I have always had a heart for Africa. When my husband Joel and I met while students at TWU, our desire to serve in Africa was one of the things that drew us to each other. Both us of had previous experiences serving in Africa: Joel in Uganda, and myself in Zambia. I went into nursing and Joel went into education with the hopes of using our skills overseas. We fitted ourselves with tools in order to be so-called “tentmakers.”
Well, God had different plans for us. After we got married, our first question to the Lord was, “Ok, when do you want us to sell everything and go?” But I’ve found over the years that, “In his heart a man plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps” (Proverbs 16:9). We’ve spent the last eleven years living a pretty “normal” life, only five minutes from TWU. We kept asking the Lord, “When do we get to go somewhere? Live the dreams that You have given us?” In answer to this prayer, we kept hearing the Lord tell us “plant.” In fact, early on in our marriage He gave us a specific passage from Ecclesiastes 3: “To everything there is a season…. a time to plant, and a time to uproot.” So we planted. We found jobs, plugged into a local church, bought a home, and had three babies (not all at once). We got involved in our community, and lived by the maxim “Be missionaries in your own backyard.” We knew that if we weren’t serving God where we were, we wouldn’t serve God “over there.”
So needless to say, we were beyond excited when the Lord called us to travel to Rwanda this August to work with The Wellspring Foundation for Education. Our heart for Africa and our willingness to go was finally in action. We have known about Wellspring for many years, as it was founded by fellow TWU alums, and we have been involved in funding it from Canada. And the chance to visit their work in Rwanda came at a time when everything lined up for us – our church had started a partnership with Wellspring and wanted to send a team, Joel had just finished his Masters of Education, I was done having babies, and people were actually willing to take our kids for two weeks while we were away.
I could go on and on about the amazing work that Wellspring is doing in Rwanda. And I could tell you endless stories about our experiences. But I want to focus on a story that has stuck with me, a story that has reminded me of God’s Great Story of forgiveness and grace.
Our hosts in Rwanda were an amazing couple named Nicholas and Elsie Hitimana. The picture above is of Nicholas and Elsie with my husband Joel and I. When you meet Elsie today, she is a beautiful, outspoken and humorous lady –the light of God shines in her – but her past has been dark.
Many of you will know about Rwanda’s history, and know of the 1994 genocide. In April 1994, a genocide broke out in which neighbors turned against neighbors, and over one million people were killed over the course of 100 days, including men, women and children. Elsie was one whose life was greatly threatened. In May of 1994, Nicholas and Elsie fled the country with their one-year-old son, eventually becoming refugees in Scotland. Elsie tells of when they first landed in Scotland and she thought they were speaking Italian. She did not know any English and said to Nicholas, “These people are speaking Italian, Nicholas!” Nicholas and Elsie spent six years in Scotland, where Nicholas obtained his PhD, and of course, they both learned English.
In 2001 God called them to move back to Rwanda. Elsie affirms that it was God who called them, because Elsie admits she didn’t want to go back to Rwanda. During the genocide, 60 of her family members, including her parents, were killed. Her own life had been threatened many times. You can imagine the trauma that comes with all of this. But God changed her heart and enabled her to not only go back to Rwanda, but to live among her neighbors once again, including the neighbors who knew of or had been involved in the looting and killing of her parents and their home. Elsie could have chosen to live in anger and fear; instead she chooses forgiveness and reconciliation. Elsie remarks, “Forgiveness is not for once. You must renew it.”
Not only has Elsie forgiven, she has gone on to establish ways to help others in need. There are several ministries Nicholas and Elsie have established in order to reach out to their community. Within Kigali, the capital city, Elsie noticed that some of her neighbors were unmarried women with babies. After befriending them she became aware that they were forced to engaging in prostitution for their livelihood. Her heart broke. She responded by gathering them together to mentor and disciple them, as well as providing them with sewing machines and training them in sewing skills so that they could get off of the streets.
Further, Elsie and her husband Nicholas were key players in establishing The Wellspring Foundation for Education. When they returned to Rwanda they saw a huge need for quality Christian education for their own children. They became founding partners and continue to be heavily involved with Wellspring today.
Joel and I continue to look into more ways that we can partner with the amazing work happening in Rwanda. We know that God is redeeming the country, and we have loved being a part of this redemption. We have seen that the people of Rwanda have been to hell and back. Today they are beautiful people who are learning to love and live again. We look forward to seeing how God uses The Wellspring Foundation for Education in the years ahead and how His Great Story of forgiveness and grace continues to unfold in Rwanda.
Amy (Means) Olson (‘04) and her husband Joel (’04, ’05) live in Langley with their three kids.