by Michelle Akins, pastor, children and family ministries
It’s a tricky thing, trying to write about how I assume I’ll feel a month from now—but I have a hint. You see, the deadline for this article happens to be the day we’ll be meeting our Compassion-sponsored child Nshimiyimana Theogene in Rwanda. Having met our two other Compassion children in person, I know with certainty that we’re in for a transforming, heart-opening, “does someone have a Kleenex?” experience. So I sit here at my desk and daydream about what it’s going to be like to see my 13-year-old daughter, Jolee, spend a day with the boy, who up until July 28, 2014, has been mostly known by a picture on the fridge. Of course she writes him letters, eagerly reads his replies, and includes him now and then in our bedtime prayers. But after July 28, all of those actions will change and have new meaning for Jolee and the rest of our family in significant ways. Right now we know Nshimiyimana Theogene is 14, loves his cow, and asks us to pray for his family. On the evening of July 28, as we take public transportation from Butare to Kigali, I imagine myself reflecting on how humbling and beautiful it was to pray with him in person. We will have made memories together.
I can’t wait to hear his voice, see the cow he lovingly cares for, visit his church/Compassion program, and spend time in his home. Most important, I look forward to knowing how to pronounce his name! Even though our family has sponsored Nshimiyimana Theogene since 2011, we’ve never known what to call him. Some people wonder if a trip across continents and a very large ocean is worth it. With tears puddling up as I write, I can say with certainty—Yes! On July 28, I want to look this precious Rwandan boy in the eyes and, with the help of a translator, speak words of love, value, worth, and hope. This is not because I claim to have all the right words, the wisdom, and the most meaningful prayer. I’m not a rich white American who thinks I can “save” an African youth with a one-day visit and a duffle bag full of gifts. For me, it’s a belief that God has created me to be loved and to share that love. And I want to say his name correctly.
I believe it’s no different here. We want to be in relationship with people. We desire to know others and to be known. (Good job, George Fox, on nailing that slogan!) One of my favorite things about Newberg Friends Church is the opportunities this congregation creates to share our stories. These stories inspire us to try new things, cause us to reevaluate our beliefs, strengthen our faith, weep with those who weep, and deepen our joy. With intentionality and a little persistence we become more than names in the directory or a photo in Your NFC to one another. We become friends.