We all kind of have in our minds the way we think things should go, like some kind of general idea, right? Hi. I’m Tara, it’s nice to meet you. I say ‘we all’ because I am probably the most unplanned, non-committal, flying-by-the-seat-of-her-pants gal you know, or just met, and even I had some pretty good ideas I thought God might use for my life. I’d like to call it my story, but really, it’s His. And His version is so much better.
Let me tell you about it….
But first, can I tell you that I haven’t always been happy about it? About this story He’s writing or this path we’re walking. If I’m being honest, there aren’t many things I do on a typical day that I feel qualified for or even “good” at, but God is in the business of using the unlikely, and I am the most unlikely. I don’t take a single ounce of credit for any work God has done, but I know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that extraordinary moves of God begin with ordinary acts of obedience. And sometimes that just looks like surrender.
In 2006, after a terrible broken heart, I locked myself in the closet and begged God to be real. I didn’t know Him, but I had heard things, and I promised that if He was there and if He could take this pain away, I would follow Him. The long and short of it is, I became a Christian and surrendered my heart to God. That day. I’m sure He thought that was cute, but He was asking for my life. Over the next two years, our new relationship blossomed and I was learning so much about who He was and who I was in Him. I found a church and new friends, I began serving in the youth group, and even signed up to go on my first ever mission trip to South Africa; which led to a trip the following year, to Ethiopia and Rwanda.
I’m going to fast forward past a whole lot of yuck, that I would tell you over a cup of coffee or three, but I’ll just tell you that I was coming into this trip pretty bruised and broken and get to the good stuff. We spent four days in Ethiopia and four days in Rwanda; and on those last two days, God changed everything. At the Noel Orphanage in Gisenyi, Rwanda, I met a walking, talking piece of my heart that I didn’t even know existed, a 12-year-old boy named Innocent. I left Rwanda clinging to a tiny, folded scrap of paper that he had handwritten on, “your son, Munyakazi Innocent."
God doesn’t speak directly to me very often, in fact I can only think of maybe 3-4 times in my life that I would ever admit, “God said”… On the plane home from Rwanda, I heard Him. I had my ear buds in and I was silently begging Him to explain what had just happened and what He intended to do about it. An Aaron Shust song came on called “Give It All Away” and it goes like this: “Search my heart, search my mind. Search my soul. Make me clean, make me new. Make me whole. All of my plans, all of my dreams I lay them down before Your feet. All of my time, all that was mine, I now, submit to Your design.” I sobbed because I knew that’s what God was asking of me. Asking me to finally lay down what I thought was supposed to happen and to trust Him. With my life.
I came home, sold many of my things, and six months later moved to Rwanda and into the orphanage with no other plan in mind expect to love that little boy. I lived there (the first time) for 2 years and stumbled into founding a non-profit to employ young ladies who were aging out of the orphanage. In just 4 years, No.41 has grown from a little sewing class in my living room, to employing nearly 50 women and men and feeding just over 1,200 students and teachers, every day, at two campuses.
Innocent is 17-years-old now and he, and five others from Noel, live with me in Rwanda. They are your typical (crazy) teenage boys, for all intents and purposes, but they are studying, and thriving, and dreaming of the future. It’s a crazy life we live; one I didn’t even know to dream of. There are people who say a lot of really nice things to me about No.41 or about my family and my time in Rwanda; however, I’m just a tree in God’s story about a forest. And this was never my plan anyway.
Allison Fallon said, “Surrender the idea of a life that’s perfect for the sake of a life that’s yours.” Word.
TARA CLAPPER is an Oklahoma girl who nearly wrecked her life, found her heart in Rwanda, and fell into a dream she wasn’t even looking for. Tara is the founder of No.41, an organization in Rwanda working to empower and employ women through skills training and providing them ability to share the gifts they’ve been given with their local community. Tara believes that God honors boldness and bravery. And though she considers herself to be more naïve than bold and more reckless than brave, she’s learned that when we fly in faith, He does immeasurably more than all we could ask or imagine. You can connect with Tara and No.41 on Instagram.