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

Friends on a Thousand Hills - Rwanda Part 8

You must rise early in Kigali if you’re driving to Kageyo in eastern Rwanda. It isn’t far, about sixty miles, but it takes three hours to get there. This is because the last half of the road is dirt and rock and the roughest road I have ever, ever experienced. I felt like the entire day was one good core body workout. There was no relaxing in your seat.

Not many muzungu visit Kageyo, partly because it is very remote. Those who do visit eastern Rwanda are most likely headed to the game park to see elephants and giraffes. We made the bumpy drive to see my sponsored daughter, Umulisa. Umulisa is seventeen years old and attends Kageyo Public School, which the Rwandan government asked Africa New Life to take over operation of in 2012.

Kageyo is a resettlement village developed on land taken from Rwanda’s national game park. More than 3,000 people live here. Food is scarce and jobs are non-existent.

When Kevin and I decided to sponsor a child through Africa New Life Ministries, I purposefully chose an older girl. This is because I know boys are more likely to complete high school than girls in the poorer families in Rwanda. Because while the government says school is free, it is not. There are fees and uniforms and books to purchase, and many families cannot afford to do so for all their children. When a choice must be made on which child will attend school, most often the son will go to school while the daughter will stay home to care for the family. I know this, because my friends in Boise experienced this exact situation. And so my heart is for girls’ education.

Kayonza Primary School Students
Miss Jennifer's adorable "Top Class"
And so it was that we left Kigali at daybreak and headed east. Along the way we stopped at Africa New Life School in Kayonza. The school is for children grades one through twelve and also provides homes for orphans on campus. Each home has a house mother and 14-16 children. The school also provides boarding for high school students. We received a tour of the orphan homes and the girls dormitory – which houses 87 girls per room, in bunk beds three beds high.

From there we forged on, trading in blacktop for red packed dirt and a lot of rocks. We entered this red dessert where men and women do backbreaking work to cultivate the land by hand. They do only subsistence farming here as the ground will not give up anything more.
the dusty road to Kageyoa

When we arrived at Kageyo, we were met by the director and some of his staff. With them was a girl in uniform. I didn’t realize it was Umulisa until they introduced us. Oh we hugged so tightly. We then walked up the path to see her school. As we passed by each classroom window, children yelled and screamed and waved their hands through the open windows wanting to greet us. But really wanting just to touch a muzungu. I cannot tell you how many times children have run furtively up to me and run their fingers through my hair before racing away with a giggle.

Umulisa and her
We arrived at Umulisa’s classroom and were introduced. The children were sitting three to a bench. I asked her which was hers and she shyly showed me.

As we returned to the van we walked past the first primary class lined up for lunch. Children at Kageyo receive lunch daily or they would go hungry. Lunch is maize and beans every day. It looked delicious, but Annette won’t let me eat any African food that is not cooked in the guest house because of my wimpy American stomach. We have had much discussion. . . disagreement over this, but I bow to her wisdom and also the desire not to be ill. Still, the maize and beans looked delicious.

preparing lunch of
maize and beans

lunch line
We rode together to Umulisa’s home, another bumpy road. Umulisa lives in a very small home built of mud bricks. It had three tiny rooms and pictures on the wall. 
Umulisa's home
Her parents and I hugged and then we sat down together. I showed them all the photos I brought including a photo of a map of the United States so she could see where I live. I brought photos of my family and Boise with snow, which they marveled over. Then I handed out the gifts I brought. For dad, a bright orange Bronco t-shirt, because Boise State should be represented in eastern Rwanda! For mom a skirt that matched the one I was wearing that day. For Umulisa new, well made sandals and a Bible in English. For her younger brother and sister I brought coloring books and pencils. We prayed together and then we drove Umulisa back to school, as she had skipped school for my visit, and her parents had stayed in from working the fields to visit me. It was humbling.

Meeting Umulisa was the first time I have met a child Kevin and I sponsor. It was special and drove home to me the importance of this connection we have. The importance of writing letters to our sponsored children. The importance of letting them know we are here and supporting them and loving them from afar and encouraging them to do well in school, because it means everything to their future.

Before we said goodbye, Umulisa asked me to tell Caleb and Rebecca (my children) that she loves them very much and she prays for them every day.

When we left Umulisa at her school, she stood there waving goodbye. It was then I noticed she was wearing her new sandals. There are no borders or colors in love. We are all the same. Umulisa and I know it.

Child sponsorship with Africa New Life is available here. Sponsoring a child changes everything.

Friends on a Thousand Hills - Rwanda Part 9

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Friends on a Thousand Hills - Rwanda Part 7

“Oh and by the way, I can see Congo from our car. It’s about 100 yards from me.” I didn’t tell my husband this until we were well away from the border crossing and the city of Goma, which sits just next door from the peace and safety of Rwanda. It felt like a wise decision. . . 
Rwanda-Congo border crossing
When we visited Tate yesterday, which you can read about in my post, Friends on a Thousand Hills – Rwanda Part 6, I didn’t realize just how close to Congo we would be. I knew it was close. I just didn’t know it was so close I could see the people there milling about.

