Extraordinary. It’s not a word many of us use often. We reserve it for people, times and places that are so exquisite, so set apart, that no other descriptor can carry their weight. As people, there’s nothing we love more than an extraordinary story. Ordinary people who rise up to become champions, superheroes or world leaders. Stories of strength, courage, hope and perseverance. Stories that allow us to dream about the possibilities of the seemingly impossible. Television, theater and books are full of these stories. But what does extraordinary look like in real life? And is it only reserved for the special few; the born-to-be-leaders, the trailblazers, the uniquely gifted?
Perhaps nowhere are these questions better answered than in Bugesera, Rwanda, where a small group of ordinary people are leading extraordinary lives, and where the power of their ‘Yes’ is transforming their community.
Four years ago, 25 men and women in Bugesera said ‘Yes’ to becoming outreach volunteers as part of World Relief’s new Outreach Group Initiative. Their mission? To take messages they’d learned at church out to the most vulnerable families in their community by visiting 10 households a week with scripturally based lessons on health, nutrition, savings and more. These selfless men and women dedicated their time to visiting suffering community members and broken families with messages of love, healing and hope. Little did they know that their example would transform the way World Relief works across much of Sub-Saharan Africa and Haiti, and pave the way for our programmatic impact to multiply in ways we never dreamed possible.
Today, the power and potential of our Outreach Group Initiative is unlike anything we’ve seen in nearly 75 years of our work around the world. Reaching hundreds of thousands of people across five countries, their impact is unmatched and their sustainability incomparable. Through mass mobilization, Outreach Groups have become inexpensive, self-sustaining vehicles for transformation, galvanizing a multiplication effect that costs just US $40–50 per life transformed.
In 2018 alone, we saw our outreach volunteer force increase by thousands, catalyzing holistic transformation across entire villages. What makes these groups, and these people, truly extraordinary is that they are not highly specialized social workers or health professionals—they are simply people saying ‘Yes’ to God and reaching out in love to their neighbors. Because of their faith in Christ, they commit their lives daily to a love, patience and perseverance that astounds and transforms. They say ‘Yes’ to acting as teachers, but more importantly, as friends, entering into a deep relational commitment with the lonely, most vulnerable and least loved in their communities. They don’t do this for a paycheck or for reputation, but because of their conviction and deep sense of calling. For some, they do it because they themselves were transformed by an outreach volunteer and because they know it’s through love and in relationship that lives are saved.
Outreach volunteers are ordinary people, doing extraordinary things in the name of Jesus.
Over the last few years, we have seen church volunteers say ‘Yes’ to walking hours each week to come alongside families as they repair broken relationships. We have seen beneficiaries say ‘Yes’ to opening their homes and hearts to church volunteers as they witness change in the lives of their friends and neighbors, and yearn to experience that same transformation. We have seen churches say ‘Yes’ to joining together in unity to expand their ministry of volunteers, reclaiming their roles as true agents of change and engaging with their communities in ways they’ve never done before. And in response to their faith, we have seen God move in extraordinary ways.
In Bugesera, Rwanda, 84% of households reported they had made changes in their spousal relationships as a result of the church volunteer visits, 96% reported changes in their relationships with their children, 91% purchased health insurance, 90% planted kitchen gardens to improve nutrition, and 100% adopted regular (4x weekly) washing and bathing practices for their children. Extraordinary, indeed.
Extraordinary stories begin with ordinary people like these Outreach Group volunteers in Bugesera. As we move into a new year, we’re taking our cue from them because they’re exactly the type of people we aim to be — ordinary people doing extraordinary things in the name of Jesus.
Extraordinary stories begin with a leap of faith, a journey into the unknown, a deep resolve and quiet courage. They begin when we open ourselves up to God’s leading and ask him to reveal a path. They begin with a small next step, and they begin with ‘Yes.’
What will your extraordinary yes be in 2020?
Francesca Albano currently serves as Director of Branded Content at World Relief. With a background in Cultural Anthropology and a graduate degree in Strategic Marketing Communications, she connects her interests in societal studies and global cultures with her training in brand strategy and storytelling. Francesca is especially passionate about grassroots community development and the treatment and advancement of women and girls around the world.