Looking Back at 2019: I am Beyond Humbled!

I will sing to the Lord, because He has dealt bountifully with me. ~ Psalm 13:6 (NKJV)

My People, my Family, my Treasure, my Blessings, my Gifts from heaven!

Another year in the books! 2010’s coming to an end, and we are about to start a new decade. As we wrap up 2019, I want to take this moment and reflect on the past 12 months; I am deeply humbled and filled with gratitude to Jesus, my Lord & King, to my amazing family, incredible friends, and community around the world. 2019 may have been my busiest year to-date, but it has also been the best year of my life! The Lord Has truly been great to me!

So here is to summarize my 2019:

  • I got married 

I tied the knot with the man of my dreams! I ask him often what took him so long ūüėÄ He is by no means perfect, and I am not either. But he is absolutely perfect for me! Almost a year later, I love him even more, if possible. I shared more details about our big day in this post: ‚̧ԳŹOn This Day, I married my Best Friend‚̧ԳŹ

Our First Dance

  • I made it to the Asian continent, for the first time!

Xin ch√†o (hello in Vietnamese)! After a long deliberation and having way too many options (which doesn’t always help), we finally ditched the idea of a honeymoon in Hawaii at sunset for a completely different, new place. In my defense, it’s very hard to find a location that my husband has not been to. His professional career has taken him around the world, to countries and places that will take me a lifetime to catch up to. Luckily, Vietnam happened to be one of those places he had yet to visit. So, it was settled!

At the Ho Quoc Temple, Phu Quoc, Vietnam overlooking the Gulf of Thailand

As an added bonus to our choices, my husband found a JW Marriott resort, which made our decision much easier since I have been part of their Marriott Bonvoy top tier for the past 2 years I have been staying with them. The Vietnam’s island of Ph√ļ QuŠĽĎc was decided on and we booked our travels without a hitch. And it turned out to be one of the best travel experiences of our lives.

JW Marriott Resort entrance in Phu Quoc, Vietnam

Ph√ļ QuŠĽĎc is an Island located south of Cambodia. Relatively undeveloped, and mostly part of the National Park, it’s also home to the world’s longest cable car, white sand beaches, tropical jungles and so many other hidden treasures. We loved it there and the Vietnamese people were very nice to us.

We also visited the capital of Vietnam, Hanoi

  • Cisco Award

In addition to being nominated as one of 10 Cisco Bridge Award Winners (2018) which I wrote in this post: A great Privilege that I got to be named one of them, I was voted as the Cisco 2019 Community Hero. I am absolutely not a hero; but it was my greatest honor to be bestowed upon this title by my Cisco global community, and our Leaders.

Accepting the Award from our CEO Chuck Robbins & EVP & Chief People Officer Fran Katsoudas

Part of this award, Cisco donated cash to my nonprofit Rising Above the Storms for our work in Rwanda. Moreover, Cisco flew me and a media crew to film my childhood neighborhood in Rwanda and my nonprofit work there. They produced a short story to summarize it; click here to watch: Cisco Community Hero. The experience was incredible and surreal!

The Award

  • Moving Across Country

This is an understatement to be honest with you. I don’t know if I call it an accomplishment but it did happen! After our wedding, I relocated from one US coast to to the other, literally. Moving is never easy, but moving across country is a huge task to undertake. Luckily, my husband is a great planner, which made the process bearable for both of us.

The pod getting packed up

I chose to (and obviously had to) get rid of things that were not worth keeping, packed the rest and we loaded it up in a moving pod. My car was shipped separately of course. Thankfully, prior to the wrap up, we had already moved anything that could fit in suitcases by plane, without any additional cost, since Delta allows my husband and I 2-3 free checked bags each. It was a blessing! Our moving pod and car made it to their destination without a problem and ahead of time.

  • I finally visited Alaska

Well, in my head, Alaska sounded far away and unique. The first time I got intrigued by the beauty this place is dates back to the movie The Proposal by Sandra Bullock and Ryan Reynolds in 2009, about Sitka. I then joked to my friends that I couldn’t wait to visit the country of Alaska. Of course I knew that it was a state, but in my defense, some US states may as well be called countries since sometime laws vary from place by place as if they were independent countries.

Cruising around Juneau, Alaska

Regardless, I wanted to visit it. Luckily for us, when we visited around the 4th of July, it was the warmest summer that Juneau had seen in 112 years apparently. It was in the 80s for the whole time we were there, which was a real treat for me, a tropical weather lady. The caveat, people there don’t speak the air conditioning language. Can you blame them?