After the emotional visit with our family, translator/minder Miss Annette gave me a beautiful gift. She took me to the shores of Lake Kivu. I was nearly jumping up and down with excitement. I wanted so badly to see this great lake my friends talk about. When we arrived, I ran down to the shore and stood in the water and threw out my arms. It was warm and on another occasion you would have seen me joining the few Rwandans who were swimming.
Lake Kivu

Far out in the distance I saw what looked like an oil drilling platform. I asked our driver Fabrice what that was (I had an idea). It was a methane gas pump. You see, Lake Kivu contains methane gas and recently the Rwandan government began pumping it from the lake to use for energy. Brilliant! I love the ingenuity of this little country.

We then sat on the lawn of a lovely hotel and ordered coffee. A special treat, indeed, for this coffee lover who has been surviving on the instant coffee served at the guesthouse. Rwandans aren’t coffee lovers, although coffee is a big cash crop here.

Annette and I sat on the lawn relaxing after the long drive, the emotional morning and only five hours sleep the previous night (we keep busy here!). I had gone to bed the night before irritated from over tiredness and a packed schedule of events and a lack of alone time that this introvert sorely need. That morning I wrote in my prayer journal asking God to help me allow his emotions to reign in me and not my own cranky pettiness. And he was so good to me. I felt immediately a soothing of my soul, a calming of my senses.

And so we sat together listening to the lapping of the waves, the birds signing, drinking the delicious coffee and it was good. It was good. God knew this was exactly what I needed. 

Finally, I could take the sound of the birds no longer, and I grabbed my binoculars to see what I could see. I trained my eyes on the top of a banana tree where I saw movement but it was pretty dark up there and I stared and stared. And suddenly I gasped. Those were not birds but very, very, very big bats! I would have preferred birds! But I did see one bird walking along the shore of the lake. Oh, and what a bird it was! It was the pre-historic looking, Hamerkop. I excitedly texted a picture to Kevin.

Hamerkop Bird
As we made our way back to Kigali, I turned to wave goodbye to Lake Kivu and Congo. I was sad to go. The border crossing was a bustling crush of humanity and I thought about all that is happening over there and the terror so many still endure. God be with them.

There is something about Rwanda that makes it impossible to rest in the car, or read, or make notes, or send texts, or anything at all except stare and stare and stare out the window. For if you look away for the shortest of moments you might miss something incredible. Like a monkey sitting alongside the road, or a young man riding his bicycle up the steepest of hills while holding onto the back of a tanker truck.

Or you might miss the signs listing the names of the towns we passed through like, Inyange, Rulindo District, Gicumbi, Karambo, Gakenke District, Muryabaziza, Muzanze (the home base for tourists visiting the gorillas and volcano), Ruhengeri Province, Byangabo, Nyihabihu, Ciyambuye, Kabatwa, Bigogwe (our family lives here!!!), Rubavu, Gisenyi Province, Rugegero. 

I wrote down all the names I saw so I could remember the way.

Or you might miss seeing the many, many trails that lead directly off the highway up the steepest of hills. Who lives up there I always wonder? You might miss the sight of a mud brick house built oh so high on the hillside. What a climb that family has and why do they live so very far away from their neighbors?

Everywhere I looked yesterday I saw farming, garden plots, terraced hillsides, sheep even!

You will also see tragedy, like a large semi truck crashed onto its side, with a crush of people gathered around. I looked so hard and tried to see if the driver was okay. My dad is a truck driver. I know how dangerous it is. He’s seen his share of horrible accidents and been in a few himself.

You may also see a moto scooter lying mostly underneath a car with an even larger crowd of people pressing in. Again, I saw no driver and prayed that he was okay.

As we arrived back into Kigali, it was dark and the lights of the city put on a show for us. There is just no looking away from this country, or I would have missed the long line of people standing on the sidewalk holding bundles of clothes they were selling. In the dark.

And so we returned safely from our adventure through western Rwanda and almost Congo. It was the best of days. God is good to me. I hope you know how good he is to you. I hope you know he loves you.

near Rwanda/Congo Border Crossing
In this country Christians are not afraid to talk about their faith like we often are at home. They are not embarrassed of their God. Everyday I hear Annette or another of our friends say, “Yes, God has been good to me.” Or, “Yes, God helped me.” It is said with the ease an American might talk about their favorite television program. I want that. I want you to want it as well.

God be with you.

And please, please, please consider sponsoring one of these beautiful children Africa New Life supports. They need us.

Friends on a  Thousand Hills - Rwanda Part 8

Friends on a Thousand Hills - Rwanda Part 6

I don’t know how to describe the joy of this day, and yet it brought so many tears.

I am here in Rwanda with Africa New Life Ministries on what they call a Vision Trip, but what I refer to as an education endeavor - educational for me. I am not here doing any great mission work or providing medical treatment. I am just myself, visiting the different ministries of Africa New Life, learning about their organization and learning so much about Rwandan culture and its delightful people. Honestly, my main motivation in coming here was my Congolese/Rwandan friends in Boise. I wanted to know more about them. How they lived. Their culture and the beauty of their adopted country.

