Saturday, January 21, 2017

I'm Paying Attention

Yesterday was not my favorite day. I’m not a fan of the new president. I find his character - at least the persona he shows us - disturbing and sad. I remain mystified and hurt that we’ve elected him. This isn’t Italy after all! 

Still, this is the president we have. Deal with it (that’s the pep talk I give myself; it needs improvement).

Yesterday my daughter said, “I made myself pray for the president today.” I stared at her. I hadn’t gotten there yet. Oh, I’ve prayed around him. “God, protect us. God bring good out of this mess.” That sort of thing, but praying for him? So this morning I took my daughter’s example and prayed for the president. It wasn’t the best prayer. It went something like, “He seems like such a messed up person inside. Help him love you.” That’s nice. I hope God can do something with that. . . 

I also prayed for myself, because I’m afraid my anger and hurt will change my insides. And that scares me. In the eight years of Barack Obama’s presidency, I’ve seen many of my Christian friends hating and disparaging Mr. Obama. It always startled me, and I don’t want to go that route. So I prayed “Please help me truly follow you in all this. Really. In my heart and in my feelings towards the new president and in my words and actions. It’s hard because hurt wells up inside me and flows out into words of anger that don’t honor you. Surely, I can disagree with our new president without hatred claiming a piece of me.”

Sigh. One sentence for our new president and a paragraph for me. It’s a good thing God never gives up on us.

Yesterday morning God was looking out for me. As usual. Each morning before I talk with God, I read a chapter from the book of Psalm in the Bible. This is an everyday thing and I just keep cycling through the Psalms, starting with chapter 1 and reading through chapter 150 and then starting all over again.

On Inauguration Day 2017, I read Psalm 46. At random. It was just the next Psalm to read.

It goes like this:
“God is a safe place to hide,
Ready to help when we need him.
We stand fearless at the cliff-edge of doom,

Attention all! See the marvels of God!

‘Step out of traffic! Take a long,
Loving look at me, your High God,
Above politics, above everything!’”

Rather timely. . . 

I’m paying attention and stepping out of traffic to take a long, loving look at my God. I’m looking to see how he will use this mess for good.

I’m reading through the bible again this year, and was tempted (haha!) to skip the book of Genesis because, having grown up attending church, I’ve heard those stories a million times. I mean, I did turn fifty last year! But oh how glad I am that my “rule following” tendencies wouldn’t allow me to skip even one page.

As I read the last words of the book of Genesis, I recognized God is constantly taking situations we have completely messed up and making something good instead. The book of Genesis tells story after story of humans ruining every good situation God has given them and then God fixing their messes.

When this “light bulb moment” occurred to me, I laughed. Instead of being sad and hopeless, I should be watching and listening for the good God will bring from our mess. 

“Pay attention and see all the marvels of God!”

God is bigger than my mess. Bigger than your mess. Bigger than the messes we make together.

And I’m pay attention.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Friends on a Thousand Hills - Rwanda 2016 Part 10

“I think I made you too small.” Those words from the song What Do I know of Holy kept running through my mind while we were in Rwanda. As we traveled to nearly every district in Rwanda, I kept hearing those words over and over. There are thirty districts in Rwanda. I’ve been to twenty. I had a lot of time to think.
Her God is BIG

At home in Boise I read Psalm 62 this morning and found a note I wrote in my Bible when we were in Rwanda. It was written the morning after our hardest day. You can read about that hard day here.

Psalm 62
God, the one and only—
I’ll wait as long as he says.

Everything I hope for comes from him,
 so why not?

He’s solid rock under my feet,
 breathing room for my soul,

An impregnable castle:
  I’m set for life.

My help and glory are in God
—granite-strength and safe-harbor-God—
So trust him absolutely, people;
 lay your lives on the line for him. God is a safe place to be.

The note I wrote says, “Kageyo, Rwanda 2016: I will not be broken. I will be a strong advocate for the poor and these dear families. I must not try to be strong on my own, because my strength comes straight from God.”

As an American sometimes it’s hard for me to remember I must not attempt to be strong on my own. I am, after all, from the land of “pull yourself up by your bootstraps.” My roots run deep in individualism.

In his book Embracing Grace, pastor Scott Sauls says: “Individualism is the biggest obstacle to the gospel of embracing grace. . . . Individualism diminishes us because it backs away from commitment and community. If humans are made to relate to God and to others, Individualism attacks our very essence.”

A focus on my individual self will always take me farther from God.

Sometimes it’s hard for me to let God be God, to let him be awesome and filled with love for me and great. I make him small, because I can solve my own problems. “I’ve got this.”

In Rwanda, most Christians don’t have that luxury. Their lives don’t always give them the opportunity to solve their own problems, to pull themselves up by their (non-existent) bootstraps.

In Rwanda, God is not small. God is big. Very big. He does big things. He loves big. He forgives big. When God does these same things in America, I often don’t recognize him, and instead credit myself and my own cleverness. Because, “I’ve got this.”

