Driving from Kigali towards Musanze, I grab the handrail as the tattered jeep sends us air born in our seats, hitting every pothole along the way. I spot a waterfall and ask Emmanuel, the driver, to pull over to take pictures.
Excited, I jump out of the vehicle to capture the perfect shot. Suddenly we are surrounded by children who appear out of nowhere, peering up at us with beautiful white smiles from ear to ear. Delighted to see Americans, they clammer with words not understood. Thankfully, Emmanuel is Rwandese and translates.
Emmanuel says, “The children are thanking you for visiting their country of Rwanda. They are also asking if you have any pencils to give to them.”
I say, “Wait, these little kids are thanking us for just visiting their country. Are you serious? That is unbelievable! I’m sorry. Why are they asking for pencils of all things?”
“They can’t go to school if they don’t have pencils to write with during class,” says Emmanuel with a matter-of-fact tone.
My heart broke in two again. Holding back the tears, I start scouring my backpack for pencils and find three pens but no pencils. I hold out the pens, and the children jump up and down, screaming as if I just handed them the Christmas toy of the year. Astonished, I hunt the jeep looking for more pens or pencils on the floorboards, compartments, and crevasses, desperate to find their golden ticket of opportunity out of poverty.
I find a few more pens, and they quickly disappear among the eager opportunistic learners. I cannot believe my eyes. Among approximately twenty-five children from ages five to fifteen, not a single child asked for money, food, or anything other than a pencil.
I did not want to leave these Spirit-filled children. Their eyes were full of wonder, joy, and gratitude. Yes, they expressed genuine thankfulness. It is by far the most remarkable example of thanksgiving that I have personally witnessed. I realized in that split-second moment that they had more than me. Before you stop reading or roast me on a skewer, let me explain.
That day, I met beloved children of God living in mud huts on the mountainside of the flowing waterfall we stopped to admire. They live in extreme poverty without running water and electricity.
Here is what I learned:
- Are they depressed? NO
- Are they sitting around having a pity party about how bad things are NO
- Are they sad about not having the latest mobile phone or designer clothes? NO
- Is life extremely hard for them? YES
- Are they at risk of not eating every day? YES
- Are they looking for a better life? YES
- Are they willing to work and seize opportunities to get it? YES
- Are they willing to ask strangers for the tools that will safeguard their opportunity and gain more knowledge above all else? YES
If I live to be a hundred, I will never forget that day with the children who had more than me. They knew God’s ultimate gift, His heart, and His wisdom. God’s treasure, the knowledge of His Word, is far superior to any gold bar, precious jewel, or Mercedes Benz.
How do I know for sure that these children held God’s treasure? First, they thanked us for visiting their country. They know God’s principle of giving before receiving. It flows from their lips as natural as “Hello.”
With hearts of gratitude, aligned with joy, and humility, they politely ask strangers for the resources needed to earn a better life. They give thanks first and then seek knowledge above all earthly things. This behavior only comes from knowing the heart of God and His ways.
Leaving them behind, watching them wave feverishly in the rear-view mirror within a cloud of dust, I felt humbled, inadequate, blessed, and overjoyed at the same time.
Arriving in Musanze, I spot a small store with a bold sign advertising BIC pens. We stop to buy several boxes to deliver to the children on our return to Kigali.
On this Thanksgiving season in 2020, there are many justifiable reasons to feel sad and discouraged. I get it. When this creeps into my day, I recall the memory of the waterfall children racing down the mountainside filled with gratitude, joy, and hope for a better tomorrow with an empty belly.
In everything give thanks; for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus.1 Thessalonians 5:18
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