Monday, 19 January 2015

Music Monday: Faz Um Milagre Em Mim

Looking back over my blog, I can’t believe how long it’s been since I shared a Music Monday with you all! I intend to change that in the new year.

The song that I want to share with you today is a special one. It’s a Portuguese song written by Regise Danese. Because you may not understand the lyrics, here is the translation of them.  (Note that this is Google Translate, so it may not be entirely accurate.)

Like Zacchaeus
I want to climb,
The highest I can
Just to see You
Looking for You
And call your attention to me.
I need You, Lord
I need you, Oh Father!
I'm too small
Give me Thy Peace
Leave everything to follow you.

Come into my house
Come into my life
Move in my structure
Heal all wounds
Teach me to have Holiness
I only want to love you,
Because the Lord is my highest good,
Make a miracle in me.

The song is sung by Gospel singer Milena, who is quite famous in spite of her young age. She excitedly announces the name of the song she will be singing. I love her bubbly and precocious spirit! As the song builds, she is joined on stage by Regise Danese, the song’s author himself. Together, they sing an incredible duet. Despite the fact that I don’t speak the language, I adore this worship song and couldn’t help the tears that came to my eyes when I first heard it. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.

Saturday, 17 January 2015

A New Compassion Blogger!

After months and months of hemming and hawing, I did it. I took the plunge. I am now a registered Compassion blogger! Look on the right side of my blog and scroll up a bit. See that nifty little blue widget that says, “I blog for Compassion”? Yup, I get to use that little badge to let everyone know that I blog for Compassion!

“So… what?” You might be asking. “How is this different than what you did before?”

Well, it is true that I blog about my Compassion kids a lot. After all, they’re the center of my universe!  The main difference is that now, I’ll be doing a fair bit of blogging about Compassion itself, not just about my kids. (Although you’ll continue to hear all about them too!)

I talk about my kids a lot… how they’re doing, what they’ve been saying in their letters, how proud I am of them, and of course, sharing new photos of them! I know that because of Compassion, they are growing into wonderful young ladies and men (well, man, in Mbula’s case).  Without Compassion, my kids wouldn’t be my kids… they’d be growing up in poverty, with no hope. No one to tell them that they are loved. That they matter. That God has a future for them. Isimbi’s grandmother wouldn’t have anyone to help her look after her grandchildren. Ada’s mother wouldn’t have had medical help when she had her heart attack last year.  Mbula wouldn’t be playing soccer and dreaming of university. And Miriam might not even be alive… three is such a vulnerable age for children in poverty.

But because of Compassion, there is somebody. There are loving project workers who watch over the kids, teach them, love them, and pray for them. And because of Compassion, I am able to be a part of their lives.

You all have heard me talk a lot about different organizations since I started this blog. Operation Christmas Child, Metro Ministries, and Shelter Them, among others. I don’t believe in being exclusive; God has His people everywhere, in many different organizations. I’ll continue to talk about all these ministries, don’t worry. I’ll just be taking more time to focus on Compassion’s work around the globe.

Over the past little while, I’ve felt God really speaking to my heart about becoming a Compassion Blogger. He’s been speaking to me about other things as well, but I can’t give away too many secrets yet! ;) It’s a new year, a fresh start, a chance to get out of my comfort zone and start doing more for God and for His people. It’s a curve in the road along the path trodden by the Carpenter of Nazareth, and I can’t wait to see what lies around the next bend! I hope you’ll all join me as we continue walking together… see you on the Path!

(And hey, while you’re here… check out this awesome video about how one child’s struggle opened his mom’s eyes to kids in need all over the world… you’ll fall in love with this kid, I promise!)

Friday, 16 January 2015

From Oklahoma to Rwanda: Part 2

Here is Part Two of my interview with Sharon Banning. Sharon traveled to Rwanda with Shelter Them in November of 2014 to meet her sponsored child, Jean D’Amour. If you missed Part One of her story, you can read it here: Part One

Hannah: Out of all the things Jean D’Amour said to you, what impacted you the most?

Sharon: There were two things that Jean D'Amour said that impacted me tremendously. The first was when he told me how grateful he was that I had sponsored him. He said he understood that his Mama was not able to take care of him (she suffered a traumatic brain injury caused by a machete during the Rwandan genocide and did not even recognize her own children) but now he had another Mama who would love him and take care of him and his future was bright. How blessed I felt to be able to offer this amazing child hope for the future!
The second thing he said left me totally speechless. We were having a conversation about his dreams and plans for the future. My sister Sherry's sponsored boy, Jean Claude, was translating as Jean D'Amour's English is not great yet. When I asked him what he wanted to do when he finished school he quietly and confidently replied, "I want to be the Minister of Youth and Fitness." Wow! What a goal he has set for himself. And I know, with our help and encouragement, he will achieve that goal. I feel in my heart he is special and is destined for greatness.