I desperately want to see God in all his bigness, in all his glory, and each time I visit Rwanda, God gets bigger.

I don’t want a small God.

I don’t want to read one more book telling me everything I need to know about God. I’ve done a lot of Bible studies and enjoyed them and learned and become healthier because of them, but the danger for me is in thinking I have God all figured out. Thinking, “I’m so smart.”

I can talk theology fairly well (I mean all those Bible studies. . .), yet every day my prayer is just this, “Jesus, please help me love you more. Bigger. With everything I am.”

I don’t want a small God.

Maybe we have to leave America to see a big God. Maybe we have to leave for a while to let God out of the the box we’ve put him in. When I’m in Africa, God is not in a box. He is big and he is all around me.

In Rwanda, I see a big God in the face of every friend.

Let’s make God big again and put him in his place.
Their God is BIG

What do I Know of Holy by Addison Road

I made You promises a thousand times
I tried to hear from Heaven
But I talked the whole time
I think I made You too small
I never feared You at all No
If You touched my face would I know You?
Looked into my eyes could I behold You?

So What do I know of You
Who spoke me into motion?
Where have I even stood
But the shore along Your ocean?
Are You fire? Are You fury?
Are You sacred? Are You beautiful?
So What do I know? What do I know of Holy?

I guess I thought that I had figured You out
I knew all the stories and I learned to talk about
How You were mighty to save
Those were only empty words on a page
Then I caught a glimpse of who You might be
The slightest hint of You brought me down to my knees

So What do I know of You
Who spoke me into motion?
Where have I even stood
But the shore along Your ocean?
Are You fire? Are You fury?
Are You sacred? Are You beautiful?
So What do I know? What do I know of Holy?

What do I know of Holy?
What do I know of wounds that will heal my shame?
And a God who gave life it's name?
What do I know of Holy?
Of the One who the angels praise?
All creation knows Your name
On earth and heaven above
What do I know of this love?

So What do I know of You
Who spoke me into motion?
Where have I even stood
But the shore along Your ocean?
Are You fire? Are You fury?
Are You sacred? Are You beautiful?
What do I know? What do I know of Holy?

What do I know of Holy?
What do I know of Holy?

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Friends on a Thousand Hills - Rwanda 2016 Part 9

Amsterdam
When we stepped off the plane in Amsterdam early Saturday morning, I turned to Kevin and said, "This time in Rwanda was way more intense than last year." Walking through the crowded airport, I started to cry. I felt sobs coming. Kevin quickly hushed me. Apparently, he thought sobbing my way through Immigration Control was not a good idea. He's smart that way. 

Last year in Rwanda was amazing and new and hard and an explosion to all my senses. I went home and told Kevin, "All other travel is going to seem boring now."

But this year we saw so much more. We were more connected to the people. More friends. More loved ones. More children to visit. More heartache to share. 

We absorbed more. Refugee camps and poverty at a level we've never seen. More hungry children. More desperate teenagers begging for help. 

Yesterday our friend Kamana (who will soon be an American citizen!) texted us and said, "You guys have done more in two weeks than I could do in a year." And it feels like it. I've never known this weariness. I imagine it feels a lot like many of my Rwandan friends feel. Every day. 

Maybe next year I'll have discovered how to create a more restful itinerary. But that's doubtful.

For now I'm grateful for two nights rest in The Netherlands, but there is no avoiding the culture shock of traveling from Rwanda to Boise in two days. I'm so grateful to get home to Rebecca and be where I can easily talk to Caleb on the phone and not wait for the electricity to come back on so we can FaceTime.

I'm grateful I don't have to leave Rwanda entirely behind as we go home to dozens and dozens of friends from Rwanda and Congo. These beloved friends keep me real and grounded and honest and living outside of myself in a way I'm scared wouldn't happen if they weren’t in my life.  

Truly, I don't know why God loves me so much, yet I know he does. I see it in the faces of my family and friends every day. 

And I am grateful. 

Read Friends on a Thousand Hills - Rwanda Part 10 here


at home in Boise

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Friends on a Thousand Hills - Rwanda 2016 Part 8

Remember that time I visited our World Vision child, eleven year old Noel, and scared him to death by fainting in front of him. Yeah. That was a good day.

That was my day Tuesday in Rwanda.

The day began nicely enough. Kevin left early to guest lecture at Carnegie Mellon University in Kigali, and I jumped into the car with Fred Tumusiime, the sponsorship officer from World Vision’s Kigali office to make the three hour drive to Nyamagabo in Rwanda’s southern province. It was one of those drives that won’t let you to take your eyes off the road, even though I was low on energy and fighting what I thought might be a stomach bug. Rwanda’s beauty wouldn’t let me nap.
I saw things I hadn't seen before in Rwanda. Lots of pigs. Pigs are good money earners as each piglet brings a good price. Coffee washing stations dotted the side of the road. We even passed a station that said, “Roasters for Stumptown Coffee.” In the middle of rural Rwanda I found Portland’s own Stumptown Coffee. Crazy!

