Jesus is on the Wire

Psalm 82:3 “Defend the weak and the fatherless; uphold the cause of the poor and oppressed.”

As I walk down dusty, clay roads to and from school, the library, and church, I notice there are gates attached to large walls around houses. This isn’t anything I’m unaccustomed to. In the United States people live in gated communities, or they have fences intentionally put up around their homes to secure their privacy. It wasn’t until this week that I noticed something unique about these gates/walls. Most of these gates and walls have interesting features on them. Some of them have wire, others have spikes, and still others have bits of glass.

I’m not entirely certain why they are this way. Maybe it’s for safety, maybe for privacy, maybe it’s for aesthetic reasons. I honestly may never know, but I do know that frequently when I walk by these places, I think of the song Jesus is on the Wire performed by Peter, Paul and Mary. (If you do not know this song, I strongly recommend listening to it and reading the story behind why it was written.)

In thinking of this song as I walk by these gates, I think of how often people leave topics on the preverbal fences never to be discussed. These topics that are often seen as too taboo or uncomfortable for those with privilege to want to approach. We often don’t realize that these topics represent aspects of people’s lives. As I walk by I think of my YAGM year and who I will advocate for internationally. I think of those who bear a story they can never tell. I think of people who are victims of violence. I think of those who are victims of circumstances beyond their control. I think of children taken from families, and vice versa.

I feel a deep passion in my gut. It’s unshakable.

I keep walking, greeting people as we cross paths. I realize they don’t know what is buzzing in my head. They may not know where I’m going, or who I am. They just know that I greeted them and that we shared a smile.

It’s hard to think sometimes that this is life. My life is fairly simple here. I don’t have to think about homecoming, Halloween costumes, making plans for Thanksgiving, Christmas, or Spring Break adventures. I cook one to two meals a day, I read, sometimes tutor, watch a movie here, or there, and volunteer at a school five days a week. It’s a life I could get used to, but I know in this space of routine and comfort it is easy to become complacent.

It’s like a ship safety kept in a harbor. It could be made with amazing craftsmanship, catch the eyes of all the passersby, have all the potential in the world, and stay docked in that harbor forever. This is a nice idea, but this is not what ships are meant for. Ships are meant to cast off. Staying docked is a waste of their purpose and their potential.

I’m not completely certain what my life looks like after YAGM. Actually, I’m not even entirely certain what my life looks like after October. I don’t even know how I’ll advocate for others in the United States, but this is okay. I do know a few things.

I know that I’m in the country of Rwanda. A country that I’m beginning to see as a second home. I know that I miss working with youth like crazy. I know that at times I grieve the loss of big things in my life. (Weddings, birthdays, graduations, etc.) I know that I’ve learned so much from people here and cant wait to share my experiences more fully with loved ones around the world. I also know that these next few months will pass by quicker than I expect.

I think I’m finally understanding why when I tell people how long I’ll be here, they tell me it is a short time. This is an eye opening revelation for me and yet, tomorrow will still come. I’ll get up at 6:45, take my malaria pill, get dressed, fill up my water bottle, eat something, brush my teeth, and walk to school. I’ll walk by the walls/gates that call me to go, and constantly remind me that Jesus is on the Wire.

These are some of the sites I see as I stroll to various locations. There are many more with gorgeous designs, and intricate details. These images simply give you an understanding of the diversity in design I mention in this blog.

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A Pillar of Cloud and a Pillar of Fire

Exodus 13:18-22 “So God led the people by the roundabout way of the wilderness toward the Red Sea. The Israelites went up out of the land of Egypt prepared for battle. 19 And Moses took with him the bones of Joseph who had required a solemn oath of the Israelites, saying, ‘God will surely take notice of you, and then you must carry my bones with you from here.’ 20 They set out from Succoth, and camped at Etham, on the edge of the wilderness. 21 The Lord went in front of them in a pillar of cloud by day, to lead them along the way, and in a pillar of fire by night, to give them light, so that they might travel by day and by night. 22 Neither the pillar of cloud by day nor the pillar of fire by night left its place in front of the people.”

During in country orientation my country coordinator presented a session on the different types of YAGM volunteers we could be during our time here. This session encompassed many aspects of living in our communities such as, how often we interacted with people in our communities, the amount of time we spent using electronics, our attempts to learn languages, over committing ourselves, and fully immersing ourselves in our communities. I remember thinking during this session, when certain topics came up, “that could be me, but I’ll make sure it isn’t.”

