The Love 41 Story
The 1994 Rwandan genocide took the lives of over one million men, women and children in less than 90 days, and displaced millions more from their homes almost overnight. The entire population of Rwanda, a little African nation just smaller than Maryland, was nearly wiped out, and for 100 days of slaughter the rest of the world turned a blind eye to Rwanda's suffering. When the genocide was eventually stopped from within, it had left the region irreparably damaged.
Like many Americans, Suzette Munson had heard of the tragedy, but when she was invited to visit Rwanda in the summer of 2010 by Africa New Life Ministries, she found nothing could have prepared her for the absolute devastation she experienced. The heart wrenching stories of books like "Left to Tell," and films like "Hotel Rwanda," seemed light in comparison.
She saw boys sniffing glue to dull hunger pains, and met women forced into prostitution by necessity to feed their children. She cried with young men traumatized by the torture of being forced to watch their parents killed or mutilated. Each story shed light on the reality of a people still suffering. It would arrest anyone's heart.
When she returned home five weeks later, Suzette was still consumed by the stories and people of Rwanda. There were so many children longing for someone to love them. Something had to be done, and she knew she had the ability to help. There was no choice.
Suzette always had a knack for fashion. As a young girl, she would dress her friends up and advise them on how to coordinate outfits. While praying about how she could help the people of Rwanda, her old talents came to mind, like a light bulb in her mind. She decided to start an online retail business where 100% of the profits would support the work of Africa New Life Ministries, where she now sponsored two young men whose lives had been torn apart by genocide. Her heart was broken for these boys, yet she was filled with joy at the opportunity to use her God-given gifts to help many more.
Just five months following her trip, Suzette and her husband Dave returned to Rwanda to lead a team from Austin, Texas. On a bus ride to a local refugee camp, a few women noticed Suzette’s bent spoon necklace, a prototype design for her new business. She excitedly shared her business idea, and how she had been praying to God for the right name.
As she explained that phrases such as ‘Love One’ and ‘Love for One’ had come to mind, a man nearby asked, “Did you say love four one? I wonder what Psalm 41 says.” He pulled the chapter up on his phone and began to read:
“Blessed is he who considers the poor; the LORD will deliver him in time of trouble. The LORD will preserve him and keep him alive, and he will be blessed on the earth; You will not deliver him to the will of his enemies. The Lord will strengthen him on his bed of illness, You will sustain him on his sickbed.” Psalm 41:1-3 (NKJV)
And that was it. Like her decision to help, there was no other option. As the man read the verses aloud, God had confirmed a name, and Suzette knew she was one step further on her journey to change lives with ‘Love 41.'
My sister, Tina, is six years older than me. Growing up, I was that pain in the butt little sister who always wanted to be like her, dress like her, and dance like her (looking back, I have no idea why I wanted to dance like her!). We were poor, but happy in our modest home. We shared a room and I can remember going to bed at night and singing as loudly as possible into the fan in our room to drown out the sound of rats scurrying around on top of the washing machine, just a few feet away. While we spent a lot of time together, Tina and I weren’t very close growing up. This all changed after my father's first open heart surgery in 1989.
At that time, Tina was married and living in Germany and invited me to live with her; I told her after dad was better I would. Three months later I was on a plane with everything I could stuff in my suitcase. Since then, Tina and I have been as close as two sisters could ever be, and I love our relationship. Of course, I’ll never forget how she used to read scary books to me at night so I wouldn't want to sleep with her, or how she used to look at her butt everyday in the mirror before school. I could go on, but you get the picture.
It didn’t take long to realize that if I wanted Love 41 to become a reality, I needed someone to come alongside me and not just anyone would do; I needed someone who had a heart similar to mine. My mind went straight to my sister, Tina. Not only is Tina a loving mother of seven and an amazing wife, but she also has a heart for others. She has always been compassionate and acts as the peacemaker in our family. Growing up I had to be spanked (which still didn’t work), but Tina only needed a “I’m disappointed in you, Tina” look, and she was in tears. I knew her heart and I knew she’d be perfect to join me in this adventure.
Together, we traveled to Africa where she, her husband, and youngest son, were able to meet their sponsored boy, Simon Peter. Tina’s life hasn’t been the same since, and neither has Simon Peter’s. I know Tina gets it - she’s experienced why Love 41 exists and I know she is fully committed to changing lives. Tina is such a go-getter and loves a challenge and I can count on her to get things done. We are very different, yet we have the same heart strings and I know she has as much of a desire to see Love 41 flourish as I do. Tina, thank you for all you’re doing for me, my family, and Love 41. God knew who to give me in order to keep me in line.