Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Please, Not On Our Watch

Last night I said to my husband, “Maybe we and others like us have a responsibility in this. At first I thought this was a joke and nothing to pay attention to, but I think it’s not a joke. It’s real and we have some responsibility in letting it get this far.”

I was talking about the rise of presidential candidate Donald Trump in my country. Mr. Trump is the leading Republican candidate for president.

This morning as I prayed, tears ran down my face. How can so many people in my own country follow hate? Because that is what Mr. Trump speaks at every opportunity.

I keep thinking of the quote “All that it takes for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” Is that what is happening? Are we good men and women letting evil triumph, mistakenly thinking this too shall pass, all the while doing nothing?

Many people reference Hitler and the Holocaust and compare the political climate today to that era, but we don’t have to go back that far. We only need go back to 1994 in Rwanda, where hate speech led the way to genocide.

I live every day in community, in friendship, in love with genocide survivors from Rwanda. It was them I thought of this morning as I cried. I have spent the last three years reading and studying the Rwandan genocide and listening to the survival stories of my friends. 

Hate is a powerful motivator, and Mr. Trump knows it. He is no fool. He is cunning. But he is not a worthy leader. He is not leading. He is herding. He is herding my country down a tunnel of hate.

Yesterday I began N.T. Wright’s book, Reflecting the Glory, Meditations for Living Christ’s Life in the World. Mr. Wright begins powerfully with these words, “This is our vocation: to take up our cross, and be Jesus for the whole world, living with the joy and sorrow woven into the pattern of our days.”

This is not easy to, “be Jesus for the whole world.” I desperately want to put my head in the sand and forget there is a presidential campaign, forget there are mass shootings, forget there is terrorism, forget there is evil. But to do this would mean I am aiding and abetting that same evil. And I cannot live in daily contact with genocide survivors and turn my head away from the evil that is happening all around me. Right here in my country. In my home state. In my city.

When good men and women do nothing in the presence of evil, evil wins. Every time.

Are we okay with that?

Please, let’s be Jesus to a world desperately needing him. Let’s live his love and peace and hope to a world desperately wanting those very things. Sometimes it’s hard. Right now it’s harder than ever. Lately, every day feels like final exams in following Jesus. Will today be the day I fail? The day I give in to evil? The day I turn my head the other way so I don't have to watch as hate wins the day?

Please, let us love each other better. Let us love our enemies. Let’s love the people we are afraid of. Let’s love every follower of Trump and Mr. Trump himself so much that there is no room left for hate.

Please, let us love one another.

“Above all, love one another deeply, because love covers a multitude of sins.” 1 Peter 4:8

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Giving Thanks in a Hurting World

Last week was hard for those of us who share our lives with refugees. By week’s end my heart felt bruised. Despite phone calls and letters and appeals to our government officials, the United States Congress passed an anti refugee bill. I don’t know why this was such a shock to me, since social media beat the anti refugee drum loudly.

The negative comments from my social media friends surprised me. And hurt. To the many people calling for stricter background checks I wanted to ask, do you know what the laws already require for refugees currently entering the United States? Because existing laws are stringent, and I think if more of us knew what is already required, we wouldn't be so afraid. Current Security Screening Process

Still, it has been my experience that the hard days do pass and good days return. We went to church last weekend, bringing two overfilled carloads of New Americans-refugees. Kevin and I were crawled all over and hugged by a myriad of small children. When my sweet friend, three year old Agisaro, climbed onto my lap and snuggled in, the hurt around my heart started loosening. She soon wandered back to her mom and four year old Simbi who was sitting beside me leaned up and whispered, “Sawna, I want on your lap.” I felt the hurt crumble away even more.

After church we gave away over thirty coats our friends from near and far had sent to keep our newer friends warm this winter. For some this will be their first Idaho winter, their first experience with snow and ice.

Kevin spent Monday afternoon cleaning the gutters of our house. He enlisted the help of thirteen year old New American, Justin and offered to pay him for his labor. Justin’s mom said, “No. Don’t pay him, because you don’t pay family to help you.” And all the remaining hurt fell away from my heart. How could I stay in a place of hurt when I am loved so well?

Tuesday we had Thanksgiving dinner for our Bible study kids. Thirteen noisy, giggling, refugee kids around the table. Some have been here four or five years. Our newest arrived just two months ago. We went around the table and shared what we are most thankful for this year. Half of these children said, “I’m grateful to be alive and that my family is alive.” Have you ever heard a ten year old speak those words? They are not easy words to hear.

This Thanksgiving we will be sixteen around our table. Caleb and Claire arrived home safely yesterday, in spite of the snow, and I breathed a sigh of relief. My sweet Rebecca will be my cooking partner in the kitchen. Friends and family will fill the benches. When two year old David does something outrageously cute, his mom and I will share a look, and I will get to see that sparkling smile in her eyes that I never saw when I first met her. America has been good to her family. Kevin will sit at the head of the table and lead us in a prayer that will likely make me cry, because how in the world did all these people come into my life and stick?

