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Friday, March 7, 2014

Trip summary

Below is a link to our trip director Randy Wiersma's summary of our trip. We thought you'd enjoy reading it--it's a brief recap of each day, so some of it will sound familiar. Price, J.J., Jason and I have had opportunities to share about ZOE at church, but for friends and family outside of Boone, this is a nice summary.

When people (orphans, us…anyone!) encounter Jesus, their lives are changed!

https://drive.google.com/file/d/0BwjdS-qRY60dOFRXM0xQaVlmNlppSmVkN19PRTJrNWFwaEww/edit?usp=sharing

Thursday, March 6, 2014

video about our trip

This will tell the Zoe story after we have experienced it firsthand, including video of the Rwandan countryside, pictures of the corn harvest, and images of some of the friends we admire most. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IFGacqRNnps

Blessings, Jason
____
Jason Byassee
Pastor, Boone United Methodist Church

An individual does not a person make--Scott Cairns

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Advocacy

The word advocate means "a person who publicly supports or recommends a particular cause or policy" (Dictionary.com). Some synonyms are: "supporter, promoter, fighter, crusader."

On Wednesday, we met orphans in a rural area north of Kigali who are just beginning their ZOE journey.  This was their third meeting as a group, and as Cameron mentions we were able to witness them write about their dreams. As I think about dreams as a child, I wanted to be a firefighter at one point, a doctor at another, and to run track in the Olympics. It is fun to dream, to Think Big, to have the confidence to be bold in those thoughts. As a child, I was able to do so because of my family, particularly my grandparents. They were my constant advocate and my grandmother specifically still is today at 92 years old. It was stricking to me as we met this group, supported by Buncombe United Methodist Church (Greenville, SC), and Mike and Kim Osler (Mike was on the trip with us), how ZOE builds confidence, self esteem, pride in themselves and in their community. This group, even at meeting number three, in their first few weeks is going to be special. 

We met four children who told us their stories which they are currently living in each and every day. Stories of homelessness, hunger, murder of a parent, sexual abuse, prostitution for food, no money for a doctors appointment for her child's eye injury, one set of clothes to wear, and the impact of these regarding loss of dignity, confidence, and feeling ashamed. This was a powerful day for each one of us. I have had to process this for several days as I was mad at those who would abuse these children. It was hard to see them leave this meeting and venture back into these situations. What gave me hope, and peace is their love for our God, and they have ZOE as an advocate, and therefore each one of usas their advocate. I know these orphans just starting this journey are going to be cared for, loved by one another, and God has a plan for each of their dreams. 

I know I speak for Jason, Price, Cameron and I on how humbled we are to represent our church, our community on this mission trip. We were able to see the face of God in each of these children. I know with all my heart his love and grace are ways in which he serves as an advocate ALL his children every day. I am proud of what our church community has been doing to pray and support our group, New Hope, but also all of the 8000+ orphans involved in ZOE across Rwanda.

One of the dream drawing. This dream is to own rabbits and to have food. 


The four that I referenced above sharing their stories with our group. 


Thursday, February 13, 2014

A special photo

Jason wrote beautifully about transformation. I thought you'd like to see one of the first steps orphans take toward change. 

When we arrived yesterday to meet with a group of first year ZOE participants, only about five weeks into the three year process, they were creating their "life dreams." On a large piece of construction paper, they create five sections: 1) what I don't like, 2) what makes me sad, 3) what I like, 4) my dream for the future, and 5) my guiding principles. Pictured here is Carrer, showing us her work in progress. This is a powerful exercise for these children who have never had the privilege of thinking much beyond their next meal or pressing concern.



We're so grateful for the opportunity to represent BUMC and the body of Christ to these orphans. In our interactions with them and in seeing their lives transformed, we've seen God's face. We look forward to sharing more with you when we return!

Monday, February 10, 2014

Transfiguration

Is there anything more beautiful than a life transformed?

Maybe only this: a whole community transformed.

We met yesterday with a working group of orphans in Nyanza, a stone's throw from the border with Burundi, and a poorer place than any we've seen. These 151 orphans come from 83 households headed either by orphans or very distressed parents (we met one parent who was a genocide survivor with the scars to show it, and heard of another with HIV). Our companions from Duck UMC on the coast support this crew. They're just beginning their third and final year in Zoe and their progress is breathtaking.