It was funny to find out that even our Four Points by Sheraton (a Marriott Hotel) or the Juneau airport didn’t have air conditioning. I mean, who needs AC when the weather rarely makes it to 73 degrees? We couldn’t sleep that well because it was too warm and the space fans didn’t do the trick, but man, did we have fun whale watching, hiking the Mendenhall Park and exploring the Glacier (Nugget) Falls!! It was an amazing experience.

Anchorage, Alaska, at 12:01am (July 7th)

We also visited Anchorage, Alaska, which was an experience of a lifetime for me to go to bed past midnight and it was still bright out. I have never seen anything like that! The sun set around 11:30pm. I couldn’t believe it. In Rwanda where I was born and raised, the sun rises at 6am and sets at 6pm, as long as I can remember. Rwanda is only a few degrees below the equator.

  • RAS Board of Directors 

Yes, I finally have a group of incredible & successful women who have decided to help me take RAS vision and mission to the next level. I am extremely excited, grateful to their expertise and I look forward to what 2020 has in store for us, for our kids in Rwanda and the future. Check out our team’s bio.

With some of RAS Board Members

  • Rwanda Learning Center Computer Lab

Yes, you read that right. This past November (2019), we introduced laptops at our Learning Center in Rwanda, to help forge our kids’ confidence, promote skills learning, while we provide them with a motivation to stay in our programs, and prevent them from going back to the streets, and prepare them for a future career in technology.

The Laptops installed in our Rwanda Learning Center Computer Lab

I believe that, giving RAS youth access to technology that they can‚Äôt afford in their home environment, will help them catch up with peers, enable them to engage others outside their communities, and maybe turn out to be a career path for some of them. It is so moving to see how excited they are to learn and can’t wait to see how impactful the knowledge will be to them.

The kids busy learning; Dec 11, 2019

  • I made Delta Diamond

It’s a big deal  to me ūü§∑‚Äć‚ôÄÔłŹūüėä I switched to Delta at the beginning of 2017, from American Airlines. Comparing with American, I personally think that Delta makes it difficult to climb up. However, I realized that Delta was my best shot to travel to Africa because of its partnership with KLM that really makes the journey bearable between the US and Africa. When you reach the diamond status, you are flying at least 10k miles a month and spending a lot of money to accumulate enough base miles (MQMs) and dollars (MQDs). So, I guess you could say the 3rd time is a charm here, 3rd year!

Delta diamond medallion requirements

  • Who’s keeping Score?

Well, I think I broke record this year; I managed to be on 3 different continents, and connected through the 4th, all in one week. How did that happen? After spending about a week and a half in Vietnam, we returned to the United States on a Monday. The very next day, Tuesday, I left for California, where I spent couple of days. Later that week, I left for Africa from San Francisco, via Amsterdam, the Netherlands. I arrived in Rwanda the same week I left Vietnam, on a Sunday. It was a crazy week.

A picture with our kids at our Center in Rwanda

I spent 10 days in Africa; toward the end of the trip, understandably, my body gave in. I went down with a cold. Flying sick is the worst. Getting back to the US, I only had 48 hours to recover from my cold before my husband and I could fly [across country] to finish packing my stuff to get our home ready for rental. The wedding, honeymoon to Asia, a trip to Africa, moving across country, to name a few, all happened between January – March this year.

As we enter 2020, I am even more hopeful and excited about the new beginnings, changes, experiences, travels, new friends.

Thank you very much for reading this. I pray for the Lord’s blessings on you and your loved ones, this holiday season, the New Year and always.

“For You have delivered my soul from death, my eyes from tears, and my feet from falling. I will walk before the Lord in the land of the living.” Psalm 116: 8-9

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

An Important Reminder for Stressful Moments: “Be still, and know that I am GOD” ~ Psalm 46:10

 

moi

Posing for a photo shortly before our gala. Sept 2016

It has been a busy few months, or year for that matter. What a journey! Since January of this year, I have traveled to more than 20 US states (many of them first time), dozens of cities, and three European countries (mostly for business), as well as working 50-80 hours a week on average for my full-time job. If that was not enough, add planning, thinking, worrying, coordinating, and struggling to keep up with what it takes to coordinate our very first annual gala, on top of being the founder of a startup nonprofit.

Let me first start telling you a little bit about me: I am a female engineer; I speak English as a third language. I am terrified by asking people for money, even if its sole purpose is to help orphans out of hopelessness and enable them to dream.