I know holidays are hard for some. I’m so sorry. I wish I could invite you all into my home and share this life - this love with you. For a long time, I wasn’t brave enough to let people inside my little world, inside my little family. For a long time it was just us four, Kevin, Shawna, Caleb, Rebecca. It was sweet, but sometimes it was lonely.

I’m so glad Africa came to Boise. If you don’t know any New Americans, any refugees, I hope you’ll meet some. I hope you’ll let them bless you with their friendship and love. 

This Thanksgiving there are no Americans more thankful than the newest ones. And maybe me.

Psalm 146:5-9
Happy is the one whose help is the God of Jacob,
whose hope is in the Lord his God,
the Maker of heaven and earth,
the sea and everything in them.
He remains faithful forever,
executing justice for the exploited
and giving food to the hungry.
The Lord frees prisoners.
The Lord opens the eyes of the blind.
The Lord raises up those who are oppressed.[b]
The Lord loves the righteous.
The Lord protects foreigners
and helps the fatherless and the widow,
but He frustrates the ways of the wicked.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Please Let Them In

One of my favorite refugees
My husband was in Europe when the Paris attacks occurred last Friday. He had been in Lisbon, Portugal for business meetings. His travel route took him through Paris. 

This isn’t the first time we have been separated during a terrorist attack. On September 11, 2001, my husband was in Boston when the attacks in our own country took place. He had just flown into the airport each terrorist originated from. It took almost a week and a long drive to Detroit to find an open airport for him to get home. It was a scary week, made bearable only because of neighbors who loved us well. Those days are burned into my memory.

I understand fear. I spent most of my life in fear, worrying about all the things, big and little that life throws at us. I have had melanoma twice. The first time when our daughter was one year old. I understand fear.

But Jesus has shown me a better way. For I have not given you a spirit of fear but of power and of love and of sound mind. (2 Timothy 1:7)

I have lived into fear. I understand fear. But I have found a better way and it is the way of trusting Jesus. Of living his words. (The Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 5-7).

I choose to listen to Jesus, to trust Jesus, to obey his words. Some days I do all this better than others, but always it is my desire to follow Jesus well. I think it’s a big deal to Jesus that we trust him all the way through life and not just when it's easy.

When our son graduated from college, he was accepted into Officer Candidate School, U.S. Army. I’m so grateful God had already walked me away from fear, because being an Army mom has the potential to open wide the door to fear. Before our son left for training, I said these words to him, “I am so grateful to have raised brave children. I am so proud of your choice to live a brave life.”

My life today is not filled with fear and this is only because of God. This is only because I started believing he could be trusted. I started believing what he says is true. I started believing him for real. I started believing it is not the size of my faith that matters. It is the size of my God.

I have told you these things so that in Me you may have peace. You will have suffering in this world. Be courageous! I have conquered the world. John 16:33

Yesterday, I spent too much time on Facebook. I was dismayed at the self-preserving, fear-filled atmosphere I found there from many of my American friends. When, I wondered, did we become a nation of fear? When did we become so concerned with our own safety and comfort that we could be okay watching families languish in refugee camps for years. When did my life become more important than the African life, than the Syrian life? I don’t know. But I know we are all equally valued, equally loved by God.

Most people, I think, don’t understand the refugee process in the United States. We do not have Middle Eastern or African refugees slipping over our borders in great numbers like is happening in Europe. To get to the United States as a refugee is a long and difficult process. Many of my refugee friends spent fifteen years in camps jumping through the myriad of hoops that is the route to a safe home.


This morning I prayed for my country. I prayed for our leaders to have wisdom and compassion. I understand our refugee program is not without error. I have many refugee friends. I understand the messiness of the system. It is not perfect. Because we are not perfect. We do not always live up to our intelligence potential, our common sense potential, our compassion potential, our desire to do the right thing potential. We do stupid things. We get it wrong. But we have a better chance of getting it right when we choose to love others more than ourselves.

I know the one place I can't go wrong is the place where Jesus is.  I can be weak, sinful, foolish, and even rebellious.  I can fail others, ruin ministries, fumble my work, and still, I cannot go wrong when I stand with fear and trembling, knowing only Jesus. Carl Medearis ~ Speaking of Jesus

You know what I am afraid of? I’m afraid of loving myself more than my neighbor. I’m afraid of loving my comfortable bed more than my neighbor in Syria. I’m afraid of loving my warm home more than I love my neighbor in Congo or Rwanda. I’m afraid of loving my morning coffee more than a desire to give my time away. I’m afraid of myself I guess.

Jesus didn’t come here and show us how to lead a comfortable, predictable life. He came here and had no home. He came here and loved the wrong people. He came here and was brutally killed. Because he loved us more than he loved himself.

I want to live his Way always.

And I am not afraid.

