June 11, 2016

What I Learned From the Saddest Face in Rwanda

Editor’s note: This is a follow-up story to Vanessa Rocha’s account, “The Saddest Face at My Evangelistic Meeting in Rwanda,” published on May 20.

The woman whose face was once the saddest was now the brightest.

Clementine’s interest only increased as the days passed, and I saw her intently writing notes from each sermon that I gave during the two weeks of evangelistic meetings at ESAPAG Adventist University in Gitwe, Rwanda.

You could see her conviction growing greater and greater. Her life was being transformed. It was visible in her eyes and in her smile.

My friendship with Clementine also grew strong. We committed to pray together every day so God would strengthen us and keep us faithful.

A few days into the second week of the May 13-28 meetings, Clementine came to me in tears.

“Vanessa, I must be rebaptized,” she said. “I just want Jesus to wash my sins away so they don’t weigh on me anymore. But people are calling me crazy! They say I don’t need to get rebaptized and that I’m making the wrong decision.”

I quickly prayed for discernment to provide the correct response. I replied: “Clementine, only you know what has been standing between you and God. If you have prayed sincerely and you believe it is He convicting you of this decision, I don't see why you can’t. You have to understand that this is a sacred ceremony. You are allowing Him to be the King of your heart.”

Clementine said she had only understood for the first time in her life what it meant to truly love God during the evangelistic meetings.

“The first time I was baptized I had no idea what I was getting myself into,” she said. “But now I am completely aware of what I must do. Now I know the sacredness of this commitment, and I believe Jesus is leading me into that watery grave.”

With tears in my eyes I replied, “Well then Clementine, move forward, and let no one stop you from doing what God has asked of you.”

She looked me in the eye. “Can I have your prayers for me?” she said.

We knelt together and asked the Lord for His blessings upon her decision of rebaptism.

What a joyous day that was for me! To see the fruit of preaching God’s Word.

Read also: The Saddest Face at My Evangelistic Meeting in Rwanda

Some of the 173 young people who were baptized at ESAPAG Adventist University on May 28.

Baptism Day

The last Friday quickly came. The evening meeting presented the final opportunity to make an appeal for baptism. I called everyone who would be baptized the next day to come to the front. A flood of young people descended on the platform. A total of 173 young people had decided to give their hearts to Jesus — and among them was Clementine. She had been the saddest face in the crowd at the beginning of the meetings. But now she had the brightest smile and the brightest eyes. How amazing it was to see the power of God transform so many lives.

Sabbath morning was one of my favorite Sabbaths in my 22 years! Clementine jumped out of the waters of baptism with a new song in her heart. She and a few friends had tears in their eyes as they exited the baptistery. You could see that their burdens had been taken away from them. They ran to their rooms to change and then raced back to the church to give me tight hugs.

“Today I claim Jesus' power over my life,” Clementine declared with a loud voice. “No longer will my life be the same!”

All those standing nearby said “Amen!” for they, too, had experienced the power of God in their lives.

Joy and peace filled the air as we later witnessed 1,500 people get baptized from surrounding churches. Heaven opened up for us as we talked about the transforming power of God upon His people.

That evening brought the moment that I had long dreaded. I was hesitant to preach the final message, not because of the message itself, but because it meant I had to say goodbye. The topic for that night was “Heaven.”

Tears flowed down my face as I looked into the crowd and saw my family, hearts that had now become one. We belonged to the family of God — the God whose one and only desire is to provide us with an eternal home with Him.

Painful Goodbyes

At the end of the meeting, local church leaders gave me the honor of handing out The Great Controversy by Adventist Church cofounder Ellen G. White to each person who had been baptized at my site. Clementine was the second to receive a copy of the book. She hugged me and said, “I don't want to let go.”

Pain filled my heart. The moment every missionary dreads the most is saying goodbye. The bonds that are formed on these occasions are the most intimate, the most lasting. It is the love of Christ that binds heart to heart.

Our meeting concluded with the hymn “God Be With You” and prayer. Soon after, Clementine and two friends grabbed me by the hand and took me to a room to pray and say our last goodbyes. We each prayed. Clementine spoke with words so profound that they struck a chord in my heart that rings to this day.

“Oh Lord, this pain is too much to bear,” she said. “I don’t want to let her go. I don’t want to say goodbye. God, my heart is hurting! Last year when I lost my father and my mother, my heart wasn’t this painful. I didn’t cry this much either. But I know why. It is because this friendship I have with Vanessa has been blessed by You! It is a heavenly bond and one that can never be broken.”

It was then that I realized with new meaning the reason why God had led me to Rwanda from my home to the U.S. state of Texas.

A short time later, a car arrived to take me away.

As the car waited, one of Clementine’s friends took me aside.

“What Clementine said is true,” she said. “First, she said she didn’t cry this much when she lost her parents. I was with her when that happened, and I never saw her cry this much. Second, the ties that we have formed with you are ties that can never be broken. We love you from the very bottom of our hearts. Thank you so much for listening to Jesus when He told you to come to us.”

Getting into that car was the hardest thing I have ever done. I was literally leaving a piece of me in Rwanda.

Being a real missionary doesn’t mean giving up hot water for showers. It doesn’t mean leaving the comforts of home or sacrificing a summer vacation. Being a missionary — whether in a foreign land or in your own neighborhood — means loving others relentlessly just as Jesus loves. Being a missionary means gaining a foretaste of heaven. This is life!

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