Rising Above the Storms: a Name and a Personal Story!

With some of our kids at the center in Rwanda. Jan 2017

Never in a million years have I ever thought that I would start a nonprofit, leave alone sharing personal, painful wounds of my past with strangers on the cyberspace, or in person for that matter. It has always been a challenge for me to comfortably talk to people I just met, and it still is the case today unfortunately. The idea of starting a nonprofit first came to mind in 2012. I felt urgency and a desire in my heart; I could sense something bigger than I had ever imagined was about to unfold. Soon, it became clear to me that this was what God Has been preparing me for all along.

Losing parents at 13, surviving a genocide with younger siblings who were all under 10, juggling life, pain, loss, poverty, betrayal, disappointment; it has been a long journey to recovery! However, from the very beginning, I perhaps understood that the idea of starting a nonprofit that is centered around my personal journey may possibly mean opening up about my past and personal experiences, something that is extremely difficult for me to do.

You see, I come from a culture that is famous for keeping things to themselves. In Rwanda, you don’t talk about your personal life to people who aren’t your close friends or family members. When you make a casual conversation with a Rwandan around their personal life, they’ll become suspicious of your motives in asking. It is still true today.

Kids in our program during the celebration of International Day of the African Child, July 2017

In fact, more than a decade here, the thought of learning about a stranger’s marital issue or not getting along with a boss during an hour plane ride is still appalling to me today. Don’t get me wrong, I really love listening to others and learning more about their personal stories. My challenge is the other way around; talking to strangers, especially in a group setting, about anything, especially sensitive topics such as 1994 in Rwanda. It doesn’t matter if those people seem harmless. So, when God laid this idea of starting a nonprofit on my heart, I felt equally scared and excited!

RAS Facilities in Rwanda

Summing up my life story and what God has done for me and my siblings, I couldn’t imagine a better name to call my nonprofit: Rising Above the Storms. I chose “Rising” instead of “Rise” as many tend to think of R, to emphasize on a continuing journey, a work in progress. The journey began when the most devastating atrocities of the 20th century hit my beautiful home country on April 6, 1994. By the end of 90 days, my parents and 2 of my siblings have been killed. You can read more on my recollection of their final moments that I wrote on the 20th anniversary of their death: In A Garden of Fame Where Their Treasured Memories Grow Fonder: Two Decades Later.

I like how some people think S means Stars. I will take it ūüôā

It’s been a wild ride since the official launch of RAS, in 2014. Combining the expectations of what it takes to get a startup off the ground with my busy engineering career has been close to impossibility to say the least. I now understand why every person I have met who is an executive director of a nonprofit is their full time job. It’s impossible to do anything else.

Earlier this year, we launched our first partnership with a local organization in Rwanda to start a mobile based classroom for street children. We currently have 17 kids in our program, 11 of them back in school. It’s been an incredible journey to get to know these kids, through our team on the ground. The kids who visit the center on weekly basis receive care through therapy sessions after a meal. This allows them to express their challenges and struggles as we walk with them through life.

Group Photo after Launching Treasured Learning Center

There are multiple ways you can become part of this amazing experience: you can sponsor a child for $50 a month. This amount covers their school material, tuition, school uniform, therapy sessions, meals and clean cloths they receive when they come to the center on a weekly basis. Click here to pick one of the 9 children we have remaining that need sponsorship on our website: Sponsor a Child. Or you can simply donate on our website: Donate to Rising Above the Storms.

Rising Above the Storms is my personal story, my non profit and my life’s calling and God’s mission for my life. I can’t imagine doing anything else. This is without a doubt what I am meant to do for the rest of my life. Caring and loving vulnerable children & youth is something that moves me to tears and keeps me up at night. I weep just looking at hungry, abandoned children that I don’t even know; it could be on TV or newspaper. I could have easily become one of those children; it’s not because of anything I did to be very fortunate.

As the Bible quotes in Isaiah 61, I hope to spend the rest of my life striving to be their voice!

Will you join me? Add your name here!

God bless you

Reblog: In A Garden of Fame Where Their Treasured Memories Grow Fonder: 23 years later!

Resharing a blogpost I wrote 3 years ago:

Source: In A Garden of Fame Where Their Treasured Memories Grow Fonder: Two Decades Later!

Lighting candles in memory of our Loved Ones who were taken away from us so soon!

