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twirling in Africa

    My best friend prayed for me before I left for Rwanda. She prayed that as I rode on the rollercoaster that the trip would be, I would always hold fast to God’s promise that he loves all of His children and wants to do His work through us.

    The first four days were high highs. Even in the midst of visiting the genocide memorial and a church where the killings took place (I haven’t even begun to process), in hearing about the amazing efforts IJM is making to stop child sexual abuse and in meeting and creating with the women at the co-op, there was profound hope. My heart felt open, not broken.

    And then came yesterday.

    It all started to weigh heavy on me.

    One of our translators – a good, good man who lost his wife 2 weeks ago to sickness – was ousted from his previous journalism career because he spoke his mind, is struggling to piece together odd jobs to provide schooling for his two daughters. He is bright and friendly, educated, intelligent and kind. And he can’t find work. It feels so unfair.


    We met a 14 year old IJM client who has endured the unthinkable – physical pain, mental trauma, rejection, hopelessness – and although she is a walking miracle, I just grieved for the suffering she has been through. It happened when she was 10. My oldest is 10. I can’t even imagine.


    I had the honor of visiting the home of one of the co-op partners, Solange.


    She is a genocide survivor, but lost all of her family. Her husband left her with 5 children, the oldest of whom is 23. Jean-Luc is his name. He is a high school graduate, was the president of his English language club and was so enjoyable to visit with. We sat in their small rental home (one living area with a bedroom they share. It was clean and open and despite the fact that it was a very poor house, I felt comfortable and at home. Their hospitality was inspiring). Jean-Luc, a translator and I had a long visit where we laughed and asked questions and got to learn more about each others’ countries. He is a sweet, handsome, smart young man. He wants to go to University, but he will need to pay his own way and can not find a job.


    Note: when I say he can not find a job, it literally means, there is no job for him. It’s not like he is being picky or lazy. There just are not enough jobs in Kigali. Not even for a bright, hard-working, goal-oriented man like my new friend Jean-Luc.

    Totally unfair.

    We have many of these same problems in America – violence, unemployment, corruption and coercion – but we have fairly functional systems that make dealing with the issues somewhat easier.  Welfare, unemployment benefits, legal representation, a developed justice system.

    The people of Rwanda do not have such luxuries. The government is doing all it can, but it is still in its infancy. Keep in mind that the country was absolutely destroyed 20 years ago after the genocide. They are starting over. Things are progressing, but not yet there. There is no unemployment, food bank, free public education, medical benefits.

    These are not issues I was passionate about 1 week ago. I knew nothing of the country of Rwanda other than a few facts about the genocide. I knew nothing of the people, the culture, the resiliency, the strong community, the hardships, injustices and need. Now that I know, I can not un-know.

    It all came to a crashing low yesterday. I felt like I just wanted to curl up in a ball in the corner and cry. Cry for the sadness. Grieve for the loss. I had to hold it together, but my heart was busting with emotion and I barely made it through the morning.

    One of the things I know about myself is that I am tender. I cry easily. I empathize with everyone. I am sensitive and emotional. So it’s no surprise that I fell apart. It was only a matter of time before all of the heaping stories of injustice caught up with me. So much hardship.

    But God didn’t let me stay there. He never does. He is a God of hope.


    Later in the afternoon, after the enjoyable visit with Jean-Luc and the sweet hospitality of Solange, we said our goodbyes. The neighborhoods here have the most amazing community feel, so all of the neighborhood children were out playing and interested in meeting the foreigners. We hadn’t been around a lot of children until this point, but playing with little ones is one of my greatest joys – I was so excited to see those sweet faces. Communicating with children who do not speak English is difficult, but the wonderful thing about children is that you don’t need language. Hand clapping games, Polaroid photos, hugs – they respond to it all.

    I’m not sure how it happened, but with 20 or so children gathered around me, we held hands and hopped. Hopping is universal, I supposed.


