My Rwanda Journal

Tuesday, June 13 2017 – Today I was dropped off at the Saddleback Church offices where I met up with 5 of the 7 other men who will be heading to Rwanda with me today. The shuttle driver was already annoyed that we were not in as much of a hurry as he was and he was not wanting to stop to pickup Rick and James. Jeff did a great job handling our first stressful situation and God worked it all out. We arrived at LAX in plenty of time where we stepped out of the van to screams of “United Airlines killed my brother”! A crazed lady was being arrested curbside. We prayed that this disturbing scene would not set a tone for our trip, we made it through security, and we all safely boarded the plane that would take us to Chicago where we would (hope to) take a connecting flight to Belgium. However, thunderstorms in Chicago prevented us from landing, we were running low on fuel, and we were forced to land in Madison Wisconsin. We fueled up in Madison and flew to Chicago, but we missed our international flight to Belgium. We spent hours in O’Hare airport coming up with a new travel plan. We eventually flew to Newark NJ around midnight, landed around 2am, and took taxis to Madison Square Garden NY where we found a hotel that could accommodate us. We knew we were going to miss a day in Rwanda, but God had plans of His own that we did not foresee. The group of guys all showed strong leadership, godly character, flexibility, and humble attitudes.

Photo Jun 15, 1 38 24 PM
Saddleback Church Office, Lake Forest CA – 6am

Wednesday, June 14 2017 – Today I woke up in Manhattan NY where we started the day with a devotional in the hotel courtyard. We started a devotional on the book of James. The Lord orchestrated our morning so that we were able to visit Ground Zero. Was God divinely preparing us for Rwanda at Ground Zero today? Tom found the name of his college roommate on the Twin Tower Memorial who died in the September 11 attacks. Rick was also moved to tears as he relived the day of the attacks. Rick worked in Manhattan during the attacks and he was there in the city when it happened so this was a very emotional time of remembrance. After lunch and a few subway rides, we walked to Spence-Chapin Adoption Agency where we were able to meet the gals who have been helping Matt adopt a child from South Africa. All eight of us men (we were invited) invaded their office, luggage in tow, and we had a special, God appointed time where Matt was able to meet these gals face to face. We shared with them about our PEACE trip journey that we were setting out on as we talked with them in their Manhattan conference room. This is a secular agency and it was awesome to be able to testify that Christian men care about orphans in this world and we are willing to travel across the world to help. Matt was very appreciative and even blown away by how much our group placed this visit as our top priority for the day. God’s divine appointment was fulfilled and we then headed back to Newark to catch our flight to Brussels. God no doubt divinely orchestrated our unforeseen NYC detour. 

*Update – Matt and his wife, Jenna, were matched with a 3-year old girl in South Africa within a week upon Matt’s return from Rwanda. This is no coincidence. Furthermore, Matt and Jenna had always planned to give their adopted daughter the name “Hope”, and this 3-year old girls South African birth name means hope!!

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Thursday, June 15 2017 – Today started in the air as I flew from NJ to Belgium and landed in Brussels this morning. The Brussels airport was pretty quiet. I met a young man in the airport who was from Rwanda, spending time in Houston, and was headed back home to his family. I believe his name was Brandon. We lounged in the airport together as we waited for our connecting flight. We eventually boarded and I set next to a kind, large framed man from Cameroon. He seems to be a hard workingman, an educator, as well as a factory worker from what I could understand. He explained the horrors of ISIS in the north of Cameroon near the border of Chad and Nigeria. He explained that military is there, it is dangerous, and ISIS will take people up into airplanes and push them out to their deaths. Lord, please have mercy and please defeat evil. Come quickly Lord Jesus. We landed in Entebbe Uganda where some passengers disembarked and others boarded. We then took off again for a very short flight and landed in Kigali Rwanda. We successfully got through customs and security, but unfortunately Max and Andy were without their luggage. Their luggage was lost. I am glad that I chose to not check in my luggage. Attitudes are still good today and spirits are still up despite the lost day and the lost luggage. We met David Kamanzi in the dark airport parking lot and we hit the road to check in at our hotel, but not before doing some quick grocery shopping tonight. We went to a grocery store in a sort of mall that had high security. We purchased some snacks and finally arrived at the Iris Hotel where I was teamed up with Matt as my roommate for this trip. I am tired but excited and ready for ministry.