The session ended, we moved on to other things and soon left for our site placements. I made two friends my very first day in Huye and felt awesome. Soon I had a flexible routine and began volunteering at a local primary school. I began to tutor someone multiple times a week and made efforts to be in the community as much as possible. In attempts to be in community as much as possible I decreased the amount of news that I consumed. When I say news I’m meaning both US news and international news. This decreasing soon turned into looking at headlines of articles, but that was about it. Honestly, I might not have even done that. I was slowly living into one of the characters from our session named “YAGM Martyr”. In one of the scenarios I remember, “YAGM Martyr” was attempting to immerse him/herself fully in the community they were living, so they didn’t speak much about the United States and they distanced themselves from their country.

Disclaimer: During college, I would normally read one, or two news articles, normally international ones, a day at minimum because of being on the debate team. I have a deep passion for a few things, international service, mission work, and youth. So, you might see the issue that soon arose.

In choosing to cut this out of my life, I inadvertently cut myself off from something I’m passionate about. In a way I cut myself off from all of my passions. I cut myself off from something that partially informed my desire to be a YAGM and eventually to be called to Rwanda. In this space, post cutting news out of my life, I questioned what I was doing, if I was just going through the motions of being here, if I was truly passionate about this, and I think I lived into the term my cohort frequently uses. I was “Rwandering”, but not in the adventurous, or fun sense, but more like the Israelites in the wilderness being guided by a pillar of fire and a cloud. I wasn’t really lost because an unshakeable feeling deep inside me kept reminding me what I was doing and kept reminding me of where it was leading. (This was possibly my gut which Mrs. Sue, the Program Director at Luther Springs, had told me to follow countless times. I’m more confident that it was the Holy Spirit. Maybe it was both.)

At this point you might be asking yourself, “What made him realize all of this?” Good question. I’m glad you asked. I had a three day weekend due to national teachers day being last Friday. With my long weekend, I was able to take a trip to visit some friends in country. While visiting, I watched to to Van Dyke verdict, followed the Kavanaugh confirmation, listened to Susan Collins’ speech, and read articles on the issue of deportation of youth occurring in the Middle East. (Specifically Iran, Pakistan, and Afghanistan.)

(As a side note, These articles were really interesting and caused me to think a lot. I recommend reading up on it.)

The real kicker was when one of my friends, a YAGM in Central Europe, reminded me that accompanying people, and immersing yourself in a new culture does not mean that you have to lose central parts of yourself. She did not know how I had been struggling, which gave this statement even more meaning to me. These things gave me life.

The community has been key in reminding me of a passion I have deep inside of me which at times felt like it was dying out.

If you know me, you know that I struggle with interdependence. I honestly don’t like asking for help, or admitting that I need to rely on other people. It is becoming more and more apparent that this is something I will learn to be comfortable with. My cohort members, friends around the world, family, and the people of Rwanda will help me become comfortable with this in ways they may not even know. This might be a long process, but I’m certain the end product will be great.

I know it’s fairly early in my time in Rwanda, but I’m glad I had these reminders sooner rather than later. Being in this space is amazing and growing alongside so many different people is truly wonderful. I’m simply coming to terms with my passions, shortcomings, and need for companionship/community, which is pretty awesome. I’m certain I’ll struggle with this and other things while in Rwanda, but that’s part of this experience. I’m accompanying, watching, learning, and pondering. It’s been a wild ride so far and I can’t wait to see what God has in store for me next.

In Rwanda there is a dry season and a rainy season. The rainy season has officially begun in Huye. Last night there was a storm which reminded me a lot of the storms in Florida. It has been raining almost all day. It might sound strange, but this weather is helping me feel even more at home in Rwanda. I have some photos of what the rainy season looks like so far.

Don’t be Afraid to be Weak

1st Thessalonians 5:24: “The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do this.”

I am reminded of something one of my close friends said to me about it being okay to be weak and for God to be present in that space.

You all will be getting a glimpse into some of my weakness as I’ve just crossed the threshold of forty days in Rwanda.

This last week was filled with ups and downs for me. I have realized that I need to be in community with others way more than I had ever truly known. For this blog post, I’ve decided to write series of haikus to give you a sense of what being in and out of community looks like for me. This will also show you my main area of weakness so far. (I apologize if some are off.)