Africa New Life has been so kind to me. Please each one of you, please, please consider sponsoring a child. They change entire families! They allowed me to skip a day of the official itinerary to visit my Boise friends’ grandmother in the western province of Rwanda. And when I say western, I mean that at one point the Democratic Republic of Congo was only one hundred yards away from me, and I could see the official border crossing. What I did not tell my dear husband is that this morning I received an email from the U.S State Department warning of demonstrations and disruption on the Congolese side of that border crossing. So. . . I hope he continues to let me travel. And look. Here I am safely back at the guest house. Writing too late into the night.

Not only did Africa New Life let me break away for the day, they provided a driver, the amazing Fabrice, and a translator, or as I like to call the sweet Miss Annette, my “minder.”

The drive to Gisenyi Province was perhaps the most beautiful drive I have experienced. And I have traveled a great deal. We drove through Kigali during rush hour, which was not an unpleasant (I mean I wasn't driving!) experience simply because I was mesmerized by the buzzing of the motos (scooters), weaving between cars and semi trucks and people. We stopped at the supermarket to buy gifts for grandmother (Tate), and Annette made me hold her hand as we crossed the street. Might I add that Annette is the same age as my children. 

We spent the day yesterday in eastern Rwanda, a dry and dusty land where cattle roam and a layer of red dust quickly covers your feet. Today, however, we headed west towards Congo and the land became green and lush. We climbed and climbed out of Kigali until we were driving along the top of a ridge with deep valleys on either side. Farmers were everywhere and women carrying bananas and firewood on their heads. There were more towns here and more people bustling about on the crowded streets. The amazing Fabrice would tap his horn every time we passed by a person on the street to warn them to stay to the side of the road as we sped by. By the way, Fabrice also taught me the specific hand signals drivers use to warn oncoming drivers of police up ahead. Handy. 

Twice I saw men carrying a door atop their heads. The farmland here was kinder and greener.

We drove passed the Dian Fossey Gorilla Institute, and in the distance I could see their mountain home. Annette told me that each year Rwanda holds a baby naming ceremony for the new gorillas, and just last week she attended that ceremony in the mountains. They named twenty plus baby gorillas!

The mountains are volcanic and volcanic rock was everywhere, used as fences and foundations to buildings. The fields were covered with small, tidy mounds of volcanic rocks, baring a tiny bit more of land for cultivation in this land challenged country.

Annette and Fabrice had been communicating with Tate’s granddaughter, Gentille, via cell phone and I knew we were drawing near their town when suddenly Fabrice pulled to the side of the road and a young woman got in. It was Gentille! She had been waiting there to show us the way to their home. We then turned down a rough and rocky road, towards Tate’s home. When we entered the home bearing the gifts her grandchildren had sent, Tate entered after us. I turned to greet her and as we hugged hello, I began to cry. It was such a big moment. I had come around the globe to see her. A very big reason I joined this Africa New Life Vision Trip was just to see Tate. I knew how loved and revered she was by her grandchildren. I was overcome.

And so while crying and wiping my eyes and smiling, I gave Tate the blanket and the milk her grandchildren had sent. Her son and daughter-in-law and granddaughter (Gentille) were also there as well as Annette, of course, or we would have been sitting in silence. I asked how she was. She had only good things to say about her life and how good God is to her. 
I showed her pictures of my family and of Boise and snow in Boise. And then. And then I showed her my gift. I had made a Shutterfly photo album of her grandchildren – all seven of them. And of all their children! The first page of the photo album, however, showed pictures of her daughter - her daughter who died in 2013, just six months after arriving in America. When she saw her daughter, she cried. I cried. Everyone cried. We cried some more. When I tried to turn the page after a few moments, she stopped me and stared longer at her beloved daughter. 

We talked about her daughter Mary and the sadness of her death. I assured her that her grandchildren were taking good care of each other and honoring their mother by doing so.

We took a long time looking at all the photos of her grandchildren and great grandchildren. She poured over them and there was laughter. And then. . . And then. . . I showed her the videos her family in Boise had made to greet her. She watched each of them. Twice. 

Do you know the joy of giving others joy? There is nothing better. It seems almost a selfish thing to do. 

When it was time to leave, she took her walking stick and walked with us to the car. We hugged more. I said I wanted to come again next year with my husband. As we drove away, they stood and waved, and I hung out the window to wave back. Then I turned around in my seat and tears came and they came and they came and they came. Annette was so kind and handed me tissue after tissue as she patted my leg in silence.

Such a big thing for me had just occurred. I love her Boise family so much. Her grandchildren have become my children. And I knew I had just met the strongest woman I would ever know.

And so I will continue to write in my journal, “God you are so good to me. So good. So good. So good.”

And I will never forget the day that I met Isaac’s and Newson’s and Beatrice’s and Kamana’s and Emmanuel’s and Yvette’s and Stratton’s grandmother. It may be the only time they see a muzungu cry. Until I visit again.

And it was good day.

Tate - the strongest woman I will
ever meet