Rwanda Post – Lauren Weaver

Ubumuntu—Humanity.

I took a class this past semester surrounding Postmodern American Literature and History, and after we finished each novel, we always asked the question: “Is this novel hopeful?”

Now, if you know ANYTHING about Postmodern literature, you probably know that themes tend to lean towards the brokenness and darkness of our complicated realities, so finding seeds of hope tends to be a difficult task. But, regardless of the novel and its tragic ending, we always concluded that, yes, there is hope. Because something always had to persist, whether it be a character, an idea, a dream, or just the fact that the author chose to write the story in the first place for others to remember—to have the tale endure as to not be forgotten to the oblivion of history—is in itself hopeful. If one thing is able to escape the darkness, it is a victory for humanity, and the Rwandan community has taken that belief and ran with it.

This is what’s been consuming my thoughts as I’ve begun to process the magnitude of what happened 25 years ago—what has persisted and kept affected Rwandans hopeful? Because, you see, the way that the Rwandan Genocide differs from the Holocaust is the distance from violence. The Nazis attempted to remove themselves as far as possible from the conflict, performing mass killings in gas chambers and death camps scattered around countries outside of Germany. In Rwanda, the Hutu people set out to kill their Tutsi neighbors and family members, and they succeeded… to a degree. Yes, one million lives were lost in the most horrific way, but a man whom we spent quite a bit of time with here and who survived the Genocide as a young boy, Edward Makara, made a great point early on in our trip by saying something along the lines of, “They tried to kill us all, the Nazis tried to kill all the Jews, but when will they learn that it never works? It never has worked! We always come back and survive.”

Before visiting any of the genocide memorials, our group visited an organization called ‘Never Again Rwanda.’ NAR’s mission is to work with youth in peace building and reconciliation. We spent over an hour learning about the methods, beliefs, and goals of the organization—how to deal with soon-to-be released perpetrators of the Genocide, educational programs for disadvantaged youth, and mental health initiatives (to name a few). Once we concluded our meeting, the man who we talked with asked what our plans were for the rest of our stay. When we told him of our plans to visit the Nyamata Genocide Memorial—a church where 10,000 people took refuge from the Hutu but were still killed—he then told us that he had been there. He had laid under a broken bench (we realized there was only one upon visiting) as bodies piled up around him and hid him from his persecutors.

He had been around 6 years old.


I don’t think my heart has ever hit the ground faster—and we hadn’t even visited the memorial yet at that point. I don’t know what I found more compelling—the fact that he survived, or the fact that he was dedicating his time and effort to work at preventing future genocides. NAR has plans to work with recently released perpetrators and their families in readjusting to life after their release. How could he forgive them? How could he look them in the eye and equip them with tools and strategies to prosper?

And then I realized that was the humanity. The persistence of a little boy who survived a horrendous massacre, forgiving those who hurt him and countless others, in the hopes of bettering the world and Rwanda for the next generation. So that they would never have to see the horror that he saw.

That’s what it takes. One person, one spark, to inspire hope into a broken nation torn apart from the inside out. And of course it is more complicated than that. This transition to forgiveness didn’t happen overnight or at the snap of his fingers, but IT HAPPENED. And I wish I had the vocabulary to enforce just how powerful and courageous I think that is. What I’ve seen is that when ubumuntu is fostered in just ONE person, it can lead toward the reconciliation of a whole group, or even a whole nation. And I would say that’s pretty hopeful.

We always come back and survive.

 

Submitted by Lauren Weaver

Acuña, Mexico – Student Reflections

Sarah: Despite our limited time, this experience was full of learning.  I learned many new skills such as how to properly stretch chicken wire, stucco the outside of the house, and install insulation and drywall. I also felt God teaching me to switch my mindset off myself and re-focus it on others.  I was pleasantly surprised by the genuineness with which the team engaged with each other, and it was so refreshing.  There were multiple times this past week where a teammate chose to speak a word of encouragement to me at a time when I was feeling drained, and it truly blessed me.  I praise God for Casas por Cristo, and the good work they are doing for His glory.  It was an honor to serve with the team in the community of Acuña, and I am so very grateful to have had this opportunity to learn and grow.

Mason: I was very much aware of the fact going into the trip that we would be building a house, but you can never be fully primed for what God is going to do throughout the journey. We knew we would be serving a family but had no clue that the family would end up being the compassionate people we know now. We also knew we would be hammering nails, but we definitely did not comprehend how many. In a short summary, besides a few bumps and bruises, there are no negative takeaways from the trip. We were able to further God’s Kingdom in exactly the way He planned and further our personal faith through the experience. I love and appreciate everything and everyone that God put in my life over the last week, as well as Belmont for allowing it to happen.

