September 2016 Trip: Day 2

September 2016 Trip: Day 2

Written by Henry Escobar

After the genocide in 94, the government implemented mandated community projects for all Rwandans on the last Saturday of every month from 8am-11am, also known as abuganda.
During this time members of the community gather around a common goal and work to improve the neighborhoods. This Saturday, they were digging ditches on the side of the roads to help keep the water from washing the dirt roads away during the coming rainy season.
Theo, one of the workers at the Africa New Life guest house took us with him. Jeff and I were fortunate to be able to participate and get a little warm up for our garden building. We met Celestine who works for ANL and he was graceful enough to translate and explain to us what was going on. After the ditch digging or whatever project the community leader decides is necessary, the neighbors gather in a designated area for a town hall meeting of sorts.
On the walk to the site, we met Julius, a member of the community and a fluent English speaker. They discussed upcoming necessary projects, domestic issues that can be solved without the courts, and they assign community leaders for projects or groups. I was left in awe of their composure and willingness to solve any tensions or issues.
When discussing issues of kids falling into substance abuse, instead of wanting to punish the children, they encouraged the community to love and embrace them because it was likely that these kids did not have the affection of a parent. They talked about the importance of being present in the home as a working father and mother and being intentional with their children. Every \thing they spoke left me in awe. I felt like I was in parenting seminar or a community group with our church.
We moved on to assigning community leaders, and Julius was put in charge of community sports or activities. Jeff spoke up and offered them some of the soccer balls we had brought and they were excited. They thanked us and asked us to say a few words, which caught us off guard. We thanked them for their hospitality and welcoming us into their community. We let them know how we admired the way they live life together, and how they had given more to us than we had to them. Anyone can donate material, but to teach to live life together, embrace, work, and heal together is a valuable lesson us Americans can learn from.
Jeff and I walked away replenished and inspired by these people who have overcome death and betrayal through sweat, compassion and working together on Abuganda.

 

September 2016 Trip: Day 1

September 2016 Trip: Day 1

 

Our first full day in Rwanda : Chad, EJ, Wyatt, Henry, and myself.  Friday September 23 2016.

Our day started with morning breakfast at the Africa New Life Guest house in Kigali. Chad, Ej, Wyatt and Henry rose early to greet the day and I, haven taken enough Melatonin to put a cow to sleep, found it a difficult to get up. We started the day with a western breakfast of eggs, pancakes, fruits and lots of coffee. 

We left the compound at 8:30am with Claude, our driver, and J.J. our interpreter to visit the Africa New Life Dream Center University for orientation. While riding in a bus in Rwanda my only thought is, “How does all this traffic and chaos happen around me and nobody gets hurt? Little motorcycle taxis with two people zipping in and around buses and cars, one lane roads with two lanes of traffic, men and women carrying huge loads on their heads unable to turn their heads walking fearlessly on the busy roadsides.” 

 

We met with Eugene who explained to us that children are the main focus of their investment. The Dream Center Campus is home to: The Africa New Life administration headquarters which receives all the support money, and letters for sponsored children and makes sure the kids get the correspondence and support. These children are throughout Rwanda and the financial support provides them with the means to go to school and get a good education. These kids are supported at $40 a month.

In west Rwanda, near the Congo border, there was an orphanage of 500 children and Africa New Life went to go help these kids. The President of Rwanda made a public plea that “there should be no orphans in Rwanda and since we are all Rwandans we need to open our homes and adopt these kids.” All the kids were adopted! So Africa New Life started a school in the empty orphanage and lots of kids showed up. God provided for these kids. Africa New Life had one church in Indiana that supported almost 400 kids!

Also, On the Dream Center Campus, they have a Vulnerable Children’s Ministry for boys, and now girls, who come from homes in Kigali where parents do not properly care for their children. Some parents work and they lock their children in the house all day and the kids can’t attend school, or the parent has substance abuse issues. The Vulnerable Children’s Ministry basically takes on the parental role. The center provides the child with a safe place to go and learn the basics of childhood like how to dress properly for school and how to keep clean. They are fed a nutritious lunch and it provides the children with an excellent tutoring program at every grade for every course so the child can succeed. And, most importantly, the children are given Biblical training in the Word of God

Next we headed to the Kigali Genocide Memorial Center. Honestly, I was not looking forward to this but it is an important, though awful, part of Rwanda’s history. Two points at the memorial I cried, the one I will tell you about is this, the Genocide had ended and a couple years later some young kids were in a rural school in Rwanda, people broke in and said you children need to separate into Tutsi and Hutus, and the kids said we are Rwandans and will not separate. The invaders threw a grenade in the group of kids and killed 6 of them and injured most of the rest. The kids were so brave, so right. Matt 18:3 Unless you change and become like little children you will never enter the kingdom of God. Sometimes the kids are the best example.