We heard testimony from two in particular. Celestin appeared to us put together, well-dressed, confident, straight-backed, and smiling. We had to take his word then that two years prior he was homeless, sleeping under bridges or in trees (he acted out for us how one would sleep in a tree without falling out!). He stole or worked for subsistence alone, not wages. And all disliked him. They said among themselves that giving him anything would just encourage him. It took real courage to respond to an NGO announcement for a new program for orphans. He was nervous to enter the government building in rags, smelling as he did, and with worms that left his hair in tatters. I looked around at that same government building, equivalent to a county courthouse, that a moment ago I'd disdained for its broken windows and smelly restrooms. The place intimidated Celestin the way the Chase Manhattan boardroom would most of us.

The Zoe working group grows cassava together. They sold the seeds from their first harvest for a king's ransom, 210,000 Rwandan francs--about $313 US. And they kept the roots for food or to sell in the market. 14 of the 153 kids were homeless. Zoe helped put them into homes. The children showed us the produce from their individual projects--bags and bags of maize, sorghum, tomatoes, even doughnuts! (watch out, Local Lion).

And among them was Celestin. He had a place to live. An animal provided by Zoe. He's in training at a vocational school now to become a mechanic. And it was clear, if anything, how deeply his standing in his community had changed. He had the confident and winsome manner of a leader, one others go to for help in resolving disputes, for wisdom, for a blessing. From an outcast to an insider to one who gives to others. A life transformed. Glory.

His fellow Zoe working group member Jocien spoke next. Her parents left her the eldest of seven siblings on their deaths. They did have a house at least, but no food. Two or three days would go by without eating and neighbors would wonder out loud how they could survive, and would advise Jocien (perhaps selfishly) to sell the house. When there was food it was only flour in water to make porridge. Her siblings dropped out of school, since she could not pay for fees or uniforms. When she found work, the most she could make was 100 francs a day. Imagine feeding seven on 15 cents--even in Rwanda.

She too heard about Zoe. The first lesson is on how to dream. Children draw pictures of what makes them sad, what makes them happy, what they hope for. Many have never thought of the latter. They're taught about proper hygiene, food, and nutrition. Jocien thought, "I don't have any food--how can I plan balanced meals?" But then the cassava harvest came in. Seeds for vegetables were planted. Zoe provided a pig for manure and the beans came up. Now all six siblings are in school and she sells her excess at the market. And she can buy health insurance for the family. This came as a surprise to us, but Rwandans are also required to buy it. Without it they can count on no health care. With it they can be healthy and well--4 children had curable but deadly diseases when they joined the working group. Now they're not only healthy, they're growing wealth. On a cue they all held up their bank books recording their savings. It was like church, all the hands in the air, cheering.

Rwanda, to state the obvious, is a poor country. When we are around children other than the Zoe kids, they are cute too, but often in rags, outwardly unhealthy. They stick their hand out and ask for money. The Zoe kids set out a feast for us from the work of their hands: corn, pineapple, tomatoes, eggplant (but, strangely to me, no doughnuts. Local Lion--maybe you're safe). From beggars to those with excess to sell and share a feast. From those alone and without worth to those who lead and inspire. Church has broken out. We swapped versions of "God is so good," and danced together.

At one point the children acted out their story, from being hungry to being helped by Zoe to help themselves. The child acting out Zoe acted like a duck, wings flapping, squawking. The Duck UMC group and the Rwandan kids busted out laughing at the same time. It was the first joke that needed no translator.

There is little better than a doubled over belly laugh in response to the way God rules the cosmos, choosing orphans to make community, knitting together a church from people across time zones and socio-economic status, turning a room for government bureaucracy into the theater of God's glory.

Blessings, Jason

Jason Byassee, pastor, Boone United Methodist Church
www.booneumc.org

"Give Thanks"


We have a pastor from another church, Jerry Hill, from Buncombe United Methodist Church in Greenville, SC as a part of our team. On the first day, he was whistling the song "Give Thanks." We sang it that night at our evening devotional time, and I have been singing in my head every day since. 

