A Gather Story: On Anna Zatsepina




Christina Crook shares the story of Anna Zatsepina, an
International Relief Worker with Samaritan’s Purse Canada, and Mother

In her own words: "Being a Jesus follower, to me, is living a life that is greater than "I". It is pouring yourself out until there is nothing left and then pouring some more because our Source is endless.” 

"Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice."  - Martin Luther King Jr.

In her eyes, Luther’s words are lay bare. The quote appears on all of Anna Zatsepina’s correspondence, proving the Norman Paterson School of International Affairs grad prefers to wear her heart on her sleeve. Raised in Vancouver, Anna pursued her Masters in the icy political fold of Ottawa where she cut her teeth on Darfur activism and shoulder-rubbing with Members of Parliament (all between spins on her hand-me-down bicycle.) She eventually abandoned her cushy prospects and a Washington, DC-directed boyfriend, to follow an unshakeable call to central Africa. 

Born in Moscow, Anna has always been exposed to war. “I wanted to be a journalist in conflict zones,” she says. “For as long as I can remember I have loved danger and risk and wanted to be where the action was.” 

She’s found her way there. Though now based in Calgary, Alberta with her husband and young son, she travels regularly to Rwanda, where she once lived full-time behind the South African embassy in Kigali. If she was looking for action, she’d found it. 

It’s from Rwanda that she sends dispatches home, calling on friends and family to join her in solidarity with the children, women and men in her second home. 

“My Dearest Family and Friends, This may be a rather strange e-mail but I have had such a clear call to write it that I simply trust that it will move and compel your hearts.
“It's a story, really, of my friend named Calyx.  We have been friends since I came to Rwanda. I had heard that Calyx has quite the story, but his joy, talent, intelligence, humour and incredible ability for anything and everything seemed to overshadow... anything that may lie in his past. And then a week ago, Calyx had come with me to a rural area to translate for one of my sessions with a cooperative. Being crammed in a tiny, smelly motatu, with our bodies twisted in all kinds of interesting ways, did not prevent one of the most powerful stories from emerging - like a precious gem or a diamond out of the putrid dirt and ash, that is this boy's past.”

She goes on to tell Calyx’s story. He grew up within a large, relatively well off family in the south of Rwanda, one of the only minority (Tutsi) families in that region. When the Rwandan war broke out, fanning into the brutal genocide of 1994, the family lost everything, an easy target for greed, animosity and retaliation in a small region dominated by the majority ethnic group. Three times the family was ravaged. All of their property and livestock were seized and most of the family members were murdered except for Calyx and his two brothers. They had nothing and no one in the world but each other and were drowning in a sea of grief and despair. They fled for Kigali. 

Anna continues:
“Nevertheless, the three orphans were determined to persevere and get an education, knowing that that was their only hope. They had nothing in the world but each other and the incomprehensible strength of their bond is tangible even now.”  
Calyx ended up graduating from the top university in Rwanda with distinction, among the top 7 students in the nation; Gaston is currently completing his bachelor degree; and, the youngest, Kiki, is now in boarding school. However, the boys are still not out of hardship. They have been renting a hovel in a very poor part of town: three to a bed with no kitchen or cooking facilities. Their roof is ancient and full of holes and cracks and, with it being rainy season in Kigali, they find themselves, along with their few belongings, drenched in a musty little shack, shivering at night.

For Anna, a recent graduate with little means, the only way to respond to Calyx’s story was to stand with him in hope and ask others to consider giving. This is her persistent posture, a stance of solidarity with the poor, her personal response to Jesus’ call to pursue justice at all times. 

She writes: “After visiting what she visited their little hovel, I promised that I would try to help, at least with the roof.  I prayed and sensed God asking me to write this email... If there has ever been an opportunity to incarnate the life, love and reality of Jesus in the flesh, I believe that we are blessed with it now.  I see this is an incredible privilege to walk out the raw gospel, to stand in solidarity with and to assist three orphans and beloved children of our God. To house them... There is no guilt as I know God already has called someone to partake in this!”

To Anna, to live in a perpetual state of brokenness beside the broken is what it means to be a follower of Jesus. 

In her own words: “It means living a life that is greater than "I".  It is pouring yourself out until there is nothing left and then pouring some more because our Source is endless.”  

“It is looking into the face of raw humanity, in all of its beauty and ugliness, into its endless wonders and terrifying horrors, and not blinking but reaching into its very depth and finding God's treasures therein.  It is loving, when loving seems impossible.  It is believing, when believing is ridiculous.  It is standing for justice when no one else is. It is screaming for truth when all seem silenced.  It is a place of solidarity with the marginalized and the oppressed.”

Women like Anna are here in our midst in Canada. I, for one, am grateful. 

written by Christina Crook.

Christina Crook is a Canadian essayist and author. Anna was her maid-of-honour. 


Read more about Anna’s work at: