"Bless the moment... and the years will be their own blessing. Many of us
live life in a rush because it allows us to believe we are going somewhere."
-Jacob the Baker-

Friday, October 5, 2012

Reflecting on Rwanda

When we were still in the Calgary airport, and had not even touched Rwandese soil, Rolf (the Providence faculty member who led the trip) asked if I would write an article for the Providence newsletter once we returned.  Here is the link the resulting reflection article.  Jordan, who was also on the team, got her daughter's help to create a beautiful video, also posted on the site.

Check it out.

My thinking, learning, and growing doesn't stop at this reflection, but it's a pretty good measure of the thoughts and ideas that have rolled around in my head.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Counselors for Hope

Counselors for Hope was our team name. What does hope mean? The Rwandese people embodied that well for us. I was humbled and inspired by the hope that seemed to hide in unexpected places all throughout that remarkable little nation.

But my sense of hope was shaken on one day. During much of the time we were in Rwanda, we were largely cut off from worldwide media. Although we could have turned on the television and watched BBC coverage, we simply did not have time to do so. However, on the morning that we were to depart Kigali and drive to Gisenyi where we would take a boat across Lake Kivu to Iwawa Island, our driver was late. We were finished all the tasks that needed to be done. So we flipped on the television, and found ourselves glued to the worldwide coverage. The big headline that day was Syria. Children were being tortured by the government in attempts to get information concerning the possible subversive activities of their parents. The news anchor stated that genocide is happening in Syria. There was a quiet solemnity that hung over us for a period of time; the long-term effects of genocide on individuals, families, on the church, and on a nation is what our team was witnessing in Rwanda.

After a beautiful drive up to Gisenyi, we pulled up to the gate of a refugee camp built to house 2000 Congolese people fleeing the violence in the DRC. That day, over the past weeks, over 100 refugees a day had been pouring over the border until the camp now contained somewhere around 11,000 people - more children than adults. That day, if you stood on the border between Gisenyi, Rwanda and Goma, Democratic Republic of Congo, you could hear gunshots. When we stepped into the camp, we were immediately separated and surrounded by children who wanted attention. It was the only time during the trip that I was completely emotionally overwhelmed with a feeling of helplessness, powerlessness, and hopelessness. The Rwandese worker who was accompanying me while we were in the camp used the G word - "It's a genocide." It was terrifying to know that on that single day, two genocides were happening not too far away. Entire families are being killed. One or two might survive. Women and children are experiencing unspeakable trauma, yet have to continue eking out food, water, and shelter to survive. Cycles of violence, cycles of trauma.

What is justice?  Where is the God of all comfort and hope?

Monday, September 10, 2012

Humility & Muddy Boots

A couple years ago, I drove with a couple friends to Winnipeg to attend an information and movie night about issues that are affecting east and central Africa as a result of the terror and destruction carried out by the Lord's Resistance Army. Two of us were Canadian, one was from Ghana, and one was from Rwanda.

I don't recall the entire conversation - it wandered from one subject to another with ease and comfort, as it is with friends who get along well and share a few common interests. We talked about my childhood experience of Zaire, and touched on my friend's experience of Rwanda. However, the discussion became tense when my Ghanan friend - insisting that his homeland is peaceful, stable and uncorrupted by many of the issues that have affected post-colonial Africa - said, "No... in Ghana we are civilized. We don't act like those savages." My Rwandese friend became suddenly still and quiet.

What went wrong? Although what was said was certainly insensitive and politically incorrect, the issue goes much deeper. You see, deep inside my Canadian heart there is the same civilized pride ("In my country, people don't use machetes to dismember each other" - although the residential school system could fairly be called a cultural genocide of epic proportions); I guess I was just lucky that I wasn't the one who took my foot and shoved it halfway down my throat.
Building bridges - Tea with our Rwandese friends.
The problem is that we do not understand the problem of evil. Until it stares us in the face, we hesitate to acknowledge it; and then, once evil is staring us down, we cry out to God in confusion, asking "Where were you, God?" as if human evil were God's responsibility. I won't begin here to flesh out a theology of evil (for that, please see N.T. Wright's Evil and the Justice of God - a good read, and in fairly accessible language as well).

Although God's redemptive mission certainly contains the final solution for evil, human beings are still accountable and responsible for their choices.  However, "the line between good and evil is never simply between 'us' and 'them.' The line between good and evil runs through each one of us" (emphasis added; Wright, 2006, p. 38). Every member of humankind is made in the image of God, and yet every member of humankind is also tainted, tracking evil through God's world - like muddy shoes across pristine carpet. However, in the irony that so often characterizes God's kingdom, God then uses these same messed up, muddy footed people on His mission of redemption. He uses me! He uses my Rwandese friends. He uses the Church - which is chock-full of muddy-footed people. Isn't that amazing?

