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On having their hearts captured

Preparing the latest group of missionaries for to Rwanda this week, Elmira’s Paul Atkinson imparts a simple message, learned firsthand.
“You will leave part of your heart in Rwanda and you will want to go back.”
A former teacher and administrator with the Waterloo Region District School Board, including a stint at Elmira District Secondary School, Atkinson and his wife Marlene have become leaders with their church, Waterloo Mennonite Brethren and its partner organization, International Team’s Impact Rwanda Program.
The program, Atkinson explained, is focused on helping orphans and youth living on the streets and in poverty by offering food, shelter and educational opportunities.
“We strongly believe that education is a key that empowers young people and not-so-young people to change the circumstances of their lives,” he said. “To build the self confidence to say, I can do something different than living on the street, or in very poor conditions. I can learn, I can work hard, I can do these things.”
On July 22, six women – Anne Liesemer of Maryhill, Alison Feuerwerker, Michelle Burkholder, Shelly Donald, Laura Velilla and Betty Neufeld of Waterloo – travelled to Rwanda for a two-and-a-half-week trip.
There, the group is taking part in the missionary work headed up by Elmira native Jennifer Kamari and her husband Serge Kamari.
“The team will be working with the young people in the church that Jen and Serge were apart of starting,” Atkinson said. “They will be doing a vacation bible school for those children, and we estimate that there will be about 50. In the second week, they will be going to the Kaziba refugee camp, which is about a three and a half, to four hour drive from Kigali, the capital of Rwanda. And they will be working in the refugee camp with a youth ministry group and they will be involved in helping children in the library that was recently built by International Teams.”
The Atkinson’s passion for Rwanda began with a mission trip in 2005, encouraged by Jennifer Kamari. They quickly fell in love with the people, and have made regular trips back each year since.
“There is something that happens when you go and you work alongside the people that Jen and Serge work with and you go with willingness to do whatever it is they ask you to do,” Atkinson said. “We never send a team with the attitude that, ‘now we’ve got the idea for you, and if you do this, you’ll just live happily ever after.’ We don’t know enough about their life circumstances, their culture, or the reality of their government. We go to walk alongside with them, to hea r their stories and to ask questions like, ‘what are you wanting to achieve?’ and ‘what can people like us, who come once every year, or every two years, how can we support you in what you want to do?’”
To support the cause, the Atkinsons and members of the WMB participate each year in the Ride for Refuge, often raising enough money to rank among the region’s top 10 groups.
For more information, visit International Team’s Canadian website at iteams.ca.

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