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Defying Cultural Norms in the Name of Fatherhood

When I look at my sister’s baby, Moses, I’m overcome with joy. Zoe Empowers has helped me understand that it’s more of a blessing to care for Moses — and my sister — when I have God.” ‒ Emmanuel, 2017 Graduate in Rwanda


Emmanuel with Janine and baby Moses


It’s human nature to want to run from our problems. When undesirable circumstances arise and our fight or flight instinct kicks in, often times the craving to run as fast as possible in the other direction seems significantly more appealing than facing the issue head on.

Orphans and vulnerable children living in poverty around the globe are not immune to this desire to escape.

In 2014, Emmanuel believed there was no other option for him than to just run away from his small village in Rwanda. To simply sneak out into the blackness of the night and never look back.

With seemingly no options for work in his community and no money for food, he and his special needs sister, Janine, starved regularly. Their situation seemed irreversible. His frustration and anger with his life grew stronger by the day. These feelings, he believed, could only be extinguished by starting over somewhere new.

When he learned of Zoe Empowers, he decided to join an empowerment group because he heard promising stories from program graduates. He found the success stories of children just like him inspiring, and more importantly, they helped him see that a better tomorrow was possible—without having to leave his community.

One of the first lessons that resonated with him was that of Jeremiah 29:11. “For I know the plans I have you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

Never before had he considered that God had a plan for him. He thought God’s plans were only for those who were beautiful and rich. Not him. But through the guidance of his empowerment group, he began to clearly understand that if he ran away from his problems, he would ruin God’s plan—and he worried he might upset God.

About two years into the Zoe Empowers program, Janine was abused by an anonymous community member and became pregnant. Given her significant special needs, she was ill-equipped to handle her pregnancy alone.

Although Emmanuel felt infuriated by the position Janine was forced into, after many months of working within his empowerment group and gaining tremendous traction with his career and stature within the community, he knew this was his time to step up and provide assistance to her.

Emmanuel tended to Janine throughout her pregnancy. When the time came, he delivered the baby boy, whom he named Moses. Emmanuel and Janine’s family name is Isezerano, meaning “promise”. Emmanuel believed the Bible story of Moses being found and the newly discovered promise God made in his own life perfectly suited Janine’s son.

Despite cultural norms, Emmanuel took on the role of honorary father and brings Moses everywhere with him. Beyond his daily actions, Emmanuel’s love for Moses and his well being is evident in the way he looks at him; each giggle and smile brings a twinkle to his eye. He takes complete care of both Moses and his sister including nighttime feedings and routine infant medical visits to the local pediatrician.

Now, as a 2017 Zoe Empowers graduate, Emmanuel earns a living for his small family by farming four of his empowerment group’s 50 rice plots which profits $560 annually. He also steadily works as a respected carpenter within his community. Janine no longer faces abuse from community members because Emmanuel’s achievements have secured him respect and status amongst his peers and community elders and she is closely associated with him.

Although Emmanuel is not genetically the father of Moses, caring for him and his sister has brought significant meaning and joy to his life. He’s grateful he faced his fears and didn’t run from them because he knows that if he had left his community, he would never have received God’s promises.

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Want to learn more about Emmanuel’s empowerment group? You can read more about the other group members and their rice farm project here.