This is America

James 3:2 “For all of us make many mistakes. Anyone who makes no mistakes in speaking is perfect, able to keep the whole body in check with a bridle.

One thing that has not changed since I arrived in Rwanda are the stereotypes people often have when they discover I’m from The United States. People are curious to ask me about where I’m from, or to make blanket statements, so that I can verify or falsify what they believe to be true. Honestly, I kinda figured I’d experience this before I arrived here, so it wasn’t too much of a shock to be asked questions. The difficult part has been answering some questions.

The most difficult questions to answer are normally about social and political situations in The United States. This isn’t because I can’t explain what’s happening, or describe events. It’s because I usually present a perspective that isn’t readily accepted. This means I add a bit of the reality of The United States to someone’s often ideal dream, which isn’t always a great experience for me.

In this process of explaining some realities of The United States, I am constantly remind of beautiful and saddening aspects of my home country. No place is perfect and there are many great things about The United States, but I want to be authentic when I talk to people. With all this in mind, I want you to ponder what you would say when someone asks you, “Is The United States perfect?” or “Is The United States better than Rwanda (insert another country here if you’d like)?”

I say “no” to both questions, but explain that it’s more complicated than a simple “yes” or “no” answer. What follows this point, for me is like walking a tightrope, trying to balance the good in tandem with the not so great.

It’s sometimes difficult to:

Explain my love of beaches and mountains in the U.S., while saying that The United States’ release of carbon emissions is insanely high and impacts people all around the world, even if they don’t know it.

Discuss how there are so many services for those who are in need, but poverty and unemployment are issues that still exist. People might simply be told “they’re not trying hard enough” or that they need to “pull themselves up by their own bootstraps”.

Flesh out how there are so many different ethnic groups represented all around The United States and I think this diversity is amazing, but not all people share my opinion. Xenophobia and racism are still very present. Political figures espouse ideas that make value claims on people, which create greater barriers to equity for all.

Express how the U.S. is progressed in some many ways. Technology and industry are doing well, but this distracts us from other problems. A whole city still doesn’t have clean water, marginalized populations are being disrespected in order to expand industry, and drilling is considered acceptable in wildlife refuges by many people.

Provide insights on how our political leadership on local, state and national levels is so diverse. We have so many people, who have been historically marginalized, currently running for President, yet that doesn’t mean we have true equity. Sexism persists, many phobias have increased in the amount of people who actively support them and rape culture is considered the norm for some people.

Normally, only one of these sections is touched on during a conversation due to time limitations, or the person’s desire to continue the conversation. There are so many more things I could say; good, bad, inspiring, and hopeful, but some simply wouldn’t be welcome in conversations here, let alone in The United States.

Before I finish, I don’t want you to leave with the wrong idea. I care deeply about my country, but part of caring is being critical, advocating for change, and hoping for a better future. America is so many things to so many people. It’s issues are similar and different from countries around the world, which is reality. No place is perfect and we should act as such. America isn’t some opulent Eden, but it’s beautiful and broken. I never really thought about the struggle of answer the aforementioned questions. So, what would you say if someone asked, “Is The United States Perfect?” or “Is The United States better than (insert country)?”

Just to give more perspective the difficulty that comes when talking about about the size of The United States compared to places in Africa.

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I Wish to Inform You

Isaiah 43:19 “I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in deserts.”

Dear family, friends, YAGM (past, present and future) and readers,

I wish to inform you that I have changed during my time in Rwanda. I know this probably isn’t shocking and that many probably saw it coming, but it is true nonetheless. Change can seem scary, but this change feels very good. I feel you should know the role you’ve played in bringing about these changes in me. I have “lost myself”, or “found myself”. I’m simply becoming more myself, which is difficult to explain, but very liberating, and if you know what that’s like, then you get it. Even if you don’t fully follow this, that’s okay, because you have played a part in all of this and should know how.

