Athletes for Hope … Loving on Congolese Refugees!

Athletes for Hope – May 2012

Play hard; pray hard; praise hard; love hard

After touring several genocide memorials and getting grounded in Rwanda, Athletes for Hope arrived in Gisenyi to work alongside Frère Gabriel Lauzon at Vision Jeunesse Nouvelle. The plan was to lend strong arms and backs to a work project that needes additional help. Little did we know that there would be a greater need.

War has broken out in neighboring country of DRC (Congo) and people are flocking to Rwanda, a land of stability and security. A refugee camp called Nkamira was established just a couple of weeks ago; set-up to accommodate 2,600 people, the compound is bulging at the seams to care for over 9,000. The majority of the refugees are mothers and children; the men were left to fend for themselves in the DRC.

Within two days of the refugees arriving in Rwanda, UNICEF contacted Vision Jeunesse Nouvelle (VJN) to help provide for the needs of the refugee youth. Like VJN, Hope Ethiopia/Rwanda’s mission is to empower youth and young adults. Knowing that our team, Athletes for Hope was coming, Frère Gabriel received approval for our team to help UNICEF with the children’s activities.

Having fled from their nation with only the clothes on their backs, these families have nothing. The people are homeless and scared. The children and youth have absolutely nothing to do and are stuck in a place of despair … at least until our team arrived.

Stepping off the bus on the first day was overwhelming; as the team members filed off the bus kids swarmed them! “Muzungu, muzungu, muzungu!” was their chant. This stirred the team to action … more action than usual! The energy was contagious! Balls, frisbees, bubbles, skipping ropes were produced and the games began! If the kids weren’t participating in “organized games” (as organized as it comes with thousands of children), they were hanging off every appendage of our team members! The team brought an unabashed love that exploded in joy.

The first day set the tone for the days to follow. As we drove to the entrance of Nkamira on the second day, the children saw us coming and ran from the opposite side of the camp to greet us. Let the games continue! The eager expectations were not disappointed; the team sprung into action and played hard. Interestingly, relationships were being forged very quickly; several individuals were asked if they would please stay at the camp, actually move in to the camp! During the previous night’s debrief we decided we would identify the young leaders and invite them to a gathering to encourage and build them up. Of course, inviting the leaders meant their followers would come also. At the end of the day hundreds of youth gathered on the hill to hear a message of hope and love. Three team members shared their testimonies: firstly, the story of Ethiopian refugee who is now flourishing in the safety of Canada; secondly, the story of an orphan who succumbed to addictions who is now thriving; and finally, the story of a Gambian who was raised by a Swedish foster mom. Each tale was one of victory; triumphing against the odds. What was the common denominator? Their faith; finding the love of God through Christ Jesus has saved them from themselves and their circumstances. The messages were powerfully encouraging!

On the third day and final day in Nkamira, though hearts were heavy knowing this was the last time they would see their new friends, the team members arrived eager to connect with individuals with whom they were forging relationships. The activities of the day were to be more intentional; connect with our friends, encourage them and pray for them. As one young man shared, “You didn’t just bring us a few balls and an opportunity play, you brought us hope and love. We have not seen that in the camp until you arrived.” This fellow revealed that our prayers had been answered.

We are humbled by the opportunity to bring the love of Christ to the refugee camp. We are humbled by the response of the people to the love we had to offer. “Perfect love drives out fear” (1 John 4:18)… we may not have loved perfectly, but we were so pleased to be able to offer what we could as we were empowered by the love of God and allowed that love to flow through us.

Our team left the camp brokenhearted; tears flowed as we drove away from the people we came to love and have such compassion for. We left transformed by our experiences there, by the interaction with these amazingly resilient people, and by our experiences of God loving people through us. What a blessed opportunity!

As we debriefed with the staff of Vision Jeunnesse Nouvelle, they were so pleased by the fact that we were able to bring faith, hope and love to this group of displaced people; these key factors were so lacking there. But by God’s grace and astounding love, He used a rag-tag group from Canada to facilitate this. How amazing is that?

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