21 May Family to Family
“Family to Family”
An Interview with Lahash Sponsorship Director Katie Nelson
In Rwanda, the impact of the 1994 genocide is still acutely felt, even as the survivors raise a new generation of children. Sponsorship Director Katie Nelson saw both heartache and hope firsthand when she visited Lahash’s Rwandan ministry partnership with her husband Tim and little daughter Eden.
In Kabuga, Rwanda, Lahash is newly partnering with a ministry that was founded many years ago in response to the 1994 genocide. Its goal has always been to rebuild broken families and help them overcome the ongoing effects of trauma, poverty, and disease. Katie, what is it like for the children and families of Kabuga today?
Kabuga is outside of the capital city of Kigali. As part of our trip, Tim, Eden, and I got to visit the Kigali Genocide Memorial together, which made me realize that every single family in Rwanda was somehow affected by the genocide. Every family either had people killed, had people who were later imprisoned because of their role in killing others, or had people who fled Rwanda permanently. Many people lost their homes entirely in all the chaos. All that brokenness hasn’t been repaired.
The kids that are in the program in Kabuga today didn’t go through the genocide themselves, but they are the children (or in some cases grandchildren) of those who did. The survivors were greatly traumatized, and still carry that with them. They are now caring for others, but with a lot of unresolved trauma themselves.
Most of the kids who have joined the Lahash Sponsorship Program in Kabuga had not been to school at all, and some very inconsistently. Some have one parent still with them, many are in the care of another family member or even an older sibling. HIV/AIDS is a significant issue among caregivers and children, as well as poverty and hunger.
This was your first time traveling while fulfilling two distinct roles: Lahash Sponsorship Director and Mommy. How did this affect your perspective on caring for vulnerable children?
Honestly, it made my role as Sponsorship Director better. I feel like my heart has expanded even more for kids. As a mom, I was constantly thinking about how to care for Eden in the best way possible, and at the same moment realizing that what I want for Eden is what I want for all of these kids.
I love being the Sponsorship Director because it fills my passion to care for vulnerable kids. Being there with Eden just reaffirmed that. It all came full circle for me, seeing Eden and our Africa family all together.
What was the biggest challenge of traveling with 11-month-old Eden? What were some of the best parts?
It was hard knowing that we were putting her in situations that weren’t the safest. A couple times in my mind I wondered, “Are we doing the right thing?” But Tim and I truly felt like God confirmed that this is where he wanted us a family, so then that meant trusting him with Eden. We just had to do the best we could, and trust God with the rest.
There were so many wonderful aspects to the trip. Seeing Rwanda – it’s a beautiful country! And Eden was the best ice-breaker I have ever had. It opened us up to talk to a lot of people. It was fun to see her bring joy to other people and see them enjoying her.
What unique roles did the three of you fill as you served there? Were there times on the trip where the three of you were able to work together? What was that like?
As Sponsorship Director, I had to go over a lot of policy and program stuff and establish our relationship with the partners. Eden’s role made my role easier because she helped us get to know the kids and the staff quickly! Tim collected video footage (and took photos) to help make sure the voices of staff, caregivers, and kids were heard so that we can advocate better for them in the U.S. There was a lot of teamwork! We all had a purpose in being there.
I saw this especially on a family visit we did. The children are named King, Queen, Bebeto, and Faith. When we first got there, everyone came out to greet us. It felt like they opened up to us more easily because of Eden. In fact, it felt like we had met them before, based on the warmth they showed. They first lit up at the sight of Eden, then they lit up again when I introduced Tim as my husband. Maybe because of the cultural importance of families, it seemed to speak volumes that we were all there together.
Tim was able to take video as the grandmother shared their family story. She takes care of all four kids plus an aunt who is very sick. The grandmother is in her seventies and unable to work. They rely on the generosity of neighbors. If the neighbors don’t have food to share, they don’t eat.
She told us about how she had been praying for God to provide, and that the Lahash program was the answer to her prayers. She was very animated and emotional as she told us, “I had this huge burden trying to care for these kids, to feed them and help them go to school. Now that you’re joining with me, I feel like that burden has been completely lifted.”
Toward the end of our time there I prayed over them, and then the grandmother wanted to pray over us! I prayed over her whole family, then she prayed over mine.
What does Lahash hope to see happen through our partnership in Kabuga? As you met with the staff and saw what was going on there, what excited you the most?
George, Claudine, and Emanuel are the primary staff members that we spent time with. Their vision is for the kids to go to school uninterrupted, and not be sent home because of lacking school fees or uniform. Claudine is an orphan herself, who was sponsored as a child. She said it was the only way she had a chance at getting an education. She knows that education can completely change the future of the kids and their families.
George really emphasized the kids’ relationship with Jesus and the importance of being discipled. A lot of the kids don’t have someone who is able to encourage them in that way. Emanuel is a gifted Bible teacher, so the fact that there is someone there with education and a solid grounding in the Bible is encouraging.
Basically, their vision is to see the kids thriving and knowing Jesus, which is exactly our vision at Lahash. The fact that there is so much overlap in our vision and values makes me excited for what’s possible at this partnership.
They also really emphasize building relationships not only with the kids but with the kids’ parents or caregivers. Claudine and Emanuel have done a lot of home visits, and we could see the relationships that have been built. Prior to us coming, the caregivers had been asking the program staff a lot of questions about Lahash. It meant a lot to see that they are invested. They really wanted to know and understand more.
Your family worked hard to establish a strong foundation at this new branch of the Lahash family. What does our Rwanda ministry most need from the Lahash family reading this at home?
Our partners have a clear vision with an amazing heart behind it. I’ve seen the huge need in that community and I’ve seen the people who are stepping up to care for the kids. Beautiful things are happening, but they need more help to give these kids what they need. They can’t do it without sponsors joining the family, too. They have such limited means.
The children’s caregivers are vulnerable themselves, yet they are caring for the kids as best they can. While I was there, I specifically affirmed to the caregivers that what they are doing every day is what God is calling all believers to do. I am excited to see the wider Lahash community step up as well, and help strengthen these vulnerable families. They need us to show them our love and support by seeking the same things for them that we seek for our own families.
The Lahash family is expanding, and yours can as well! If hearing about the Rwandan partnership has touched your heart, consider sponsoring a child there. You can meet all the kids waiting to be sponsored at lahash.org/sponsorship.