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Friday, June 16 2017 – Today is Friday and it is our first day waking up in Rwanda with a full day ahead of us here. We enjoyed good coffee and breakfast at the Iris Restaurant at the hotel. Lots of potatoes, bread, and fruit. A few pastors from Omega church met us this morning at out hotel where we talked in the guesthouse. We shared a little about ourselves and prepped for what to expect at this evenings men’s gathering. We then headed to the Genocide memorial where we took in the pain and reality of the evil tragedy that the people of Rwanda recently endured. So unbelievable, horrific, sad, yet inspiring how they continue to overcome through forgiveness and reconciliation. We ate burritos from Mezze Fresh, but not before meeting Pastor Stratton and his wife at Eglize Vivante church where we shared testimonies in a dark concrete room with young homeless men who live on the streets. The church offers lunch to these men every Friday so long they listen to Mrs. Stratton’s gospel message! After we all introduced ourselves and shared some testimonies, some of our guys were able to help serve the lunch to these young men. The young men ate with their hands outside on the grass. While the young homeless men were eating, we toured the sanctuary of the church and the sewing class that is attached to the church. We then had a quick meeting at the Kigali PEACE office where we ate our burritos from Mezze Fresh and headed to Omega church for the mens gathering. We went to Omega’s off site location that was located on the 5th floor of a shopping mall. It was a nice location with beautiful views. They use this secondary location for events such as this. The men were so kind and welcoming. We were served Fanta drinks and homemade snacks. Eric, the young worship leader who sings and plays drums spontaneously invited me to play drums this evening. Thank you Lord for allowing me to serve in Rwanda today by using my musical gifts in a way that I did not expect. This was such a blessing to me and to all the others. Tom gave a sermon on MARK 5:2-20. Message notes below:

  1. Every man has obvious needs
  2. We misunderstand Jesus. He doesn’t want to torment us
  3. We need a true encounter with Jesus
  4. The demon-possessed man is saved and is truly blessed and is told to witness.

I was eventually asked to speak and I shared about serving, worshiping, and trusting God. Living by faith, and we are all worship leaders. I believe that God really used me here tonight. Oliver translated for me and he is also part of the worship team there. Afterward they were asking if I could play drums again with them tomorrow, but I did not think our schedules would allow for it. What an honor! Oliver gave me this verse: 2 Cor 5:7 (walk by faith, not by sight). Thank you Lord for a good first full day in Rwanda!

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Saturday, June 17 2017 – Today we woke up, had breakfast on the patio at the Iris and then headed to Christian Assembly Church (CLA church) for a men’s conference. This is the largest English speaking church in Rwanda and I was blown away by how technologically advanced this church was. They had the lights, the banners, the screens, the stage, the instruments, and the musicians. It felt very much like a large church in California. Pastor Paul Z from Trinity Chapel spoke as well as Tom Kang. During the lunch break, I met the sound guys (Jack and Mugisha) and the drummers Ntwari “Tchaka” and Kevin (who was leading today).

Jack was very excited about having me come check out the sound booth. I entered the caged sound booth with them and even helped Mugisha find the lyrics for “Trading my Sorrows”. This church has a very impressive, beautiful property with a primary school, a secondary school, and even a school of worship. Later in the evening we walked to the “Urban” restaurant where we had a very nice dinner (beautiful views) with Eric Mundeyama who is the manager of all Africa Peace Nations. We enjoyed a very inspirational and impressive conversation with him. He explained that before the genocide, Rwanda would have been considered 93% “Christian”. So why, he asks, would Christians be killing? It is because they were never discipled! Eric explained his passion and the upmost importance of making mature disciples of Jesus. Tom also shared with us about the purpose of the men’s ministry at Saddleback and how it is a pipeline that supports the already existing key purposes of the church. The men’s ministry is NOT a church within the church!

