On day two in Kigali, we has the joy of meeting Teresa, a widow living in Gehange — one of the areas most affected during the Genocide. Teresa lost her husband and two sons when they were murdered in 1994. Her two daughters were systematically raped and infected with HIV/AIDS and have since passed away. One daughter was impregnated as a result of the rape and now all that Teresa has left of her family is one beautiful grand-daughter. Teresa and her grand-daughter live in a mud brick house built by OxFam, but she has fears for it’s longevity and believes it’s crumbling beneath her in the rain. She secures her door with a tree trunk as she also fears someone breaking in and killing her at any moment. She struggles with her health (TB and other problems) and basic needs on a regular basis. She said when she doesn’t have food for a day she just tries to sleep. This happens often.
It is Teresa’s beautiful faith in Jesus that sustains her. She gave her life to Jesus many years ago after the Genocide and after being a drunkard and a pagan — as she put it. Jesus transformed her heart and she was able to give up her addictions and habits right away. She attends church every single morning and loves to dance. She’s a spiritual mother to many and looks after the needs of those in her area despite no one looking after her. Teresa told us how she used to read the Bible every day but then started losing her vision. She thinks that maybe if she can get glasses, she’ll be able to read it again. While she shared her story with us I glanced around her “living room”. All that surrounded us was uneven dirt, two wooden stools and three pieces of paper pinned to a mud wall.
I asked Teresa how God speaks to her and she told us that He speaks through the Bible and that He spoke to her in a dream recently. She dreamt that a group of people were going to come to her house and that’s how she knew God would provide for her. She had no idea that 11 YWAMers were on their way to visit her! I felt I should give her one of the postcards I had created that says today and everyday, you are loved with a reference to Jeremiah 31:3
“I have loved you with an everlasting love. With unfailing love I have drawn you to myself.”
I asked our translator, Odeth, to explain that it was a gift for Teresa to remind her of the love Jesus has for her. As Odeth was explaining the reference to Jeremiah, Teresa proceeded to recite the whole verse from memory in her language — Kinyarwanda. She said that God gave her two verses to remember and that was one of them!
We all went outside so she could show us the condition of her house. We asked what else we could pray for her about and so we took time to pray for her house, her grand-daughter, her health and vision among other things. When we were finished she told us how good it was to have us and how hard it is normally because she doesn’t have anyone to ask her how she is doing or make sure she has her basic needs met. I thought about giving her the clothes off my back in that moment, but was reluctant to show off my birthday suit! Thankfully I remembered I had a rain jacket with me that I had just purchased in Ireland. I knew I was meant to give it to her and she lit up! She admired it and beamed as she told me she will now wear it every morning to church.
She asked Odeth what my name is and then said “Oh, I know why she loves me so much. Stephanie was my mother’s name!”. After that this elderly woman started referring to me as her mother! Due to the new found bond with me she invited me and Odeth back into her house while the others stayed outside. Odeth explained to me that she felt she could trust me now like a family member and wanted to show me her whole house as was the custom. Her living conditions would break anyone’s heart and yet she had such joy and hope in her. She didn’t ask for anything or show desperation in the slightest.
I asked the team what we should get her and we agreed on stocking her with food and buying something that would simply be a treat for her. A few of us walked to a nearby shop — hearing many “good mornings!” from the children we passed on the road — to pick up the supplies. Teresa didn’t know what we were doing. We returned with large sacks of flour and maize along with sugar, soap and special lotion for her dry, aching skin. We also purchased a new mattress so her and her grand-daughter would be able to sleep and rest much more comfortably. When I had seen her bedroom I noticed she only had a wooden frame with a blanket and something that hardly qualified as a matt. She was radiant with gratitude and kept throwing her arms in the air, praising God. Yesu ashimwe, Yesu ashimwe!
It was really the least we could do. I always wrestle with knowing where to draw the line with money. I know that money doesn’t solve problems in the long run and there are so many people in need….but it absolutely helps, and it would have been wrong for us to only pray for food when we were perfectly capable of providing some. That’s the heart of Jesus after all — meeting spiritual, physical and emotional needs. The whole time I just kept thinking to myself Love the one in front of you. That’s what we’re called to do. Whether that’s my co-worker in Ireland, a stranger in America, or Therese in the heart of Africa.
Before we left one of our guys asked Teresa if she would pray for him because he wanted to experience the same joy that she has. None of us had a clue what she was saying but as she lifted her hands to heaven and began interceding for Zach, the Spirit of God filled the room so thickly. I was instantly overcome by tears and I could see Zach’s soul being filled up. Many hugs, photos, and thank-you’s later it was time for us to leave.
I will never forget Teresa.