I am not eloquent by any means; I am a nervous wreck before speaking to a large audience. I don’t know how to talk to people I just met. A group of strangers terrifies me, even if they are all friendly. I grew up in a third world country and moved here later in life, but certain aspects of the American culture still puzzle me a decade later!

I dislike conflicts; I don’t like it¬†when someone is mad at me! I can’t keep up when humor revolves around the art of slangs, cursing or sarcasm. I have never met anyone in the same situation as me: running a nonprofit with another full time, technical job. Oh, and I have zero talent!

Well by this time, if you are still reading this, you are wondering, ‚ÄúWhy is she saying all this?‚ÄĚ I have a point, I promise!¬†Now, if you can tie it back to everything I lack or my busy life, you may wonder why anyone like this would want to start a nonprofit. Well, that makes two of us. I have a secret though! This one may make you think over everything that makes you doubt yourself.

My friends and I performing a traditional Rwandan dance at our gala. Sept 2016.

I lost my parents at the age 13. Though I was absolutely alone and left to fend off myself at that young age, I encountered someone who became my hope in trials, my refuge in time of trouble, my comfort in sorrow, my counselor in hopelessness, my provision when no one cared, a father to the orphan, a friend in need. That is Jesus, my Savior and King, my God!

You see, all these things I lack, and many more I didn’t want to bore you with, He’s taken upon Himself. Before God, I am warrior, victorious, loved, a daughter of the Most High. I am able to do everything through Jesus who strengthens me. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is what keeps me pressing on in spite of my lack of experience in nonprofit management and many other things¬†in life.

So, circling back to my nonprofit: YES, it was very stressful to combine my schedule and responsibilities as I got pulled in many directions. It still is and I often wonder what I got myself into. However, a constant reminder as I navigated a busy schedule this year has been a reassuring voice telling me to be still and know that God will be glorified as David quoted in Psalm 46:10 NKJV.

This¬†is what kept me calm even when¬†people and promises fell through and schedules didn’t align with our planning needs and requirements. After all, this vision is God’s work; I don’t really need to worry, as long as He is on my side. Obviously, He doesn’t need my skills or experience. All He wants is¬†my¬†obedience!

I have been fortunate enough to understand my life calling, the reason God spared my life from the machetes and bullets of 1994 in Rwanda. I may not accomplish much in this life, but as God has been to me, so I will be to others.¬†Today, I can afford anything I need, and my siblings feel the same way. God has been everything we ever need, up to this very minute as I type¬†this. My prayer and hope is to be God’s hands and feet through loving and being a blessing for those who have not been as fortunate.

Matthew 25:34-36 (NKJV) gives me a glimpse of how things will look on the judgement day, when God will impartially judge all the nations. This long chapter is wrapped in the true meaning of LOVE. Also, Paul said it well: although all these three are excellent: faith, hope and love, but the greatest of them is LOVE.

rasgala214

Sharing my story and our vision at our gala. Sept 2016!

Through God’s¬†LOVE that spoke the earth into existence, I hope to spend the rest of my life striving to learn and practice¬†what it means to love everyone unconditionally regardless of who they are or their life choices: race, religion, color, sex, age, national origin or ancestry etc.

I am really thankful that our first annual gala was a success, and we are currently almost halfway to our final goal in terms of raising funds for our first learning center in Rwanda to benefit street children and at-risk-youth. God has been great to me, and blessed me with a great team of volunteers who are very passionate about my vision and cause.

Will you join forces with me to share this hope, advocate for orphans, and empower the most vulnerable children through education? I am eternally thankful that the Lord would entrust me with this great mission! I still cannot believe that He picked ME!! Rising Above the Storms (RAS) is not a work I feel burdened to do, it is simply my life story, and a soul¬†that has been truly satisfied & touched by God’s Mercy!

‚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

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

Expatriate Moments of Brevity: Life Abroad!

When you relocate to a new country, there are many inevitable awkward moments you run into, whether you’re extremely cautious or simply go with the flow. I’m not even talking about the food where it is apparently normal to add sugar to baked beans or meat, or eat jello with turkey.

It’s not about eating raw fish¬†or crunchy little lifeless animals from the water! And I won’t go into details about a story of someone I know who yanked treats from kids as they rang the door bell for tricks or treats on Halloween. This new comer thought kids were handing out candies!

In the fall of 2006, I said goodbye to my dearest siblings and many friends who gathered at Kigali International Airport in Rwanda to send me off halfway across the globe. I was very excited about the opportunity to continue my studies and experience a new culture. My next stop? United States. The next paragraphs are my observations and experience!

