The minute I stepped across the border from Rwanda to Congo, I could sense our experience wouldn’t be as bright and colorful. Our first day was packed full of stuff. I knew we were visiting an orphanage, but I had no idea that it would be nearly 2 hours down the bumpiest unpaved road I’d ever seen. I get very motion sick, so just keeping my head up was exhausting. Dust blurred my vision, and congested my lungs. Worse, was the devastating poverty we saw as we transitioned from the city to the country side. Ash covers the ground from a volcanic eruption in 2002, and dirt clouds the air. The living conditions are among the worst imaginable. Tin shacks looked like wealth in comparison to what we saw. I couldn’t process, I just knew I needed to take a seat and catch my breath before we entered the shelter. I wanted to be prepared to love on the orphans with a full heart.
As we passed by an old wooden makeshift gate, my eyes focused on two rows of kids singing and dancing. Loud shouts and large gestures of praise greeted our vehicle as we exited. Then, an old Nokia camera phone met my face and remained there for a while before I realized I was being filmed. After driving through the most dramatically devasting conditions, I was anything but prepared for singing and dancing. And most definitely not a personal video recording.
We were shown to some nice plastic chairs as the guests of honor, and I noticed the kids had some distressed wooden benches to sit on. There was little to nothing in the surrounding premises…I didn’t understand how this could serve as a shelter. I couldn’t catch my breath, and I was wrecked and overwhelmed. My mind told me to put on a face and act joyously, but nothing in me could pretend or hide what I was feeling.
I continued in this state of shock up until I got to connect with some of the children. The boys you see in the photo above immediately joked with me, asked my name, and held my hands. It brought me back down to reality. These interactions softened the initial blow, and stirred compassion and love within me. I shared in the laughter and joy of life with these boys. I got to tell them they were loved, by me but so much greater, by Jesus.
When we left this place, I felt so sad to say goodbye. Knowing I couldn’t ensure safety, love, or care for these kids. I was essentially helpless. And as I looked around and saw the spread of the land, again I felt lost. Hope seemed so foreign.
Wednesday, I approached a dear new Rwandan friend and ALARM staff member, Benjamin. I asked him why God would ever allow His people to perish. I cried and told him that my heart breaks over the suffering. He smiled and said, “Chelsea, God cares for and loves His children in the particular way that they need. Dallas, Asia, Africa, anywhere. The people you met in Congo can know the same God you do, it’s not your job to protect them. It’s only your job to love them. Your privilege is not shameful, it’s a gift that you can use and praise Him with.”
The following day I read,
“But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is a as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but He is patient towards you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.”
2 Peter 3:8-9
Hope is not contingent on favor. Hope does not increase with privilege. Hope is simply trusting that God’s promises will be fulfilled.
I know my love and care touched these kids, I believe that because I was so burdened for them. God let me feel a small weight of His own heart. He doesn’t wish for these orphans to perish, their conditions break his heart. But eternal life is the prize. That’s what will save them forever. That’s what will provide lasting hope. That’s the most glorious adoption. I am changed because of what I saw, felt, and learned. I am deeply thankful, more dependent, and truly humbled.
“And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” John 17:3