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Washington Voices

Mom joining ministry in Rwanda, taking kids with her

Heather Bennett’s new job comes with a lot of change. It’s in a different country on another continent, in a different business and she’ll be surrounded by people who speak many different languages. Not to mention that she has to raise funds to pay her own salary.

If everything goes according to plan, then Bennett, whose last job was as the small business growth program manager at Greater Spokane Incorporated, will be starting her new job as communications manager for the ministry ERM-Rwanda by February. Her two children will come with her, and the family plans to stay in Rwanda for at least two years.

“I’ve had Africa in my heart since I was very young,” Bennett said.

It was the tragedy of losing her husband, James Bennett, to brain cancer in January 2012 that put Bennett on the path to Rwanda.

During her husband’s illness she experienced an incredible outpouring of love and support from members of her church, a love and support she now wants to pass on to other people.

“I want to care for other people like I was cared for,” Bennett said. “I started praying about it. I said, Lord, send me; I want to go help others.”

At a missionary conference about a year ago she made contact with the program in Rwanda, and last summer she went on what she calls a three-week vision trip there, to see if it was the right place for her to live and work. She found that she could easily relate to the many young widows she met.

“We are coming up on the 20th anniversary of the genocide in April,” Bennett said. “The orphans are now teenagers and young adults but they’ve never had any family.” She said she stopped asking Rwandans about their family because the stories were often immensely painful to share.

“It was lost in mainstream media that the genocide was neighbors killing neighbors,” Bennett said. “Some survived because they were left for dead. Some watched their entire family being killed.”

ERM – which stands for Equipping, Restoring and Multiplying – provides basic schooling and specific job training that allows widows and orphans to start businesses.

“After nine months of school you can start a business as a barber,” Bennett said. “That’s how you help people help themselves.”

Rwandan widows have started co-ops and taken in orphans they found wandering in deserted villages.

“I met one widow who had four children and she took in four other children,” Bennett said. “I want to help them.”

Bennett will be responsible for sharing the stories of the people in ERM’s ministry with partners and financial supporters back in the United States, as well as running the organization’s Facebook and Twitter accounts.

Bennett continues to pray for donations to cover the living expenses of her and her children, Jake, 10, and Lizzy, 8. A two-year stay will cost more than $100,000, most of which has already been donated, including the $7,000 it will cost to get the Bennetts to Rwanda.

“I’m excited. I want to go do God’s work,” Bennett said. “I want to be the hands and feet of Jesus.”