Elania: Coming back to Acuña is always such a humbling and beautiful experience. It teaches me all the things I take for granted each day and reminds me how big God’s love really is. I’m so grateful for the people who went with me, they were so welcoming and kind. Every relationship I built this week, with my peers and the family, I will cherish for a lifetime. I’m so lucky to have been a part of this amazing trip and work with Casas por Cristo. The city of Acuña and the people there are such a huge blessing. Casas por Cristo is such an amazing organization, and I encourage everyone to work with them someday.

Katie: As we leave Mexico, I just feel so joyful. This family now have a roof over their head and a house that is livable. Their previous home leaked every time it rained. I can’t even imagine living in a house that leaked when it rains. It made me realize just how much I can sometimes take for granted at home like a roof. Giving is always better than receiving. I am so glad I went on this trip again this spring break!

Grace: I learned that God can bring different communities together in so many ways and that we could show love to each other in so many ways. It was beautiful.

Jamie: My biggest takeaway from this trip is that God’s love and power have no boundaries. Most of us going on the trip had never met before, but our love for God brought us together to serve in a different country where none of us spoke the language fluently. Even though there was a language barrier, we were able to show the family the love of God through our actions which meant more than words. The most powerful moment for me was when we prayed over the family on the final day to dedicate the house. God was so present in that moment as everyone cried tears of joy and sorrow. I learned many skills on this trip and learned so much about myself and my faith. I know that God will continue to work in Acuña through Casas por Cristo, and I hope to stay in touch with Pastor Cristian and the family.

Acuña, Mexico – End of Week Recep

So much has happened in the past few days in Acuña. By day three, we were all tired and sore from doing construction for two days in a row. We were supposed to wake up at 6 am for breakfast at 6:30, but each day we stayed in bed just a little bit longer. We did a devotional before eating breakfast made by two wonderful ladies from Casas por Cristo. After eating, we loaded up the van and headed to the worksite jamming out to “El Mismo Sol” or the Jonas Brothers. As the house came together, we got more excited to work. Scott started each workday with another devotional and prayer. On day three, we continued putting up chicken wire around the entire exterior of the house for the stucco. While a team worked on that, Mason and I finished up some electrical work by drilling holes in the studs to run wires and by putting in outlet boxes. The family we were building the house for cooked all of us tacos for lunch and bought Coke. Both were so delicious! Today was also roofing day. Mason, Sam, and Jamie were on the roof nailing in the plywood boards, trim, and screwing in the roof. It was wonderful to have warm, sunny, dry weather today, but it was blazing hot on the roof.

  • Belmont Mission Trip in Acuña, Mexico on March 14, 2019.

Just as we put up boards around the outside, someone ran out yelling that Lexi got injured. All of us who were working froze, unsure of what was happening. Scott came out of the house carrying Lexi and brought her to a chair under the shade. She fell off a step ladder in the house while putting up insulation. Luckily, we had two nursing majors on the team who knew what to do. The team finished out the work day by getting the roof and insulation completed while Lexi played with the kids of the family.  We drove to the pharmacy to pick up something to wrap Lexi’s foot with. There was a lot of decision making, but Scott, Sam, Lexi, and Jamie chose to go back to Del Rio to the hospital to get X-rays to make sure nothing was broken. All praise to God that nothing was broken according to the X-rays and Lexi and Jamie got Chick-fil-a and Rudy’s for dinner.

On Thursday, we finished construction on the house and dedicated it to the family. Several people put up drywall on the ceiling inside. The rest of us waited around to start stucco and talked to the family. Once the ceiling drywall got up, a team stayed inside to complete the drywall while the rest of us started making stucco and putting it on the exterior of the wall. The stucco process consumed the majority of the day for many team members as it required much attention to detail. As we worked, Scott played music which really helped encourage and energize the team so the day seemed to pass rather quickly. For the second day in a row, the family provided us with lunch which was above and beyond what we expected. Today, they served us chicken with mole sauce and tortillas which was just the pick-me-up we needed to finish the house off.

