The annual Gift Box distribution has become one of the highlights of the ADRA-UK calendar. Each year, there is no shortage of interest from volunteers, excited and passionate about seeing the children receive their lovingly packed presents. This year would be no different – or so the team of 14 volunteers thought!
Their excitement was palpable as they flew from all over the UK to Rwanda for the first time. There were also some among the group who wondered what the social climate of the country would be, two decades after the genocide there.
During their visit to Kigali Genocide Memorial Museum they were exposed to the atrocities of this terrible event – but its strongest message is one of hope. The volunteers saw the powerful story of healing, as survivors chose to live out forgiveness, extending grace and reconciliation to those who have committed crimes against their own family, friends and country.
As the team then travelled across the smooth, evenly tarmacked roads of the country, no-one doubted why so many have come to call Rwanda home. The vibrancy of life almost overwhelms the senses, and the colours of nature provide a mesmerising backdrop to the daily routine. The untouched beauty of the country, its ebony-hued inhabitants and the never-ending lakes and blue skies were a momentby- moment reminder of a loving Creator who lavishes beauty on the world. How blessed we are to enjoy and give heartfelt adoration for the earth He has set before us!
The original plan for the trip was to distribute gift boxes in the Kiziba refugee camp, home to tens of thousands of people escaping conflict in Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo. However, on our arrival we were told that, due to social unrest within the camp, the Department for Education in the Eastern Province of Rwanda had deemed it unsafe for our team to enter.
There was only one venue at which to distribute boxes, and we now risked having no project site or children to benefit from our visit! Yet, we often see the loving mercy of God – not so clearly in how things come together, but in His ability to bring good out of a situation that has completely fallen apart.
After various speedily called planning and logistical meetings between ADRA-UK and ADRA Rwanda, it was decided that we would find impoverished schools within the area and give out a small number of the boxes to their needy children, leaving the bulk for the refugee camp when it was deemed safe to distribute. Fortunately, one of the Ministers of Education is an Adventist and was immediately able to arrange for this with four schools in the area. God was already working!
The next day, as we sat tightly packed in a minibus, we prepared ourselves to distribute more than 2,000 boxes. We started by unpacking a container of boxes, sorting them into age groups, and then following the truck up a hill to the first school! The volunteers encountered various challenges, such as waiting for an entrance way to be broken down because the van was too high to enter one village; crowd-controlling hundreds of children who were eagerly anticipating gifts; and the physicality of lifting and sorting boxes from van to school to playground! Yet, it was in these long days of work that the volunteers experienced the joy a small box of presents can bring.
A special moment during the distribution was experienced at an Adventist primary school, where the children greeted the team with songs, while waiting in perfectly ordered lines to see their unexpected presents from thousands of miles away. One child remarked to her teacher, ‘Who are these people who have come to give us presents and gifts? They are good people and they have done a wonderful thing.’
The group then heard the inspiring history of the school from the headmistress. Local Adventist members wanting to provide a holistic education for their children decided to build a school, which was completely supported and funded by one church. This means that they are in constant need, which could be clearly seen in the lack of a playground and education resources.
As we listened to the story and saw their needs with our own eyes, we relished the thought that there are no coincidences in God’s plans, knowing He had brought us to this specific school for a specific reason. Many of the team pledged that on their return home, they would donate funds to the school and unite with the faith shown by the parents in providing a Christian education for their children.
Another unexpected journey was to a remote village where we spoke with some beneficiaries and local volunteers who were part of an anti-AIDS awareness group. They, too, met us with traditional dancing, singing the powerful words, ‘AIDS is a problem and it has reached Rwanda. We must rise up and fight it, it is our responsibility and it is your responsibility.’
The group were inspiring in a way that many of us had never experienced. They spoke of how they were a collective of 186 people who felt passionate about reducing the number of new HIV and AIDS cases in their community. They had partnered with ADRA-UK and went throughout their village encouraging people to go for testing but, more importantly, telling them how to prevent infection, whether through lifestyle choices or better awareness of how the disease is contracted. One of the group shared how difficult it had been to be tested or receive the necessary medication because of their rural location, but how, since the awareness programme began, health services were now within easy reach, with some people even being tested in their own homes.
When asked if their work had made a difference, they proudly informed us that the number of new cases had fallen to the lowest point since their establishment. In truth, the biggest message they communicated to their community was one of hope and unity. Many people who feared they had contracted HIV or who had been newly diagnosed became hermits, shutting themselves off from society in fear and shame. Yet, the Anti-AIDS group declared that their mission was to let sufferers know, ‘Life goes on; you are not supposed to hide away in secret . . . even if you have the infection, there is still a God who looks after you. And when this life is over, God will provide you with a new life and a new body in heaven.’
ADRA Rwanda’s support of the Anti-AIDS group will soon be over, as their project funding ends this summer. The group intend to keep creating awareness in their community, and when the ADRA-UK volunteers asked if there was anything they could do in support, they were told about the need for a new public address system, so that everyone can hear their words of help and hope at events.
The volunteers from ADRAUK, again moved by a very present need, decided that whatever funds they raised would be split between the Adventist school and the anti- AIDS awareness group. To date, and in under two months, they have raised nearly £2,000!
What a marvel is the providence of God! There is no doubt that prayers uttered on the hills of Rwanda reach the ears of a loving God. A trip that had been planned almost a year in advance, which had fallen to pieces a day before the team arrived, was fulfilling other plans close to God’s heart. In the refugee camp we would not have seen or heard of the school’s needs, or those of the AIDS group. More importantly, we would not have had the chance to hear the Spirit’s voice, instructing us to help others in need throughout the Eastern Province of Rwanda.
We are all just small parts of God’s master plan. Whatever seems contrary to our own plans is often a chance for God to work miracles in an area of life we had never imagined. This trip will not easily be forgotten by the volunteers and we are excited to offer other life changing opportunities like this to all who are interested!
Written by: Sophie Gordon (Volunteering Programmes Officer)