The song is:
Give thanks with a grateful heart, Give thanks to the Holy One;
Give thanks because He's given Jesus Christ, His Son. 

Give thanks with a grateful heart, Give thanks to the Holy One;
Give thanks because He's given Jesus Christ, His Son. 

And now, let the weak say, "I am string." Let the poor say, "I am rich,"
Because of what The Lord has done for us.

And now, let the weak say, "I am string." Let the poor say, "I am rich,"
Because of what The Lord has done for us.

Give thanks, give thanks!


My heart is full of so many things, but must of all I am grateful for each one of these orphans. They have touch my heart, and I feel as though I have seen the face of God when I look into their eyes.  I am grateful for the trust they have in Jesus, how they have found a community (as Jason shared...a church), and of the love they have given to me through fist pumps, handshakes, hugs, and the most beautiful smiles. Their eyes tell the story of hope and love. I know they are grateful of our visit as a member of our team was told. "this has been the best day of my life." I am thankful and grateful for each of these children who have touched my heart in ways I do not fully understand, but know that God is present in their lives and I am thankful for their love and goodness. 

-JJ

On the way to visit with the children sponsored by Duck UMC.

Outside the community center close to the Burundi boarder. 


Children showing what they sell at the market, and sharing some of their story. 




Sunday, February 9, 2014

Poems

I wanted to share with you all some poems I have been writing during our time here so far, inspired by our experiences as well as my own thoughts:


On Original Sin

Ah! The force that bringeth tears,
That giveth hate and wringeth fears.
I see we strive and strive in vain
Against the power bringing pain.

Why do you ask, "What is this thing?"
We know it all, and thus we sing.
With it now we all must cope
And fight it with this bit of hope.


Transfigured

It is good for us to be here
Therefore go


The Way

Here is another traveler
Carrying a cross
On a narrow road
Hard to find.

He leads a group of twelve
No: eleven
For one has turned
From the Way
Narrow and hard to find.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Images of New Hope

Part of the New Hope group, led by Vice President Eric Ndutiye.


The Harvest...



Two members of New Hope sharing their story and telling us about their business. 

The celebration...





Nourishment

Jason mentioned a gift that I received today on behalf of our congregation. It's an expertly carved pair of beautiful wooden milk jars. Our ZOE leader extraordinaire, Epiphanie, explained that such jars traditionally are given to mothers as a blessing in the hope that "they will always have what they need to nourish their children." 

Mothers--and fathers--nourish their children. We work hard to promote their growth, and our efforts begin before they are born. Today, Jason, J.J., Price and I heard several New Hope children say that ZOE has become their family: their mother, father, and siblings. As Jason mentioned, they honored us (and the whole BUMC family we're standing in for) as "parents" by preparing the first fruits of their corn harvest for us to all share.

This New Hope group, one month in to their second year in the program, has responded incredibly to the nourishment offered them through ZOE. Where they were once malnourished in body, soul, and spirit, there is now growth. They are healthier. They have food security. They are no longer alone. They are each working toward the goals they set when they began their journeys. They have tasted and seen--as we did today--that the Lord is good. It's something they didn't know before ZOE.

Ephiphanie's comment to me about the symbolism if the milk jars sent me here: "Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good." (1 Pt 2:2)

Lord, may the children of New Hope group continue to grow and thrive. We're so grateful to be playing a small role in nourishing these who are so precious to you.

J.J. helps harvest corn.

Alice Ingabire's recent eggplant harvest.

The beautiful poster sent by BUMC VBS kids to the New Hope Group.

Meeting our orphans

I'm not often left speechless. But today defeated words.

We met the New Hope Orphan Group today--our orphans, as Tucker Brown is right to say. And we learned a lot. One, our group is being mentored by a previous Zoe working group that has graduated out of the three-year program. The old group was called "Hope." Hence our new group's name, "New Hope." This is the first lesson of Zoe: we are who we are in community. Orphans go from those with no one to those with others. Another word for this is "church."