My parents constantly expressed that my brother and I should dream big. This dreaming has led me to experiencing some great things, but has scared my family, nuclear and extended, at times. This is for you. Although I know I’ve scared, concerned, and confused many of you throughout my life, than you for the constant support. Announcing that I would be going to Rwanda shocked many of you, but you eventually came around and have been so encouraging to me throughout my time here. Be aware that we might not be in the same space about me returning. I know some of you are counting down days and excitedly planning my return, but I’m not. It’s okay that we’re not in the same space when it comes to this. Know that God’s got me, I love you, and that I’m not surviving, but rather, I’m thriving.

Part of my thriving in this space comes from my friendship both here and around the world. I feel extremely supported, especially by you in my sending community. The calls, emails, letters, etc. (the list could go on for a while) make it feel like we’re not really 8,000 miles apart. I may have missed your birthday, graduation, holiday parties, etc. and at times that’s been difficult to accept. Needless to say, we’ve have many different experiences this year and some are hard to put into words, or don’t seem right to mention if we’re not face to face. Some of you have to me you could never do what I’m doing and maybe that’s true, but many of you are doing things that I don’t know if I could do, which is exciting. It reminds me that the life, in the U.S. has not simply stopped while I’ve been in Africa and that you’re doing well. All of these experiences are valuable and let me know we’ll have a lot to catch up on when I’m back in the states.

“What if I don’t find my niche in my community, or if my experiences really don’t fit wherever I’m being sent?” I said as anxiety reared its familiar face disguised as butterflies in my once settled stomach. The calm voiced replied, “No matter where you are sent, there will be a community that’s gonna be excited to have you and you’ll eventually feel sad to leave.” These words were said to me by a YAGM Alum right before it was announced where all current YAGM would be placed. It took me a while to appreciate the impact that previous YAGM have had in their various communities. Hearing stories about the YAGM who were in Rwanda before my cohort has caused me to develop a deep sense of being connected to something way bigger than I had initially realized. Upon hearing stories, seeing the work and even being called a prior YAGM’s name a few times, I’ve become extremely grateful to be a part of this community. Thank you for checking in on me, reading the things I write and caring for communities in Rwanda and all around the world in so many ways. It’s truly a privilege to get to know you through the lives you have touched.

To the current YAGM, thank you for allowing me to join in your journey through your blogs, newsletters, photos, and stories. You have encouraged, inspired and challenged me throughout my time of service. Seeing how you have fit into your community and how your life is being changed has been really amazing. I am so thankful to be serving alongside you in our various contexts. Thank you for risking and for authentically being yourself even when it might be difficult.

Now a new group of YAGM have been called. I’m excited for you to be welcomed into various communities around the world and to have so many experiences. You’re taking a risk, which can be scary. You might not know exactly how you feel right now or if there’s a way you should be feeling. That’s okay. There’s no “right” way to feel. Take your time and live in the moment. There are communities, in whatever country you’re going to, that will be so excited to welcome you when the time comes. When I thought about what I could say to you, three things came to mind.

1. You are you. You aren’t any other YAGM. I’m specifically referring to prior YAGM. I spent too much time wondering if I was doing something the same way my predecessor had done it, if my language skills were progressing as quickly as there’s had, and if I was connecting to community like they had. These comparisons tend to come into our minds, but they aren’t helpful. Don’t spend too much time wrestling with the “ghosts of YAGM past” (a term I’ve taken to mean all prior YAGM in your country). You are you. Be authentic and people will love you for that.

2. Be gentle with yourself. Things take time. It’s okay if you make errors while speaking the language, if you get lost while walking around, or feel like things just haven’t clicked for you yet. Try to have grace for yourself and be gentle as you continue on this journey. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. These things take time.

3. Find your footing in the dance. There are many images that could be used to describe this YAGM journey and I like to imagine that this experience is like learning to dance. At first you don’t know the steps, but you’ve heard stories and tips from others, so you’re willing to take the risk to learn. You start learning and become aware of how you might look silly or you might be making mistakes, yet you continue. You keep showing up, learning, and soon get swing of things. You may still struggle from time to time, but that’s okay you joined the dance, and definitely added your unique flair along the way. You continue to dance and enjoy your time, knowing that there will be a time when you will step back from the dance floor and another will risk learning, as you had many months before.