Hannah: Out of all the time you spent together, what was your favorite moment?

Sharon: Every moment I spent with Jean D'Amour was special so I can't really say there is one particularly special time. But let me list a few. The first time I met him was extra special, especially listening to him offer his thanks to us all. The chats we had at the Shelter them office were lovely. I especially liked watching him dance with the other boys in our Shelter Them family. He was so focused on the task at hand and you could see how important it was to him to get his steps right. I also thoroughly enjoyed bringing him shoe shopping and getting him new football shoes and socks. Football is a passion of his and he practices every afternoon to hone his skills. It made me feel good to be able to provide him with the proper equipment to play. The day we spent at Akagera National Park seeing the big animals was unforgettable. His favourite animal was the giraffe. That trip will give him memories to treasure for a lifetime. Then our last day together I got to interview him with Jules interpreting and Lee videotaping it so I could give my husband a glimpse of our boy. He told me a little of his story before coming to join our family two years ago and again expressed his gratitude for all we had done for him. He went on to talk a little about his future goals. He wanted to go visit his Mama and I was able to provide him with the resources to get there. I constantly joked with him and teased him about being so SERIOUS. Sherry's Jean Claude patiently explained to me that he had a very difficult life before coming to Shelter Them and he was not even talkative when he was in the company of his brothers at home. I told him he had to practice his smile and charged Jean Claude with the task of teaching my boy how to smile by my next visit. AND I WILL GO BACK AGAIN!

Hannah: Before you met Jean D'Amour, did you have any communication with him? (i.e. letters, Facebook, etc.)

Sharon: I had received two letters from Jean D'Amour over the past year. But they were very impersonal. I did not reply to either of the letters. I'm not sure why but I do know I will keep in close contact until I am able to visit him again. I am very anxious to keep up with his progress and want to offer praise and encouragement to help him achieve his goals. I need my boy to know he has someone who cares very deeply for him and who will always be there for him. He promised to send me a report on his visit with his Mama. So I am anxiously awaiting that communication. I pray the visit went well. It was scheduled for the end of November while he is still on school break.

Hannah: What would you say to anyone wondering whether to sponsor a child?

Sharon: What would I say to anyone wondering whether to sponsor a child? I would tell them not to hesitate. Sponsorship will offer hope to those precious children who have no hope and the blessings will be returned to you many times over. Think of how you would feel to know you were responsible for giving these children a future filled with love and promise. And that is exactly what Shelter Them provides for their children, with your help. They give them a loving home, health care, food, education, clothing, and the security to know that their future will be bright. A donation of $40 per month will provide all that. A small financial sacrifice will offer hope to a child in Rwanda who now has no hope. James 1:27 look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world. I challenge you to obey His word and to help look after these orphans in Rwanda. I know it will change your life as it has changed mine.

Hannah: Would you encourage an existing sponsor to write to/visit their children?

Sharon: I know for some, just sponsoring a child will be a financial sacrifice and visiting a sponsored child is just not possible. But, I also know the blessings I received from getting the opportunity to do a mission trip to Rwanda and to see my sponsored child. So...would I encourage an existing sponsor to visit their child/children? Absolutely! Our 2014 mission trip consisted of people from many walks of life. For some, it was a huge financial sacrifice to make this trip. They saved for two years and did without a lot to be able to do this. But I know for certain that everyone there was blessed more than I can say.  I am a better person just by having the opportunity to be in the company of these amazing people. Yes. I would definitely encourage sponsors to do a mission trip but if you can't, you should certainly write and communicate with your sponsored child. They are treasures and we need to get to know them, help them, encourage them and love them. It will change their lives and also change yours.

Sharon, thank you so much for allowing me the privilege to share your amazing story. To see how you have been radically transformed by this trip and how you have become so passionate about helping other in need really touched my heart. 

To learn more about Shelter Them and our kids in Rwanda, please visit 

Tuesday, 13 January 2015

From Oklahoma to Rwanda: Part 1

It’s a word that has many different meanings for people.  For some, it’s just a monthly contribution to a charity, a set amount withdrawn automatically from a bank account and for the most part, never missed. For some, it’s a picture on the refrigerator or tucked into a frame; and when people ask, it’s the reply, “Oh that’s the little boy (or girl) we support in Mexico (or Cambodia, or Ecuador, or Togo).”  For some, it’s a monthly sacrifice, a way of giving back. For some, it’s a way to teach charitable giving to our children. And for some, the word “sponsorship” is akin to the word “family”; a relationship built despite the miles.