Finally, we began to put the last touches on the home! This included installing light bulbs, cleaning tools, sweeping out the rooms, and putting up the final shelf. As the building came to a close, we gathered as a group and poured immensely into our relationships with the family. By playing with the children, communicating with the adults in broken Spanish, and giving hugs, we saw that the project was much more than simply a building. We presented the family with keys to their new home, a Casas por Cristo plaque, and some simple house warming gifts before presenting final prayers and words of blessings. Each Casas por Cristo plaque has a number on it that represents the number of houses Casas por Cristo has built. Blas, the head of the family, nailed in the final nail in the house to hang the plaque. This particular portion of the experience was a standout to our team members and was impactful in ways that exceed words. Seeing a project that we poured our hearts into come to completion and reach others for Christ was life-changing to say the very least and is the root of change in many hearts.

Post written by Jamie, Sarah, and Delaney

 

 

Atlanta – End of Week Recap

When we got to Atlanta we did not know what to expect. Atlanta is such a big city and there’s so much to do there. We met with our partnering host, Anquette and she helped us get settled in at the church. We had an orientation about DOOR and what it means to have a “serving is a lifestyle” mindset. She also told us that words can affect people in different ways so instead of referring to homeless people as homeless people, we call them our friends without homes. We did some exploring our first day and learned a little about the history of Atlanta. We visited the MLK Center, Center for Civil and Human Rights, and also the Atlanta Zoo. Our first service day, we helped serve our friends without homes food at Action Ministries, a women’s community kitchen. The women were so excited to see us and were grateful that we were there serving them. We served them a hot meal and dessert and we did it restaurant style to show hospitality.

 
Our next service site we went to was the Lost-n-Found Thrift. There we learned the history about how they started and the population they seek to serve. This organization serves members of the LGBTQ community, ages 18-24 and provides tons of services to them. We helped sort clothes, organize sizes, as well as tag them and put them on racks. 

On Wednesday, we went to Mercy Church which was the groups favorite. We went in with the intent to do some work but the pastor just wanted us to talk to our friends without homes. So we did, we met so many different people with awesome personalities. A big takeaway from this experience was that the group saw that no matter their (our friends without homes) circumstances, our friends knew that God was doing something great for them in their future. They kept happy thoughts and were really excited we were talking to them. One of our friends said that he was really grateful that we were talking to them because most of the time people never talk to them. We got to serve them breakfast, we got to worship, and eat lunch with them. We even wrote haikus about St. Patrick’s Day with them. As a student leader, I truly saw the students grow during this moment. There was no comfort zone, we were all family.

Our last site was fun. We went to Gillian’s Farm and met with Farmer P who showed us how to pull turnips and shovel mulch. We also got to feed goats and a sheep. Farmer Peducated us on the importance of growing your own food and how beneficial it is. He enjoyed having us and told us that the turnips we pulled would be donated at an event later on this month. 

I can say that this experience was the bombdiggity. I really appreciate all the students and their willingness to be open-minded about the work we did and how it resonated with what God has planned for us in our future. We all hope to keep serving is a lifestyle apart of our lives from now on.

Guatemala – Day 7

 

Today was our last day of clinic work and we spent it at Pablo’s plantation, La Azotea. The whole group was together again and everyone was able to collaborate and learn even more from each other. We only saw about 30 patients today as opposed to the other days where we saw 130. This way we were able to spend more time with each patient.

During our lunch break, we were served a delicious lunch with hibiscus juice. There was a performance going on while we were eating which was cool to see even more of the culture here in Guatemala. Most of us went on a tour of the gorgeous plantation and the Mayan museum. Pablo also showed us where he had his wedding ceremony and reception. We came back to the house and had some time to relax. Some of us played games and others went down to the town square.

Pablo and his wife, Sara, graciously served us dinner in their home. It was a recipe passed down from Sara’s mom! We toured their beautiful home and enjoyed a delicious meal together. Afterward, we spent time sharing our experiences from the week. We ended the night by talking about how all of our previous expectations had been exceeded and how grateful we are to have made so many new friends.

Written by: Melia, Brooklyn & Mallory

China – Late Week Recap

This week our team of Occupational therapy and nursing students traveled to Maria’s Big House of Hope in Luoyang, China. MBHOH is a safe haven for medically fragile children in orphan care. Our week has been full of laughter, love and play with the children. We also created sensory boards which were installed in the children’s play rooms.

Today was our final day at Maria’s Big House of Hope. We said our goodbyes to the kiddos and took a group picture. We left Luoyang by fast train around 7:30 am headed to Beijing to begin touring the city. Today we will head to the pearl market for shopping and explore the rest of the city tonight. Tomorrow morning we will head out for the Great Wall!!!  Our final three days in China will be spent in Beijing touring several different places while still deeply immersed in the culture and processing our entire experience.