‚ôę Hear me God, God of Rwanda ‚ôę: By A Grieving Rwandan Singer!

Rwanda, the Land of a Thousand Hills

When I was growing up, just like most of Rwandans then, for some reasons, I thought that Rwanda was the biggest country ever. It goes way back in history.  “Rwanda” comes from “Kwanda“, which means “getting larger or expanding“. After I moved to the United States, I of course abandoned the idea. Rwanda is nearly the size of the state of Massachusetts.

Also, I am still convinced that everyone in Rwanda believed in God when I was growing up. Many songs and expressions in Kinyarwanda simply reflected “the God of Rwanda” that spent the day in other countries but definitely came home to Rwanda every night. In fact, most last names in Rwanda carried “God” or “Imana” in it. For instance, my maiden name Imaniraguha, means, “God gives you”, and many many others.

Unfortunately, Rwandan artists also later wrote that God didn’t come to Rwanda on April 7th, 1994. That Thursday morning (ironically this year 2016 exactly matches days of 1994) marked the beginning of an ethnic cleansing, the 1994 genocide against the minority Tutsi group (15% of the population of about 7 millions then).

Personally, as I have written in many posts, although the genocide lasted about 100 days, April is a unique month in mine and my 3 surviving siblings’ lives. By Sunday April 24th, 1994, I had already lost my parents and two of my siblings. One mourning song especially conveys the degree of my grief, my prayer, my hope. It’s called “Hear Me God, please Hear Me, God of Rwanda“. Click here to take a listen: Nyumva Mana (Hear me God) by Suzanne Nyiranyamibwa.

Unfortunately it’s in Kinyarwanda; however, below is my attempt to transcript the lyrics in English. Although the song is possibly nearly 2 decades old, it has been my favorite for so many reasons!

‚ô™‚ôęHear me God, Hear me God, Please Hear me, God of Rwanda.

Keep me from having rancor and rid me of a heart of vengeance. Let Justice roll, and please end oppression in our country.

Hear me God (x2)!

Although many years come to pass, my heart is still stricken with grief! I look everywhere and my sight has no end. And when I call out for someone, echoes answer me, instead!

Hear me God (x2)!

My father! I didn’t bury him! My Mother! I didn’t see her on a deathbed! Many relatives, children and true friends, were killed without a crime and I was left all alone!

Hear me God!

One who could be on my side was taken away in this tsunami, too. They robbed me of love and wrapped me in sorrow. I escaped without hope as the enemy watched!

Hear me God!

Your chosen ones were murdered because of how you created them. Please seat them near you in Your Palace of Life, relieve them of pain and rest them in peace!

Hear me God!

Lord of Mercy, hear me I am begging You. Please come quickly, win over the enemy and protect me with Your Shield. Bless Rwanda with great things and get rid of all bitterness among us!

Hear me God, Please Hear me, God of Rwanda.

Keep me from having rancor and rid me of a heart of vengeance. Let Justice roll, and please end oppression in our country!

Hear me God (x4). Please Hear me, God of Rwanda ‚ô™‚ôę

Descent into the Kigali International Airport, Kanombe

Aerial View of Kanombe, near the International Airport in Kigali

“But those who wait on the Lord, shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.” Isaiah 40:31

In Loving Memory: 22 Years Later ‚ô•‚ô•‚ô•‚ô•

My flesh and my heart fail;¬†but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” Psalm 73:26

‚ô•If tears could build a stairway,
and memories a lane.
I would walk right up to Heaven
and bring you back again.‚ô•

‚ÄúBlessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted‚ÄĚ ~ Matthew 5: 4

Screen Shot 2016-04-07 at 7.23.04 PM

My Family. Before April 1994

Jean Eric, Alice, Alphonsine, Mireille Noella

My Family, after April 1994: Jean Eric, Alice, Alphonsine, Mireille Noella

Grief is NOT Cowardice, Forgiveness is NOT Being Defeated: Rwanda, APRIL 1994

‚ÄúAnd God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.‚ÄĚ~ Revelations 21:4

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted” ~ Mathew 5: 4

And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.‚ÄĚ~ Revelations 21:4

It’s almost February and April is around the corner. Oh how I anxiously wait for this month all year around! Why is April a big deal? Because it will be the 22nd anniversary of the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda, in¬†which¬†I lost my beloved parents and 2 of my siblings. Unfortunately, although a lot has happened since then, it ¬†still feels like it was yesterday to me!

