By Starrla Cray
HOWARD LAKE, WAVERLY, WINSTED, MN Diana Lorentz’ mission trip to Rwanda was brimming with unexpected twists, unavoidable heartbreak, and inexplicable joy.
“God just did a lot of really cool things there,” said Lorentz, a 2007 graduate of Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted High School.
Lorentz and a group of students from Crossroads College in Rochester spent July 11 through Aug. 3 at Gisimba Orphanage in Kigali, Rwanda, and in nearby African villages, teaching the word of God in a vacation Bible school (VBS) format.
“They were so excited to learn about the Bible and to learn English,” Lorentz said.
One of Lorentz’s friends from college, Alex Nsengimana, helped organize the trip. He had grown up in the African orphanage, and wanted to do mission work in his home village.
The first week, Lorentz and the other students spent time learning about the history and culture of Rwanda. They visited the Hotel Des Mille Collines, and the Kigali Genocide Memorial Centre.
The genocide memorial was “really, really intense,” according to Lorentz. It featured thousands of photos of children who had been murdered, along with the stories of their lives.
“That was really hard to see,” Lorentz said.
Visiting the orphanage in Kilgali, Rwanda, was also an emotional experience.
“It was definitely heartbreaking to see how people live there and how much we take for granted here,” Lorentz said.
A change in plans
Originally, the group had planned for a five-day VBS at the orphanage the second week of the trip. However, they were given incorrect school schedule information, and had to wait for the following week.
“When we got there, we had to scrap all our plans,” Lorentz said.
They went to a nearby village first, where they were expecting about 200 children. Instead, about 1,000 children showed up.
“Our vehicle just got swamped with kids,” Lorentz laughed. Many of the people weren’t used to seeing vehicles or white people.
They would exclaim “the white person” in their own language whenever Lorentz and her group showed up.
One afternoon, Lorentz and the other students went on an African safari about three hours from the village.
“There were kids yelling at us, so the driver slowed down,” she said. “We found out that they wanted our empty water bottles, so that they could fill them up with water at their school.”
Lorentz said it was sad to see children who have hardly any material possessions.
“They wanted our garbage,” she said.
Lorentz’s heart went out to all the children she met, especially the ones in her VBS group at the orphanage.
“I got really attached to my kids right away,” she said. Throughout the week, the children eagerly asked questions about Jesus’ love and forgiveness.
“We could see the Holy Spirit at work,” Lorentz said. “It was very, very touching.”
One day, the children learned that Jesus is the “bread of life.”
“A leader asked them what they had for breakfast, and ninety percent of them said they just had water,” Lorentz said.
Even though their clothes were ratty and they had holes in their shoes, the children were still happy.
“They were the most joyful kids I have ever seen,” Lorentz said. “They didn’t get caught up in material things.”
The young girls in Lorentz’s VBS group loved playing hand-clapping games and dancing with her, she said.
“They took me into a classroom and danced for me,” she said. “In their culture, they do that to honor someone.”
While the girls were dancing, a guy came in and told Lorentz that a child was unconscious outside. Lorentz, who is studying to be a nurse, helped the girl to a nearby village clinic.
Thankfully, the child had regained consciousness and was going to be fine, but the excitement wasn’t over for Lorentz.
“As I step into the hall, this lady grabs my arm and pulls me into a room with all these people,” Lorentz. “She took me into the corner, and I was terrified.”
However, Lorentz quickly found out that the woman simply wanted Lorentz to see her 2-month-old son.
“She asked for biscuits, but I didn’t have any with me,” Lorentz said.
Later that day, the woman found Lorentz again, and this time, Lorentz was able to give her biscuits they had left on the bus.
Before going to Africa, Lorentz had done mission trips in Dallas, TX and South Dakota, but this was her first time in a third-world country.
“It puts things in perspective,” she said. “I didn’t really experience much culture shock going there, but coming back to the states was just mind-blowing.”
It was strange getting used to working toilets and having access to almost any kind of food, she said.
“We’re such an industrialized nation,” she said. “People there had pick axes, and they’d be in the hot sun all day, earning $2 a day.”
The trip helped Lorentz focus on the important things in life, without getting so caught up in small problems.
“People complain about road construction here, but our worst roads are probably way better than their best ones,” she said.
When she’s done with nursing school, Lorentz hopes to go back to Africa to work in the village clinic for a few months.
“I would encourage everyone to do a trip,” she said. “It doesn’t have to be a third-world country.”
Lorentz said she is grateful for all of the community members and local churches that supported her group on the mission.
“It would not have been possible without them,” she said.
To learn more about the Kigali Genocide Memorial Centre, go to www.kigalimemorialcentre.org.