Maria’s Big House of Hope held an acronym for our devotions each day. Mindfulness, brokenness, humility, ongoing reconciliation and hope.  Each word intricately unpacked numerous emotions while building a new perspective for orphan care and missions.

 

Reflecting back on the week, we are each walking away refreshed, blessed, humbled and inspired. We have experienced a place where both pain and joy coexist. We have learned the role and value of simply being present for others. Moving forward, we are equipped with insight to take into our lives as future as occupational therapist and nurses.

— Kristian Wilson

Guatemala – Days 5-6

Tonight we gathered as a team after dinner and had a debriefing time where we were prompted to talk about where we have been challenged this week. We quickly found many of us felt the same way- inadequate. As students, we are still working to gain confidence in our different fields. Since our team is mostly students, we are pushed to act more independently at the clinic and at Keramin, and practicing new skills can be intimidating. Our patients are looking to us to answer their questions, address their aches and pains and to provide a solution. This is an exciting opportunity but can also be overwhelming. In addition, there is an obvious language and cultural barrier present, so we are often challenged as to how to best provide education and care to the people we see. 

On our first day we all felt quite overwhelmed by these realities, but every day God has been showing us over and over again that He is the one in control. In our devotion this morning, Hillary spoke about the importance of taking off our crowns. As humans, it is so easy to feel that we are in control of our own lives and our own situations. This also carries over into how we view others and our relationships with them. It is easy to go into a mission trip with our own agendas, believing that we are going to “save” the people we serve. Even though we have felt overwhelmed and inept, God has repeatedly reminded us of his power and grace this trip. We reflected on the importance of letting God take control, which has drastically changed the pace and outlook of our days. Knowing that he is the ultimate one in control has allowed us to have peace and to actually gain confidence in our skills and assessments today.

In the midst of our feelings of chaos, God has shown up. Keramion is a school for children with special needs that the therapy faculty and students have been serving. On Monday, we were told that the school has been without running water since last July as they have not been able to cover the bill. This was where God decided to do his work. In two days, due to a simple Facebook post, over $1500 was raised for the school. This will cover their future water bills and add groceries to their pantry to feed the students. Today, we were able to tell the school and they were incredibly grateful. It was an emotional moment for all involved, as we truly felt the power of God and his faithfulness to those who continue to serve him even when things feel impossible. 

There are 3 volcanoes we can see from the windows of our house that repeatedly remind us of how big and majestic our God is. Honestly, we are inadequate, but our God is mighty. We feel humbled to have seen Him move this week. 

Savannah, Kate, and Gabbie

Dominican Republic – Update #2

Today we spent our last day with Pastor Wesley & his church. In the morning we installed the last of the water filters and saw parts of that community we had not yet seen. We even encountered a few goats along the way. After lunch, we put on another skit… this time about God’s mercy and forgiveness. The kids really seemed to enjoy that. We sang and danced to “Lean on Me” and learned “this little light of mine” in Spanish. we were able to connect with the kids again even with the language barrier. after that we played kickball & other games with the kids, embracing every moment we had left with them. Before we left we were graciously thanked with kind words from Pastor Wesley and his wife along with a cake. Collectively, we all put some cash together and donated $210 to help Pastor Wesley continue with his ministry in the church & school. We have built such a unique relationship with him by watching him interact with the community. He never turns a child away from his school, he feeds, educates, and loves them just like Jesus. 

It’s been very hot – but we have made the best of being sweaty and gross. After we returned to our “base church”, we had some time to relax, play with the local kids, and further build relationships with the group who we share this space with before dinner. After dinner we had a meeting with JC to reflect on the trip thus far. Many of us shared thoughts and memories that have impacted us one way or another. 

I think a big theme of this trip has been adaptability. We have taken every obstacle with grace and made it into something beautiful. I credit a lot of this to what we have learned from the people we have been serving. While they have so little possessions, they have so much love and joy. They adapt to their situation in the most wonderful way possible. They never give up on their faith, they have hope for the future, even when they literally don’t have food to eat or a bed to sleep in. We have been patient and creative in any challenge we have faced – yet these “challenges” for us are the reality of these people. Tonight during our meeting JC told us that we’re “doing”. He praised us for sleeping on air mattress, showering with buckets, and handling the heat. My instant thoughts came from the book “Love Does” by Bob Goff. In the book he says “I used to think you had to be special for God to use you. But now I know you simply need to say yes.” We all chose to be here because we said yes to the love in our hearts. We aren’t playing the role of God, we aren’t bringing God to these people, they know God and they know we are here because God’s love isn’t stationary, it does.