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Sunday, June 18 2017 – Today is Sunday, and while Pastor Paul Z is guest speaking at CLA church, Tom Kang was the guest speaker at Paul’s church, Trinity Chapel. We put on our Sunday best attire and headed out, risking our lives once again in the mini van, traveling through the busy streets of Kigali. We arrived at church while the worship band was already playing. They were singing in English as well as in Kinyarwanda. The music was very upbeat with dancing and celebration. During “What a Beautiful Name”, the gal who was leading that song asked if we would bow before the Lord. Sitting in the front row, I was able to bow on my knees, face down before the Lord during that song and I felt the presence of God like never before. God was standing over me with His arms outstretched speaking very clearly on this Father’s Day that He loves me and He has me in His arms. I am protected and cared for by God Almighty. No need to worry. What a powerful moment! I was passionately weeping in thankfulness for God’s goodness, His love, and for being my perfect loving Heavenly Father on this Fathers Day. I will never forget this moment. Later, Tom explained how he felt Jesus walk into the room during that moment. After church I was able to meet the drummer, Yves (Ndayisaba Petivan Yves) who was a fun young drummer. He invited me on the stage with him to have me show him the way I play drums. I lightly played to the music that was playing over the speakers. It was fun. I also met their keyboard player, Didiertilley. Later this evening we headed to another men’s gathering at Potters Hand Church. We arrived while worship was in progress and the pastor walked us up onto the partly constructed unfinished church building where Tom was put on the spot to speak. Tom did not know he was speaking tonight. Max did an amazing job of setting up Tom (literally…haha) as he spoke first and took the word “integrity” right off their screen, spoke about the meaning of that word and then introduced Tom. Tom continued to speak on integrity and the importance of men attending church and being leaders in our homes and communities. After the message we lined our chairs at the front and answered questions. I answered a question about raising kids to find their identity in Christ. I explained how our struggles are the same, social media, temptation, etc. My purpose and goal as a parent is to pave the way for my kids to fall in love with Jesus. I tell them that their identity is in Christ so that the world does not influence a false identity. I lead by example and I serve God’s Church, His people, and love my wife. I tell them, and show them that they are loved no matter what. Afterwards, I met the worship leader Immanuel. What a nice big guy. He talked about building a good volunteer team. I believe he is an engineer by trade. He played acoustic guitar and led 10,000 reasons/bless the Lord oh my soul while I added some percussion on a plastic chair. Immanuel wanted to play a couple of his original songs that he wrote for me and so he did. What a great group of guys. WE enjoyed some African tea and snacks in the dark and then headed back to the Iris to get some sleep. A busy week lies ahead.

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Monday, June 19 2017 – Today was our fourth full day in Rwanda yet the first day that really felt like and looked like what I envisioned Rwanda to be. We drove to a community where the roads were all red dirt, the homes were small concrete squares, and children were running all around. We visited the community Presbyterian Church that has a school for children with disabilities and special needs. The young pastor, Aloys, has a heart and passion for these kids and wants to grow the school. Aloys admittedly lacks experience with disabled children but is obedient to the calling that God has called him to. What a joy and inspiration it was to meet Aloys and to visit the children at the school at his church. We then visited two families in this community that pastor Aloys ministers to and their disabled children are enrolled in his school. The first home visit was heavy. It was amazing to me that a young woman was happy to invite eight strangers into her home (men in fact) and she was brave and vulnerable as she shared her story of divorce, drugs, prison, and prostitution. Her disabled son goes to the school that Aloys started in her community and she is clearly grateful to Aloys and to God for the hope that she is experiencing. This home visit was very sad yet very hopeful and inspiring. The second home visit was a young married couple that has five children, one being a twin girl who has seizures and cannot walk due to spinal damage (c section) at birth. We listened to the husband and wife as they graciously shared their story in their dark home. We prayed for their daughters healing and we encouraged each other. I had a great conversation with Prince in the van on the way back from the home visits. He and his wife are missionaries to their own country, Rwanda, they raise their own support, and they currently live at YWAM in Kigali. Prince hasn’t worked for basically 13 years as he joyfully explained how God called him to mission work! Prince is our interpreter. We eventually ate lunch at the “Hut”, and we went shopping at the mall in the evening.

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Tuesday, June 20 2017 – We started the day at a men’s prayer breakfast in a hotel with approx. 10 other men who are senior pastors at differing denominations. The unity among these men is inspiring. Max spoke on Rom 8:15-16. These pastors meet regularly to pray, share testimonies, and encourage each other. Most of the pastors shared about their personal adoption stories. What neat guys. We then went to the PEACE office where our team hosted an orphan care presentation led by Max. Approx 8 more pastors attended, were encouraged, and in turn encouraged us. Pastor James’ story was exceptionally inspiring as he shared about fostering 20 young adults who aged out and were never adopted thus never learning basic life skills. He makes them all go to his 2 hour Bible study every morning and is mentoring them into eventual leaders who can help him with his ministry. He shared how he just recently has been able to get sleep but has not had a full nights sleep for 2 years!! The boys would fight over food and there would be needs every night for 2 years. Amazing! I spoke on the need to come alongside those who adopt to offer help and support. God gave me the verse in Eccl. where it says that a 3-string cord is not easily broken. We need each other. We are all ministers. We can all help. Just like a church needs and relies on volunteers, orphan care cannot be done without others willing to volunteer to help.

