While I was in Rwanda recently, one of my goals was to complete one-on-one interviews with all of our fifth graders. I wanted to assess their language skills through conversation. I also wanted to learn about their home life and their interests, and to get to know each one of them as unique individuals. I jotted down a few questions to ask each one, and scheduled afternoon meetings with their teacher.

A strange thing happened. I wasn’t very far into the one-on-one interviews, when I began to notice a trend. I began to hear references to a specific individual. Several of the students referred to “Sam” and how much they wanted to see Sam again.  They even talked about wanting to visit Sam one day in America. I wondered to myself, “Who is this mysterious Sam?”

When the interviews were complete, I had a chance to sit down with Susan, the founder of Hope Haven Rwanda, and ask about this enigmatic “Sam.” Susan immediately knew who the kids were talking about and she began to tell me more.

First, I learned that Sam is short for Samantha. Okay, that makes sense. But, why were the students so attracted to her? As I began to unravel the mystery, I discovered that Sam first visited Hope Haven Rwanda in 2014, while she was still in high school. She continued to visit Hope Haven four years in a row, and has already scheduled her fifth trip. I uncovered that each one of her visits were marked with compassion in the way she played with our students, listened to their stories and demonstrated Christ’s love to them.

I don’t know exactly what Sam’s magic sauce is, but it is clear that she has deeply impacted several students in a way that leads them to say that she is the #1 person in the world that they want to visit! Wow! Think about that. That’s powerful! Rwandan students who yearn to see Sam again, no matter where she is in the world!

It reminds me of the way that Paul encouraged Philemon. Saint Paul wrote about fondly remembering Philemon in his prayers, and said that his prayers filled with thanksgiving. Then Paul continues: “Your love has given me great joy and encouragement, because you, brother, have refreshed the hearts of the Lord’s people” (Philemon 7).

What a wonderful reminder that our simple presence, our compassionate concern, and our willingness to listen to others actually “refreshes the heart.” I would argue that this type of relationship is mutually beneficial—refreshing our hearts and their hearts!

Sam, I am thankful for you this Thanksgiving season. Thank you for reaching out to our students in love and sharing the hope of Jesus with them. They can’t wait to see you again!