As we near the end of the season of Advent and prepare for Christ’s birth, I’ve thought about the lessons that the four of us Hayes Barton members learned from ZOE orphans and vulnerable children in Rwanda during our July visit with them. The four candles of the Advent wreath represent four virtues of Christ—hope, love, joy and peace. The circle of the wreath represents the eternity of God. We found these virtues demonstrated in the lives of these orphans who have suffered so much.
The lesson of hope—
Four years ago, Mike, a traveler from the U.S. visited a ZOE working group in the initial weeks of its formation and noticed a young man who appeared more withdrawn, depressed, and hopeless than others in the new group. Mike worried about his very survival when he returned to the U.S. Hopelessness and a desire to die are common feelings among the orphans who have lived in hunger, homelessness, and isolation for years, but this young men exhibited these symptoms to a degree unlike the others. Mike and we fellow travelers were able to meet this young man one year after his graduation from ZOE and see that he was thriving. His working group has remained together, and he has successful businesses that provide a good living for him and his family.
The lesson of love—
Fabian, who is twenty years old and responsible for her household of eight, is one example of love that these ZOE children exhibit every day. Fabian lived in an abusive household and was kicked out and lived a homeless, hunger-filled life as she struggled to survive. Recently, she moved back to her village, reconciled with her family, moved in and has taken on the responsibility of being the head of household—supporting two disabled parents who are unable to walk, a disabled older sister who also can’t walk, four other siblings and herself. In August of 2017, she joined a ZOE working group that Hayes Barton UMC supports. She greeted us with a huge smile and proudly talked of how well she is doing after one year in the program. She’s developed a small general grocery business, is saving, and is meeting the needs of her family.
The lesson of joy—
The ZOE children expressed so much joy through their smiles. They are so grateful for not being hungry, for having created successful businesses that provide income for them to live, for buying health insurance, for being able to provide school uniforms and fees so that their younger siblings can return to school, for ZOE. It is obvious that their joy, however, does not come from material things.
The lesson of peace—
Throughout Rwanda, there are memorials to those killed by genocide, in April 1994, when 800,000 Rwandas were killed by their fellow Rwandas, and subsequent, smaller ones, even into the early 2000’s. Now there is peace due to the work of a number of people and organizations, and a stable government that have resulted in a reconciliation program. These children show inclusive love toward others and promote peace among all.
In this Advent season, thank you Hayes Barton for your demonstration of love for homeless, starving children through your contributions to ZOE, for having supported three working groups in the past (two through Outreach budget; one supported by the Seekers Sunday school class), with more than 400 children, for now supporting one and one-half working groups with more than 200 children. The ZOE program has grown to having 40,000 orphans and vulnerable children in the program currently, in seven countries and over three continents. Learn more about ZOE at wearezoe.org
Denyse, an orphan with whom met, offered this prayer during our visit that I’d like to share:
…We remember that we are orphans and that you supported us.
You gave us all we have received.
They (donors from the U.S.) supported us for making our lives better.
We know they prayed for us day and night.
We pray You, Lord Sir, that you bless them abundantly.
When they come to you in Heaven, treat them like queens and kings.
Be with them wherever they go.
You may not forget what they have done for us.
Thank you for the continued supporting of us,
For their commitment. May you bless them seven times seventy.
We thank you, Jesus.