We told them we have prayed for them by name. They knew our name, "Boone," and thanked us by name. We said our children have led us in this relationship for their sake. They delighted in seeing photos of our children. I wondered, what sort of blessing redounds around the globe to our good from these children?

They put us to work, shucking corn. Rwanda's country director, the remarkable Epiphanie, Mujawimana, had told the group to hold off on harvesting their maize for a week until we were there and could pick with them. So instead of just cruising from the hotel to the bus and back again we were suddenly, unexpectedly, wonderfully out in the fields twisting ears of corn. The orphans then cut down the stalks to use for compost. We didn't just get to ooh and ahh over their work. We got to join in it.

Then we saw some of the orphans' individual projects. This is a second grant they receive after a first, communal grant teaches them business skills, common work, how to save etc. In year two the orphans can receive an individual grant, and Elina, Ancille, and Claudine were working on a sorghum drink. The stuff looked and smelled nasty to us! But Rwandans delight in it, and for the sake of empowerment and profitable business that's what matters. They showed us all this in a house owned by Eric, another graduate, who has sold the sorghum drink who now has a cow with a calf,and who has built his house with Zoe's help--a diversified set of investments.

We headed to a woodworking shop run by another set of orphans who have graduated out. There we got gifts for our families, for our church staff, and for our whole church. You'll delight in seeing them soon.

Finally we headed to a "community meeting" with our group. We heard the drumming before we saw its source. And as we rounded the corner at the top of a hill we saw the children drumming (on plastic water cans), dancing, and singing. They sang praise songs, pulling us in to dance with them. They sang songs about defeating AIDS. As they sang, time slipped away into eternity, it was so beautiful to see our folks dancing with our orphans I couldn't not cry. Then they served us food: first fruits, cooked corn, from their harvest. It is a Rwandan custom to share first fruit with parents, and we, they said, have become like their parents. Then we exchanged gifts. I gave them the beautiful poster from our VBS last year, complete with photos of our children at worship and one of Zoe's slogans in their Kinyarwandan language. Cameron St. Clair presented them with photo albums of our church. And then they presented gifts to us (as if seeing their staggering achievement, and eating their precious first fruits, wasn't enough). We received three hats, "so you can keep the sun and rain off your heads when you visit your friends." We received two traditional milk jars, "for you, our mothers." And finally we received a seed container, "for you, our fathers," inscribed in fabric proclaiming "From New Hope to Boone UMC." As ever their gifts exceeded ours.

Such generosity! From children who two years ago were on the streets, hopeless, abused, a "burden" to their neighbors. Now they are leaders, their relationships with each other are sinews in the body of their community, Jesus has shown his love for them when they would have previously had good reason to doubt that love. And about all we could do in return was smile, shake hands, give thanks to them, and thank God.

Blessings, Jason

Jason Byassee, pastor, Boone United Methodist Church
www.booneumc.org

Friday, February 7, 2014

Our first visit with ZOE children...


We made it safely and on schedule to Africa and Rwanda. We have been blessed by many things thus far in our trip including warm hospitality by our host Epiphany, her team, the hotel staff, and the ZOE children today. Below the first picture was taken as we exited the plane welcoming us to Africa (Ethiopia).

The WiFi has been spotty at the hotel, but we are working through those challenges. We truly appreciate all of the support and prayers you have been sending our way. 

Today we saw ZOE at work, along with God's plan to care for everyone as we met our first ZOE children. These are children who have graduated from ZOE, or are in their third and final year. Truly I walk away from today thinking of God's plan and love for each of us no matter our circumstances. Truly Everyone Everywhere Matters." We heard from a group operating and sharing a banana business. Two women who talked of God's love when they had nothing. They brought many of us to tears as they talked of the hope and love found through a relationship with Jesus. We also met two other women who were knitting uniforms, and other items as a part of a group. Again, their amazing stories of success warmed our hearts. We ended the day visiting with a woman who is a recent graduate of Zoe. She has overcome so many obstacles by selling bananas which allowed her to buy some land, which allowed her to make her own bricks, and with Zoe's help build a house. We visited her today on her house . We closed our day in prayer with her. It has been a good day, and we have seen many of God's blessings for his children...all his children. 

