For Red Deer resident Brayden Thomson, a return trip to an African orphanage has proven to further connect him to the continent.
He journeyed to Rwanda in August with a team of 18. The group visited Home of Hope Rwanda, which was spearheaded by the Red Deer-based Home Church. The mission supports orphans by linking them with families.
Aside from the orphanage work, the ministry also educates people and provides job training. ‘Micro-loans’ have been granted for ventures in gardening, farming and the selling of used clothing, smoked fish and charcoal. Provision of food, clothing, education and Christian training are also at the heart of what local teams do when they travel to Home of Hope Rwanda.
The work has grown tremendously since its inception. There are operations in nine places besides the city of Kigali.
For Brayden, a youth pastor at Word of Life Centre (now Home Church), who had also traveled to Rwanda four years ago, a return trip only served to further deepen his burden for the troubled country. He also got to connect with his two sponsored children there – a touching part of the trip. “My favourite part was spending time with my sponsored kids. It was also great to see how it (the sponsorship) has helped them – you could see the difference.”
Seeing the growth of the community was also something to behold. On the last trip, there were about 100 children supported at the time. “Now there are nine locations and 1,700 children being supported, so it was completely different.
Seeing the flourishing little community was heartening. “Now there is a duplex which is beautiful, a huge playground, a garden. The church has grown, and they have electricity now, too.”
Last month, the team quickly got to work finding out how they could be most effective. “We would go out into the most desperate areas of the communities and talk to locals who needed the most help. We ask them what their needs are, invited them to church, and give them gifts the team brought from Canada.”
In 1994, the Rwandan genocide claimed about one million lives in just 100 days. More than 200,000 orphans were left behind as well. Today, as a result of the AIDS epidemic and other factors, there are hundreds of thousands of young orphans in dire need of help.
Although scars from that time certainly remain, dividing walls have been coming down, said Karissa Paterson, administrator of Home of Hope in Red Deer. There has been reconciliation taking place between one-time warring people groups.
Meanwhile, there are lots of ways folks here at home can help out – they can sponsor children, careworkers or various projects; they can give one-time donations or they can also join a team and see the work firsthand. Christmas gifts – everything from animals to clothes to shoes – can be purchased for children at Home of Hope. The deadline to arrange a gift is Nov. 15.
Besides the work in Rwanda, there is also Home of Hope India and Home of Hope Kenya. There are plans to set up facilities in the Congo. Paterson said more than 250 local people have joined one of the mission trips so far.
“People often say ‘What could I do?’ I could list 100 different things.”
For one thing, sharing what we’ve learned over the years as Canadians can be a rich storehouse of information for Rwandans. “One of the best things we can do is have one-on-one connections with people. Just giving them pointers on how they can improve their lives.” There are also feeding programs people can help out with, plus working with the children is also always a top priority.
Others are concerned about finding the funds to go. But Paterson said it’s not so tough – just finding a few friends who trust you to contribute wisely overseas can help tremendously. Sharing business experience for the micro-loans is also invaluable, added Thomson.
Few are ever really the same after such a poignant, powerful and challenging experience. “They come back more thankful.”
For more information on how to make a difference, check out www.homeofhope.ca.