The thought that kept going through my mind is these people are so nice, so friendly, so gracious. How could this ever happen here? And it has happened twice. The second time much worse than the first, but it just seems unbelievable.

 

We are all well here and God has blessed our steps. Cannot wait to get to the Gardens and see the people there! Rwanda is a beautiful country.

Latest Update: January 2016

Latest Update: January 2016

Hey friends & family!

Our friend, Eddie from Vita Gardens, recently sent us an update as he heard from Theo! They now have 148 brick gardens in Kageyo in just six months!

Every time we see new pictures we are just blown away, and are praising God for his continued work.

Thanks for continuing to pray for this community.

Also, you can see some beautiful pictures and stories from Kageyo on the Vita Gardens page. Just click here!

What is a Keyhole Garden???

What is a Keyhole Garden???

Have you met Theo? (Pronounced TAY-Oh)

Below is a video of him explaining the process of building a keyhole garden.

You can see just how passionate and excited he is about building these gardens and creating lasting change in his community. We are so thankful for Theo and his team. They are continuing to build gardens and teach the families how to grow and take care of them. He is knowledgeable, passionate, and a leader in the community. This project couldn’t have happened without him.

Praise God.

Looking Ahead

Looking Ahead

It has already been a month since we touched ground here in the states and left our newfound family in Rwanda.

Summer has been blazing hot and we miss the cool breeze of Kageyo, but we are more than happy to be with our friends and family to share our stories and experiences within our realm of influence. Though we will not easily forget the memories of our trip this summer, the team is already looking ahead to next summer’s trip!

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We recently met to discuss some of our goals and expectations, set a strategic planning meeting date, and organized our areas of responsibility. We look forward to continue God’s work in Kageyo and appreciate your continued prayers and support. We know that without all of you, none of this would be possible.

Also, we are inviting you on next summer’s trip! Get with any of our team members to receive info about what is expected if you are interested in joining our team. Stay tuned for the upcoming “Interest Meeting” date!

Once again, thank you for your support. God bless.

 

Written by Henry Escobar, KGP Team Member

Mission Accomplished?

Mission Accomplished?

We worked, we sweated and we struggled. Building keyhole gardens of this size is hard work.  Honestly, harder than we imagined. We dug and filled 1.5 tons (about 75 bags from your local hardware store) of dirt for each garden and hauled wheelbarrows for miles filled with manure from the local livestock. We sewed and hammered and sweated with our new Rwandan friends.  We left having accomplished 10 gardens, funding and hiring the workforce for at least 70 more, and created a new process and prototype for future gardens.

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We had fun.  As expected with a group of  men, we were relentless in making fun and pranking each other. In the mornings we worshipped God with Hillsong, Chris Tomlin, etc, but our nightly van rides home from garden building included artists such as Michael Jackson, Taylor Swift, and Usher. Our singing and dancing renditions of  The Cupid Shuffle and Call Me Maybe were really something…thank goodness there were no videos taken.

We experienced God.  The character and the image of God was evident in so many ways I hesitate to give examples but I will give a few anyways.

  • The pain and forgiveness of the genocide.  As the UN commander on the ground during the genocide said, “I know there is a God because in Rwanda I shook hands with the devil. I have seen him, I have smelled him and I have touched him. I know the devil exists and therefore I know there is a God.”  We witnessed God through the forgiveness and redemption of the Rwandan people.  It’s impossible to describe how much healing has occurred in just 20 years.  I believe it is a strong testimony to God.
  • His providence – Frequently we were amazed at how God was working ahead of our plans. Providing leaders in a community at just the right time. Funding miracles. Chance meetings that blossomed into an awesome result. God is so good!
  • Community – Many Rwandans live out the gospel community fervently everyday. They love, look out for each other, and interact in a way that we found ourselves yearning for in our own communities.
  • Gratitude– Most of the folks of Kageyo gave thanks to the Lord exactly as God intends. I saw exponential improvement in one of the toughest places on earth and God was praised beautifully. His glory, his praise, and his thanks abounded in incredibly tough circumstances. It was both humbling and awesome.
  • New believers – One of the men in Kageyo that did not know the Lord, made the decision that he wanted to follow the God that brought his family a garden. He committed his life to Christ and will be baptized in the very near future. It was a Wow moment for sure!