Though I still grieve for them with a deep sorrow and always will, however, I have encountered someone who has deeply touched my shattered heart with a mighty healing power and gave me a reason to rejoice forever: my Lord and King Jesus! He has turned my mourning into dancing! Therefore, I grieve with hope!

That’s my prayer for anyone who has lost someone close, especially tragically. I¬†know how you feel!

“Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who¬†weep” ~ Romans 12:15

My Dearly Beloved Parents

My Dearly Beloved Parents

Today, I am again reminded that life is extremely short and that tomorrow is NOT guaranteed! I knew that already, but my weary heart needs a constant reminder. This evening, I learned of a death of someone so young and full of life. This young man was a newlywed to an extremely beautiful young woman who is a close friend to my family in Rwanda.

He died of a motorcycle accident, the most popular means of public transportation in Rwanda, besides buses. Quite frankly, a cruel fact may be that those commercial motorcycles probably claim more lives than any other cause of death in Rwanda.

I weep so deep with this very young widow. My heart breaks¬†for her, her family¬†and many¬†whose loved ones have been taken away so suddenly. This life begs more questions than answers unfortunately. You may have many examples. My prayer is that the whole world will come to know how much God loves us despite¬†our circumstances. That’s very important.

You see, the Bible tells me that one day, God will make everything new, and wipe away all our tears. Our mourning will be no more. This gives me hope! And that we will see again all those who died in the Lord, in the new life that knows no sorrow.

There, hatred, discrimination, accidents, killings, injustice, tragedies, natural disasters, diseases, illness, hunger, wars, all will lose battle. Love & peace will be victorious and eternal life will be our song forever!

Then I heard a voice from heaven saying to me,‚ÄúWrite: ‚ÄėBlessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.‚ÄúYes,‚ÄĚ says the Spirit, ‚Äúthat they may rest from their labors, and their works follow them.” ~¬†Revelations 14:13

Father God, I pray that You’ll¬†comfort all those who are grieving & hurting. You alone are their Strength, Shield and Salvation. You are capable of consoling them even when the outpouring sympathy & support is¬†not enough. Will You send them Peace, surround them with Your unfailing Love and Kindness! Will You be their only Joy, Hope and Refuge! Now and always!

In Jesus name! Amen!

And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.‚ÄĚ~ Revelations 21:4

The Art of Trust: Our Assurance!

“Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, and whose hope is the Lord. For he shall be like a tree planted by the waters, which spreads out its roots by the river, and will not fear when heat comes; but its leaf will be green, and will not be anxious in the year of drought, nor will cease from yielding fruit.Jeremiah 17:7-8

Sometimes, when¬†I share my experience during the¬†1994 Rwandan Genocide¬†and its aftermath, my audience often asks me what I struggled the most with after the loss I endured. I have talked¬†about the pain of watching my siblings especially my youngest sister Mireille who doesn’t recall much about our childhood or our loved ones we lost during the Genocide against the minority Tutsi ethnic group in Rwanda. This truly breaks my heart. I also talk about how God enabled me to forgive my family members’ killers. However, there is something else I don’t say often.

Trust2

Trusting people does not come to me easily. As I talk more about my personal life, my failures and fears, although I must admit that it has been both challenging and thrilling, it has certainly helped me with healing and forgiving. I am very thankful for another chance I have been given to life and the great opportunity to be able to share my story with all kinds of people. It may help someone. However, I still struggle to trust people.

It’s still¬†painful to grasp that neighbors who spoke the same language, whose children we attended the same school and played together, worshiped at the same mass every Sunday, would murder their fellow neighbors, people who meant the world to me. It hurts so badly to feel¬†abandoned by relatives when you’re young and need them the most. It changes everything when love is taken away from you at a very young age and people who should care don’t feel empathy toward your horrifying circumstances.

It absolutely hurts when a friend you trust so much lets you down or people you rely on are not there when you need them the most. It is disappointing when you share a personal struggle with someone but they don’t take it seriously. It hurts when you have¬†expectations for certain people and trust them but they turn their¬†back on you when you need them. It is heartbreaking when a religious leader you look up to turns out to be your worst nightmare.The list goes on..

trust

The truth is that, people will probably let you down. Unfortunately some people change and we often make wrong choices. We are human beings and the devil takes advantage of our weaknesses. But also, Timothy explains what is to come:

“But understand this, that in the last days, there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people” 2 Timothy 3:1-5

Nonetheless, you’re not meant to place your¬†trust in¬†your friends; there is not a single person in this world who is perfect. On the contrary, you are called to love everyone unconditionally and put your¬†TRUST in GOD alone. He is the only one who will NOT:¬†disappoint you, let you down, turn his back on you, forget about you, leave you as orphan, irritate you, or delay.