    So we hopped, saying the word hop each time.  Hop. Hop. Hop. 


    Their little accents made it sound more like another word: hope.

    With each jump, hope. Hope. Hope. Hope.


    And then we twirled.

    Twirling is my thing. Twirling is dancing, yes, but more importantly, it is just being who God made me to be. Sometimes it might look like crying with those in pain. Sometimes it is playing with children on a dusty dirt road. But always it is loving. Loving through tears, through creating, through helping wash beans or folding mounds of laundry at home. Through reading a book to my children or giving our money in support of organizations like IJM and Noonday.

    We can not solve all injustices and pain on our own. I can not give our translator a job or ensure that Jean-Luc has a future. I can not bathe every one of those babies and make sure they have a meal tonight.

    But I can love. Love in the best way I can at the moment.

    And sometimes that looks like twirling in Africa.


    (all stories and photos are used with permission. Photos by Paige Knudsen and Kelle Hampton)

    37 thoughts on “twirling in Africa”

    1. Oh how I could see and smell and hear everything you talked about. I went to Burundi in April and my heart is still wondering what to do with all the information, beauty and struggles we heard through testimonies at a sewing school. I feel like we know these things for a reason and that God knew that when His people from here come in contact with His people from there, for a little while the heart of the kingdom beats softly in unison.

    2. I love love loved the guernsey literary and potatoes peel society. Love. I also want to say I understand, I’ve already shared that but had to say it again. So glad to have you back!! Can’t wait t I read more! ( still mind boggling that all these blogs Ive followed for over five years are all linked. It’s a small small world. )

    3. Wow. What a post. Thank you so much for sharing. When I was in college we had a freshman seminar where we read and discussed several books, and one of them was “We Wish to Inform You that Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families.” It is a nonfiction book where the author interviewed several people about their experiences in Rwanda during the genocide. It changed my life, and I suggest anyone interested in learning more about what happened in terms of how everyday people experienced it, should read this book. I do have to warn that it’s a TOUGH read.

    4. God Bless you Emily and those who are ministering with you. IJM is making a great impact into the lives of the marginalized! Keep holding on to the One True Hope!

    5. I think this is my favorite post that you’ve ever written. :) Thank you so much for going and for sharing your stories and your heart!

    6. Just beautiful! I am so glad you were blessed with this trip, and I’m sure it has changed you in ways you probably don’t even realize yet. I pray that God keeps your heart soft and your thirst for loving others intense, even as you return to a country that makes it a bit harder. Thanks for sharing this wonderful adventure, Emily!

    7. beautiful, just beautiful. as soon as i saw the picture with everyone’s arms up overhead, i knew you were twirling, and tears came to my eyes. i’ll pray for you as you even begin to process this all. its overwhelming and you’ll want to push it out, but process through it all. hugs to you!

    8. Thank you for going and for sharing your journey with me. You can’t fix it, but your twirling helped. I’ll bet, right now, those kids are laughing, hopping, twirling and remembering the time spent with you.

      If I can help somebody, as I pass along,
      If I can cheer somebody, with a word or song,
      Then my living shall not be in vain. Alma Bazel Androzzo

      Mission accomplished! :)

    9. I’m in tears as I read this. I can’t imagine what it’s like experiencing any of it, but as you share your heart I too feel the pain & sadness. It’s truly inspiring to know there is HOPE. Hope for them, The Lord hears their cries. The world needs to know how much our God loves them! If only they would believe. But it’s through OUR love that they can experience just a taste. “Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in him.” (‭Psalm‬ ‭34‬:‭8‬ NIV)

      As you ladies are showing God’s love through this journey and working together, they will believe in the goodness of God. Thank you for all you’re doing there. It inspires me to be the woman God called me to be. Be blessed!