If you will trust God with your anguish it will birth something precious to you. It will birth something that you will not trade back. Beth Moore

I forget so easily that there’s a bigger picture. . . I forget that it’s all held together by a holy, loving God, and that we get to be his partners in restoration and healing. I forget that there’s more than I see. More than I dream. Shauna Niequist ~ Savor

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Netflix and the Lost Month

My Netflix binging co-hort and favorite girl ever
Rebecca and I are just completing a Netflix binge that has lasted a month. We are addicted to the television series Parenthood. This is entirely Jen Hatmaker’s fault, and I take no responsibility at all for my actions. . . non-actions. I’m hopeful I can soon return to being a productive member of society, while Kevin is really just hoping to get his wife back. I also hope I remember how to read a book. One of my favorite things.

Last night Rebecca and I were watching an episode from season six. The matriarch of the family is counseling her youngest daughter (who has been separated from her husband for a year). She says these words, “Marriage is really all about forgiveness.” Rebecca turned to me and asked, “Is that true?” I responded, “Yes. And sometimes it sucks.”

I’m not always good at forgiveness. I want to be. I want forgiveness to be easy, but it just isn’t. Letting go of hurt is really hard. Recently, God asked me to forgive a friend who has hurt me. My reaction was not great. I was praying and asking God how he wanted me to move forward with this relationship. Being vulnerable – which is such a big part of forgiveness - is not my favorite thing, and my reaction to God’s request was, “Oh crap!” Yes, I believe in being real with God. If it makes you feel better, I went on to say other more “prayerful” words. Mostly, I asked God to make me brave, because I learned early in life that being vulnerable invites pain. And I have perfected the art of moving on, so my plan was just to move away from this relationship, to move away from the hurt. But God was asking me not to do that. He was asking me to stay in relationship with my friend. I wasn’t as excited about this idea as God was, and if He wanted me to be vulnerable with this person who hurt me, He would need to be in it with me.

“Forgiving someone who hurts us requires humility, imagination, and courage. We need the kind of humility that arises out of a deep understanding of our sin and a redemptive imagination that honestly faces where a person is and longs for where he might be. When our hearts deeply admit that our own sin is, at core, no less heinous in its direction than our enemy’s and when we taste the restorative grace of God, we grow in courage to wisely plan ways of destroying anything that mars beauty in the souls of others.” Bold Love, by Dan Allender & Tremper Longman III

I’m an introverted person, but I’m also a highly sensitive person. This is super fun. Except when it’s not. Being highly sensitive means I’m intuitive and empathic, which makes me a great caregiver and really good at helping others. It also means I’m sensitive to bright light, loud noises and strong smells - kind of like a dog. . . Yet even with those amazing dog-like skills, being highly sensitive is not an easy way to navigate childhood and those super fun middle school and high school years. I cannot tell you how many times I heard, “You’re too sensitive.” I knew it wasn’t meant as a positive. 

When God asked me to be vulnerable with my hurt and move back into relationship with my friend, I wrote these words in my prayer journal, "Jesus, you have done such big things in my life, it is ridiculous of me to focus on the little hurts. Pull me out of this way of being, of thinking. Help me sink into your love and goodness and soak you up."

When I hesitate to forgive it is because I have forgotten how much I have been forgiven. I forget the hugeness of what Christ has done for me. In me.

Being a follower of Jesus isn’t always easy. He asks hard things of us. He asks that I not be the center of my world. He asks that I let go of my selfish desires and let others go first. He asks that I forgive and not just one time. He asks that I forgive every single time someone hurts me. Following Jesus isn’t always easy, but it is good, because once I start following him for real and open the door to my heart, love floods in. Once I stop guarding my heart and holding myself back and let myself be open with others, even when I know I may get hurt, my life fills up with love - love that comes back to me. 

“When we embrace the possibility of forgiveness, we open the door for healing possibilities we would not have otherwise. Choosing the possibility of forgiveness gives us new possibilities for our life.” Unconditional? The Call of Jesus to Radical Forgiveness, by Brian Zahnd

During that month long binge of Parenthood, I didn’t accomplish much around my house and my desk is a mess, but I learned a great deal about loving people, about forgiveness, about the importance of relationships. It’s a great show. I found myself writing down quotes and recently used one with a young friend who is having a hard, sad time with a family member.

Following Jesus means forgiving those who hurt us. There are no ifs, no ands, no buts in that equation. Just forgiveness. Following Jesus means forgiving those who hurt us. End of story.

“. . . for if Christianity isn’t about forgiveness, it’s about nothing at all. Whatever else may be said about Christian people, it must be said of us that we are a people who believe in the forgiveness of sins - we believe in the forgiveness of sins as surely as we believe in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. . . to be an authentic follower of Christ we must embrace the centrality of forgiveness.” Unconditional? The Call of Jesus to Radical Forgiveness, by Brian Zahnd

Friday, October 30, 2015

The Overplayed Weekend

Last week I made this ridiculous comment to my husband, “Maybe I’m not as introverted as I used to be.” Ha!