— Mackenzie Hodgson, Student Leader

El Paso – Midweek Update

I once heard that “you can’t hate someone whose story you know.” The El Paso trip is about coming to know the stories of our neighbors more than anything else. To bear witness to the difficulties in their journeys, the complexities of the systems through which they are processed, and the hope and faith that they cling to in the midst of it all.

On Monday night, a warm older woman named Carmen came to the church we are staying at to teach us how to make gorditas and share her own story with us. I watched as she expertly placed the masa in the oiled pan to fry, and spoke with her in Spanish in short turns. Making a meal alongside along another immersion group from the University of South Florida with Carmen was a lesson in patience as the entire first two Spanish dubbed Madagascar movies played in the background during the time that we were cooking. After lunch, she spoke to us with the help of our hostess translating of the journey which she has endured as an immigrant. Seeking medical treatment for her adopted daughter, Carmen left Juarez, Mexico and came to El Paso. Tears formed in her eyes as she spoke of doctors who appeared as “angels” and gave her daughter the kidney transplant she needed without the sufficient funds or health insurance, and of the process of getting documents which she had not originally intended to pursue. The profundity of her faith shone as she told us about entrusting her child to God in her child’s very hour of death, pulling all of us students into a sacred and beautiful space with her. “It is not God who has created divisions,” she told us, “it is people who have created divisions. To God, it does not matter if you are Mexican or Chinese or American. He loves everyone.”

Some of the other stories we have come into contact with are refugee families who are being hosted for a night or two by churches in the area of Las Cruces, New Mexico and El Paso, Texas. These families who are seeking asylum in the United States have just been released from the detention centers they have been held in and are about to embark on a journey to another part of the country where they will live with a host family, awaiting a trial in immigration court. These church and non-profit organization volunteers provide a place to stay, some basic resources, and help organize the travel arrangements to the host families. On the weekends, a La Quinta Inn allows these churches to organize hotel rooms for the families to stay in, and during the week, they are hosted on air mattresses in one of the rooms of a church. Volunteers help pass out donated supplies such as clothing, shoes, and plastic bags with various toiletries, as well as make meals for them. As a group, we have gotten the opportunity to serve two meals so far, one of which we cooked ourselves, to these families. Embodying solidarity, we eat alongside them and use what little or much Spanish we know to speak to them and let them know that they are seen and heard.

On Tuesday morning, we also witnessed formal snippets of immigrants’ stories through a Federal District Court’s proceedings of criminal cases. We watched defendants hear their charges for such things as “illegal entry without inspection,” which is entering the country at a place other than an official port of entry, and “reentry of a removed alien,” which is entering the country again after an individual has been deported in the past. These men pled guilty, and were led out in handcuffs to eventually be “removed from the United States, denied citizenship, and denied admission to the United States in the future.”

An immersion trip to El Paso is an immersion into stories, the realities of our neighbor’s lives, and an education on the deep complexity of the issues and experiences encountered along the U.S./Mexico border. Hearing and seeing stories help us become informed, and spark our compassion for our brothers and sisters in the borderland regions who, as Carmen called it, “live in the shadows.”

— Hannah Rae Melis, El Paso Trip Student Leader

Guatemala – Day 4 Update

 

After reflecting on today, we are deciding to make the point that sometimes participating on a mission trip and working with people from a different culture can be challenging. Can we all agree on that? Not only is communication difficult (sometimes in the form of various “wohoos”, “excellente”, and big smiles); understanding the daily challenges patients of another culture and country face, can wane on even the happiest of spirits.

The Guatemalan people are sincere, hospitable, hardworking, strong, relentless…etc. There will never be enough words to describe them. Working with them has been a pleasure and a joy but hearing their hearts has been eye-opening and endearing.

We met a woman today who works 3 jobs, 7 days a week, and is a single parent to 3 children. After hearing her story, we attempted to offer her healthcare and a prayer, yet her story resonated with many of us. The hardships, the challenges, the trials that plague so many people. However, her resilience and perseverance has prevailed.

Overall, despite the challenges, today was a joyful day. We saw greater depths of God’s work and God’s people and that is something to celebrate!  We thank God for the opportunity to visit these lovely “amigos”!

Written by: Nick, Stacy & Hillary