With my bro and sisters on my brother’s Rwandan Traditional Wedding Day!

  • Comparison & Conversion

When you arrive in a new country for the first time, in order to adjust, you start first by comparing everything around you to what you were used to in your home country. You compare buildings, cars, people, dress fashions, you name it.

When you make a trip to the store to buy milk and realize that it’s sold in gallons, yes a gallon (what is that?), for $3.21, you immediately convert it in your own currency to see how much that would be, for example, in Rwandan Francs. Oh, before you figure this out, you first wonder what is a gallon compared to liters etc. Then you do the math to make a decision if your purchase is ideal.

In my very first effort to get my hair done when I arrived in the US, two friends (white and Asian) took me to the best place they knew. The stylist lady who was either white or Latina (definitely not black) assured me that she knew well how to work with black hair. I was ecstatic! The whole process lasted about 30 min. I was very impressed because it normally takes no less than an hour in Rwanda.

To my dismay, not only did my hairdo look as if they didn’t do anything to the hair, but it also cost me around $80. The hairstyle I was looking to get would normally have cost me around $10 in Rwanda. That was the last time I tried…well, until an African friend took me to an African beauty salon where someone finally knew what she was doing!

  • Translation

Oh, yes! You definitely think in Kinyarwanda at first (or whichever your native language is) and translate into English before responding to someone who just asked you what courses you are taking or your major at RIT or how long you have been in the country or simply what you do for a living.

Researchers say that you will know that you are comfortable in a new language when you no longer need to translate in your head from your native language to your new one before you speak or answer a question.¬†Caution: At some point, you may become too comfortable in your new language¬†that you might need to translate back into your native language before you talk; isn’t that funny but true?

Few months ago at¬†my brother’s wedding, I vowed to myself that I’d make an effort to use Kinyarwanda only during my 5 minutes speech. Howbeit, in front of our honored hundreds of guests, as I searched in despair how to say “on behalf¬†of” in Kinyarwanda, I feigned a smile as I apologized to the audience because I had no other word to replace it in order¬†to complete my phrase. I indeed felt betrayed by the language I have spoken my whole life¬†ūüė¶

  • Moments of Boldness

As funny as this may sound, it is a moment of truth! Most likely, casual, humorous conversations and jokes will be different in your home country from your new home. For example, in Rwanda, weight issues are not only an icebreaker to start common daily conversation but also a way to let people know that you pay attention to their size.

People are not afraid to remind you that you’re fat and that you should probably start exercising. This is not a private conversation. It’s in the open for everyone around you to hear. Or perhaps that you are too thin and someone fears you may not have enough food in your home.

A woman carrying a sac on her head!

So, take a person from that context and into the United States. Also note that the only English words this brave person knows how to say related to weight is skinny and fat. Well, you can connect the dots. This creates an awkward moment when you tell someone in the US, especially women, that they are fat (they didn’t just “put on a few extra pounds” because you probably have never heard of such an expression).

I think that the cultural influence, in addition to the language barrier, may bring embarrassing moments for newcomers!

I am normally very careful in what I say to people because I am afraid to hurt their feelings, but once a dear friend poured her feelings out to me and some friends. I went on to tell her it was a first world problem. YEP! I sure did! Back then, it seemed like an innocent comment to go along with our fun conversation. Now I know that it was not the case.

Oh! Did I also mention that I once told a friend¬†I had known for a few years that it¬†was¬†probably about¬†time he started thinking about¬†growing up, because after all, it was a new year and¬†his sense of humor wasn’t amusing anymore! Who in the right mind says that? Fortunately, this gentleman found it funny and laughed about it! A word¬†of advice: DON’T DO IT!

      • Weird obsessions

When you move to another country, at first you tend to stick to what looks familiar. For example, when you spot at the grocery store the powdered milk NIDO used a lot in Africa for tea, you want to jump with excitement for all shoppers to know that you have found a hidden gem in your new home. Similarly, when you go back to visit your country, everything looks so amazing that you want to snap photos of women carrying baskets on their heads or babies on their backs, in the streets, or just a typical traffic jam in the city.

You cherish everything that keeps you close to things you grew up seeing. You want to take everything back with you when you return to your new home…food, clothes, traditional decorations, everything. Likewise, if you could take everything you started liking in your new home on the trip with you, you would just do it. In the end, sometimes people will notice some obsessions that seem all too unfamiliar to both cultures.

You see the first picture with my siblings where my sisters and I are wearing Rwandan women traditional outfits? Those outfits have been around for ages. They’re basically worn by women on special occasions in Rwanda. Married women can own and wear them anytime (for parties etc.) but single women mostly¬†rent them for special occasions.