Sunrise as we exited the plane in Ethiopia

Images from the van on the way to Butare from Kigali once we landed in Rwanda. 






They have arrived safely!

We wanted to let everyone know the group has arrived safely. The wifi is not working at this time.  This is why there have been no blog updates, etc.  It's unexpected...in the past this has not been an issue although it did come in and out.  At some point the leader will find a way to get them "connected,"  or maybe the connection at their hotel will get better.  They are doing so great!  Their first few days have been wonderful...so all is well!  

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

We leave tomorrow

We've all been approached and solicited for money. Sometimes at church. Both the solicitor and the request-receiver know the same biblical texts about giving to those who ask of us, about Christ being present in his poor. We often feel terribly guilty for ignoring such requests. Truth be told I've also felt guilty when I give. Who knows where that money is going, what addiction I've just fed--and not just addictions to substances, but to dependence on handouts.

Zoe is trying to do something different among African orphans. Its Rwandese founder noticed as she worked for western aid organizations that when they would leave, their recipients were worse off than they had been before the westerners came: more dependent, with fewer personal resources and social capital. She asked herself how western help could empower, expand opportunity, and not enfeeble. Zoe was the fruit of her questions.

Zoe places orphans in disciplined small groups together. This is a bit like Muhammad Yunus' Grameen Bank, where the relationships in villages stand in for the collateral that middle class people have to put up for loans. But it's explicitly Christian. John Wesley noticed that only those in disciplined small groups make progress pursuing holiness. Those who exercise know this too. Plan to run with a partner and find yourself out there pounding pavement. Plan to run alone and find yourself hitting snooze.

Zoe spends three years taking orphans from the streets and into sufficiency as business owners and community leaders. It has failed if its participants don't graduate out of their program. It's beautiful: designed not to make us feel good for giving, but to help those to whom the giving goes. Doesn't sound revolutionary but that it is.

We leave RDU at 0 dark thirty in the morning. I trust we'll come back brimming with stories. Our children and youth have led the way on this, funding our initial relationship with Zoe. Cam, Price, JJ and I hope to come back with a glimpse of what that funding has done. Thank you all for your prayers!

Saturday, February 1, 2014

About Our Trip

My name is Price St. Clair, and along with Pastor Jason, JJ Brown, and my mom Cameron, I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to go to Rwanda in February to meet with and learn from the now more than 100 orphans our church supports through ZOE ministry. While there we will try to flesh out our values: live to make a difference. Everyone Everywhere Matters. Enjoy One Another. Next Generation Now.

Our trip will be less of a project trip and more of a learning, relationship-building experience. We will serve as ambassadors of Boone UMC to their community, and then represent them back to the church when we return.

One of the things I am most excited about is witnessing the positive change that ZOE can bring. ZOE is a transformational three year program moving beyond relief to help the orphans, stricken by poverty and disease, help themselves. After three years, most will be able to have a sustainable life and provide for themselves and others. Created by Rwandans for Rwandans, the program can’t change the world by itself. But it can mean the world to those impacted. It matters, because Everyone Everywhere Matters.

The orphans are divided into groups like our sponsored New Hope group, and are taught four main things. First, be healthy: how to prevent diseases and maintain good physical health. Second, be secure and establish a reliable means of income for a sustainable life. Third, be connected to God and to the community. Finally, ZOE wants to make sure that, after graduating from the program, the orphans are prepared for their future. Their mission is best described by Jeremiah 29:11 - “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” This is ZOE’s vision for the orphans they empower.

Epiphanie Mujawimana, the ZOE country leader for Rwanda, believes that “at some point, people will stop asking ‘what can I have?’ and will start asking ‘what can I do,’ or even better, ‘what can we do together.’ There is no program that is going to save the world, but if we can change the way people think about helping others, it could mean the world to the millions saved.” Everyone Everywhere Matters. When we ask these questions, when we live out our values to make a difference, that is when we are doing our best being the hands and feet of Jesus in the world. I hope that through this trip we would that we would become more like Jesus, and that we would gain a richer view of his grace. Please continue in your prayer and support. I’m excited to share with all of you after the trip.

*Adapted from Mission Moment at Boone UMC December 2013.