I love people, and sometimes my love of people means I fail at calendaring. So it was that last Friday night we took four fantastic boys ages eight through thirteen to a Boise High School football game. It was tons of fun, and I confess our entire reason for being there was to see the marching band. Yes, the marching band. Twelve-year-old Celestine plays the trumpet in his junior high school band, and we were giving him a peak into his future. I love marching bands. I mean they can play music while marching forwards and backwards and sideways. How is this possible?

The next day started early with our normal church day activities. For us this means two cars. Kevin went one way. I went another, and we met at church with cars overloaded with refugee friends. After church Kevin and I took eight friends to our favorite Indian restaurant for lunch. Only two of those eight friends were older than thirteen. We had the biggest table in the restaurant. We were loud and silly and two year old David told some of his best stories. No one knows what they were about but from his facial expressions and hand gestures, they were definitely action packed. 

During lunch two children spilled water. One child ate so much his stomach hurt. At one point during our meal a woman sitting at the table next to ours caught my eye and said, “You have a lovely family.” I smiled and there was laughter in my eyes as I shared a look with my friend Beatrice (mother of four of the children at the table). She smiled my favorite smile and said, “You have a big family.” It was a moment to treasure, made even better because my own sweet daughter was sitting across from Beatrice and sharing “David duty.”

From that crazy meal we delivered our friends to their homes and went home to rest for two short hours before riding our bikes to Boise State University where we enjoyed the Homecoming Parade and football game with good friends. Go Broncos!

It was a late game and we left the stadium at 11:30 p.m., riding our bikes through silent, misty night air. The moon was glowing through the clouds. I wondered how this could be my life.

Sunday brought more fun, a church scavenger hunt and a birthday party. Kevin and I divided and conquered as he took a carload of children to the scavenger hunt, while I went alone to celebrate eight-year-old Alphonsine’s birthday. I arrived to a room full of Congolese and Rwandan friends. Happy Birthday was sung in three languages. The highlight was a new tradition Alphonsine’s uncle started, in which a giant piece of cake was smashed into Alphosine’s face. It was hilarious.

The weekend was energetic, fun, and filled with friends. I loved it, but I woke late on Monday exhausted. I pretended it was Sunday and accomplished nothing all day. 

It’s good to know who you are. I am an introvert. I love people, but you guys wear me out.

I am so blessed.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Friends on a Thousand Hills - Rwanda Part 14

What does hope mean to you? To me hope is a promise. It is God’s promise to me that he is never giving up on me, that I always matter to him, that he will never leave me. It means my future is something to look forward to with joy and not something to fear.

I have a bossy husband. This only seems fair as he has a bossy wife. About two seconds after I arrived home from Rwanda he told me I should write a “big picture” article about Rwanda. You know, what is the one main thing that sticks in my mind about Rwanda. What did I learn? What is my big take away?

And so because I am such an obedient wife. . .  and after mulling everything over in my mind these last few weeks and praying a lot about it, here we go.

Hope. I saw hope in Rwanda. I saw men and women trusting that tomorrow will be better than today, that their children’s futures will be better than their parents’ present. I saw this in everyone I met at Africa New Life Ministries. I saw this in the eyes of children at school. I felt this in myself as I spent time with and cried with and prayed with these resilient, loving, generous new friends.

We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. Hebrews 6:19

Before I ever left my home in Boise to fly to Rwanda, so many friends prayed with me, came to my house to pray with, called me, text prayed for me (that’s a new high tech way of praying. I hope God is up to date with technology).

We see a lot of suffering in this world - a lot of evil taking place, which thanks to today’s media, we can watch happen from the comfort of our living rooms. We can choose to make a difference in this suffering or we can choose to stay comfortable in our living rooms. But I happen to live in a world surrounded by people who are choosing to make a difference. I am surrounded by friends who are tutoring refugee children after school, who are taking them shopping for new clothes, who are showing up in their lives and making a difference. They are choosing to do all this smack in the middle of their own busy lives, and while raising children of their own. This gives me hope. So much hope.

Some of us will not even watch the news, choosing instead to be unaware of what is happening in the world. We think we can protect ourselves from pain by closing our eyes to the world around us. I've had friends tell me they don’t want to know what is happening. They purposely choose to be unaware that children are hungry and dying. I don’t understand this, because choosing not to know doesn’t make it not happen. Children are still hungry. Children are still dying. Pretending bad things don’t happen helps no one.

We must look pain in the eye. We must be willing to share another’s pain, even absorb the pain of others. When we do this, hope grows.

Hope and fear cannot share the same space. If we choose to live in fear, hope runs away. My country, indeed our world, is being rocked by the current and increasing refugee crisis. Our world is changing. Demographics are changing. Neighborhoods look different, more colorful, and there are a lot more children around! If we let change fill us with fear, hope runs away. For hope comes from God, but fear is not from God. The two are not compatible.

For my God tells me, “I have not given you a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of sound mind.” Please let’s live into that! Let’s chase away the fear-mongers. Let’s give fear the boot and live into hope. Hope will change the world.