You can trust that God understands your pain better than anyone else and that He will come to your rescue. Even though people may not be there for you, God will never let you down! You can trust Him fully and fix your eyes on Him! When you feel all alone and disappointed, remember that you are not into this alone. You can trust God with all your life!

Although it is a great weakness of mine to open up and trust easily, God Has been patient with me. He Has enabled me to trust Him completely first and foremost, and to forgive when people I am able to trust let me down. His Grace has also been overflowing through seeking forgiveness when I am not there for those who need me the most. Thank God for His wonderful promises we have been given:

‚ÄúCan a woman forget her nursing child, and not have compassion on the son of her womb?¬†Surely they may forget,¬†Yet I will not forget you.¬†See, I have inscribed you on the palms of My hands;¬†Your walls are continually before Me.” Isaiah 49: 15-16

“Those who trust in the Lord are like Mount Zion,¬†which cannot be moved, but abides forever.” Psalm 125:1

“When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow you.
When you walk through the fire, you shall not be burned, nor shall the flame scorch you.¬†For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior”. Isaiah 43: 2-3

Grief is NOT Cowardice, Forgiveness is NOT Being Defeated: APRIL 1994

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” Matthew 5:4 (ESV)

As a father shows compassion to his children,¬†so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him.¬†For He knows our frame;¬†He remembers that we are dust.” Psalm 103:13-14 (ESV)

Dear Father GOD in heaven, thank you for accepting me for who I am. Since no creature is hidden from your sight, this is the truth in my heart: APRIL reminds me of the terror that engulfed my beautiful country, the shameful death my loved ones died 21 year ago: April 7 (Marie Claudine, age 11), April 17 (Dad, 43), April 24 (Mama, 40 & Jean Felix, age 15). This month brings back horrific memories to relive nightmares that filled the emptiness followed their departure from this world.

I often wonder why they were gone so soon and how could anyone harm them!! I tearfully wish they lived to see and be proud of who I am today. I truly hate when doctors here ask me about my parents medical history or how they died; what am I supposed to say? It’s hard to let go of the fact that my parents weren’t there to see their youngest son Eric getting married last December. When I am struggling, I miss Papa’s voice telling me that everything will be okay.

My Dear Parents!

Mama (photo taken in 1976; she was 22) and Papa (1985: he was 34)

Dear Lord, it’s not easy to accept that their grandkids and later generations will only meet them in my pages. My heart wanders each time I need someone to remind me of things from my childhood. I can’t help but wondering how my parents would have loved to see my place, meet my friends, see my new car, and hear about my job and stories of places I travel to on business. Father, I think that they’d have been proud. I am so sure of this!

Jesus, I very well know that where my loved ones¬†are in your heaven, they’re no longer worried or¬†suffering!

Will You please tell them that Miette, Alice, Eric and I miss them so deeply and love them very much!! Will You delegate your angels to narrate to them everything You had done for us for the past 21 years? Will You please assure Mama that You have been everything we ever need, that Your richness in us surpasses all our understanding? Will You tell Papa how your Protection keeps us safe, Your Love is our shield, Your Glory our success, Your grace our happiness?

Will You tell them that You have been our Provider, Defender and a shoulder to cry when we miss them? As I wrote last year this time that You and I would take care of their son’s wedding, will You please tell them for me that everything was perfect because You were our Guest of Honor? You are able to¬†explain it better than I could ever do.

Father, will You again read the below TRIBUTE I wrote last year to Mama, Papa, Marie Claudine and Jean Felix? Thank you so much for putting an end to their pain and suffering of this life, and for making them dwell in your heaven and resting them in your eternal peace! And thank you for enabling me to honestly forgive their killers! You alone can make broken lives beautiful!

A Tribute to my Loved Ones on the 20th anniversary (2014): 

In A Garden of Fame Where Their Treasured Memories Grow Fonder: Two Decades Later!

“For there is no distinction:¬†for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,¬†and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” Romans 3:22-24