On the way home from visiting her sister in Las Vegas, Liz Hackler was “so done with normal.” She had just finished reading “Radical” by David Platt and “Kisses for Katie” by Katie Davis.
Both writers discovered real purpose in life as they turned their backs on “normal” to serve in crazy, unprecedented ways.
“I knew only God could do something with me,” Liz said. “I don’t have a lot of talent. I begged God to come and wreck me. I decided to say ‘yes’ to any opportunity He sent my way. I simply prayed He’d close the door if I wasn’t supposed to walk through it. I wanted change.”
Liz’s husband, Phil, was busy with work, content with their already packed life with four children and volunteering at Southeast Christian Church’s River Valley Campus. He had no idea that he, too, would soon be wrecked.
Since that airplane prayer, all kinds of life-changing things happened.
Liz began volunteering at Gate of Hope, a faith-based ministry for Rwandan refugees settling in Louisville.
A year ago, Dr. Pauline Mukeshimana, who founded and leads the ministry, told Liz about two young men, Baraka, 16, and Merci, 13, being raised by their 19-year-old brother.
Like many refuges, Baraka and Merci shoulder a hard history. They are two of five siblings born in Congo, a country devastated by civil war. Their mother walked them one by one on nine-month journeys from Congo to safety in Uganda, while their father worked to make those rescue trips possible. He was murdered on their last trip, and Baraka and his mother witnessed the killing.
The family still deals with post-traumatic stress disorder.
Liz offered to check on the boys, who lived in an apartment near Hope Place. Fleeing violence and the death of their father deeply impacted each one. The older children work and try to make it on their own while their mother lives in a nursing facility.
Liz found the boys remarkably sweet and polite. They never had the chance to go to school in Congo or Uganda, entering a classroom for the first time in Louisville. They worked hard with teachers and tutors to try to catch up, but it was difficult.
Since both were so far behind, Liz, a teacher, offered to help with schoolwork. The more she was with them, the more Liz knew they needed intense, consistent help and asked if they could stay with them in Buckner throughout the week.
Phil knew it was risky. They already had four children. Moving two older boys into the family could disrupt family dynamics. And on a practical level, it would be difficult to send them home if it didn’t work. But the Hackler kids were excited—especially Hudson, who was looking forward to no longer being the only boy in the family.
Baraka and Merci’s family agreed living with the Hacklers would be best for them.
“It took no time at all to see there was no risk, only blessing, in saying ‘yes,’” Phil said. “If you spend 10 minutes with these boys, you’ll see what a blessing they are. They are so easy, so sweet, so grateful. It’s an honor to have them in our home.”
Liz said the boys’ parents are the real heroes in their story, sacrificing everything to save their lives.
When schools opened after COVID-19, Baraka began attending North Oldham High School and Merci began attending North Oldham Middle School where teachers and students have tried to help in every way possible.
When Baraka did not make the soccer team the first time he tried out, he continued to practice. This year, he now is the leading scorer on the team. Merci was chosen from hundreds of students for the Rise Up Award for someone overcoming challenges. Schoolwork is still difficult, but they continue to work hard.
“These boys have been welcomed and loved by the whole community,” Liz said.
Mukeshimana said the Hacklers are a huge blessing to Gate of Hope and to the boys.
“They love each other,” she said.
The risks in saying ‘yes’ to these boys? Nonexistent.
“I can’t imagine another life now,” Liz said. “When they first came they were so shy, they literally hid around the corner of a wall, but now we hear them singing at the top of their lungs. They were meant to be with us. We can’t imagine anything else now. When God asks us to take a risk, it’s an honor. He doesn’t need us. He allows us to trust him. Risk is always worth it.”
Phil and Liz aren’t sure about their next “yes.” They do know they will not hesitate.