How do I turn our day spent in the Gihembe Refugee Camp in northern Rwanda into words? It seems impossible. The day overflowed with emotions - joy, heartbreak, love, relief, contentment, sadness, impatience, anger, hurt, worry, guilt. What is appropriate and sensitive to share? What words will honor my friends?
We spent Tuesday in the Gihembe Refugee Camp in northern Rwanda. Gihembe is home to 15,000 Congolese refugees, many of whom have lived there since 1997. They have married there. Raised their children there. Managed to create lives in conditions we Americans cannot imagine. Lives spent each day in small homes made of mud, dirt floors and no electricity. Benches or the ground their only furniture. Yet you won’t meet more hospitable people. These are generous people. Their love is big.
|ADRA Rwanda Headquarters in Kigali|
Our first stop in Gihembe was to greet the camp manager of MIDIMAR. The purpose - for him to lay down the law - to tell us, “This is what you can do.” And. . . “This is what you cannot do? No pictures of groups of people. We could take pictures of the school and school children and the families we came to visit, but nothing else.
|Primary Classrooms in Gihembe|
We arrived at P7 where the children asked not to have the translator interpret. Their English was perfect. These children were more comfortable with us, asked lots and lots of question. We laughed so much with them. We told them we have friends their age in Boise who sat in this very classroom. I said, “Does anyone know Justin Karangwa?” Nearly all the hands in the classroom shot up. We showed them pictures of our school age friends in Boise. “I know that one. I know that one.” They said.
I prayed for them, asking God to bring them to Boise so we could be neighbors. As we left I said, “Remember you are important to God. You are loved. Study hard. Maybe we will meet again in Boise.”
We were blessed that day. It is not normally allowed to visit an individual family in their home. It can create danger for them if it appears they have rich friends. But we had come to see Agnes’ mama and papa (we call them Mama Agnes and Papa Agnes), but Papa Agnes was too sick to walk to the ADRA office. Our friend Dada (whose family has already been resettled to Boise), argued long and hard with the ADRA representatives and the director of MIDIMAR. And, well, I’ll just say we visited Mama and Papa Agnes in their home. Later I told Dada he should attend law school when he is resettled to America. He replied, “I do like to win every argument.”
Dada led us through a maze of homes until we reached their home. There were so many family members waiting for us. As I stood there a bit overwhelmed, a woman came and stood before me. Dada said, “This is Mama Agnes.” Mama Agnes looked at me, grabbed onto me and I said, “Oh I’m going to cry.” And then we hugged the hardest hug. We share a daughter, you see. Earlier this year when Agnes was preparing to give birth to her daughter, she talked with her mom on the phone and her mama was so worried about Agnes being alone in Boise. But Agnes replied, “Mama it’s okay. I have found another mother here.” Mama Agnes told me this as we sat in her home together. Tears came to my eyes as I responded, “We will share her now and she will have two mamas.”
|The family of Agnes and Justin|
As we gathered in their home where benches lined the walls, Mama Agnes pointed Kevin and me to the chairs in the room but I said, “No, I want to sit beside Mama Agnes.” And so we squished together on a bench, never letting go of each other.
Later, Papa Agnes slowly made his way into the room. He was very sick. I could see it in his face, but he had put on his best suit to join us. When I saw how painfully he walked into the room I wished he had not risen from his bed. But I could see the joy of being in the room, the honor he showed us, was greater to him than the pain of his illness. The hospitality of African culture is beautiful. We can learn much from it.
We then settled into visiting. We stayed for hours, drinking Fanta and eating the delicious tiny bananas. We shared stories about Agnes and Justin. Good stories. Mama Agnes said, “Justin says he is always at your house.” We showed them pictures of Justin being baptized and Kevin brought out the video Justin had made especially for his grandma. He had a long message for her. I don’t know what he said. It was in Kinyarwanda, but grandma listened to it three times and then passed it around to each family member. Great grandma held it against her ear so she could hear his words, nodding her head all the while. Then grandma recorded a message for Justin. I don’t know what she said, but I’m pretty sure it was a lot of love and reminding him keep following Jesus.
As we sat there loving each other, children began pouring into the room. Young children ages five, four and a little two year old. Each came directly to us and hugged us. When the two year old cutie hugged me I said, “Oh! I’m taking this one home with me.” The room roared with laughter. But seriously. . .
|Talking to Agnes|
|Praying with Papa and Mana Agnes|
Today, I’m holding on extra tight to these words from Jesus in Matthew chapter 5.
You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule.
You’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you.
You’re blessed when you’re content with just who you are—no more, no less. That’s the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can’t be bought.
You’re blessed when you’ve worked up a good appetite for God. He’s food and drink in the best meal you’ll ever eat.
You’re blessed when you care. At the moment of being ‘care-full,’ you find yourselves cared for.
You’re blessed when you get your inside world—your mind and heart—put right. Then you can see God in the outside world.
You’re blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight. That’s when you discover who you really are, and your place in God’s family.
Read Friends on a Thousand Hills - Rwanda 2016 Part 5 here