Sharon Banning is one of these. In November of 2014, Sharon embarked on a 13,000 km journey to meet her sponsored son, Jean D’Amour Iradukunda. Leaving her home in Oklahoma, she traveled with a small group of people, including her twin sister and brother-in-law, to Kigali Rwanda; a world vastly different from the one she was accustomed to. Although Sharon has previously spent some time in Africa; namely, Zambia, a mission trip was a huge step for her. So when she traveled to Rwanda with Shelter Them, she was unprepared for how the people of Rwanda would steal her heart.
I recently did an interview with Sharon, so I’ll allow her to share her experiences in her own words!

Hannah: So Sharon, what first prompted you to travel to Rwanda?
Sharon: I was going through a particularly difficult time in my life, having lost my son 22 months ago. I needed to find a new direction. I was prompted to visit Rwanda by my sister and brother-in-law, Sherry and David. They encouraged me to go, and their passion for Shelter Them and the people of Rwanda was contagious. They assured me that this trip would be a life-changing event and they couldn't have been more right. My husband Jim also recognized my need for a change, and about 6 weeks before the Shelter Them team was scheduled to leave for Africa, Jim surprised me by telling me I would be going with the group. I was thrilled and a little anxious all at the same time. But there was so much to do in such a short time I didn't have a lot of time to think about the decision. So I hustled and got all my shots and all the things I needed to travel to a third world country for two weeks. I also needed to gather things to take to our sponsored children and those in desperate need. As the time got closer I became more and more excited. I repacked a dozen times and had Sherry on speed dial. I constantly bombarded her with questions about our trip, our accommodations and living conditions, our children, the itinerary, and on and on.
Hannah: Did you have any expectations of what your trip would be like? What were they?
Sharon: I did have certain expectations of what the trip would be like - some positive and some negative. You see I lived in Africa, specifically Zambia, for a year about 9 years ago and it was my first experience with expat life. It was a difficult transition for me and I found myself constantly bombarded by people wanting something from me. I was also very disillusioned with organized religion there, having a negative experience with a church we tried to help there. I thought religion was Big Business and very corrupt, like most of the rest of Africa.
So my expectations of this trip were definitely influenced by my past experience. I did expect to find a lot of poverty (as I had seen in Zambia) and I expected to see a lot of people with their hands out looking for help. On the positive side, I also expected to see the smiling, happy faces of the children. I also remembered that even the poorest children in Zambia had such beautiful smiles and rarely cried.
I also expected to be living in very rustic conditions and wasn't sure how I would handle that. You see, I had been a little spoiled since marrying my wonderful husband. I worried about whether or not I would like the food so I brought along lots of protein bars just in case!

Hannah: Was your trip different/similar to what you were expecting? What were some of the differences?

Sharon: Some aspects of the trip were similar to what I expected and some were different. The big difference was how I felt about those in need of help. I never once felt used and I rarely saw anyone begging in the street. I felt it was a blessing to be able to help those in desperate need and the joy, gratitude, and love I saw on the faces of those precious people can’t be described in words.
I was also not prepared for the level of caring and dedication that our Rwandan Shelter Them team delivered. I know, I was told our people on the ground in Rwanda were honest but I still had my preconceived ideas that all aid groups in Africa were in it for what they could get for themselves. Boy, that could not have been further from the truth. Jules, Bright, Gloria, and Mama Yesu were the most honest, giving, loving, and caring people I had ever met. They gave so unselfishly of themselves that I was embarrassed that I even questioned their motives.

Hannah: How did you feel when you met your sponsored child for the first time?