Redemption is messy business. It just doesn't seem fair! Shouldn't there be a clearer line between the good guys and the bad guys? But while it freaks me out a little bit, I think it delights God. "After all," He reminds us, "there's only one person without mud on his boots" (Romans 5:8; 2 Corinthians 5:21).

When I first look down to see my own muddy feet, it makes sense to embrace as equals others who have mud on their boots.  

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

a framework for how I think about Rwanda

Although my feet are planted back on Canadian soil, my head is still reeling - perhaps because I promptly uprooted again and moved up to Peace River, Alberta only a day after landing in Calgary. So thank you for your patience in waiting for a final report about the time I had the privilege of spending in Rwanda (with the team from Providence) and Kenya (flying solo).

First off... let's play a quick word association game. Which of the two words that follow stick out to you when you think "Rwanda"?
Gorillas                      Genocide

If you answered genocide, then you're in good company - most people would agree with you. In 1994, the people of Rwanda experienced a genocide which saw approximately one million people killed by their government, friends, neighbours, and even family members inside of 100 days. However, if you were to stand on a street-corner in Kigali and ask Rwandese passers-by to comment on the same question, you would quickly find that the Rwandese people are tired of having their national identity defined by the events of 1994. Wouldn't you if you were in their shoes?

I hope to share about my time in Rwanda in a way that honours their desire.  People deserve to be known for their strengths and resilience as much as for their pain and brokenness.  I too am both strong and broken.
Giving and receiving are inseparable.  This young woman learned to sew from this hope-giving ministry, and now sews quilts and bags to contribute to the ministry.

For this reason, you will more often hear me talk about "walking alongside" people than "helping" them.  And I am more likely to reference things that I learned from the Rwandese people than I am to talk about what I think I was able to contribute.  Although I was the one to travel across the Atlantic to spend June in Africa, and although I went with something special to contribute... still we stand on equal footing. 
A new friend at the market.  You should see the fabrics we picked out together. 

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

I am the ghost in the darkness; the lone occupant of the school at this weary hour.  I have no one to talk to but myself, and the sound of my voice sounds a wee bit eery.  But the silence is equally eery; I need someone to talk to.  And - having written 25 pages in the last 22 hours, I feel that it is my right to write something just because I want to, not because I have to, nor becaue I think I should.  Just because.  That's it.  And so I turn to you.  I am doing a dance for joy in my head because the end is nearly here.  It has not been perfect, nor even really pretty.  In the last two weeks, the prayers of my parents and my friends have been metaphorically holding up my arms so that I could continue.  But now it is nearly finished.  In 38 hours.  And in less than 38 minutes (I hope), I will be able to check one more thing off the list, and call it done - at least for the day.
And then I will sleep for four sweet hours of bliss.
Wish me luck.  Send me prayers.  See you soon!

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Voting day...

Dear Government,

Given our recent interactions, I am truly impressed at both your size and scope.  I am currently uncertain as to my deepest feelings about you... whether I want to see you shed some unnecessary pounds, or if I like your oh-so-ample curves just the way they are; whether I love all the lovely gifts you give to me and all my friends, or if I resent the fact that it seems like our relationship is all give and no take.  I will speak on that subject more decisively in about an hour at Station 30 in the privacy of my voting booth.
However, the purpose of this letter is to suggest to you that the oft-quoted verse "Do not let the right hand know what the left hand is doing" does not apply to you in the same way that it would an ordinary citizen (I say that in a falsely flattering tone).  You see, the fact that it takes up to 2 months for my file to be updated in one area of your massive body, with the information being passed to other relevant areas only in the distant and very tentative future seems a slightly excessive.  Please let your right hand know what the left hand is doing, as it would have saved me at least five phone calls today, and innumerable minutes on hold as I waited for the right and left hands to figure out their cognitive difficulties.

Many thanks,

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Expert or Jack-of-All-Trades?

Someone recently offered me a gem of a new word...

polymath |ˈpäliˌmaθ|nouna person of wide-ranging knowledge or learning.
DERIVATIVESpolymathic |ˌpäliˈmaθik| adjectivepolymathy |pəˈliməθē; ˈpäliˌmaθē|nounORIGIN early 17th cent.: from Greek polumathēs ‘having learned much,’ from polu- ‘much’ + the stem of manthanein ‘learn.’I'd like to think that I am a budding polymath, but in reality, I'm someone who is taking five courses in the same subject this semester.  I suppose the intent of a "master's" degree is to create experts in each of our respective fields, but it makes me ponder every once in a while...  Given the exclusion of the possibility that I could be both, would I rather be a master or a polymath?

You?(photo from: http://www.treehugger.com/turkey-books-photo.jpg)