Now, I am not entirely sure why I am beyond excited to own not one, but two of those, for myself, which are the gifts my brother and his wife gave to me on their wedding day. I cannot wait to wrap one of them around me and walk in it. And why am I obsessed with this? I have no clue!

Speaking of obsessions. I love everything about this photo. Why? Every detail in the background!

      • Where are you from?

This one will probably follow you always especially if you move to a new country at an older age. Your accent will always be such a giveaway. As soon as you open your mouth, at least in the United States, people are eager to ask where you’re from. Some people are funny enough to conclude that every black person with an accent must definitely be from Jamaica, and that’s probably one of the states of Africa, because after all, Africa is one country with many states just like Unites States.

      • Challenges on both ends

As harsh as it sounds, when you go back and forth between the two cultures, you will definitely realize that you blend in neither culture. You just choose what to adapt to and what to ignore. For example, time is very important in western countries, while it doesn’t mean anything in Africa at least. When in Africa, I often find myself annoyed by people who are late for meetings, especially when they don’t call to let me know that something came up.

When that happens, people around me wonder if I just fell from another planet because being late is normal in Rwanda. Similarly, as much as I try very hard, after several years, I still struggle to find the food that I like or adjust to the cold/hot weather in the US. Rwanda is a tropical country and the weather is close to perfection: (high 50s – low 90s) all year around.

      • Language butchering

In a country that speaks a different language than yours, you will realize that when you don’t pronounce their language the same way, you may be asked to repeat. Shortly after I arrived in the United States for the first time, I asked someone a question that had “learning” in it but they definitely heard “running“. Only then I realized that, “R” is pronounced differently from “L” in English while in Kinyarwanda they are identical.

Downtown Kigali in the distance on the hilltop!

Downtown Kigali in the distance on the hilltop!

      • Lagging behind

If you visit your home country, no matter how often you do that, you will realize that you live in the past (or at least the last time you were there). You will be amazed by how much everything has changed: new fashions, buildings, roads, sayings, new obsessions. Even if little has changed, it’s a big deal to you how everything looks. The excitement may plunge you into long explanations, only to realize that you sound like you are speaking a foreign language to your own people.

Believe me! Your efforts to describe that new beautiful tall building they just built where the bus station used to be won’t seize¬†the moment for those who have seen the building under construction¬†the year before. The breathtaking view from the hill¬†where you can see¬†most of the downtown Kigali at night with its beautiful lights? It’s just in your head, no one else finds it that stunning! It’s just life, you go into a series of emotions, whether young or older.

      • Embracing the new culture

This is very important and the final phase in the process of adjusting to the new culture and definitely a big deal if you want to enjoy your expatriate life. Some people tend to stick only around the community of people from their home countries. This one may render you bitter toward the new culture when you’re faced with a situation outside your community.

I once met a man from Rwanda who had been living in the US for 12 years at the time, but this man couldn’t speak English for a whole minute, literally. I was heartbroken! Take time to get out of your comfort zone and try new things. Be patient, humble and respectful. Explore, learn, master the language, and adapt to the culture. This will definitely make your life easier.

How about you? What has been your experience in a foreign country?

God is Exalted: My Blogging Experience So Far!

When I started this blog back in July 2012, unlike most bloggers and writers I know, I honestly didn’t have a goal in mind that I wanted to achieve with it; for instance, reaching a specific type of demography, audience, how many people per month/year, or what type of posts to focus on, not to mention that English is not my 1st or 2nd language, can’t you tell ;).

Back then, I didn’t know how to work on a website, leave alone writing a blog that people would be interested in visiting and¬†reading. I didn’t really have an exciting adventure to share with the world. I didn’t just move to a new country or enter a new era such as motherhood, a new career or discover¬†a hidden¬†talent. I¬†was not a blossoming writer who was embarking on this journey with skills to enlighten people’s ears, hearts and minds.

Thankfully none of my friends asked me what I wanted to achieve through this blog. I honestly wouldn’t have had an answer to that. I mean, who else starts something without short/long term goals in mind? Anyway, now you know who I am, a blogger¬†without blogging goals. Well, may be not so fast. There is one important thing that I haven’t noted here yet, it can may be help you judge then?

Part 1: Most visitors on this blog are located in United States, then Rwanda, India and so on.

Part 1: Most visitors on this blog are located in United States, then Rwanda, India and so on.

