My good friend Natalie Green and I had a plan. Natalie’s official title is U. S. Director of Strategic Partnerships for Africa New Life Ministries, but unofficially her title is Connector. She does this well for so many people, including our family. Natalie initially connected us with Rebeka and in the years since, she’s connected us multiple times across the ocean via Facetime. Without Natalie, Her Own Two Feet would not have happened.
This was the plan. She was leading a team in Rwanda, and she would be in Kayonza where Rebeka goes to school on Friday, January 17th. Natalie would pull Rebeka from class and try to call between 4 and 7AM my time. I had my computer next to my bed, all set up to receive the call. Clay helped me figure out how to loop in our daughter Alayna who lives several miles away. We practiced how to record a Facetime call. We did all this knowing the call may not work out. The connection may be poor, the team may have an unexpected change of plans, Rebeka may be in the middle of taking a test and unable to go to the office for the call. So many things had to go right. And they did.
When the call came at 4AM, my brain was groggy, my hair messy, my eyes crusty and my heart bursting. It had worked! We flipped on lights and shook out the cobwebs. One of the first thing I noticed was Rebeka’s shirt. She got it when she was living with us in Austin, a shirt that said We All Have a Story to Tell. Yes we do!
We dialed up Alayna on Clay’s laptop so she could see Rebeka, too. We shared news, caught up on life, and squealed over our recent NAACP Image Award nomination and her passing the P6 national exam and being promoted to S1 (equivalent of 7th grade).
“Rebeka, what did you think about all those pictures and letters from that class?” I asked. Students in Morristown, TN had read and loved our book. They made dozens of handmade pictures and notes, and I made copies of all of them before sending the originals to Rwanda.
“I loved them,” said Rebeka.
“What did you do with them?” I asked, envisioning them hanging on the walls of her small home in Bugesera.
“My neighbors asked if they could have some . . .”
My gut clenched. Her precious treasures?
“And I said ‘sure.’”
Sure? I am storing these treasures with great care and reverence, displaying a few at a time in my kitchen. I couldn’t possibly part with them, or at least I couldn’t imagine doing that, until I heard Rebeka’s “sure.” She shared generously, happily, and immediately.
It has been my experience that this is the way Rwandans live. Generously. On one of my first trips to Rwanda I gave a package of Starburst to one of the kids we sponsor. As I gave them to him, I worried about the dozen or so kids clustered around that had not received anything. He slowly and carefully unwrapped a piece of candy, bit off one corner, and then passed it to one of the kids who took another careful bite and passed it to the next. They each got a taste of sweetness.
Rebeka makes me want to be not just generous, but immediately generous. Maybe her “sure” makes you feel that way, too. If so, I have a suggestion. The Food for Tomorrow ANLM campaign has a goal to make sure kids in school get a free, healthy lunch. Whether a one-time donation or monthly sponsorship, you can make a difference by helping children have a full belly during school, sometimes the only meal they’ll have that day. You should also know that when you buy our book, half the proceeds go to ANLM, to campaigns like Food for Tomorrow.
I love to imagine artwork drawn with great love and care by students in the US, a freewill offering sent across the ocean, being displayed in homes across Bugesera. There are so many more threads of connection because of Rebeka’s immediate generosity. Can one word change a life, a community, the world?