Tina has the most beautiful heart I have ever witnessed, and an extremely kind and loving soul. I met Tina in Gisenyi in 2012 through a friend of a friend. We had both worked on programs in the same orphanage but our paths had never crossed. Having never met me before, she kindly invited me for coffee at her home and I graciously accepted. I learned that while Tina was volunteering a little boy had been left at the orphanage gates, Tina instantly fell in love with this little boy, now known as Moses and decided that since foreign adoption was not possible, she would move to Rwanda and foster him. I was floored by her selfless and brave act. It’s one thing to come to Rwanda a few times a year to work on different projects, stay for three months or even six months, but to pick up your life and move to raise a little boy you’ve only just met with no previous experience alone. To me that was the epitome of bravery and love. Tina and I have continued to Remain friends over the years and since then she has taken in another little girl, Rebecca and decided to foster her as well. She has let me stay in her home and made me feel like part of her family. She lives what she preaches and she has found happiness and brought so much joy to others in the process. I am very excited to share this special interview with you during the holiday season. If you are in the giving mood, you can find ways to support Tina and the amazing work she does at the end of the article.
1. Tell us a little bit about yourself and what you do?
My name is Tina Zielke Ngizwenayo, 36 years old full time missionary and have lived in Rwanda for over four years now. I am horribly socially awkward, loyal to a fault, as an extreme personality as they come. If you are myers briggs buff, I am completely INFJ. When I first came to Rwanda I volunteered at an orphanage a few houses down from me. When Rwanda closed all its orphanages, I had to change my ministry. As the country changes, so do you, no culture or society stays the same, it keeps changing. I have two foster children me and my Rwandan husband are in the process of adopting. We also have 3 older girls who live with us. One helps us with the program, and the other two are finishing secondary school. And we basically parent and minister to the 10 families in our program. Basically what we do is minister to at risk infants. Families who have taken in abandoned infants. Family members who are raising an infant of a mom who passed away. We have all kinds of scenarios, from malnourished moms, teenage moms, abandoned infants. We provide health insurance for the family for a year, weekly we provide the nutritional essentials like formula, infant cereal, fresh fruits, and so on. We also decided to start a literacy program, as we see the needs of the families in our program. We want to give them all the tools to reach their dreams and achieve their potential and we are not lacking in vision and potential at all. God has given some of these families some big hopes and dreams.
2. Why did you choose to pick up your life, move to Rwanda, and start hope for tomorrow?
Hope For Tomorrow, I had no idea I was going to start. My first few years here, I felt like a floater. I had helped other non profits, and volunteered in the orphanage. I found myself in many different places, from the hospital visiting kids from the orphanage, sitting in head masters offices for kids from the orphanage in boarding school in trouble, yelling at bus stations because we had a bunch of kids waiting for a bus that never showed up stuck somewhere. I had originally said I was going to come and volunteer in the orphanage for two years and go back to the states. Four years, 5 kids, a full time ministry, and Rwandan husband later, here we are!
3. What inspires you?
My relationship with God is my biggest inspiration. The fact that the bible says our citizenship is not here but in heaven, has taken on a whole new meaning to me living in another country. I guess the biggest thing that inspires me is life, and potential. I have been the one everyone gave up on, and wrote off. And God has so radically changed my life, that I just never want anyone to feel as I have felt before, hopeless.
4. What is your personal mantra or mission statement?
Just one? I am not a confident, lime light lover at all. I am probably the complete opposite of who and what you would expect as someone that started a ministry. I often say if I wrote a book I would title it “Doing it scared” because most of my life I have always taken the most significant steps trembling. I often tell myself “Do it scared, if you have too.” so I do. I get on the plane, I start the program, I speak up. But my hands tremble, my voice shakes, and my lower lip will literally quiver. But fear has never stopped me, I just do it scared. I always wear two necklaces and never take them off that help me a lot too. One a friend gave me that has J,1,9 on it for Joshua 1:9 “Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” and Psalm 116:7 “Return to rest, O my soul, for the Lord has been good to you.” Both of those scriptures I often need reminding of. And having them literally around my neck to remind me, helps.
5. What does happiness mean to you?
Happiness is a choice to me. I have to remind myself often I have a lot more control over my emotions than I remember often.
6. What are your hobbies?
I love to sew! I am always in the process of sewing something. I love hand stitching quilts with African fabrics, completely by hand. I don’t use any sewing machines. I always have a dozen sewing projects in my head, and can never just sit down. I drive my husband nuts, because we have to have the lights on when we watch a movie, so I can see my sewing.
7. What are a few things you do every single day to keep yourself on track?
Probably the biggest thing that keeps me on track, is that I get up at 4:00/5:00am everyday. Seriously. If I didn’t have that time of quiet, I might go bonkers. I tip toe out of the room with my bible, phone, laptop, and go into the living room. The sky is still dark, its quiet, my coffee is hot, and the day has yet to break forth. I cannot stand to feel rushed. By the time my two little kids get up and my husband, breakfast is ready, I already feel fueled up, and am probably way to chipper of a morning person. I am that annoying person who will greet you at 6:00am with a cup of coffee and a way too cherry “Gooooood morning sunshine!”