As a Genocide survivor and orphan by definition, God Has done so much in my life that I was feeling selfish to keep it to myself. If I started writing one by one, it will not be just one book, but multiple. Because God is great in me, that’s why I started this blog. If you look close, I have no talents! The credit goes to GOD.

I hope that this is convincing enough to you; I am very grateful for your time reading this. Oh by the way, although I must say that I have been learning a lot about blogging since 2012, I am still a work in progress. My full time job? I am an engineer, hopefully that explains it, or may be not.

What the above stats mean, it’s not about numbers; absolutely not. It’s a prayer to each and everyone who reads this blog that they will learn and/or be encouraged by the God who¬†changed my life for good. I am so thankful to all my readers in the listed and unlisted countries.

Part 2: Continuation from Part 1

Part 2: Continuation from Part 1

My prayer today is that God who has been amazing to me in Rwanda, United States and other places, that He will build his kingdom wherever you are as you read this, win all the nations back to him and that his name will be lifted high.

Am I allowed to have favorites since I am the one who wrote these articles? May be! I love every post I have shared but here are the top 10 among my readers (statistics) and myself. Click on any of these below to read details and you will understand the reason I blog:

  1. In A Garden of Fame Where Their Treasured Memories Grow Fonder
  2. ‚ÄúTo describe my mother would be to write about a hurricane in its perfect power.‚ÄĚ ‚ÄĒ Maya Angelou
  3. Inconceivable Heroism Amid Horror
  4. Rising From Ashes: Beyond Broken Memories!
  5. Is it Always Possible to Forgive? This is how I understand it!
  6. Hope
  7. God is not ‚ÄúFair‚ÄĚ, He is JUST!
  8. The Truth Behind My Smile
  9. It‚Äôs not how much we give but how much love we put into giving.‚ÄĚ ~ Mother Teresa
  10. My Soul Magnifies the Lord: Now & Always!

God bless you,

Alphonsine

Rising From Ashes: Beyond Broken Memories!

“Lord, I have treasured your word in my heart, that I may not sin against You”¬†¬†Psalm 119:11

Growing up in a happy family with the most loving parents anyone can wish for, nothing could ever have possibly hinted for an imminent danger or prepared me for what was about to unfold before my eyes as a little girl.

For those new to my posts, I was in the 7th grade when Rwanda descended into the worst atrocities of the 20th century, the Genocide against the minority Tutsi group. Over a million citizens were mercilessly slaughtered in a little over three month. This staggering number includes my parents, two of my siblings, friends, relatives, neighbors, fellow citizens.

9th Grader

Sometime between 1995 and 1996

Before this worst nightmare could be over, all seemed surreal for lack of a better term. Absolutely alone and abandoned, the first person to shelter me was my uncle’s wife whom we met in a refugee camp in the heart of the capital as we were being evacuated. After the Genocide ended, little did I know then, Shelia had found herself a nanny, for her two children under the age of 2, and a¬†maid for her house: Hard labor, house keeping, watching kids, lack of sleep. My nightmare was too far from over.

Many months later, unaware that I had survived, on my way home from school, my mom’s youngest sister Beata spotted me. After learning my living situation, she sneaked me out and took me to her house. Beata worked for the government and her husband worked for the United Nations. Yet another expectation of love was as harsh as a death penalty. For many years I lived there, not only that she didn’t think I needed sanitary pads for women, my aunt waited until she didn’t like her clothes and shoes to pass it on me when she indulged herself with the most expensive outfits.

Inside the mansion’s brick walls, I was nothing but a slave as I dealt with emotional abuses at the hands of my so called aunt. As each day turned me into a hopeful young woman who’s thankful to have a roof over her and lived one day at a time, the hatred of a relative intensified, afraid that as a teenager, I may become her rival. Soon after that, my every single move was controlled. I was not allowed to eat with the family, or talk freely and my empty wardrobe was supervised. Slowly, I became a prisoner in my room as I was ordered to stay out of sight. I was accused of stealing grocery money as I shopped and carried heavy groceries by myself despite that the family owned a vehicle.

Then one day, Beata told me to leave her house. Honestly, I wondered what had taken her so long, leave alone knowing the crime I committed. As I embarked in a long road to recovery, it would be a long time before I would be convinced that NOT ALL married women are evil. Entering years of darkness and college, every day revealed mysteries as I begged people to give me a shelter for the night and wandered by day. I surely came few inches close to making streets my night shelter or perhaps selling myself for money to survive.

August 2012

August 2012

Nonetheless, I graduated among the top of my class with a Bachelors degree in Engineering, and was offered a full time job days before my graduation day. Only three months into the job, I won a full scholarship to grad school in United States, where I earned a Masters Degree in Engineering. Two years later, a job opportunity I have always wanted presented itself. Moreover, I was able to keep my 3 younger siblings in school, who were all under 10 during the Genocide: my brother Eric and sister Alice are expecting Master’s degrees and my baby sister Mireille will complete her undergraduate, ALL in 2014.

ALL IN ALL, I praise GOD Almighty, the Father of the fatherless who held my hand and reminded me that I was NOT alone as I witnessed the cruelty of the human kind, both relatives and strangers. I owe Him every great thing I possess, materialistic and life blessings. He never cease to amaze me. For that I am humbly thankful for:

  1. His unconditional love. I often think that God loves me more than any other living creature. By His Grace, I was able to forgive my aunts, those who killed my family members and everyone who has hurt me or was not there when I needed them the most. One by one, by name, I wish them nothing but the salvation revealed on the cross of Jesus.
  2. My brother and two sisters who are the greatest gift I will boast about, all my days. They are my sunshine on a cloudy day. God and my parents have my word, that, these three will always be loved as long as I breathe. There is nothing that will ever change this.
  3. That somewhere in a foreign land, thousands and thousands of miles away from my home country and people we share so much in common, I have at last a place I call home, where I feel young and loved. A country where I am no longer afraid of hunger and homelessness. I am incredibly blessed with parents who have nothing in common with me through eyes of flesh, but they call me their daughter. It is a place where my soul has healed, a country that showered me with love and hope. ¬†These two phrases from my new parents are engraved in my heart and I carry them with humility and gratitude: ¬†Wherever you will be in the world, remember that you have a home here, and a birthday card that reads¬†daughter, your birthday will always be special“.

    My New Family

    With my family at a cousin’s wedding in May 2012

  4. The coolest job ever and the most awesome company I work for.
  5. The most amazing community, the Summit Church family, that helps me growing into knowing God more.
  6. The most incredible friends in my life. I can proudly say that I know all the great people out there.  If I started naming one by one, we would be here all day, but let me say that my heart lives in many countries in all continents. They make me feel special.
  7. The opportunities I have had this year to speak in front of few small groups as well as large audiences, sharing what the Lord Has done in my life.
  8. Great friends who shared my story on their blogs or journals. I am very honored and indebted to:
  • Kimberly Kaye Harms. She¬†is an incredible woman of the King, wife and mother of 3 handsome boys. She hails from Huxley, Iowa. We met at a Christian Writers Conference in Wheaton, Illinois in June 2012. She has already shared several of my articles, not to mention her help and time editing some of my articles. I am truly honored that she is my friend.
  • Felicia Alvarez.¬†She is¬†an amazing and beautiful young woman of God. She lives in San Diego, California. We also met at the same Christian Writers Conference in Illinois in 2012.
  • The Summit Church Senior Pastor J.D Greear, from Durham, North Carolina. I am very humbled and honored to know J.D and to have met his amazing wife Veronica and their 4 beautiful children. Him and his family have contributed to my spiritual growth, not only by sharing my story with many people but also finding me opportunities to reach more audiences and new connections, their love and hospitality. God alone knows how grateful I am to them.
  • Andy Rogers at RBC/Discovery House Publishers in Grand Rapids, Michigan, who has been working on including a part of my story in Our Daily Bread journal.
When I look back in my past, it truly humbles me to I see where and who I am today. The truth is, even though I don’t know what the future holds, I know Jesus holds my future and that’s enough for me, even when I am faced with a dead end. My greatest dream is to be what God created and has been preparing me for. Without a shadow of doubt, I believe I had found my passion to cope with¬†Challenges of Life. I hope to be a blessing to many broken lives around the globe; some of them I have been in their shoes: homeless, poor, hungry, orphans, abandoned, however God will decide to use me. I put my YES on the table. I will not change my mind!
Don’t let bad experiences define you, overcome evil with good!
As I look forward to 2014 with a lot of excitement and what God has in store for me, I wish you and your loved ones a prosperous year.
God bless you
Alphonsine

Inconceivable Heroism Amid Horror

My siblings and I grew up in a large family: two boys and four girls. I am the second and oldest girl; but this post is not about me. I want to share with the world about the fourth child, my little brother Jean Eric Claude. I vividly remember when he was born, I was almost 5 years old. He was a big baby (about 10 pounds), extremely beautiful with chubby cheeks and so much curly hair. I asked my mother if I could hold him, but I was unable to because he was too heavy for me. I am sure you are wondering if I am describing the right person basing on the below picture. By the way, that makes two of us! I am not sure how he grew up to become thinner than the rest of the family.