I understand that holding onto hope is often fiercely hard. I know evil is always present to some degree on this earth. But it is only ever by fixing my eyes on Jesus, that hope can show its face in me. One of the hardest things I did in Rwanda was visit the Kigali Genocide Memorial and the memorial that is the Nyamata Church. It filled me with pain, but I would do it again, because evil and pain cannot be erased. They must be replaced with something else and to do so, evil and pain must be confronted. We face them down and put hope and love in place of evil and pain.

We cannot change our world if we only do easy things.

Visiting these places, it became clear to me that there is no way forward in hope unless forgiveness comes first. We cannot live into love and hope without first letting go of hate and anger. Forgiveness is the path to hope.

Hope grows when we help each other. When I decide to send a child in Rwanda to school, hope explodes in her. Hope is contagious. My sponsored child doesn’t hold that hope tightly inside her. No. It spills out of her onto her brother and sister; onto her mom and dad and her school friends. Hope is not selfish.

Hope is healing. To you. Is it impossible to look into the sparkling eyes of a child and not see hope? If you are lacking in hope, spend more time with children. Let them fill your life with laughter and silliness. If you are lacking in joy, become a joy-giver. Do you know the joy of giving others joy? There is nothing better. It seems almost a selfish thing to do.

Sometimes giving hope is easy, like taking children to a volleyball game. Their joy and laughter skyrockets. But sometimes giving hope is hard, like sitting with a friend whose brother has just died. We cannot change our world if we only do easy things.

Sometimes hope is as easy as an automatic bank withdrawal that sends a child to school each month. Making that child perhaps into a future doctor. A future leader. A future hope giver.

Africa New Life Ministries – sponsorship.

Isaiah 58:10
“If you do away with the yoke of oppression,
    with the pointing finger and malicious talk, 
and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry
    and satisfy the needs of the oppressed,
then your light will rise in the darkness,
and your night will become like the noonday.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Friends on a Thousand Hills - Rwanda Part 13

Last Monday evening I returned tired and simultaneously energized from Rwanda. I have been to Africa! I can’t quite get this concept into my brain. It seems exotic and adventurous. But I’m not an exotic person and am only slightly adventurous. Adventurous to me means I learned last winter to cross country ski and this summer I began paddle boarding with gusto. I am not the type of woman who travels to developing nations or conflict-ridden continents by herself. And yet I just did that.

And what did I find there on that far off continent? I found people like me. Moms who want their children to go to school. Dads who work hard to provide and feel despair and sadness when they are unable to do so.

I sat in the home of this lovely family. With this mom and dad and their two sons. Africa New Life Ministries had taken me there on what they call a Hope Visit. Hope Visits are made to the homes of children who need sponsors. This was my first Hope Visit and at the time I was just absorbing everything around me. I want to go back and do it all again, because I know I missed so much. This was my first time in a home built of mud bricks. My first time in a home with a dirt floor, no electricity and no running water. My first time face to face, hug to hug, with extreme poverty. This is a lot for a rich American to take in and process.

Now at home, I'm thinking of that mom and dad. I’m considering the courage it took to humble themselves for their son. To open their home to me and my travel companions and say, “Look, we need your help. We need your money so our son can go to school and be educated. So his future is not our present.” I hope I would have the courage and humility to do the same. 

I also recognize poverty leaves too many parents without the power of choice. They need our help and they know it. They know without our American dollars pouring into their lives, their present will become their children’s future. And they love their children more than that.

I hope I remember the privilege my American, optioned-filled world is. I hope I choose to see each of us as the same, no matter what we look like on the outside, no matter what human made borders we live within. I hope I choose to change the world, one child at a time. It is so easy, Africa New Life Ministries gives me power. I can change the world. One child at a time. 

Ten years from now my sponsored child, Umulisa’s future will look entirely different than her present. Because Kevin and I chose to send her to school. Chose to help feed her, clothe her, and encourage her. All while she lives in her own home with her mom and dad and younger siblings. Ten years from now, Umulisa may be a nurse, a doctor, a lawyer, a teacher. Her options are huge. The door has been thrown open to her. Because we chose to sponsor her.

I cannot wait to see what she chooses.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Friends on a Thousand Hills - Rwanda Part 12

It was hard saying goodbye to Rwanda. So hard. Already I miss the steep hills and closely built houses and the streets teaming with cars, buses, motos and people. Oh the people. I miss them. I want to go back and visit longer with Tate. Oh how I want to go back and spend the whole day with Umulisa and learn all about her life and her hopes and dreams. I've already made Kevin promise we will return next year. And we have lots more family friends to visit!

Still, I felt a bit like I was cheating, because while my travel companions returned to an Africa-free world in the United States, I cannot wait to get home to my Africa-filled world. Lucy’s new baby girl is waiting for me to hold her! I need to hug Beatrice and kiss David’s dimpled cheeks and find out what Simbi learned in school while I was gone. And I missed hearing the children singing at church last week!
Baby Dorcas and her
big brother
And I really, really, really cannot wait to hug and kiss on Kevin and Rebecca (Caleb too but he will have to get his homecoming love via telephone).