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We loved others in a new and completely foreign way. We hugged too many to count. We held hands with kids and men. We prayed, fought back tears (a few were even shed), and felt the heartache of  so many. We laughed and celebrated in the new hope created by both newfound food security and child sponsorship.  In truth, we are just beginning to understand how to follow this commandant from Jesus, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38 This is the great and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

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Was our mission accomplished? Yes and No. We certainly feel like God’s will was accomplished through us, but we know our journey has just begun.  There is peace and joy in what we’ve done, but excitement and readiness for God’s future plans and our role in them.  As God wills, we plan to persevere, continue on, and add to our current team for future work in Rwanda.

Please pray for the future of the Kageyo Gardens Project. Please pray for our team. Please pray for the people of Kageyo and Rwanda.

Lastly, I want to  personally thank the other 8 members of our Austin team, our Rwandan colleagues Pastor Sam, Theo, Jean Bosco, Jean Baptiste, JeJe, Eugene, and Jean Claude, and our Canadian friends Eddie and Lerryn DeJong. I have never been a part of a finer team. Each of you made a tremendous impact and it was an honor to serve alongside all.  It was a blessing to have each of you on board with this project.

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Written by Craig Haley, KGP Team Leader

Day 7: In Akagera

Day 7: In Akagera

After wrapping up our 4 build days in Kageyo, it was time for us to pack up from the Akagera Game Lodge in the eastern edge of Rwanda and head back to Kigali for our last day on the ground. On our way back, we had the opportunity to take a “safari” in the team bus through the national park. While not exactly the safari accommodations you might see in a movie, the bus did get the job done. We had the opportunity to see many native African animals including giraffes, hippos, antelope, zebra, and many others!  We did have a hired guide to help us through the park.

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The ride through the park gave us the opportunity to see the great natural diversity that God has provided in Rwanda. Within just a few hours we traveled through highlands, brush country, open savanna, marshes and beautiful lakes. We could see Tanzania to our east almost the entire ride and were very close to Uganda in the north as we approached the exit to the park. It gave us perspective on how small, yet how diverse Rwanda is.

In true Rwandan style we gave our guide a ride home to Kayonza about an hour and a half away. We had the opportunity to hear a little of his story and take in more of the country as we had to take a different road back than we had taken in. I think we were all struck by the contrast of the villages in and around Kayonza in comparison to where we had worked in Kageyo.  The villages were quite poor by our standards, but Kageyo has significant progress to make to match their standard of living.

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We ended a ride home at the Mission House in Kigali about 5pm. Tired and dusty from the ride, most of the team showered and ate before heading to bed or catching up with family. We have a long day in Kigai tomorrow with a side trip to Bugasera in the morning, trip to the market in the afternoon then packing up for the 30 hour trip home. We only have one more night in Kigali and while we are all excited to see our family and friends at home, we are also actively discussing the opportunities to help more in Rwanda in years to come.

Written by Jay Andruk, KGP Team Member

Day 6: In Kageyo, Rwanda

Day 6: In Kageyo, Rwanda

When Crystal (my wife) got back from Rwanda in February, she told me, “Let’s move to Rwanda, babe!” My response was hesitant to say the least. I asked for an opportunity to experience it myself, merely because the idea of moving to a third world country seemed silly to me.

This is my first time in about 18 years to travel out of the country, and myself along with some of my fellow team members felt a little nervous about the trip, but never could we have expected what awaited us in Rwanda. We visited a city full of grace and redemption in Kigali,  we met some of the brightest students in the country in Kayonza, we had breakfast with baboons in Akagera, and last but certainly not least, we sweat with the people in Kageyo.

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From the moment we arrived in Kageyo, we were met with high fives and hugs and lots of embrace. My biggest surprise was my girls, Nema and Jessica waiting for me upon arrival, and shortly thereafter we made our house visit. The great thing was that Jessica and Nema were close by at every garden we built. Every chance I got, I played games, I danced, I sang songs, or just hugged them.

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As much as I fell in love with my girls, I also fell in love with the moms at every garden, the men that helped us build the gardens, the kids I kicked the soccer balls with, the grandmas that hugged me in the church, and the complete strangers that embraced me in the streets. We traveled across the world to empower and encourage these people in whatever way God wanted us to do so, but they showed us what it means to love thy neighbor, to live in community, and to love unconditionally. Kageyo was all heart.