I hope you come to enjoy the dance, even if at moments you aren’t quite certain if you’re getting it all right.

Finally, reader, thank you for joining me on this journey. I’m not quite finished yet, but I believe you should know how humbled I am by your comments, questions, and continued reading. It’s amazing to see where the words I’ve written have been read and yet to have no idea the impacts they might have. I hope you stay on board for the next few weeks as my time comes to a close.

I know this blog has been long and maybe seemed all over the place, but I feel you should know some of my thoughts. These next few weeks, for me, will be filled with emotions. While I sort through all of this, don’t worry about me too much and if you find your mind filling with concerns for me, please remember this quote from one of my favorite books, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, “please believe that things are good with me, and even if they’re not, they will be soon enough. And I will always believe the same about you.”

(I’ve recently discovered how to get to the roof of the library at PIASS. I frequently come here to write, read, grade papers, and take time to be alone with my thoughts. It’s one of my favorite places in Huye, even if I get rained on frequently.)

Until the Stars are all Alight

Galatians 6:2 “Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.”

I love roofs. This is an odd statement to make, but I love to sit on rooftops. I love being in on them to see as far as I can, to feel the air, talk to people, eat, and the list could go on. I recently was talking to one of my coworkers, who is also international, about out experiences with assumptions, prejudice, and harassment. The time was really great.

The air was crisp, and the wind was blowing gently. We shared stories, presented ideas for how this could be rectified, all idealistic scenarios, and it ended with two final thoughts. The first thing she said it a phrase I taught her, “What a time to be alive.” I replied, “Hopefully it changes.” There was a moment of silence, then she said, “Do you know that you are twenty minutes from one of the poorest countries in the world? It’s probably in the bottom five. You’re so close to it and you probably see it almost everyday. People don’t like it much, but I do. It’s familiar, Rwanda is familiar too, and it is home, but Burundi is really home. I’m happy I’m from there.” I replied something like, “I think I knew that and I get liking where you come from.” The conversation closed with pleasantries, in French and Kinyarwanda (the French is more difficult currently.) We parted ways and I began walking home in the dark.

My mind was filled with many thoughts during the pitch black walk. When did the head knowledge about East Africa become mixed with the heart knowledge I have about this region? How long has it been since I thought about where I am geographically in the world? When did I first take risks to find shortcuts to get to work? How long have I been confident in walking around town? Is this the first time I’ve walked home from PIASS with no lights? All of these thoughts ran through my mind as I walked down streets with only the moon, the stars and the lightning in the distance.

Halfway through this walk I stopped to just look up at the sky. The constellations look different here, but they remind me of a place I consider home. I stayed in that space for a bit and enjoyed the silence, but something snapped me out of this moment. It was a female voice.

“Hey umuzungu! Hey, look at me! Are you a handsome umuzungu?”

(Umuzungu – white person, westerner, foreigner, colonizer – all of these definitions have been given to me)

I turned my head to look at the person. The woman, I think is in her early twenties, was leaning out of a window and after I looked her direction, she kept speaking, “Oh, yeah, you are very handsome.” I proceeded to walk into the night and ignored her giggling. Normally, I’d stop, introduce myself, ask their name, and try to explain why muzungu isn’t a great thing to call someone, but there were multiple things going on in that moment and I wasn’t feeling it that night. That moment almost killed my mood for the night, but then I began to have breakthroughs for two things that had been on my mind a few months earlier.

  1. Just because I’m familiar with all of these things and I have become accustomed to the way I live does not mean everyone is familiar with me. I could easily be the first person with fair skin that a person sees in their life and I can challenge the stereotypes they might have about me, or where I come from, but I’m not obligated to be someones resources for all things “muzungu”.