I took the long way home, stopping over for one night in Haarlem, a biggish Dutch village near the Amsterdam airport. I could not face the prospect of getting off one ten hour plane ride and immediately jumping into another ten hour plane ride. We call the ability to make these sorts of choices - privilege. I know.

Everywhere you look in Haarlem there is a photo op. It’s canals and cobblestoned streets and families riding bicycles together. It is completely charming. It was Sunday and quiet as I walked towards the main square. By noon shops had opened and families were cycling by as I sat at an outdoor cafe.
Charming Everywhere - Haarlem, Netherlands
Haarlem was good for my soul. I needed the quiet. I needed to be alone in my thoughts. It was good not to go straight from the poverty of the developing world into my upscale American - there’s a golf course behind my house - neighborhood. Haarlem is slightly more similar to Rwanda than the United States simply because they are not car-oriented. Pedestrian streets rule, meaning rather than buzzing passed each other with a quick wave from the car window, they stop on the sidewalk for a kiss on the check. Three times I saw moms on bicycles riding alongside very young children through the crowded streets. As they rode side by side, mom always had her hand on her child’s shoulder, guiding him/her along. They are connected physically in a way we are not in the land where cars rule.

If we choose to, we can live in a world of aloneness, but we weren’t meant for this. We were created to be in relationship.

“Connection is why we're here. We are hardwired to connect with others, it's what gives purpose and meaning to our lives, and without it there is suffering.” Brene Brown, Daring Greatly

Let’s love each other better. Let's choose to live with purpose and meaning. Let’s choose to be connected to the people in our cities, to our neighbors, and to the people in the bigger world. We were meant to share our lives. We were meant to take care of one another. Let’s do a better job of it.

“Stoop down and reach out to those who are oppressed. Share their burdens, and so complete Christ’s law. If you think you are too good for that, you are badly deceived.” Galatians 6:2, The Message 

“This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and truth.” 1 John 3:16-19

Friends on a Thousand Hills - Rwanda Part 13

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Friends on a Thousand Hills - Rwanda Part 11

I am Rwandan now. Well, for one day I was. On Thursday we woke early to drive to Azizi Life’s Twivane mu Bukene Cooperative located in Muhungu District. wivane mu Bukene means We Come Out of Poverty. The women of wivane mu Bukene specialize in making jewelry, mats and photo frames. 

Azizi Life has several cooperatives like this in Rwanda. Their vision is: "to participate in local initiatives for the development of Rwandan communities working towards physical and spiritual wholeness for all." 

So we muzungus spent a day in the life of a Rwandan woman. And it was not easy. 

First, they dressed us in traditional Rwandan clothing, skirt and headscarf. Elise helped me, a 42-year-old mother of two grown children. I liked her best. I probably shouldn't say so, but we both have grown children and we found connection in that.
We then received a tour of our host’s home, a mud brick home with packed dirt floor. There were four rooms, including a separate pantry and kitchen. We helped make lunch and by help I mean they let us move the already cut up cassava from a bowl of water into a pot on the fire.

While lunch cooked we went to the field to cultivate. I have done a lot of gardening but never have I used a hoe so gigantic as the one I used that day. It was very effective. On reaching the field, we stood in a row and cultivated all together in one direction. The woman next to me stopped hoeing, took a step back and said, “You are very good at this.” So mom and dad, you can be proud of me!

After cultivating a small amount of the field, they were too kind to us to let us do much, we took empty water jugs and walked down the very, very, very steep hill to the shared well. I am sorry to say to my Congolese friends at home, but they would only allow me to carry the small jug the children use when fetching water. It was embarrassing, but I know they were being kind to me. The climb down wasn’t so bad except for slipping a few times on the dirt trail. The climb back was not so easy. I run nearly every day up Table Rock near my home in Boise. It is a one thousand foot elevation gain in one mile. I do it four times a week, but I could not keep up with the women as they carried the water back up from the well, some with much larger jugs than mine and balanced on their heads.

We then shared a meal together of cassava, beans and avocados. It was delicious. Finally, Annette let me eat real Rwandan food. Some of us gathered around a short table, others sat on mats on the floor. A new baby girl kicked her feet contently on her mat while we ate.

We then went out to cut grass for the cow and carried the bundled grass on our heads. I am very, very proud to say I could balance that bundle on my head and walk at the same time! It made me so happy! It also made the cow happy, as we delivered the grass directly to its pen.
Elise peeling the outer layer off the leaves;
and carrying a friend's baby
Later we made a sad attempt at making bracelets from the leaves of a sisal plant. One should never get on the wrong end of this leaf because it is sharp like a needle. The women scrape the outer part of the leaf away РI was never able to do this without help - revealing what looks like thread. They then dye the thread and weave it into bracelets or earrings or mats. Elise helped me make my bracelet. The weaving pattern was like the macram̩ we did as children.