Community is

A reminder of passion

Feeling at home here

When I am alone

The world around me changes

I am not myself

In community

I feel a sense of calling

This will sustain me

Outside of this space

I go back to poor habits

But I keep going

God’s communities

Are my discernment partners

They keep me grounded

Should I be here now

What is this feeling in me

I know where to go

I gave him water

How is this heartbreak and joy

He wanted money

Why am I crying

God are you here with me now

Yes I know I know

How did they know this

Do they know I feel this way

God this is freaky

When I think I’m lost

Even when I do not see

I sense this feels right

My greatest gifts are

Being used in this space now

And in the future

The kids run around

I find myself smiling wide

This is what feels right

This might give you a sense of my need for community. I have taken to walking around town, talking to market venders, talking to people at coffee shops and having conversations with people I meet on the street. This has become my routine for many days, and for when I get into a funk. I go to both the large and small open markets. I look at kitenge fabric, maybe buy fruits, or vegetables, but the main purpose of me going to these places is to interact with the people. This is one of the spaces where I find my passion.

I also find it in having conversations with the older students at the school where I volunteer. Their interest in the international community and hope for the future is inspiring. I’ve been with them for three weeks now and already love them a lot. I have a special place in my heart for the guys who want to know stories about the United States, or about random figures such as Billy the Kid. These students consistently make my day and remind me of my passion for working with youth.

On a somewhat funny note I cut my hand because I’m stubborn. Long story short, I cut my hand on the gate that leads to the community house I live in because I was impatient and tried to force it open. The gate is very finicky and I know this, but I was in a rush for no good reason. It isn’t terrible, but I have written a haiku about that too.

This gate really bites

Why does it never open

Oh. Is that my blood?

I pray for all who are experiencing loneliness, anxiety, overthinking, and wrestling with whatever. May they be comforted and find rest in their communities. Even when we struggle in faith, You are always faithful and remind us of Your activity in our lives. Thank You for being our rock, our guide and our friend. Amen

Viewer discretion is advised. Below I have a few pictures and one of them is of the cut on my hand. There isn’t much blood, because I cleaned the cut, but just in case you’re squeamish, be warned. It is the last photo of the three.

The other photos are of some kitenge that I recently bought at the two markets I previously mentioned. The dark blue fabric was bought at the small market which I discovered about two weeks ago. The light blue and green fabric was bought at the large market where I normally buy my fruits, vegetables, etc.

None of them is Without Meaning

1st Corinthians 14: 10-11 “Undoubtedly there are all sorts of languages in the world, yet none of them is without meaning. If then I do not grasp the meaning of what someone is saying, I am a foreigner to the speaker, and the speaker is a foreigner to me.”

From the moment I started orientation in Chicago, I knew that language would be extremely important in Rwanda. I knew that in order to connect with some people I would have to learn Kinyarwanda. This inspired me to attempt to learn as much of the language as possible. Little did I know that Kinyarwanda was not the only language I would be learning while in Rwanda. Some part of me knew that many languages were spoken all over Rwanda, but it was not until I started living in Huye that I experienced all of these languages together in one space.

On any given day I can hear 4-6 languages and see about the same number of languages written.

My first moment when I became aware of the diversity of languages in Huye was when I was unpacking items in my room. Many items had at least two languages on them. (I.e English and French, English and Kinyarwanda, etc.) this made organizing and unpacking fairly easy for me, until I came across a white container with one language written on it. That language was Arabic. I looked at this item for a while trying to see if reading the nutritional facts might help me figure out what it was. That didn’t help. I tried to see what the item was packaged with, so I could know at least how to categorize it. From this, I determined it was possibly a spice of some kind. Finally, I decided to open the container and see what was inside, hoping that I would know what was in the container by the way it looked, or smelled, or maybe by the way it tasted. I was underwhelmed when peered inside the container and realized that I had been stumped by salt. Yes, it was nothing more than plain, old, white table salt.

At first I was irritated. I should’ve just known. The container was white, and I could’ve assumed it was salt. Why did I struggle so much to figure out something as simple as table salt?

After pondering on this for a while I realized something. How often have I just wished people spoke the way I did, and not thought about those who daily struggle with reading things like a package for salt? How often have I chosen to learn only enough to get by, but not truly attempted to be in community with people through the use of a common language? Language is a large part of being in community with others. It shows that people are wanting to know what the other is saying and they are attempting to take the time to learn.