We arrived at World Vision’s district office in Nyamagabo, where I met district director Jean de Dieu and was given coffee and mandazi (Rwandan donut), a favorite of mine. I thanked Jean because just the day before, Prince, one of our young Rwandan friends in Boise had messaged me, “Have you eaten mandazi yet?” I hadn’t and didn’t want to get in trouble back home.
mandazi - my favorite Rwandan treat
World Vision does incredible things in Rwanda. I thought our sponsorship money just went to Noel, when in fact it helps develop a sustainable community by teaching improved farming methods, good hygiene and nutrition habits, digging wells, and providing vocational training. They help 11,500 people in Noel’s district alone. World Vision works in partnership with the community and one of the ways they assess needs is by holding regular meetings with school teachers and local pastors.
those clever fish farms
After sharing coffee and mandazi, Jean stayed behind while I went with Fred and Christella, a World Vision field worker, to find Noel. We drove another forty-five minutes on blacktop before turning onto a dirt road. We drove by fish farms. Ok I have to stop. These fish farms are genius. A pond is dug and filled with water and fish, then rabbit hutches are built over the pond. The rabbits do their business and feed the fish. Genius! Also, the ponds attract amazing birds, which we didn’t have time to stop and see.


We drove over a wooden bridge, up a steep, steep hill, passed a genocide memorial and reached a village. We went down the hill, then up another steep hill to another village. We went down that hill, got stuck on the dirt road, were rescued by the villagers and continued our drive. Finally, we parked and continued on a path through the fields and up a hill.
stuck
Fred had told me it was a forty-five minute “walk” to Noel’s home. I understood walk to mean a walk. On a flat surface. But I soon discovered “walk” has different meanings, and it’s meaning on this particular day was a vertical walk. In Boise we call that a hike.
The climb
The evening before I had sent a prayer request to several friends and my mom. I was feeling exhausted and a little sick. I asked that they pray I would be able to see Noel. He knew I was coming, and I couldn’t NOT go even if I was sick.

So we jumped out of the car, and I grabbed the bag containing Noel’s gifts but I forgot my water. Oh water, water, water, water. I love water.
Before I knew what I was getting into.
The walk was incredible. One of those, “I can’t believe this is happening” experiences. We walked over handmade wooden bridges while I worried about losing my balance. 
Alphonse - I thanked him a million times
We passed homes and farmers and goats and pigs and coffee plants, and people resting on small wooden stools in the shade of their homes. And I was feeling worse and worse. We began to climb a very steep hill and I asked, “Which is Noel’s home?”  Fred pointed to the home at the top and I got worried. I stopped to rest. I felt like I might vomit. It was noon and the hottest day of our trip. I felt incredibly foolish for not having water. I put my scarf over my head to shield me from the sun. We kept walking. I rested some more. I felt more foolish. I dreamed of water. I knew nobody on this mountain. Kevin was in Kigali. I had met my World Vision friends only that morning. 
My World Vision Friends
We climbed that mountain in the hot sun for forty-five minutes. Finally, Fred said, “There is Noel’s home.” It was so close, only about 150 feet away. Yet, I couldn’t get there.

I stopped to rest again, leaning against the terraced hillside, in the shade of a tree. I waited. I don’t remember fainting, but next thing I remember I was lying on the ground with my head in Christella’s lap. Fred was furiously fanning me with my scarf.  A dozen people stood over me fanning me. Alphonse, a teenage boy, had been sent at a run to our car for water. Just before I woke, it felt like I was having a really nice dream, then I opened my eyes, realized what had happened and instantly started saying “Ni meza” (I’m fine) and “murakoze” (thank you) (like a million times). Fred and Christella got me on my feet. Noel hugged me. I was embarrassed. His grandmother hugged me. I was more embarrassed. I couldn’t stand by myself, so Fred and Christella held onto me until they sat me down on a chair in Noel’s home. That chair was the best thing I saw all day. I loved that chair. I fell into it and immediately began visiting with Noel and his grandmother, acting like I was fine but really I wanted to lie down so badly.
Noel with his grandmother
Fred kept fanning me, while I began pulling out the gifts I had brought. I wanted desperately to make everyone forget I tried to die in the front yard. . . I brought out the fabric for grandmother. I pulled out the bag of marbles. I gave little sister Marie a harmonica, because every parent loves a noisy gift (yeah, I didn’t think that one through too well). But it was when I pulled out the soccer ball that the entire room went, “oooooohhhhh” simultaneously and Noel might have smiled a tiny bit.

Suddenly Alphonse burst into the room wearing a backpack filled with bottled water, sweat pouring from his face. I drank a liter of water and kept visiting with Noel. You guys, our family photos are on their wall. Every family Christmas photo I’ve sent is on their wall. I wanted to cry. At least I’m good at that.