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Theo, “The Organic Man,” called us a blessing, Momma Grace said we were “an answer to her prayers,” and the kids called us “Mozungus” (white man). Whatever we were called, I know we were never without love. Leaving was the hardest part of the trip, but i know this is not goodbye. My heart is still in Kageyo, with Jessica, Nema, and all the loving people of that great town.

I see now why Crystal asked me to move here, and all of a sudden, it doesn’t seem like that crazy of an idea.

Written by Henry Escobar, KGP Team Member

Day 5: In Kageyo, Rwanda

Day 5: In Kageyo, Rwanda

Building keyhole gardens in Kageyo is harder than I thought. It’s definitely not something you’d see on home network television. Needless to say, after two days of hard work, developing blisters on both hands, getting cramps in places I didn’t think was possible, I was looking forward to a sabbath.

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So when Craig reminded us to bring a change of clothes so that we could build more gardens after church service, I felt a pang of angst. I agreed to it, but not before making a case for our divinely appointed day of rest.

Then, this morning I woke from a dream that I was certain was God telling me that He did not want us to work on Sunday. The dreamed begged this question of what does a sabbath look like for those who live in Kageyo, Rwanda. Could our desire to meet a quota be dishonoring to their cultural practice of a sabbath. I presented the question to the group which at least got them thinking, which to me felt like one foot in the door. I was somehow completely blind to my own selfish ambition. After all, I was standing on a doctrinal truth, the sabbath is a day of rest.

Then during service, which was amazing, the pastor introduced our team and commented on how much of a blessing we were to their community.

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He then announced that we would be building two more gardens after service. That cleared things up very quickly. However, I was confused. Why would God give me a dream about honoring the sabbath only to throw me under the bus. Obviously, i needed to find a moment, get still and touch base with Him. After service I found myself surprisingly alone, so I sat down to visit with the good Lord. Here is what I heard as plain as day: Do not let your doctrine weigh more than my blessings.

Jesus healed on the sabbath. I won’t go into the mini-sermon that followed that thought, but I felt embarrassed and embraced both at the same time. I was using God’s law selfishly and ignorantly. Even if I wasn’t aware of it at at the time. But God didn’t shame me, he humbled me. He treated me like a son. He held me by the shoulders and spoke to me softly. He gave me wisdom, insight, and understanding and immediately used me to be the blessing to others. How funny.

My prayer is that God would never stop using me to bless others. And that my religion will always be overshadowed by my relationship with Him. I am so thankful that God did not allow me to be a dull instrument today. He sharpened me first.

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Day 4: In Kageyo, Rwanda

Day 4: In Kageyo, Rwanda

Not often do I get the opportunity to spend time sitting under a tree with about 20 children sitting by my side, holding my hands, laughing at me for my inability to say “I don’t understand” in their language. Sinsobanukiwe, if you’re curious.  I highly recommend taking the opportunity to do it.   The children are enamored with all of us because it’s beyond reason for someone to come from the next city over just to help them build gardens, much less fly over seas.

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I got the opportunity to work along side John Baptist today. Pronounce it with your best French accent.  “Gee-on Bap-teest”.  John Baptist makes roughly 3000 RWF for a day’s work.  And he works hard. He has worked along side of us for the past two days and part of the costs in building the gardens goes to John Baptist’s employment.  If
you’re curious, that’s about $3 a day.

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I also visited the child that God has blessed us with the ability to sponsor.  Her name is Jesca.  One of the prayer requests from her mom was that they could save for a new house.  A new house costs about 1.5 million francs, or about $2000.  Loans are available at about 18% interest rate, so no one gets them.

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I say all this because I get overwhelmed with the question of “what can or should I do?”  And I think God has given me an answer: We are to love our neighbors as ourselves.  However, a neighbor is not someone physically close.  A neighbor is the closest person who is willing to help you out in your time of need.  Everyone who has donated to the Kageyo Gardens Project has answered a call for help. You have been a neighbor to people.  And for us, it’s easier than giving a gallon of milk and carton of eggs to a next door neighbor. We live in a time never seen before, and we are the blessed.  We are the ones who have the ability to be neighbors to people virtually anywhere on earth.  We are friends and neighbors to Kageyo.

 

Written by Wyatt Sullivan,  KGP Team Member