Since my time with the salt, I have walked into a library and realized I can only competently read about a fourth of the books there. I have also gone into a market and understood only about a third of what is being said around me. This was extremely eye opening, and I know that I don’t want to be in this situation by the time I leave Rwanda.

These experiences and many other experiences have informed a goal I have for myself for the rest of my time in Rwanda. I want to learn the languages of the community around me. Little by little I hope to pick up words, phrases, and to struggle through understanding new constructs.

Do I think that I will be fluent in all of these languages by the end of my time here?

Honestly, I might not be, but that does not mean I won’t try.

Will it be difficult?

Probably. In teaching English over these past few days and nights I’ve learned that languages are difficult to learn, but that should not be a deterrent for learning them. So many people I come in contact with have learned English, or are attempting to learn English. Why should I not attempt to break down language barriers in order to show my desire to be in community with those around me.

Will I mess up?

Definitely! This I know for a fact. I’m not going to get it right all the time and I know there’s grace for that. The people around me will probably be more gracious to me than I will be to myself in these situations.

Even if I struggle this whole year, and fail over and over again, I hope to try my best to be in community in this way. This is one way I believe God calls us to be in community with each other. If anything, I hope to at least know how to read/say the word salt in each of the languages spoken around me.

Heavenly Father, You call us to live in community with one another and to cross lines that might make us feel uncomfortable. Help create spaces of grace and love where community can form. Be with all who struggle with language and keep reminding us that you do not always call us to do the easy things, but even in our struggles You are with us. Amen

(This is the primary school I volunteer teach at. The students here learn three languages: English, French and Kinyarwanda. The sign translates from French into English and says “The School of the International Parents of Butare”)

Now the Days Seem to Fly

Luke 24: 46-48 “And he said to them, ‘This it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and the repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.'”

I have been at my site placement for almost a week now, but it doesn’t seem like that. The days seem to go by so quickly, but there have been so many moments where I have witnessed God’s presence. I’ve taken the liberty to list some of them for you. Some of these moment s might not make sense, or may seem odd, but this is part of my journey.

Two boys, ages 10 and 12, guiding me to the market just because I was walking around town alone.

People in the community house I live at using the kitchen at random times during the day and greeting me when I come back from school.

Two middle school age boys asking me about the United States, being a missionary, and being single while I was walking to church.

Being woken up at 5 am every morning because I hear the call to prayer from the local mosque. I too take it as a time to pray, even though we’re possibly praying for different things in that moment.

Eating a meal with people and understanding very little of the conversation, but still enjoying the company.

A group of 10 year old boys asking if they can touch my skin, and 11-12 year olds asking to touch my hair.

Telling people from Rwanda that I will be here for nine months and hearing them say that it’s a short time.

Showing kids where Florida is on a map and using Tampa as the landmark, because it was the easiest city to say.

Kids frequently asking if I have children but rarely asking if I’m married.

Being told that because I’m 21 and not married I will be single for the rest of my life, but I might be able to find someone to live with when I go back.

Using “repeat after me” to teach songs in English.

Knitting and watching That 70’s Show in the middle of the night while rigorous winds blow dust outside.

Reading a book and finding the storyline all too familiar.

Realizing that I have interacted with so many people, talked about Jesus, answered questions, and have probably been called a name, not my own, (normally Christian) all before most of my friends in the states have even woken up.

These moments make the times of loneliness, and bouts of exhaustion all worth it.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t always consider these beautiful moments during times where I am lonely. I do miss some people dearly, but I know that the people I miss most are the ones who support me constantly. They are the ones who God has used, uses, and will use to show me His presence in my life before, during and after this leg of my journey. In many ways, my missing them is another way that I see God’s presence in my life, both in Rwanda and in the people that I have come to call my home back in the United States.

Lord, through these moments and many more you are with me. Thank you for reminders of your activity in the world. Please be with all who wander throughout the world in service to You and others. For all those who find themselves in a wilderness, give them moments of beauty. Amen

(Theses kids, between the ages of 10-12, had just finished their Geography/English lesson at the school in Huye I volunteer at. During their break they asked me a series of questions, then asked if I’d take their picture, and I was happy to do so.)