Noel and I sat together but he was so shy and never, ever smiled. Christella kept saying, “seka, seka, seka” (smile, smile, smile) to no avail. His grandmother encouraged him to talk to me, but he would only respond to my questions in whispers. I scared this kid speechless. Trying to make him smile, I told him he’ll have the best sponsor visit story of all his friends. He just stared at me.

The entire village had come to welcome me and crowded into Noel’s home, spilling out of the doorway. They danced and sang their traditional welcome for me. I love this welcome! Noel stood up and said the Hail Mary for me (I mean, I’m sure he felt if anyone needed it, it was me). The eldest gentleman in the room stood up and made a speech. I was overwhelmed. I felt so undeserving. I am just me.

Before leaving, we stood together for photos and Noel and I played a bit of soccer, but mostly I tried to stay in one place. And also upright. It seemed wise.


The village followed us down the mountain to say goodbye. Christella wouldn’t let go of me. I kept saying, “I’m fine. I’m fine.” Fred replied, “Yes but now we don’t believe you.” I smiled. He’s a fast learner.
Saying goodbye at the car
I teased Fred saying I hope he’ll let me visit another year and he said, “Yes but you must bring Benedict (that would be Kevin) with you.” He told me all he could think of when I was unconscious what “What am I going to tell Benedict?”

World Vision took Noel’s family and me to dinner at a restaurant in town. It was the first time Noel had been to a restaurant. I will carry these memories with me always. Little Noel sitting across from me, his plate piled high with food, his eyes so big. Never speaking. Never smiling. Just staring at his wimpy muzungu sponsor. When we said goodbye I said, “Maybe someday you’ll send me a photo and you’ll be smiling.” I’m hopeful.

The “walk” up the mountain was hard, but I wouldn’t change it. I love these words my friend Alison texted me after reading an account of my day. She said, “What a picture of God’s grace. Here you’ve been helping Noel and he and his family had the opportunity to help you.” Every time I read her words I cry.

I collapsed into the car, and we made the long three hour drive back to Kigali. It was dark when I arrived. It had seemed wise to tell Kevin of my day’s adventure via text. . . and I fell into his arms as he opened the car door. Exhausted. Relieved. Embarrassed. Grateful. The entire staff at the guest house welcomed me. I had scared them all half to death. I was too nauseous for supper, so Emmanuel our cook made toast for me, but took it away saying it was too cold now and would make more. Rwandans love so well. I want that in all of us. Can you imagine that world?

I didn’t represent us muzungus very well that day. But I got up the mountain. I saw Noel and I loved him. I can’t explain how meeting your sponsored child changes you. It just does. You begin to love your child when you get the first letter or picture, but that first hug changes everything. From that moment the love you share becomes forever love. You never read those letters the same way again. Because you are never the same again.

Sponsorship may change a child’s life. But mostly it will change yours.

Please sponsor a child. It is good for your soul.

World Vision

Africa New Life Ministries



Monday, September 5, 2016

Friends on a Thousand Hills - Rwanda 2016 Part 7

“I don’t know why God loves me so much.” These are words my friend Beatrice says to me often. Now they are also my words. On Saturday I visited Beatrice’s grandmother (Tate) in her home in western Rwanda. Again. For the second time God has brought me to visit with this wonderful grandmother. This time I brought Kevin.
Greeting Tate and I didn't even cry this time - well barely
Oh, what a day! I’ve decided I love second visits best. Last year was wonderful and fun and tear-filled and overflowing with joy, but this year I knew everyone’s name. We laughed together about our previous visit. We were at ease together. Tate said she remembered last year I said I wanted to bring my husband and here he was.
As promised I brought Kevin
A lot of the visit was the same. We sat close together in the same small room of her home. We drank Fanta. I shared photographs. She has a new grandson, Gavin and stared so long at his photos. I gave her the gifts her children sent. She was so grateful.

Before we left Boise, her grandson Kamana had said, “Please will you FaceTime me when you are with my grandma. I want to see her face again.” And that was the very, very, very best part of our visit. Watching them look at each other’s faces. Kamana who loves his grandmother so much. I’ve never met a person who loves his family as much as Kamana does. Twenty-three year old Kamana. A new father. Works full time. Is a university student. Yet, still he takes his four nieces and nephews to the park or the fun center in Boise most Sunday afternoons. I think his son Gavin is going to have a pretty sweet life.
Tate and Kamana FaceTime while Uncle Theo looks on
We gave Tate our gift, a warm sweater, and I told her the story of the sweater. At home in Boise, I asked her oldest grandchild, 13 year old Celestin (whom I love so very much), “What should I bring your great-grandmother?” I was having trouble thinking of something special. He thought about it and said, “Bring her a sweater because she will be cold.” So we brought a warm sweater, and indeed it is cold where she lives. When she heard the story of the sweater, she smiled her most beautiful smile.
Telling Tate the story of the sweater
As we looked at photos of her great-grandchildren, Celestin, James, Simbi, David, Gavin, Tate said to me, “I think you are their grandmother too. You are their grandmother in America.” And we smiled together.
Celestin
We sat a long while in Tate’s little house and talked about how good God is. She said she thought she was going to die last year because she was very sick but God healed her. I asked her to be strong so her grandchildren can visit her next year. Her grandchildren who will be American citizens next year! I laugh when I think of them needing a Visa to visit Rwanda.