8. If you could give advice to someone looking to get into your field what would it be and why?
My advice to anyone wanting to go into missions, and/or international work. To the one ready to pack up your bags and hop on a plane. Be gentle with yourself. It is NOT what you expect. You will awaken parts of your heart and soul you never knew existed. Like when you start to exercise and muscles become sore you never knew you had. You will still struggle with what you struggle with now. It wont go away, in fact it will probably be amplified. You can make waves, but just know while you make those waves, your going to get tossed around too. Just when you stand on the edge of your dreams, your toes dangling off the edge, ready to jump in. Know your going to get bumped up and bruised up on the way. Just know whats worth the tumble. And never let fear be what keeps you from doing it. You will make a ton of mistakes, but when you know better you do better. There is so much no one can tell you, and you have to learn it in the midair, stomach is falling like on a roller coaster jump. And some of it you have to learn when you land smack dab in the middle of it, and find out, things are different when your in it, than when your looking at it from other perspectives.
9. What has been your most rewarding experience so far? Work or personal
My most rewarding experiences are those little moments. Those times when you close your eyes, and just try and soak it in. When my husband is painting, I’m sewing, and the kids are playing in the yard. When a mom comes to the office all excited to show me, she can write her kids names. When a mom comes to program singing and crying and were not sure weather to celebrate or mourn with her, and we find out the baby for the first time put on weight. Its in sitting next to a mom in the hospital, while they resuscitate her infant in front of you, and sitting in the mess and muck, and feeling her tighten her squeeze on your hand, and be thankful you get the honour to be with her, in the middle of her mess, her fear, her struggle. Its in the moment you know your going to dig in your heels and fight for someone who is too traumatized to speak. Its remembering the times you were the one on the other side, and someone else dug in their heels for you. I guess its a whole bunch of little moments etched into my mind and heart. Those time when you take those mental pictures, and try to drink it all in, so you don’t forget any of it.
10. What is the biggest challenge you’ve overcome in your life thus far? What did you learn? Are you thankful for what it taught you?
I have had many challenges in my life. I started to self harm when I was in first grade. Back then, it was never talked about or discussed, like it is now. I didn’t even have a name for it, and at that age it wasn’t cutting or anything like that. I remember a time I lost my voice, lost the wind I say. I started to play the flute when I was in grade school. I remember at some point, I was too afraid of making a mistake, or drawing attention to myself that I would finger the notes, but stopped blowing into my flute. I let the fear stop me. When I was younger I ended up homeless and couldn’t stay in the homeless shelter in upstate NY, scared and alone because I was under 21. I pawned that same flute, for money to eat. I was still gripped in fear, and ended up spending years in group homes, and mental health, and was even written off by psychologists who said I was disabled by indefinitely. But I had people who didn’t see the reality, but saw Gods possibility. They were the ones who showed up, no matter what. When I overdosed twice and ended up in the ICU, they were the ones who cleaned up my apartment, showed up at visiting hours, or put an airline ticket on credit to fly across the US to be there when I had surgery. There are some very significant times in my life, where loneliness and hopelessness was very real. So strong it nearly chocked the life out of me. I remember when my grandma died. It is such a significant time in my life. She was the world to me. She lived with us, when I was a kid. So, she was like a parent to me. At the visitation, I had already lost my wind, I didn’t play my music anymore. I stood there seeing my sisters friends surround her. My older siblings with their spouses. My parents comforting each other. I stood in the middle of that room as a young child, the room spinning, as I stared at the casket thinking “My person is the one in the casket.” and feeling more alone than I ever did in my entire life. I never want anyone to feel that way. I never want someone to stare at the door during visiting hours, and have no one show up. Before I could trust God, it was people who showed up. Later I had to ask the Lord where he was in those times, and he has shown me in his own time and ways. I guess I would and wouldn’t change it. Just like I know God didn’t cause it, but he can use it for good. All I can do is choose to use those times, to change it for someone else. Try and be for others, the way I needed someone to be for me.
11. Who is your role model/ who has been the most influential person in your life?
Probably, the most influential person in my life, and she will probably deny any credit. Is my dear friend Cindi DeSomer. She showed up. When a homeless girl who couldn’t speak above a whisper walked into the church and sat in the back. She dug in her heels. Its no question that I am a Christian. Its no question that my relationship with God is intimate and personal and has changed my life. I often say its like baseball. If I ran around Rwanda telling people “You were made for baseball! Thats why you were created! Baseball will give you purpose and meaning!” they would probably be like “Great, how?” People often forget the how. Cindi didn’t just tell me about God, the power of prayer, etc. She fitted me with a glove, took me to batting practice, and I watched her and many others for years play the game from the dugout, till I learned to do it on my own. I remember time of waking up in the hospital and Cindi was there sleeping the chair with a bible open in her lap. Times where I collapsed in my own hurts in the healing process, and her just letting me cry, and scream, and get snot all over her shoulder in those messy crys. She never saw the reality, she saw Gods possibility. She has been the most influental person in my life. Really as she introduced me to the most significant person in my life, my God.