    10. What a moving post! Thanks for sharing your experiences in Africa. This is what life is all about and so glad you captured it. You are truly helping others in the rawest form of doing so and it makes me so proud to follow your blog. Thanks for representing most of us whom wish we could share the same support by physically being there. I love the part of your post which says you can’t bathe and feed every child, but you can love by twirling. I think that can apply to everyone; we may not be able to be in Africa, but we can show our support by love. You have opened eyes to many and to that I commend you! God bless you and have a safe trip home.

    11. Oh Emily! Hope is my word for the year. We all need to cling to this word don’t we?! When we adopted our daughter four years ago I experienced a grief similar to what you expressed here. One specific child in the orphanage had captured my heart. We colored in a coloring book together and she chatted away in Spanish, I didn’t understand it all and as the psychologist translated the deepest anguish enveloped me. She said, ” I want to go home with Graces mommy” . Yes we will never be the same because. Of our experiences, but that was Gods intention all along. Don’t you agree?! Much love to all of the beautiful ladies sharing the stories. We can make a difference!

    12. Oh, Emily, this is simply beautiful. I can hear you speaking it all from the depths of you. Your words, your heart heart wide open, the images…all of it is profound and lovely and so reflective of a hope that only God can give. Hope, hope, hope… my favorite!

    13. I came across your post as I was wrapping up today’s devotional at She Reads Truth. I wanted to chime in and say how striking it is to see the Lord moving within you ladies and IJM. What a beautiful experience and opportunity to serve Him and His children. Thank you for relaying what lies outside the realm of safety, comfort and stability here in the US. God bless you & all the ladies over there serving.

    14. thank you emily for this beautiful post. i never comment on here but have mentioned on IG (i’m kasewalker) to you that you are the way I found out about Noonday 2 years ago! a bracelet you were giving away led me to sweet Paige….and i’ve been an ambassador now for a year and a half. reading your words just brings me such joy. i love that you are having this experience there and are able to twirl with those children. And i’m certain that meeting people like Solange (whose smile can light up the world) and Jean-Luc will forever change you. maybe our paths will cross someday…i sure hope so! keep sharing your heart! xoxo

    15. Hopping, hoping, hopping, hoping. I love it and get it! I just returned from an orphanage in Thailand called Hope House. Lots of hopping, hoping children there that I can’t unknow.

    16. You are an amazing woman! Your Rwanda journey has been such an amazing read. You are doing such a wonderful job, giving love and hope and inspiration to the people there!

    17. Beautiful, Emily. I so get it – Two years ago, I spent 10 days in South Africa working in the squatter villages and churches there. The grief was overwhelming, but so was the joy. And you are right – now you can’t “unknow” and when you get home dealing with that is hard. You have to figure out how to process all of it and how to proceed because your life is forever changed. I am going to Uganda in August this year – and know that I will experience this all over again. Just so thankful that we serve a God who knows and it much bigger than all of us and all of this.

    18. What a beautifully written sharing of your heart. Thank you for sharing and reminding us how to hope and love right where were are. Praying for the remainder of your trip. What lovely people you have met and shared with us. Thank you!

    19. Beautiful! Just beautiful, keep Hopping & Twirling, it’s a great healing language. I am so proud of you for opening your heart!

    20. Oh Emily, again thank you for sharing your heart with all of us here. I too have a tender heart and have cried thru all yours and Paige’s posts this week. As you say, we can not fix everything, nor are we called to. But, what each of you are doing there is worthy and good. We all do what we can and sometimes the best is loving, hopping and twirling! Carry on!

    21. Wouaouh … incoyable, I would almost cried reading these lines. There is so much pain, suffering, and then so many hopes. Yes, I put an “s” to hope, because I think you’re right Emily! You must love this country, Rwanda, the continent of Africa and its people. Love them, tell them that this is not insensitive, we can actually solve everything … but love is to tell them that is just. Dance with them had to be amazing and you remember it very long … Still, no doubt. Congratulations to these great stories and photos. Welcome back. Carole

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