Sharon: This is a tough question for me to answer because it is very difficult for me to put into words all the feelings I experienced at our first meeting. We arrived in Kigali early in the day after an exhausting 24 hours of travel. Then we had a few problems at the airport with Customs and I was ready to go to our guesthouse and crash. Then we were told we would be going to visit the homes of our sponsored children. All exhaustion was forgotten. The anticipation of meeting our kids, in particular my sponsored son, Jean D'Amour, was overwhelming. I could barely contain myself I was so excited. I was crying and laughing at the same time. The emotions overwhelmed me. I would be coming face to face with my sponsored child. When we arrived there I remember that no one was around. No one answered the door when we knocked and I thought maybe I would not get to see my boy today. But it turned out they were taking an afternoon nap. They soon emerged, looking sleepy but very content. When I first set eyes on Jean D'Amour I recognized him instantly. He was even more handsome than his picture on the sponsor sheet. I remember hugging him so hard through my tears. Yes, I was bawling like a baby. The joy I felt finally seeing him in the flesh was indescribable. I didn't want to let him go. He had such a haunted look in his eyes and such a serious face that I decided maybe I should let him go before I scared him to death. The boys proceeded to thank us and when Jean D'Amour's turn came I couldn't believe my ears. The president couldn't have delivered a more eloquent speech. How could these beautiful words be coming out of the mouth of this shy, introverted boy? Then the house papa told us that Jean D'Amour was first in his class at school. I was so proud of him. Two years ago, at the age of 12, when he entered our program he had never gone to school. He was struggling at school and barely able to keep up. To have come so far in such a short time despite his traumatic childhood spoke volumes about his perseverance. I just remember thinking how am I going to leave this precious boy in two weeks. Jean D'Amour spoke such touching words of his gratitude for Shelter Them and specifically thanked me, his new Mama, for saving him and giving him hope for a bright future. My heart overflowed with love for this child and my life was changed forever.

Since the death of my son 22 months ago I had this empty place in my heart that I doubted ever could be filled.  A mother is supposed to protect her children, but I was not able to save my precious boy. I constantly lived with this guilt. I will never be able to have my precious Greg back with me (not in this life anyway) but I realized that I could offer hope to this precious boy. I recently read an article that stated, "Don't let grief be your constant companion...Realize that your grief is born out of unconditional love and rejoice in that love which will never end...Embracing life again is not a sign that you have stopped missing your loved one, but an example of a love that is eternal." I was now embracing life again, thanks to Shelter Them and my sponsored child, Jean D'Amour.

This is Part One of a two-part series. For Part Two, click here: Part Two

Tuesday, 6 January 2015

Welcome to the Family

As of a month ago, I was blessed to have four precious children to call my own. The four quarters of my heart… the four corners of my life. Handsome Mbula, shining Shakira, precious Isimbi and beautiful Ada.
So many times I shake my head at the goodness of God. You’ve heard me tell stories before of how I was blessed with my Isimbi, but my heart longed for another little Rwandan girl… until Ada joined my family. I was so happy with my two girls, until the Lord spoke to me; “You have room for one more.” And seventeen days later, Mbula became my brother. I told God after that, “That’s it; my family is complete.”
I’m sure He chuckled. A few months later, Shakira pulled on my heartstrings and wouldn’t let me go… shortly after that, she became the fourth member of my family.
By this time, I threw up my hands and said, “Lord, I give up saying my family is complete. Next time, I will just be quiet and let You do the adding!”
For over a year now, I have been content to nurture and mentor my “fabulous four” through letters. Then a few weeks ago, I noticed a Facebook post from Compassion International, the organization that Isimbi, Ada, and Mbula are through. A large company had decided to sponsor 1,000 children (yes, one thousand) in Kenya, and the call had been put out for correspondents for these precious kids.
My initial reaction was, “Oh, wow, somebody is going to have fun getting assigned new kids!” I didn’t even think about applying for one myself. Four was definitely enough. But then, I started thinking, “Kenya is fabulous with letters. The kids there right every two months, and in English! Mbula is from there and we have such a close relationship. I wonder what it would be like to add a very young child to my family? I could send so many cute items that my girls are a bit too old for now. I’d like to have a child to “grow up with” so to speak. One who’ll be with me for her entire time in Compassion.”
Unlike the others, it wasn’t an easy decision to make. I talked myself into… and out of… applying many times. I tried to figure out where I could fit a fifth into my writing schedule. Finally, a friend of mine told me in mock frustration… “I think you already know what the answer is going to be… you wouldn’t be talking about it this much if you hadn’t already made your mind up.”
Of course, they were right… and so I put in a very specific request. I wanted a three-year-old girl.
Then came the waiting.

I nearly drove myself batty, checking my account multiple times a day. I hoped to have her by Christmas… and then held out hope for New Year’s. Patience is a virtue I didn’t have at all, at least not for the past couple of weeks. Every night my prayer was… “Jesus, you see the little sweetheart who’s coming my way. Be with her and her family and keep her safe. Help me to show her your love…” I was more than ready for “Angel #5” to arrive.

And then, on January the 2nd, 2015… I opened my account, and there she was. She was everything I’d hoped for, longed for, prayed for, and dreamed of; the most precious gift I could have asked for.

So I’d like you all to officially meet Miriam, who is three years old and lives in Kenya with her mother and father. She’s too young to attend school, but she helps around the house by taking care of the animals and she loves playing ball games!

Welcome to the family Miriam… you are so loved!