by Kevin Tordoff
“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me.” On the surface, this common playground adage makes sense, but any victim of name-calling or bullying knows how words can cause pain long after they’re spoken. No one chooses to have a negative label attached to them, a moniker that identifies them as an outcast.
I was reminded of the power of names spoken over us on a recent trip to Gihindamuyaga, Rwanda, a community several hours south of the capital city of Kigali. Traversing the country provided unending views of the undulating hills Rwanda is known for, showcasing the prudent use of land for agricultural purposes. I had long heard from colleagues how much of a jewel this country is, and my visit did not disappoint. The hard-fought progress Rwanda has made since the horrific genocide of the mid-1990s is visible in many ways.
Once in Gihindamuyaga, a dusty red path led our team to a local church that partners with HOPE Rwanda’s savings and credit association work. The church didn’t just roll out the red carpet—they raised it! As our team entered the church, we walked under a 30-foot-long bright red fabric canopy held aloft by choir members. Inside the church, vibrant worship resounded and dancing ensued. In time, the congregation dispersed, and the savings groups left to conduct their meetings in various locations around the church.
One of the groups was composed of 15 families, each with at least one member who was blind. While I had read inspiring stories in the past of group members without sight, I had never heard of a group comprised entirely of families who had members that were blind. This group named themselves Twisungane, meaning “supportive” or “let’s help each other.”
Alphonse, the group’s president, is a slight man with pronounced facial features that radiate joy as he speaks. He sang enthusiastically in the choir, and now he stood to lead the group. With his Braille Bible clutched under one arm, he led the group through HOPE’s 5W’s meeting methodology: welcome, worship, Word, work, and wrap-up.
In the beginning, group members saved 3,500 Rwandan francs (RF), the equivalent of $4.78. They planted a small kitchen garden with leafy and root vegetables for each member. As the group’s savings continued to grow to 60,000 RF ($81.98), they progressed to buying a rabbit and then a pig.
Alphonse, blind himself, recalled re-educating members that blind people are capable of doing something. Rather than begging, their skills and abilities can be used for gardening, housecleaning, and tending to animals.
According to Alphonse, members of the group no longer identify with society’s labels of “disabled” or “beggar.” Now, they have a new name: “savings group members,” reflecting their community, belonging, connectedness, and dignity.
I couldn’t help but think of the many times in Scripture when names were changed to reflect a new relationship or covenant with God: Abraham, Sarah, Israel, and many others. In each case, the name change reflected a new creation—the shedding of a darkened past and the promise of future potential. Alphonse and his fellow group members have moved away from society’s name-calling of beggar, and they have been given a name worthy of their image in God.
Kevin Tordoff led HOPE’s marketing team from 2008 to 2019. Prior to joining HOPE, he spent 15 years in the premium sporting goods industry. A graduate of Gordon College, Kevin holds a B.A. in business administration, as well as an MBA from Crown College. Kevin and his wife, Sue, have three children: Luke, Kaitlyn, and Hannah.