Kevin talked with Uncle Theo, Tate’s son with whom she lives, about farming and what crops they are growing and how life is for them. I asked if all their children are in school. They are. All four of them. This is a huge blessing.

Cousin Gentille married since I last saw her and I was so excited to give her a hug. She looked radiant and confident as a newly married woman, and so changed from the shy young woman I met last year.
As we prepared to leave, we stood together for a family photo. Because we are a family. 
Some of our Rwandan family
Tate, making sure the family photo is a good one
Afterwards, Tate sat down on her little bench to rest and I hugged her again and said, “I hope God blesses us with another visit here in Rwanda, but if not, we will be neighbors in heaven.” Then she said, “I am not strong enough to walk so far, so I will let the others push you to the car.” As I walked away I smiled at her wording and my heart was bursting as Beatrice’s words played in my head, “I don’t know why God loves me so much.”

When I arrived at the car Kevin was surrounded by children he was teaching to play hacky sack. They caught on quickly since they play the same game with soccer balls.

Next to the car, our fantastic driver and good friend John was playing with a dozen neighborhood children. Children flock to him. He had them all in a group singing. Rwanda may have a heartbreaking past, but today they love big. They love children, and I learn so much from them about love and generosity.


video

Indeed, I don’t know why God loves me so much and has brought me twice to this beloved family.

Trust steadily in God, hope unswervingly, love extravagantly. And the best of the three is love. 1 Corinthians 13

Read Friends on a Thousand Hills - Rwanda Part 8 here

Friday, September 2, 2016

Friends on a Thousand Hills - Rwanda 2016 Part 6

Thank Two are better than one because they have a good return for their hard work. If either should fall, one can pick up the other. But how miserable are those who fall and don’t have a companion to help them up! Ecclesiastes 4:9-10

It is not all pain and heartbreak traveling through the poorer areas of Rwanda. Wednesday was also a day of great joy. We saw our own sponsored child, Umulisa. Again. When we picked her up from her school, I hugged her so hard, I thought she might break.
Umulisa and her Parents
We drove together to her home where her parents were standing outside impatiently waiting for us. Umulisa’s mama and papa, Francine and Jean Bosco greeted us with hard hugs. They were thrilled to meet Kevin and when we entered their small living area, Jean Bosco immediately took a seat beside Kevin. Naomi was wearing her best dress. Jean Bosco was wearing the (now faded) orange Boise State t-shirt I brought last year. He made sure to point that out to us and we laughed. We sat close together on the short, narrow benches lining the walls of their small living space.
Jean Bosco and Kevin - Prayer Partners
Umulisa and I squeezed in beside each other and while I know from her letters she writes English beautifully, she is shy to speak it. Her smile more than makes up for it. I brought gifts again this year and we have started a tradition. Last year I brought Umulisa sturdy, purple Clarke sandals. She loved them. As I received photos of her throughout the year, I saw her wearing them. In one photo I could see they were getting worn. Wednesday as we sat together, I pulled out a pair of the very same sandals, but teal colored. She smiled hugely, covered her mouth and looked at her mama with joy. There were other gifts for her siblings and her parents, but the sandals won the day. It will become an annual tradition for sure!
That Smile
Last year when I visited we were all a bit subdued. It was my first home visit to one of our sponsored children. I felt awkward. I’m sure they did too. But this year, there wasn’t an ounce of awkwardness in the room. We laughed and teased. Jean Bosco said to Kevin, “Now that we have met, we can pray for each other.”

Naomi told us a few months ago while she was cultivating in the field, she stopped and prayed to God that he would bring me back to visit them. Then she looked at us and said, “And just after that we found out you were coming.” She raised her hands up and praised God as we sat together.

We talked a long time about Umulisa’s education. We told them we will support Umulisa through university. Her mama looked at Umulisa and happily told us Umulisa wants to be a nurse. Francine and I have  much in common as our own daughter Rebecca is studying to be a nurse. I like this added bond.

Next year Umulisa will move into grade P7 which means she must change schools. It means a one hour walk to school - each way. After consulting with the sponsorship director in Kageyo, Kevin and I bought Umulisa a bicycle via Africa New Life’s online store. Now Umulisa can make the journey in half the time. I cannot wait to receive the letter I know Umulisa will write and see her standing next to her new bike. I can already see her smile.