Matt quoted Rick Warren as saying: GOD DOESN’T CALL THE EQUIPPED, HE EQUIPS THE CALLED. This actually spoke to me and encouraged me. Lunch was catered there at the peace office and it was a great time. The pastors seemed to really be inspired by our time together. We then went to the street vendors and markets. Whoa!! Crazy experience! This is where some of the guys bought fabric, were measured, and had custom shirts to be made for them. Of course just driving around is quite an experience. It is a miracle that we never saw a crash. Pedestrians, motorcycles, cars, trucks, bicycles, all share the road and take up every square inch of space. The word “merge” takes on a whole new perspective.

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Wednesday, June 21 2017 – Today we drove out west to Kamonyi. It was a pleasant drive through the low mountains. We arrived at Victory Family Church where we hosted a parent-training seminar that focused on TBRI training for local parents who have adopted orphans into their homes. These parents need much encouragement. This church used to be an orphanage with close to 80 orphans living there, but local families have adopted out every orphan! The church now uses the space for vocational schooling such as sewing and hair dressing. As we waited for the parents to arrive on foot, James, Rick, and myself were enamored by the very large (high) swingset. I was being pushed well over 15 feet into the air and of course I thought it would be no problem to launch myself and dismount from that extreme height. Well, it turns out that I wasn’t thinking. Praise be to God that I didn’t break my leg in half after such a foolish stunt. I badly sprained my right ankle and also strained my left hamstring, but fortunately I could still walk and did not need medical attention. I sucked up the pain, I helped out with some skits during the training, and I was also able to lead a time of praise and worship. I lead worship on an African drum using tree branch sticks. The ladies were joyfully dancing and worshiping. During our lunch break I played their drumset (still using the tree branch sticks) while Pastor Fulgence sang and a young man played keys. We finished an amazing day of ministry at Victory Family Church in Kamonyi and we then headed east towards Tanzania en route to the Akagera Game Lodge. The 3-hour drive was amazing. We waved to smiling children as we drove through town after town. The locals were working hard retrieving water from the wells filling their large yellow containers and then pushing them on their bikes back up the hills. As we approached Akagera, the roads turned to dirt and the dirt turned to red. Once inside the national park, baboons sprawled across the dirt road in plain site and even occupied the hotel property. This was not comforting. I iced my badly sprained and swollen ankle and gt a few hours rest before our final day in Rwanda.

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Thursday, June 22 2017 – Today we were blessed to be able to go on a safari. This safari was not part of our original itinerary, but because we shopped and debriefed during the days prior, God blessed us with this special time to be able to relax and enjoy His beautiful creation before we embark on our long journey back home. We woke up this morning to a beautiful sunrise over Lake Ihema as we looked east toward Tanzania. Wow! Hallelujah! As we drove down the dirt road in our safari vehicle, it wasn’t long before we came upon an incredibly large male elephant in the middle of the road. This was equally exciting and frightening. Actually, more frightening than exciting because this elephant was not happy and he was doing his best to intimidate us. He was stomping the dirt, swinging his trunk, and would start to run towards us! We slowly backed up, completed a 3-point turn and drove slowly the opposite direction until the beast disappeared into the bush. I learned that this elephant is a well-known 50-year old grumpy old man of an elephant named “Mutware”. Whoa! That was crazy! That could have turned out much worse than my sprained ankle, but praise God we moved ahead on our safari, unscathed. Before long we would come upon zebras, wart hogs, hippos, impalas, birds, baboons, waterbuck, buffalo, and even fighting giraffes. The safari was an amazing display of God’s creativity and power. We then drove straight back to Kigali to grab our luggage and we headed to the airport. A week spent in the heart of Africa, in the heart of Rwanda, experiencing the heart of God, redemption, forgiveness, reconciliation, and love. God bless Rwanda!

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*If you would like to help financially support families in Rwanda, click here.

Posted by TRENT ARMSTRONG

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