over to that monster. Jaz’s screams grew shriller, until mama smacked her across the face. “Shut up! Shut up brat! You want the cops to come?”
The creep laughed then, taking in my fighting stance, hands balled into fists. He could kill me bare-handed, and he knew it. “Let her go. She ain’t worth it.”
He lowered his voice as I pushed past him and grabbed Jazmyn. Terrified, she clung to me as I hauled her towards the door.
We left the tenement with her laughter ringing in my ears. Mama’s laughter… high-pitched and forced, but still… she laughed as the man she called Marcus drove her children out. Maybe she was afraid not to...but still, she laughed. (End flashback.)

“Ty-ty?” I jumped a little. I’d almost forgotten where I was. It was getting steadily colder, sitting on the brownstone steps, and I knew Jazmyn couldn’t be out here much longer. I had to think of a place to take her and I had to do it soon.

A thought jumped into my mind. Actually it was more like a picture; a big yellow bus filled with laughing, singing kids. Inner-city kids like me. Some white guy had a church or something going on in this area. I’d never been inside a church in my life but from what I heard on the streets, his was pretty different. For one thing, it was a church for kids. And for another, they held it outside a lot of the time. The big yellow buses would come and park on the side of the street or in one of the abandoned lots, and pretty soon the whole place would be jam-packed with kids.
  
I stared across the street, trying to remember the guy’s name. Bill, that was it. Bill somebody. Pastor Bill, they called him. I wasn’t really sure what the pastor part was supposed to mean.

I’d stopped and listened a few times, trying to figure out what was going on. A couple times, I’d edged close enough to grab one of the free suckers they were passing out. Jaz got a kick out of me bringing her a little treat.

Pastor Bill talked a lot about this dude named Jesus, and how He was supposed to love everybody and make them good people. How we were supposed to pray and stuff. He said there was a better way to live than doing drugs and stuff. I figured any man that had the guts to come to Brooklyn and say that to a crowd of kids like us, must be either weird or else he knew something we didn’t.

I’d kept an ear open on the streets after that, and started hearing some other stuff about this pastor dude. How he really cared about kids and even went around and visited the tenements and everything. Some guys threw a brick at him one time from an upstairs window… coulda killed him from what I heard. But he was back at the same building the next day.

“Ty-ty, I said I’m hungry!” Jazmyn’s voice took on a whiny tone.  She only whined with me… if she whined at mama, she’d get a smack. She knew it, too.

“Okay, okay. Think, Tyrone. You can’t sit out here all night. Maybe it wouldn’t hurt to take a little walk and see if you can find that church place. They’re supposed to care about kids, right?”

For a minute, I wondered if I was nuts. Saving my sister from a total stranger, and then going looking for a total stranger to help us?

I got to my feet and pulled Jaz up after me. With her holding tightly to my hand, I tried to saunter as casually as I could down the street. Didn’t want anybody thinking I was up to no good.

“Pretty sure I seen the busses come from this direction… we’ll head down that way.

After almost an hour of walking, I still hadn’t seen anything familiar. Panic was starting to rise in my throat as I imagined me and Jazmyn sleeping outside.  Wouldn’t be the first time I’d done it, but could I keep Jaz warm? She was so little.

And then, just as the streetlights started coming on, I saw it. A chain-link fence surrounding a lot of old yellow busses. The words, “Sunday School” were neatly lettered on the sides of most of them. I’d found it!

Walking around to the front of the building, I discovered that the doors were locked and the windows were dark. Had we come all this way for nothing? Maybe there was a back door.

Around to the rear, I noticed that the back of the building looked more like a warehouse than anything. I found a door and banged on it, crossing my fingers that someone was there.

There was only silence, except for Jaz’s sniffling as she wiped her nose on her sleeve. Frantically I banged on the door again, then drew back, panting.

What did I expect? It’s the middle of the week. Nobody got any cause to be at church this time of day anyways.

I was just turning away, my heart spiraling down towards my shoes, when the door suddenly creaked open. I whirled around and Jazmin ducked behind me. A white guy with kinda long gray hair and a gray sweat suit peered out.

It’s him! That pastor Bill dude!

He looked at us expectantly, a ghost of a smile in his sober brown eyes. “Can I help you?” His eyebrows went up when he saw Jazmyn peeking around me.

“Um, we…ahh…” I stuttered. I hadn’t thought much about what I’d say if I did find the guy.

“Well… are you that pastor Bill guy that drives the busses around?” It was a dumb question. We could all see the busses parked out back.

“Yes.” Pastor Bill crossed his arms and leaned on the doorframe. He didn’t look impatient, just curious.

“Well, umm…” I finally decided to tell it like it was. “I heard you talk about some Jesus guy, and how He loves kids. We’re kinda in trouble and we figured, well…”

Pastor Bill looked us up and down. Finally he motioned us inside.

Crowding in through the narrow metal door, I was surprised to see the “warehouse” was fixed up kind of like an apartment. It wasn’t fancy; this Bill guy wasn’t rich; but it was pretty clean and a lot nicer than what we had at home.

“Have a seat. Can I get you a soda or something?” Pastor Bill motioned us to the couch. I perched on the edge, a habit born from never knowing when I’d have to run. Jazmyn was too tired to care much by now, and she leaned wearily on my side.  Remembering the offer of soda, I was about to say no when Jaz tugged on my coat. “Sure.” I corrected myself, “Yes, please.”

Less than a minute later, we both had cold sodas in hand. I popped the tab on Jazmyn’s and made sure she held the can with both hands so she wouldn’t spill before I took a swallow of my own. Pastor Bill took a seat opposite us and scuffed one brown shoe along the worn carpet.

“Well, you know my name, so how about you two introduce yourselves and tell me what I can do for you?”

It surprised me that I was so at ease, sitting in this comfy-but-strange living room with a strange guy. I prided myself on being a people-reader… it’s something you learn pretty quick, growing up around here. I could smell a skunk a mile off… and there was something about his man’s kind, sincere eyes that told me he was an okay guy.

“I’m Tyrone. And this’s my little sister, Jazmyn. We got no place to sleep tonight. Mama’s boyfriend run us out…” Pretty soon I had spilled the whole story. I could tell the dude was listening… he sat with his elbows planted on wide-spread knees and his chin in his hands, studying us with those eyes. I could tell he’d been around the block a few times… those eyes didn’t miss a thing.

After I finished spilling my guts, there was silence for several minutes. Pastor Bill leaned back in his chair and sighed. I guessed he was thinking pretty hard. “We can’t go to the cops,” I said yet again. 
“They’d take Jaz and stick her in one of those places for kids with no parents, and probably send me right back to mama.”

Pastor Bill tapped his chin thoughtfully. “Well…” he said at last. “It’s too late to do anything tonight anyway. You two need a good meal and some sleep. We’ll sort this all out in the morning.”

I gave a sigh of relief that worked its way up from my toes. Pastor Bill smiled at that. “Come on,” he said, “This little one looks like she could use some supper. And so do you.”

We followed him into the tiny kitchenette. “I’m not much of a cook… I hope spaghetti’s okay.” I settled Jazmyn on a phone book so she could reach the table from her chair, and brought her unfinished soda from the living room while Pastor Bill boiled noodles and microwaved spaghetti sauce out of a can. We were almost ready to eat when…

“Ty-ty, I gotta go!” Jaz was pretty insistent. I gave pastor Bill a sheepish look. “Okay if I take her to the can?” Pastor Bill pointed around the corner. “Bathroom’s right through there.”

Once in the bathroom, I stared at myself in the mirror while Jazmin did her business. What was I gonna do with her, I wondered. Would the dude call the cops in the morning? Maybe we could just live here with him for a while. I couldn’t see that happening though. I wondered if it had been dumb to bring Jaz here and ask for help. All the same though, I couldn’t let her sleep on the streets, and I sure couldn’t bring her home.

As we re-entered the kitchen, Pastor Bill was laying paper plates on the table. “Tyrone, I’ve been thinking. I haven’t got another bed, but I’m sure you’ll be comfortable on the couch. I’ve slept on it many times. I’ve got some pillows we could lay on the floor and cover with a couple blankets for Jazmyn. From what you’ve told me, it’ll be a bit more comfortable than where she’s used to sleeping.”