Bicycles change lives in Africa. These aren’t your average kids’ bikes. Kevin refers to them as a truck-bike. Every day I see men pushing bicycles loaded with water-filled jerry cans weighing nearly 300 pounds. I see bananas pilled high on them on the way to market. Everything we would transport via car is transported via bicycle in Rwanda. This bicycle will get Umulisa to school, but it will also change her family’s life.

It seemed our visit passed in minutes. I wanted to stay the entire day but it takes three hours to get to Kageyo and it isn’t a drive you want to make in the dark. 

Yet I still have so many things I want to ask Umulisa and talk with her about. I’ll have to be satisfied with letters for now, and pray God takes me back to Rwanda another day.

For now, my heart is happy this bond of friendship and family continues and will continue for eternity.

God is so good to me. I will remember that when the days are hard.

Please sponsor a child. Join me in this journey of joy and change the world. Africa New Life Ministries Child Sponsorship.

Read Friends on a Thousand Hills - Rwanda 2016 Part 7 here

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Friends on a Thousand Hills - Rwanda 2016 Part 5

There is a certain point each year when I travel to Rwanda that I break down. Today was that day. I thought I had created an itinerary this year that allowed for more rest, but that was a joke. Every day is a race, and not a sprint, a marathon. It begins early because I push myself to do a lot, running, prayer time, writing, and social media updates, because experiences this big, that involve so many people deserve to be shared.

Tuesday we spent the day at the Gihembe Refugee Camp. It was wonderful and hard and exploding with joy, and imploding in sadness and despair.

Today we drove to Kageyo in eastern Rwanda. We left pavement and drove hours on red, hard-packed dirt bumping bumping bumping along. All the while passing small settlements of the poorest people you will ever see. People living in mud homes that are crumbling around them. Children wearing only a torn t-shirt. I know I wrote about it last year, but the pain of seeing it doesn’t get easier. The land here is experiencing a drought, which means this already difficult area to farm has become nearly impossible. How they survive, I do no know. My last letter from our sponsored daughter Umulisa was a thank you for food we had sent. She said, “How did you know we had almost no food?”
Yvonn's Family
We visited the daughter my own mom sponsors. Her name is Yvonn. She is a delightful fourteen year old in grade P5. Her father is too ill to work, so they survive on what her mama can cultivate and earn. Her mama has seven children. The youngest one month old. As we gathered in the front of their little home, I held baby Jean Pierre. I told Mama Yvonn he is a beautiful baby and she replied, “I would give him to you if I could.” I could only smile at her in return, but inside I was hurting.
Yesterday as we left the refugee camp an older teenager boy stood next to the car, tiny children swarmed around him as they each tried to slap my hand before we left. The teenager said, “Give me money.” I shook my head knowing it is forbidden and would cause chaos and certainly make me uninvited in the future. As I sat in the car waiting to pull away he kept saying, “Help us. Help us.” I could only look away in pain, because I could not help him.

After visiting our two children in Kageyo this afternoon we drove to the Akagera Game Park. A modest, aging lodge/hotel within the wildlife park. It sits atop a hill overlooking the second largest lake in Rwanda. Baboons scamper about. Exotic birds I’ve never seen sing outside our window. We’ll stay here two days to rest and go on safari. 

The paradox is not lost on me. As we entered the hotel, attendants came out to take our bags and freshly squeezed passionfruit juice was brought to us. A television was on reflecting the election cycle in the United States has become no less grotesque since we left home. After fives days of constant emotional upheaval, I became a whining, cranky, crybaby. 

Finally, after Kevin did his best to cheer me, I went into the bathroom, laid down on the floor, covered my face with a towel and sobbed and sobbed and sobbed and sobbed. Because do you know how many hungry children whose faces I looked into today? How many near naked toddlers raced after our truck as we bumped along the roads in front of their homes? If you can come to Rwanda and visit the homes I’ve visited and not lie down and cry for a long while, you’re made of stronger stuff than me.

Tomorrow I know I will have recovered. I will sleep in a comfortable bed. I will wake early and pray and write and talk with God. And I have a lot to say to him! Tomorrow will be good and my mind and body and heart mostly recovered, but for tonight I sit here in this sadness and anger that this is a world where unkindness and cruel words reign in the United States news cycle, and I drive my expensive car to Whole Foods to buy fancy food, beautifully packaged just for me. And in this same world tonight the children in Yvonn’s community will go to bed hungry.
Kageyo
This is the world we have allowed. This is the world we’re okay with. As long as I can do my next thing, hang out on the lake, go to a movie, buy the newest iPhone. Well then that’s okay. Carry on.
There is a lot of guilt in these words, because I doubt those families who are going to bed hungry, those strong mamas and hard working papas are having a cry-fest or temper tantrum. But then they don’t have that luxury. They were dealt a different life.

