The Heart Connection Reward


Picture in your mind's eye love shining through the eyes of children seeing you in person for the first time...

…their smiles which cannot be wiped away, and the depths to which your presence means to this new lifelong relationship. As an advocate have you ever pondered, as you send off your next payment, how you can be more engaged in your child(ren’s) lives? Do you ask yourself as you compose a letter if what you say is meaningful and heartfelt? What would be even more meaningful and powerful as an advocate?

Upon arriving in Kigali July 1, 2023, this advocate was expecting to be met and transported to the hotel. What was not expected was the entourage that greeted me. Totally shocked and overwhelmed, especially after nineteen plus hours of travel, introductions to Pastor Antoine, my advocate children, their parents, and Jean Paul. The children hugged me, and hugs were returned. Seeing my beaming smile and eyes aglow with the love of God, the children handed me a bouquet of flowers. It was wondrous to receive such gratitude and celebration from all the others. Clearly an advocate’s visit was deeply meaningful to them all. It was not clear at this point the extent of the gratitude or the expanse of the celebration.

Having planned a nine day stay there were many hours to experience the country, city, community, church and school. The next day at church were more warm greetings and smiles, along with anticipated looks of wonder about this American. This advocate felt culturally inadequate to say the least. The paramount thought was to learn and experience without judgement or expectation. Though the church service was cut short due to things scheduled later in the day, the choral music and worship was fun, refreshing, and enlivening. Many stood, moved and danced as they sang along or were consumed in the spirit of the music. The vibrant colors of clothing and the smartness of dress culturally added to the newness of this place.

Smiling both inside and outwardly I listened to the translated message delivered by Pastor Antoine thinking how did he know some of what I was going to address the following Sunday. We departed to share lunch with a missionary in Kigali before taking Anna LaCore to the airport. On the way riding in the front with Antoine driving, I reached over to get his attention and said smiling, “Why did you steal my message?”. He laughed along with the rest of us. This was the beginning of many days with Antoine, but an ice breaker to our many conversations and this advocates unending questions on all sorts of topics throughout the time in Kigali.

Kigali is a city of a million and half residents. The city is situated around a bowl of foothills with the bottom third used for agriculture, which is a prominent way for people to make an income and survive. Like many large cities across the world, Kigali has a mix of people with varied socio-economic resources. As we met Jean Paul at the church to make home visits to this advocate’s two children. We started walking down a steep hill and quickly went from nice modern housing into poverty-stricken homes and buildings used as housing. The roads were dirt and rough with ruts and stone. The land had some farming, but the plots were quite small. At one point as we passed through what could be a village, there was a toddler out in the street playing in the dirt. As we approached the bottom of the hill, we came to a roadway which was under preparations for being paved. We walked along this road a way before crossing over the open drainage channel and up an embankment. We were greeted by Eric and brought into the converted chicken shed where we found chickens being raised, and a table and chairs. We sat with Eric, his sister and father for a while, and to chat. The lack of running water, and electricity. The dirt and stone floor, open spaces between the vertical siding, letting in the intense sunlight, were intended for raising chicken’s, not for a home.

Despite these conditions, it was the heart connection which was the reward. This was only our second time seeing one another, but Eric’s seeming discomfort and a bit of cultural shyness could not disguise his excitement and wonder in his advocate coming to see him. His sister who is only five or six was less impressed with my presence even though I tried to make her comfortable with me.

We moved on toward Flavia’s family home, heading back along the construction and eventually turning a corner and then up another hill. We arrive at a typical two room cement block home with a corrugated steel roof. Flavia and her father met us outside and invited us in. There we were invited to sit and were introduced to Flavia’s older siblings, shortly mom and the four-month-old came to join us. Her father’s English was quite good and he openly and repeatedly expressed his deep appreciation for the advocacy of his daughter. Just next door was the compound of their neighbor, with its attractive home, walls and gate.

Flavia being younger had no English as yet, so our words had to be interpreted. Her eyes said so much more than our words, the joy she felt knowing and seeing this man who allows her to go to school. She smiled and watched me intently, but was not shy about showing how much she cared through a number of hugs. After some family photos in the modest yard space near the road, we left and walked back up the hill to the church.

As we walked, this advocate couldn’t help but sense an enormous gratitude for having the resources to make this trip; to see and meet these precious children and their families. To just be, and learn in real time, in real places, what their life is like. How the modest money advocacy brings makes such a difference in their impoverishment.

The impact of this advocate’s visit goes well beyond these beautifully loving chances to engage in the lives of the children. In part two, coming the end of September, we continue to explore a myriad of ways advocate visits are an important part of truly meaningful and spiritual connection of two cultures but one heart.

-Tom, advocate since 2017