Preoccupied, I didn’t answer until a gentle hand closed on my shoulder. “Ty,” the voice was as gentle as the hand. “Did you know I was a foster kid once?”

I looked at him in surprise as he released my shoulder and turned towards the stove to serve the spaghetti. “My mom left me when I was about your age. How old are you?”

“Twelve.” I replied.

“I was thirteen when my mom left. I actually slept in a church for a while… all the ladies in the church would take turns bringing my meals. There were no beds then either; I slept on the pews.”
I continued to listen as I cut up Jaz’s spaghetti for her.

“I had nobody. Except the guy that picked me up off the street corner where my mom left me. He was the only friend I had. That’s why I came to Brooklyn… to make sure that another kid like me got a chance to get off the street.”

“Dear Jesus…” I jumped in surprise when the tone of his voice shifted. I had hardly notice that he’d bowed his head. Was he praying or something?

“…Thank you for bring Tyrone and Jazmyn to my door. You sent them here for a reason. Help them to feel safe and comfortable here. Thank you from protecting them. Help them to feel loved here…” I sneaked a look at his bowed head and clasped hands. Love? What was that? We didn’t have that in our home.

“…And help us to find a good safe place for them to belong. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.”

I shifted again. There was that guy, that Jesus dude that they all talked about. Pastor Bill talked to Him like He was right there in the room. I squinted… maybe, just maybe, He was.

Pastor Bill caught my eye as he looked up and smiled. “Dig in,” He said simply. I nodded and forked a mouthful of food, before asking, “Can you tell us more about that Jesus guy you talk about?”

Pastor Bill smiled again, and I was pretty sure I saw his eyes get a little wet. “There’s plenty of time, Ty. This is only the beginning.”

As I swallowed the warm food and watched Jazmyn nodding off in her chair, I wondered if this was what love felt like… and if maybe that Jesus guy had something to do with it.


Tyrone and Jazmyn are the products of my imagination. Sadly, however, their story is played out in the inner city way too often. Pastor Bill is a real person, right down to the bricks being thrown at him and sleeping in a church. Although this event is fictional, Pastor Bill helps a lot of kids in New York and all around the world. You can find out more about him and his ministry here :Metro World Child






Wednesday, 24 December 2014

A Christmas Survey

Fellow blogger Kayla over at Tales of Child Sponsorship posted this fun little Christmas survey a few days ago. I decided to fill it out as well!


1. When do you decorate your home for Christmas?  

It varies… Now that I live on my own, I’ve settled for around the first of December.

2. What are your three favorite Christmas songs?

Here With Us by Joy Williams, Silent Night, and my favorite would be the Hallelujah Chorus!

3. What are your three favorite Christmas movies?

A Charlie Brown Christmas, A Hobo’s Christmas, and Miracle on 34th Street.

4. What foods do you indulge in during the Christmas season?

Egg Nog!! And there’s always a Terry’s chocolate orange.

5. Christmas Lights: White or Colored?

The old-fashioned tiny colored ones that you have to watch so they don’t burn the house down.

6. What are your go-to Christmas decorations?

For now, a Christmas tree and some tiny lace snowflakes that I made with my Sunday school teacher years ago. I hope to have a Nativity set by next year.

7. What is the best Christmas gift you've ever received?

I’ve been blessed with a lot of nice things over the years. Probably my biggest gift was a keyboard, but I love anything sentimental from my friends. And this year, I’m going to receive a special gift… but I will blog about it when it arrives!

8. Do you open gifts on Christmas Eve or Christmas morning? 

Our family always opened gifts on Christmas Eve. I’ll probably continue that tradition!

9. Do you do stockings in your family? 

Yes! My mom was kind enough to fill my stocking with goodies and mail it to me this year, since I moved away before we got a chance to go through all the Christmas stuff.


10. What's on your Christmas list this year? 

Actually, nothing… the things that I need, I buy for myself, and there aren’t too many things I really want this year. I’m happy with pretty well anything. 


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


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.