This morning I prayed these words, “Oh, Jesus, Kageyo is so hard to visit, it’s so hard to know such places exist. Please may all my hope and glory come only from you. May I trust you completely, knowing you are my granite strength. Always my safe-harbor. Be all my strength.” (From Psalm 62)

Please, please change a life and sponsor a child. Our sponsored child, Umulisa, will move into secondary school next year as she continues on with her dream of becoming a nurse. This is happening. Her life is being changed for $39/month. You can change a life - Africa New Life Sponsorship.
The Children of Kageyo
Read Friends on a Thousand Hills - Rwanda 2016 Part 6 here.

Friends on a Thousand Hills - Rwanda 2016 Part 4

Love from the center of who you are; don’t fake it. Run for dear life from evil; hold on for dear life to good. Be good friends who love deeply; practice playing second fiddle. Romans 12:10

How do I turn our day spent in the Gihembe Refugee Camp in northern Rwanda into words? It seems impossible. The day overflowed with emotions - joy, heartbreak, love, relief, contentment, sadness, impatience, anger, hurt, worry, guilt. What is appropriate and sensitive to share? What words will honor my friends?

We spent Tuesday in the Gihembe Refugee Camp in northern Rwanda. Gihembe is home to 15,000 Congolese refugees, many of whom have lived there since 1997. They have married there. Raised their children there. Managed to create lives in conditions we Americans cannot imagine. Lives spent each day in small homes made of mud, dirt floors and no electricity. Benches or the ground their only furniture. Yet you won’t meet more hospitable people. These are generous people. Their love is big.


ADRA Rwanda Headquarters in Kigali
Our day began early. Representatives from the Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA) arrived in the tallest SUV I’ve had to climb into (in a long skirt) and first drove us to their Rwanda headquarters in Kigali to meet the associate country director, Geoffrey Kayonde and field officer Epiphanie who accompanied us through the day. Without ADRA obtaining official - and I mean official rubber stamped letter official - permission from the Ministry of Disaster Management and Refugee Affairs (MIDIMAR), we could not have entered the camp. Outsiders are not allowed into the camp without authorization and a guide with them at all times. This is for many reasons. One is for our safety, but also maintaining order in a camp with that large a population, in that small an area is no easy task, and when foreigners enter the camp we immediately create a mob of followers.

Our first stop in Gihembe was to greet the camp manager of MIDIMAR. The purpose - for him to lay down the law - to tell us, “This is what you can do.” And. . .  “This is what you cannot do? No pictures of groups of people. We could take pictures of the school and school children and the families we came to visit, but nothing else.
Primary Classrooms in Gihembe
Next we toured the primary school. We went into the P2 classroom (second grade). Oh, the delight of those children. They begin learning English from P1 and love to talk in English, although we did have a translator explain our BIGGER thoughts. . . We introduced ourselves. Kevin was funny. I was funnier I’m sure. The children asked us questions: What is different about America? Do you have children? Do you like Rwanda? Troublemaker Kevin asked, “What is your favorite football team?” Then egging them on, Kevin said, “Who is better Renaldo or Messi?”
P2 Classroom
As we left the primary school and climbed the hill to the P7 classrooms, children swarmed around me saying, muzungu like they needed too point out that I’m white. I smiled. I asked Epihanie, “If I am muzungu, what are you?” She laughed and said, “African.” So I decided every time they call me muzungu I will reply “African.” As we walked, the children began touching me (this always happens in a crowd of children; it doesn’t bother me, but it is awkward), some children were lightly pinching me. One older boy pinched me harder and I looked him in the eye, gave him the mom look and said, “No!” All his friends laughed at him. Struggling up the hill amidst a swarm of children, I saw Kevin looking back with a  worried look on his face or maybe he was just jealous. . . 

We arrived at P7 where the children asked not to have the translator interpret. Their English was perfect. These children were more comfortable with us, asked lots and lots of question. We laughed so much with them. We told them we have friends their age in Boise who sat in this very classroom. I said, “Does anyone know Justin Karangwa?” Nearly all the hands in the classroom shot up. We showed them pictures of our school age friends in Boise. “I know that one. I know that one.” They said.
P7 Classroom
Then they asked, “What church do you attend?” We replied, “Seventh-day Adventist” and to our surprise they all cheered and clapped. Kevin and I looked at each other quizzically then asked, “Which of you are Seventh-day Adventist?” Every hand but one shot up. We laughed and I reminded them God loves all his children.

I prayed for them, asking God to bring them to Boise so we could be neighbors. As we left I said, “Remember you are important to God. You are loved. Study hard. Maybe we will meet again in Boise.”

We were blessed that day. It is not normally allowed to visit an individual family in their home. It can create danger for them if it appears they have rich friends. But we had come to see Agnes’ mama and papa (we call them Mama Agnes and Papa Agnes), but Papa Agnes was too sick to walk to the ADRA office. Our friend Dada (whose family has already been resettled to Boise), argued long and hard with the ADRA representatives and the director of MIDIMAR. And, well, I’ll just say we visited Mama and Papa Agnes in their home. Later I told Dada he should attend law school when he is resettled to America. He replied, “I do like to win every argument.”