That day was like none other in my life. I ate lunch in a mud brick hut. I cultivated a field beside strong Rwandan women, and I carried (a little) water from a far off well. I sat with Rwandan women eating lunch from shared bowls. I carried bundled grass on my head! And I sat beside Elise as together we made my bracelet.
With Elise and wearing the bracelet we
made together
Life in Rwanda is not easy. These are strong women, and I could not keep up with them, but they were kind to let us have a peak into their world. I hope we didn’t make them to get too far behind in their work.

At the days' end they sang for us. A woman nursing her child began singing and the rest joined in. Soon a girl of five or six jumped into the circle and began dancing with joyful energy. Then our host joined her. It was the best of moments.

Afterwards, we all prayed together. This is a nation that prays for one another! Never did we leave a person's home without being asked, "What can I pray for you." Can you imagine being asked this from a woman living in a home made of mud bricks? A home with no electricity or running water? A home with a toilet outside in a three-sided hut? "What can I pray for you?" She said to the rich muzungu. It is a question that brings tears and fills me with humility. And it should.

We are all the same, you see. Some of us live in a house built of mud bricks. Some of us live in an upscale neighbor of Boise, Idaho. But our needs are the same. We must know who we are.

"You will not find your identity in what you have, but in who has you. You will not find your identity in what you do, but in what has been done for you. And you will not find your identity in what you desire, but in who has desired—at infinite cost to Himself—a relationship with you. Christ is your life. He gives you a new identity and will work that new identity out in your life until the day when He appears. On that day you will finally see clearly, as Christ sees you now. You will know as you are known." The Truest Thing about You: Identity, Desire, and Why It All Matters by David Lomas

And please, please considering sponsoring a child. You can change the world. Africa New Life Ministries

Friends on a Thousand Hills - Rwanda Part 12

Friday, September 18, 2015

Friends on a Thousand Hills – Rwanda Part 10

I stood in the church and listened to the sound of children reciting multiplication tables from the school next door. I stood inside Nyamata Church, a genocide site, a horrific genocide place. A place where evil came in abundance. Ten thousand men, women, children, tiny babies were brutally killed here. It was this day in Rwanda I was most worried about for myself, but I knew my family and friends at home were praying for my strength.
Nyamata Church
 During the genocide of 1994, 10,000 people sought refuge inside Nyamata Church. They believed no one would be killed in the house of God. For who could have imagined such evil? And yet evil came in the form of grenades and guns and machetes and other horrific acts that I will not share with you here.
The family I love at home who survived the genocide, hid in a church for a week. They were fortunate and survived. As I stood inside the still bloodstained walls of Nyamata Church, I was overwhelmed with the horror of it. I realized how miraculous it was that my friends survived to become a part of my family today. I stood there and all I could think about was my family at home. I began to cry, because when you see piles upon piles of blood stained clothes, and an entire section of the church filled with only children’s and babies’ clothing, tears must come. And for me they came in near sobs. 

A woman dressed in a traditional brightly colored Rwandan dress came to me. She was a genocide survivor from Nyamata. She put her arm around me and talked for a long time to me in Kinyarwanda. Annette translated and she was telling me how strong I was to be there. That God gives us a future. I shared with her that my family at home also hid in a church but God saved them. She hugged me longer while I cried.

Later, we walked down into the cellar of the church where the bones of those who were killed are tidily stored on separate shelves by body part. How is it possible that I was seeing such a thing? How is it possible that such a thing exists? How can such evil exist beside the goodness I just experienced from the lovely woman upstairs? 

After a time of silence and solitary prayer, the four women in our travel group stood together, holding hands and praying. Soon the Rwandan woman came into our circle and held hands with us. I prayed we would love each other better. I prayed we would experience the power of God’s grace and healing. I said to God, “What do you want from me as a result of me being here in this place? Tell me Jesus and I will do it. Show me where to go, what to say, what to write. I will do what you ask.”

I don’t understand the side-by-side ability of good and evil. I kind of hope I never do. I want to see the goodness of God in the world. I want to let God chase out the darkness. I want to keep my eyes on Jesus. Hebrews 12:2
As we stood inside the church, our translator Annette, a young twenty-eight year old beautiful woman said to us, “Tell the world what you saw here today. Tell them never forget. Tell them there is hope and unity now in Rwanda. God is here and He is blessing the people of Rwanda. Tell them not to think Rwanda is only about genocide.”

This morning I read these words from the Bible.

“I will listen to what God will say; surely the Lord will declare peace to His people, His Godly ones, and not let them go back to foolish ways.” Psalm 85:8

“Teach me Your way, Lord, and I will live by Your truth. Give me an undivided mind to fear your name. I will praise You with all my heart, Lord my God, and will honor Your name forever, For Your faithful love for me is great. Psalm 86:11-13

Horrific things happened at Nyamata Church in 1994. Things my mind wants to turn away from. Let’s remember what happened here, and go forward in hope that our God is a good God. That his pain over what happened here is greater than anything we can comprehend.

Let’s remember 1994 through the filter of hope. “Rest in God alone my soul, for my hope comes from you. You alone are my rock and my salvation. My stronghold. I will not be shaken.” Psalm 6:5-6

I live each day through the promise of these words. Please join me.

