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Posted by Lauren Franco

A team of women leaders from Saddleback recently took a PEACE trip to Rwanda to serve local churches with the Orphan Care and HIV&AIDS Initiative. We asked the team to share their experiences from the trip. Lauren Franco, a student leader in our College Age Ministry and Women's Communities Intern, offers a glimpse into what God is teaching her through the experience of serving in Rwanda:


The Hidden Beauty of Suffering

Rwanda was absolutely beautiful. Thousands of hills, rich with a green I'd never seen before. People warm and intelligent and joyful in such a way that embodies the Lord's own joy. Yet as beautiful as Rwanda is, I'm reminded that it's only a taste of God's glory. I'm reminded how small I am compared to His creation, and how all of the hills in Rwanda and stars in the sky, pale in comparison to how brightly He shines.

I learned of God's own heart. That was probably the most painful of all. But I asked Him to do it. To help me see and feel and hear how He does, and when you ask Him this, the answer is never without pain. Because Jesus suffered. We are called into a "fellowship of His sufferings" (Phil. 3:10), which, by nature of the name, is painful. At one point, I remember running to my room knowing if I didn't make it in time I would burst. Flinging open the door I fell to my knees, weeping in a way I never have before. I got angry. I didn't understand why He'd put His children through this pain. The kind of pain that is chronic, and unending, and irreconcilable. And what I was experiencing was only a taste. My heart broke for the nation that suffered a genocide so horrific that it is largely unspeakable, and left orphans, disease, and unimaginable loss in it's wake. It broke for the woman raped and beaten and left for dead that our team went to meet, who also contracted HIV/AIDS from the horrific incident. It broke for the grandmother single-handedly raising a grandchild who will be displaced from her home this week. It breaks again and again for stories that are not mine, yet somehow I share in because we're called to share in the fellowship of suffering, and weep with those who weep.

I suppose the only thing I can do to try to understand the genocide, and God's hand in any of it, is how clearly He's seen in suffering. Light needs darkness to shine right? Who do we draw near to when the bottom falls out of our world? Who is the only one large enough to cling to? And when we walk with another person through that suffering, God's love is seen. 

As Kay Warren so eloquently puts it "Deliberately choosing to enter into the experience of a fellow human being sets the stage for God to make an entrance."

And despite all the devastation and heartache, Rwanda now is an example to the world. The most forgiving, and joyful body I've ever seen, now stands not only in place of the wreckage and brokenness, but because of it. I have no doubt that God uses Rwanda to exemplify His unexplainable and unwarranted forgiveness. Grace seeps into every crevice of this country, and should push us to set aside denomination, and take up unity, let go of differences and take on love, and give pain up to God and take on joy instead.

He is near to the broken-hearted. And at times, when we ourselves are weak and vulnerable, broken as well, that's ok. It's okay to feel small and inadequate if it reminds us how big God is

Resilience & Revival

Something else that God spoke clearly to me was to "shed your light-hearted faith, and take up a resilient one." Stop picking and choosing what I like about Jesus, what I want to do or who I want to serve here on earth, and instead dive into ministry the way He did. In the trenches, on the front lines, resilience to me resembles armor. The kind of faith that can take a hit. That can take a sword and a battle and the hardest fights. It is beaten but it still stands. I don’t desire for anything in my life to be light-hearted. That implies a surface level attachment. An unwillingness to delve deeper, and go further. The need to stay light and happy in all things. That’s not what God longs for from us either. Jesus’ excruciating death on the cross was not light-hearted. He was resilient up there. Resilient and determined to keep faith in the Father despite what was thrown at Him. 

Maybe this rings true for you too, but I’m hungry for a revival. A revival of my own faith, to be the kind of resilient He so blatantly called me into, and a revival of the American church. More dependency on God, less emphasis on material, and more fire to grow the Kingdom. I heard the word “revival” more times than I can count on this trip, and the word still rings. There is hurt in the world, and yet we have the most powerful weapon on Earth. The church is powerful. When it's ignited, when it's active, it conquers problems. We are the church. It's not a building, and it's most certainly not confined to four walls and Sunday. We saw an active church in Rwanda, a church that is caring for the sick in their community, is mobilized to adopt and is clearing out orphanages, getting kids off the street, and being the very hands and feet of Jesus. That's what I crave for this generation of the church all over the world. Rwanda has pushed me out of blindness and into the harsh light of reality. When God shows us something I suppose we have choice of what to make of it, but we can never again claim we did not know. 

You can help empower the local church in Rwanda with tools and training to impact their communities and empty orphanages. If you would like to go on an Orphan Care or HIV/AIDS PEACE trip, email us at orphans@saddleback.com or call the Orphan Care and HIV/AIDS line at 949-609-8555.



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