Here I Am Lord

1st Samuel 3:1-10 “Now the boy Samuel was ministering to the Lord under Eli. The word of the Lord was rare in those days; visions were not widespread. At that time Eli, whose eyesight had begun to grow dim so that he could not see, was lying down in his room; the lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the temple of the Lord, where the ark of God was. Then the Lord called, ‘Samuel! Samuel!’ and he said, ‘Here I am!’ and ran to Eli, and said, ‘Here I am, for you called me.’ But he said, ‘I did not call; lie down again.’ So he went and lay down. The Lord called again, ‘Samuel!’ Samuel got up and went to Eli, and said, ‘Here I am, for you called me.’ But he said, ‘I did not call, my son; lie down again.’ Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord, and the word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him. The Lord called Samuel again, a third time. And he got up and went to Eli, and said, ‘Here I am, for you called me.’ Then Eli perceived that the Lord was calling the boy. Therefore Eli said to Samuel, “Go, lie down; and if he calls you, you shall say, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.’” So Samuel went and lay down in his place.Now the Lord came and stood there, calling as before, ‘Samuel! Samuel!’ And Samuel said, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.'”

“You will learn to eat new food and find refuge in new places. I will give you dreams in the desert to guide you safety home to that place you have not seen yet.”

Today is the big day. I am leaving for the city of Huye. If you were to ask me how I feel right now, I’d tell you, “I don’t know.” This isn’t some cop out answer that’d you’d give when you were a child and your mom asked you why you did something you knew you shouldn’t have. I honestly don’t know how I’m feeling.

Throughout today I have felt extreme happiness, nostalgia, empathy, and deep longing. There doesn’t seem to be one word that can encapsulate all of those emotions and everything in between. The best way I know how to say it is that this feels right.

I will be in a community where I do not know a single person, I will be living on my own in a way that I have not had to before, and I will be attempting to live into the Gospel to the best of my ability while I am there.

In many ways this looks like a wilderness. It looks like a space where trials, temptations, fears, and loneliness can overtake someone, which is scary, but it doesn’t have to be this way. This wilderness for me will be a time to prepare, grow, love, thrive, and dream.

I know that it will not always be sunshine and roses. It’s will also not always be rain clouds and gloom. Something tells me it’ll be a mix of the two, but I know that the one who formed me, beckons me to follow, and speaks my name, is guiding me through the wilderness. He has always been with me and will give me dreams in the desert to guide me safely home.

With this in mind, what else can I do but say, “Speak, Lord, for servant is listening.”

God, pray for all those who are traversing through various deserts and wildernesses. Be a guide for all who are in a place of waiting. Please be with all missionaries around the world who profess their faith, especially those in regions where it is most difficult to do so. Watch over all who enter new communities and remind us that you give companions for our journeys. Amen

(A photo I took of Kigali in honor of my last day here)

The Moment Passed Me By

Exodus 3:1-5 “Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law Jethro, the priest of Midian; he led his flock beyond the wilderness, and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of a bush; he looked and the bush was blazing, yet it was not consumed. Then Moses said, ‘I must turn aside and look at this great sight and see why the bush is not burned up.’ When the Lord saw that he had turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, ‘Moses, Moses!’ And he said, ‘Here I am.’ The He said, ‘Come no closer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.'”

“Don’t hesitate to leave

Your old ways behind-

Fear, silence submission”

Have you ever lived in a moment? I know this is a weird question to ask, so maybe I should explain what I mean by this. Have you ever taken the time to try and be fully present with all of your senses in a moment? There have only been a few times in my life that I think I’ve been in that space before. One of those moments was a day or two ago.

Our cohort went to the Belgian Memorial in Kigali. The space was both life giving and breathtaking at the same time. To realize that life went on but this piece of history was left almost completely unscathed was difficult to process. In that moment I tried to be fully aware of all of my senses. That moment held so many different emotions and yet, life kept going on. Life and death were literally separated from each other by a thin partition. There was no way to stay in that moment forever, but even though the moment was passing by I realized that I couldn’t just turn away. These moments could be experienced and added to the list of attractions seen, or something could come from them.

Experiencing moments like this is amazing, and just like Moses we have the opportunity to take off our preverbal sandals and recognize the holy ground. From this point we could choose to hold that moment for as long as possible, or that moment could call us to leave our old ways behind and risk something big for something great. After moments such as these, we could hesitate, or could let go of our comforts and trust that God will be using moments such as these to change our lives in amazing ways.

Jesus, you are with all on our various journeys. You are in moments of great joy, great tragedy and everything in between. Please be with all who are experiencing great hardship in the world and be with all who are left without families. Thank you for caring for this broken world and for calling us to do Your will in this world. Amen

(Photo of St. Famille I took)