Ten weeks ago, Anna, Mark, and I relished one of those indescribable, thrilling experiences that serves as both a reward and a reminder of why we are here. It was our privilege to witness (and facilitate) a dramatic transformational change in the direction of the life of a very precious child, John Lambert.
I met John Lambert more than two years ago in a very remote village. I long believed that his name was “John Robert”. He believed that his name was “John Rombert" because in Kinyawanda "L's" and "R's" are considered interchangeable. After developing a very close friendship, we both ultimately discovered that his true name is "John Lambert" (... that is just his first name, so don’t grow tired of my use of it). It is pretty exciting to discover your real name. We will probably never discover his true age, which he states to be 14 or 15, but we believe 10 to be more likely.
John Lambert simply glows with love, joy, and charisma. Whenever possible, we love to introduce him to visitors, which delights both the visitors and him. When we introduced Tom & Linda Wilson (our visiting pastors/mentors) to John Lambert, they immediately volunteered to sponsor John Lambert's education at Sonrise School. It is difficult to capture the significance of the Wilson's gift to John Lambert. “Transformational” and “life-changing” is only the beginning.
We conducted a series of meetings to implement the Wilson's generous gift and prepare John Lambert. Then the day came for us to pick him from his village and transport him to Sonrise School. When we arrived in his village, there was great excitement in the air. Not a trace of fear or sadness in John Lambert or his family. Only joyful hope and pride. We asked John Lambert if he was ready to go. “Yes, I am ready”. Where is your bag with your things? “I have no bag, I have no things. I am ready to go to Sonrise School." John Lambert was well scrubbed and dressed in his best (hmmmm, his only) clothes. The shabby shoes were borrowed. One last wave to his family and many friends, and then off to Sonrise School,... but not before we took him out for his first restaurant meal, and first sight of a napkin, and his first taste of bread and butter, and many other “firsts”.
Many other "firsts" awaited John Lambert at Sonrise School: The use of electricity,... running water,... showers,... flushing, porcelain toilets,... his own bed with mattress and blankets,... many books, paper, and other educational resources,... a clock on the wall to offer greater precision than that big bright one that travels across the sky. Imagine standing with this precious child as he looks with great puzzlement at an analog wall clock and asks "What is this?" It was a bit too much for Anna and me to bear, as emotional paralysis welled up from awe and joy and the privilege of being part of this.
Well all of this is old, dated news that I did not have an opportunity to write back when it was current. And it is just prefatory to the current news that I bring to you:
Yesterday was “Visiting Day" at Sonrise School. (The very rigorous program at Sonrise allows for students to be visited by family and friends ONLY on “Visiting Day".) I have observed students suffer crushing disappointment when nobody visited them on “Visiting Day". Well, John Lambert was not about to suffer such disappointment. Yesterday morning I drove out to his village and packed 11, yes, 11 people into my car and we drove to Sonrise School for the formal and informal festivities of “Visiting Day". There is no doubt or debate: Of all the 600+ students, John Lambert received the most visitors. For the first part of the program the students stood and sang to the audience. But John Lambert's enormous grin and fixation on his visitors made it impossible for him to sing.
Soon thereafter John Lambert guided his family and friends to his classroom and introduced us to his teacher, and showed us his work. His teacher reviewed John Lambert's "marks" with us, including his perfect 100% in Kinyarwanda. The teacher explained that John Lambert (a mid-year transferee) is understandably struggling in some subjects, but he demonstrates extraordinary drive and intelligence, and he will surely soon catch up and rise to the top of the class.
That is a joy-filled report,... but there is more that is quite emotionally complex: The reaction, awe, and words John Lambert's former classmates from his village who I drove to visit him. In truth, they are all equally as bright and precious as John Lambert, and only God knows why it is John Lambert who was taken from such meager circumstances and sent to Rwanda’s equivalent Chadwick School, Pulaski Academy, Choate, or wherever, on a "Rhodes Scholarship." They all reacted the same, but I want to tell you about one boy, Theogene:
Theogene always appeared to be a bright, sparkly boy, just on the immediate periphery of our relationship with John Lambert and three others who we count as our own children. He has always been well groomed, articulate, and polite, something that I now realize was tragically misguiding. Last week I learned that Theogene is a “double orphan”. Both of his parents died when he was quite young. A grandfather (who may not be his real grandfather) allows Theogene to sleep in his mud hut, but that is all of the support Theogene gets from anyone.
Last week Theogene seemed uncharacteristically depressed and desperate. He simply HAD to talk to me, but I could hardly hear his words,... words that he could not find because of his limited English and overwhelming emotion. And then the tears came, which caused him great embarrassment and shame. But I soon learned, and later confirmed with multiple sources, that yes, Theogene is, in fact, a “double orphan”, who has no one to care for him. Rwanda now boasts a 9YBE (nine-year basic education) "for all", but whenTheogene moved on to “7th grade" in January and showed up for school each day, he was repeatedly turned away and sent home because he did not have 17,000 Rwf ($28) per term required to attend his most rudimentary public school. I attempted to encourage Theogene and impress upon him that he must never think that he has no father, because his Father in Heaven loves him very much. I pointed to scores of children who surrounded us and we acknowledged that God loves each and every one of them. However, God has a very special love for orphans, and in that sense Theogene is very fortunate. I promised Theogene that God will provide for him, and will never leave or forsake him. (By then we were both crying.) As of tomorrow, Theogene WILL be admitted in his local public school,... but that is another story for another time,... and that is no Sonrise School.
Yesterday Theogene was standing at my car as I was loading 10 people from the village go visit his good friend, John Lambert. There was no choice at all: It was now necessarily 11.
But I was not prepared for Theogene's reaction and words at the conclusion of the visit and tour of Sonrise School: Theogene told me: "Thank you. This is the favorite day of my life. I will never forget today for my whole life." Why? Because he had been allowed to see something beyond his imagination, and to see that his very good friend, John Lambert, was so happy,... was doing so well,... and was making (studying) his way out of grinding poverty. Why wasn't Theogene overwhelmed with envy, perhaps even bitterness? From where comes his capacity to simply “Rejoice with those who rejoice?"