“Now all glory to God, who is able, through His mighty power at work in us to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think.” Ephesians 3:20
Nyamata Church

Friends on a Thousand Hills - Rwanda Part 11

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Friends on a Thousand Hills - Rwanda Part 9

Sunrise over Kigali
I have been trying to get up at 5:00 am to write each morning, which means I will be tired until I return to Boise next week. We are just so busy each day traveling about the countryside, seeing the many good things Africa New Life is doing, that by the time we return to the guesthouse it is late, and I am exhausted. If you see an increase in typos, well it’s because I’m writing until 10:00 pm and then back at it at 5:00 am and I am not really ever awake. . . I have discovered a pattern, however. The last two mornings when I woke at 5:00 am, there has been no electricity. This morning I got up anyway and thought I would just shower later and write in the dining room in the dark. But when I got there our janitor was mopping. His only light the almost risen sun. We said good morning and then he said was it possible for me to wait ten minutes and he would turn on the generator. So tomorrow, I’ll not be getting up until 5:30 am. Oh, Africa.
This is Rebecca. No, not my Rebecca, but Rebecca who is the nurse at Kageyo. You see in Kageyo, Africa New Life operates two schools and sponsorship programs. One is in Kageyo A, which was established first and has more infrastructure. There are more gardens. There is even a little row of shops. Rebecca serves as the medical provider for this entire community. Her “clinic” consists of a small room with a desk. No consulting table, no electricity most of the day, no assistance. She has one small cabinet filled with medicine and a box of bandages for wound care. Check out more of what the community nurses do here.  I would not be surprised if one day my sweet Rebecca is living this same life.

This is a chart of Kageyo B’s sponsored children. It lists how many children were being sponsored at the beginning of the month and how many were added that month. Some children are dropped from the program, perhaps because they aged out or moved out of the area. You can see that in August, 115 children were waiting for sponsorship.
This chart shows what sponsorship through Africa New Life provides. They do amazing work. Everyone I have met seems to truly love their jobs. The social workers are my favorites, though. Each social worker has in their care about 350 children. They are expected to visit each child’s home once per year, but they see them more often than that at school, at church, and at Center Day. Every Saturday is Center Day at each school where Africa New Life has a presence. 

The sponsored children are required to come to Center Day once each month to write letters to their sponsors. They also receive a meal at Center Day as well as character building. Tomorrow I will attend Center Day here in Kigali. We have been looking forward to this all week. Our favorite things to do here with Africa New Life are to be with the children. It is impossible not to love them. Please consider sponsoring one of these dear children. Sponsorship makes their futures so very bright. It let’s them leave daily hunger behind. It gives them hope.

At Kageyo A, the more established community in Kageyo, Africa New Life has a full time gardener, Theo, whom they sent to Uganda for one year to receive training in organic gardening. 

Here you can see the gardens they grow to feed the school children. They built these raised "keyhole" gardens because the earth is hard like concrete and the raised beds are filled with loose soil. For more information on the gardening program check it out here.

These beautiful children and their huge smiles followed us everywhere. Some are waiting for sponsors. Look at the boy with a soccer ball. He has made this ball out of old rags.
As we drove down the bumpy main street of Kageyo A, we passed several tiny, tiny, shops. I asked if we could please stop and shop. Annette and our driver, looked at me like I had lost my mind. Shop here? But I knew if we shopped here with our money-filled American wallets, we would boost the economy of this little community. And so we stopped. We crowded into the tiny shop which sold everything ever manufactured on the face of the earth (so it seemed). The shopkeeper probably thought we were nuts. 

While we shopped our ever present fan club crushed together at the entrance to see these crazy muzungus. I bought wonderful things, presents for my Boise friends from Africa. But I cannot tell you what I bought for that would ruin the surprise! 

Life has not been kind to these people, but it has been kind to many of us. Sponsoring a child is simply living out the life Jesus asked of me. It is loving others more than myself. It is saying you deserve food, clothing, education, and security as much as my own children deserve those things. The joy these children feel when they learn they have been sponsored is unexplainable. It makes them feel loved. As young as some of them are, they know it means their futures have been changed. It means they have hope.

Rwanda is beautiful, but it does not claim only physical beauty. It’s people, their way of life, their loving way of living in community, it is it’s own higher beauty. And yet there is nothing charming or beautiful about poverty. These sweet children, with the huge smiles and bright eyes, dressed in ragged clothing, yes they are beautiful. Yes they capture our hearts. But let’s not look at this and make poverty into something it isn’t. It isn’t a tourist attraction. It isn’t a great photo on my Facebook page. It is painful. It is scary. Mothers die in childbirth and children die from common colds for lack of medication. Many live each day malnourished. But more than anything material or concrete, poverty means living without hope. Without hope that tomorrow will be better than today.

Poverty isn’t charming. But hope is everything, and what we rich muzungus can provide is hope.

Please give these children hope. It’s so easy. Africa New Life Sponsorship Program

Friends on a Thousand Hills - Rwanda Part 10