Jean Baptiste was just 13 when the horror began, when tribe turned on tribe and his homeland of Rwanda descended into chaos and butchery. His younger brother, Jean Bosco, was 7 at the time of the genocide, and they both watched as their father, the mayor of their village, was beaten and hauled away.
“All of a sudden I was an orphan,” Jean Baptiste recalls. “And there I was with a little brother crying day after day and asking, ‘Where is Mommy? Where is Daddy?’ ”
One moment there was life and family and community. The next, only dread. For 100 days the atrocities continued, until nearly 1 million Rwandans were no more. Who could pay attention to two hungry boys when tribal-controlled radio was encouraging civilians to murder their neighbors?
“Everyone was for themselves, not even looking at each other,” Jean Baptiste says. “No hope. Nothing.”
The slaughter finally stopped, but Rwanda was in ruins. For years the two orphans wandered the land, looking for work, searching for food, walking to nowhere. Eventually Jean Bosco ran away, back to their parents’ empty house, and Jean Baptiste was alone.
Monique Ladosz is well-acquainted with alone. Born in France in 1931, the daughter of Swiss missionaries, she was separated from her parents for several years during World War II. She got engaged as a young woman, but her fiance died a month before the wedding. She made her way to America and later married but was widowed nearly 30 years ago. Monique found solace with other widows, including a missionary to Africa named Ferne Sanford. When Ferne recruited a group of American widows to visit Uganda in 1994, she invited Monique along. Monique, it turned out, was a natural with the widows in Africa.
“I love them,” she says. “There’s a bond. Of course, the very first thing they need to know is what I have. The greatest gift you could have is eternal life — Jesus.”
After three years in Uganda, Monique moved across the border into war-torn Rwanda. She shared Jesus with the widows there, and they, in turn — many of them sick and dying — begged the kind Swiss woman from New Jersey to help their children after they were gone.
Their children — orphans of civil war, AIDS or poverty. Monique wanted to help them all. She took particular notice of the young people living on the streets and under bridges. Misplaced, marginalized kids who watched their parents die during the genocide. Kids who had no place to go and no one to care. Kids like Jean Baptiste.
As Monique’s ministry grew, she met Jean Bosco, by now a teenager. She gave him a job; he told her about his long-lost brother. Years passed, and in 2008 Monique learned that Jean Baptiste was working in Uganda. She and Jean Bosco set off to find him.
“It was a beautiful morning when Jean Baptiste and Jean Bosco reunited after all those years,” Monique says. “Then Jean Baptiste told me that he missed his country. I told him, ‘If you want to come back, you can have a job with me.’ ”
Children who Read
In 2011, word of the orphans’ plight made it to Focus on the Family and the staff of Clubhouse magazine. That summer, the magazine launched an effort called “Read to Raise the Roof,” encouraging Clubhouse’s young subscribers to recruit sponsors for a book-reading challenge. The more pages they read, the more money they’d earn for Rwandan relief. All told, the magazine’s readers devoured more than 2 million pages and raised nearly $90,000.
The young survivors of genocide were adults now, many still homeless and directionless. So Monique decided to help rebuild what all the orphans had lost: families. Trouble is, Rwandan tradition demands that young men need three things to start a family: a job, a cow and a place to live. How could these orphans afford a house?
“With the money from Read to Raise the Roof, we concentrated on helping those young people,” Monique says. “Without that help, they would still be in the streets, they would never get married. But they got that opportunity. At the same time, every one of them knows the Lord.”
Today, more than a dozen houses are complete, with several more under construction. One of the first to wed was Jean Baptiste. He fell in love with Monique’s bookkeeper, and they were married in the garden outside the ministry’s office. “For the children who read,” Jean Baptiste says, “remember that you were instruments in God’s plan for us orphans. May God bless you.”