When Eric was young, him and I used to fight a lot. I am sure I provoked him but he was not that easy either. He played outside always, and was injured all the time from different utensils he collected or perhaps some fights he may have been involved in. He was a stubborn little guy.

On Sunday afternoon, April 24th, 1994, exactly 17 days since the genocide against the Tutsi began in Rwanda, everything changed! God must have stirred something unimaginable in this 8 year old’s heart after my Mom, my old brother Jean Felix, my cousin and I were led by the infamous interahamwe militiamen to the mass grave in the lower Kanombe, suburbs of Kigali, to be killed.

Sparing you the details for now, I miraculously survived but my Mom, brother and cousin didn’t. Although death was everywhere, I undoubtedly cherish that afternoon because God gave me another chance to life. However, the same day I got separated from my brother Eric, and sisters Alice and Mireille, who were all under 10. At this point, they were so certain I was dead, and I thought the same for them.

My handsome brother
My handsome brother, now a grown up man! I’m eternally honored to be called his sister.
With no instructions on what to do next or a moment to think about it, my baby brother immediately assumed the role of a big brother and a parent. Fleeing amid rain of bullets, blood thirst machetes and hiding in unfamiliar areas, he tied up a piece of blanket around his neck so his two sisters could hold on to it.

Sigh…

I often wonder how the blanket didn’t choke him or how he figured out that this would be the best approach for his dear sisters. Few times, the youngest Mireille who was 3, got separated from them; unable to decide what to do, she would simply stay wherever she was left. Was she scared? When you are aware that death awaits you any minute, the sense of feeling becomes numb, even at such age.
As soon as my brother realized that she was missing, when parents left babies to cry to death and everyone was just running for their life, my brother turned around to look for Mireille. No wonder why their hearts have been knitted together ever since!
Also each time they found something to eat after days, my little brother would let my sisters eat first. After they have had enough in their little tummies, only then he would grab some.
Their stories after we got separated still wound my heart greatly. It certainly is where my forgiveness is tried the most. But I praise GOD, for keeping them safe, allowing me to be part of their precious lives, and His amazing Grace!

The spoiled brat quickly became a MAN at that young age, a selfless one. I doubt I would have been able to put my life in danger to find my little sister or keep them safe, when sounds of terror and weeping voices of sorrow rang across all corners of the country. Only extraordinary, rare people would do that. I often wonder what was in his mind, but the LOVE he had for his little sister sure overcame his fear and selfishness of saving his own life. God Almighty knew well that I was incapable of doing such a heroic act and led me alone.

Mireille and Alice: My greatest happiness!
My Beautiful Girls, my Greatest Blessing, my Treasure! Mireille (left) and Alice (right).

Only those who have been through the Genocide can understand my inability to describe the cruelty of the humans who became ferocious animals: babies were cut out of their mothers’ wombs and smashed against walls; relatives denied each other, neighbors turned their back on their friends, husbands killed wives and children, hell engulfed Rwanda. Amid terror, my little brother didn’t care about death that surrounded him, and God used him to keep my little sisters alive. He is my hero, my best friend! If I could get hold of the whole world, I would freely give it to him; if I was part of the Nobel Prize organizing committee, he would get at least a few of those!

My brother’s last name “Mudacumura”, means “innocent in both English and French. This truly depicts who he is. He has every quality you can possibly look in a great man: selflessness, humility, passion, compassion, a big heart, brilliant, kindness, funny, sweet, down to earth, loves God, handsome, a true gentleman! Until this day, he puts his siblings’ interests before his. He is the rock of our family, an exact replica of our father.

I CANNOT wait already for the day he will tie the knot with this incredible woman of his dreams, probably the luckiest girl on this planet. No one deserves happiness more than him. And I can’t wait for the day we will again see our parents, so I can narrate all about a little boy they left behind, now the most amazing man in the whole wide world.

I love my brother with everything functioning in me. Him and his two sisters are the reason I am alive, there is no doubt about that.

They will never, EVER, need anything my ability can provide; God and my parents in heaven have my word!

It hurts my feelings when I think that one day I may not be the first person they all run to for help. Of course I work hard for their independence, but it will greatly shatter my heart. They will always be my children, little in my eyes. And they certainly have all my love and attention, all my days!!!

And this, my friends, is the source of my strength and hope: God, the great I am!