Dada led us through a maze of homes until we reached their home. There were so many family members waiting for us. As I stood there a bit overwhelmed, a woman came and stood before me. Dada said, “This is Mama Agnes.” Mama Agnes looked at me, grabbed onto me and I said, “Oh I’m going to cry.” And then we hugged the hardest hug. We share a daughter, you see. Earlier this year when Agnes was preparing to give birth to her daughter, she talked with her mom on the phone and her mama was so worried about Agnes being alone in Boise. But Agnes replied, “Mama it’s okay. I have found another mother here.” Mama Agnes told me this as we sat in her home together. Tears came to my eyes as I responded, “We will share her now and she will have two mamas.”


The family of Agnes and Justin
I don’t know what to say about this. This strong woman was sharing her daughter with me. This strong woman who raised an incredible daughter, the most generous and kind woman whose laugh can bring joy to the saddest day, this daughter is now mine also. I am humbled. My life has been easy. I cannot know the struggle she endured to raise Agnes into the person she is today, but I am so grateful to be a part of this family.

As we gathered in their home where benches lined the walls, Mama Agnes pointed Kevin and me to the chairs in the room but I said, “No, I want to sit beside Mama Agnes.” And so we squished together on a bench, never letting go of each other.

Later, Papa Agnes slowly made his way into the room. He was very sick. I could see it in his face, but he had put on his best suit to join us. When I saw how painfully he walked into the room I wished he had not risen from his bed. But I could see the joy of being in the room, the honor he showed us, was greater to him than the pain of his illness. The hospitality of African culture is beautiful. We can learn much from it.
Papa Agnes
We pulled out photographs Agnes had sent - beautiful photos of her little family, two month old beautiful, just learned to laugh, Rachael and her big brother Justin, who also is pretty cute but can’t compete with Rachael. Sorry Justin, but I’m sure you know this already.

We then settled into visiting. We stayed for hours, drinking Fanta and eating the delicious tiny bananas. We shared stories about Agnes and Justin. Good stories. Mama Agnes said, “Justin says he is always at your house.” We showed them pictures of Justin being baptized and Kevin brought out the video Justin had made especially for his grandma. He had a long message for her. I don’t know what he said. It was in Kinyarwanda, but grandma listened to it three times and then passed it around to each family member. Great grandma held it against her ear so she could hear his words, nodding her head all the while. Then grandma recorded a message for Justin. I don’t know what she said, but I’m pretty sure it was a lot of love and reminding him keep following Jesus.

As we sat there loving each other, children began pouring into the room. Young children ages five, four and a little two year old. Each came directly to us and hugged us. When the two year old cutie hugged me I said, “Oh! I’m taking this one home with me.” The room roared with laughter. But seriously. . . 
Family
As our visit ended, we gathered in front of their home for a family photo - because we are a family. We crowded together and Dada said, “Shawna stand by Kevin.” I said, “No. I’m standing by Mama Agnes.” Then ensued a ten minute laughter infused photo shoot. At one point Dada wanted me to hold Agnes’ baby niece, but she was having none of it. She fled back into her uncle's arms and gave me a look that said, “I heard you were going to take one of us home with you and it’s not gonna be me!”

Talking to Agnes
During our photo shoot, Agnes called her brother Jackson on video chat. Can you imagine the joy of standing next to her mama while seeing the face of Agnes (in Boise) on the phone and both of us talking to her. One of us in English and one in Kinyarwanda? What crazy world is this where such technology is possible yet her family lives in the harsh reality of a refugee camp?


Praying with Papa and Mana Agnes
As we said our goodbyes and walked back to our ADRA vehicle, I hugged Mama Agnes and tried not to cry.  We got into the car and as we waited for our driver, tiny children came in droves to my open window, said “Hi” and wanted to shake hands with me. An older teenager stood beside the car. His eyes were sad as he said over and over, “Help us. Help us.” I could only look at him and say “Sorry.” It is a paradox that to spend time amidst poverty you must have both a soft heart and a hard heart. But I know if I absorb too much of another’s pain, I will not survive. 

Today, I’m holding on extra tight to these words from Jesus in Matthew chapter 5.

You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule.
You’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you.
You’re blessed when you’re content with just who you are—no more, no less. That’s the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can’t be bought.
You’re blessed when you’ve worked up a good appetite for God. He’s food and drink in the best meal you’ll ever eat.
You’re blessed when you care. At the moment of being ‘care-full,’ you find yourselves cared for.
You’re blessed when you get your inside world—your mind and heart—put right. Then you can see God in the outside world.
You’re blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight. That’s when you discover who you really are, and your place in God’s family.

Read Friends on a Thousand Hills - Rwanda 2016 Part 5 here