This is the moment where I want to acknowledge all of the people in my life who are part of a minority population. I want to thank you for all of the times you’ve educated me, corrected me and challenged me. I’d also like to take this moment to recognize that I probably have used people as a token resource without asking their permission to do so and I’d like to apologize for doing so , and thank you for being gracious with me. I’m a work in progress.

2. I have fallen in love with so many aspect of Rwanda and even on the worst days, I wouldn’t trade being here for anything. People have said that I am Rwandan. This is normally said because I speak only in Kinyarwanda with someone, I eat a certain food, I cook a certain dish, I dance, or I do something else that is culturally associated with Rwanda. Now, being told I’m Rwandan is nice. It makes me feel like I’m doing something right, and it’s a very kind comment. Rwanda feels pretty familiar to me, I know I’m not an expert on the country, but things feel very familiar, Huye has become home for me, but I feel like I get what my coworker was saying. Huye is home for now, but I am proud of where I come from, even if I am fairly critical of it. I’ll gladly accept being called Rwandan, but I don’t know if I’ll have the level of pride and care for this country that I see so many people harbor inside of them, and I think that’s okay.

I continued to walk in the darkness and subconsciously sing under my breath until I reached my home. I sat outside for a while to try and organize my thoughts, but eventually let them settle. My final thought on the events of that night was, “God, thanks for giving me the opportunity to walk with the people of Rwanda and for walking with me as I sort through things I don’t fully understand.”

I’m finding that during my time here, for every answer I have, three questions seem to arise and it’s been a process, but I’ve come to accept this. Sometimes I wish I could have a magic wand and solve the world’s problems, but that gift hasn’t been given to me yet and I don’t expect it’ll come to me anytime soon. So, for now, I’m going to continue to walk with the people of Rwanda, share challenges, and wait for the day when all of these problems are resolved by the one who weaves us all together.

(This is the image I had from the roof the night that I was talking with my coworker. The lights in the distance are in Burundi. I could be at the border in about twenty minutes.)

 

I Solemnly Swear

Psalm 89:34 “I will not violate my covenant,
or alter the word that went forth from my lips.”

This past Friday, I had the opportunity to co-facilitated a youth workshop focusing on the commemoration and what ways the youth could make a difference. The group of middle school and high school age students presented great insights in the discussions and asked really thought provoking questions. This experience was amazing and reminded me of many of the reasons I selected the major that I did.

These youth talked about social media presences, ways to start dialogue, presented ideas of how they could help their community and committed to bringing about positive change. This last part gave me a lot to think to think about. They each spoke of various ways they could live into what we were talking about and then began make promises related to bringing about positive change. The conviction in their voices was inspiring and caused me to think about the promises I’ve made in my life.

During a break in the workshop, I stood outside on the concrete porch, while the rain harshly fell. My mind raced with thoughts of promises and when I first realized that my words mattered. Two memories stuck out in my mind, both occurred during my time in Rwanda, and both happened fairly recently.

The first was a conversation where I promised one of my primary school students that I wouldn’t cut my facial hair until liberation day. They presented this as an opportunity for me to to celebrate liberation day by cutting my facial hair. I see it as a small way of being in solidarity with my community during Kwibuka. Throughout this conversation, I knew this would be a promise I could faithfully follow through with. The student would later tell me that they really just wanted to see what I’ll look like with a beard. This new information didn’t change my mind. Although there was an ulterior motive behind this request, I think showing solidarity in commemoration and celebration is definitely something I can follow through with and I’m glad to uphold this promise, even if it might not have a huge impact.

The second was another conversation I had with a group of my middle school age students. They were asking questions about the genocide against the Tutsi and I tried to answer these questions to the best of my ability. Two questions really stuck out to me. The first was, “Why do things like this happen?” The second was, “Do these acts still happen today?” With these questions, a solemn atmosphere settled in the classroom. I tried to explain how people are persecuted due to their ethnicity, socioeconomic class, religious beliefs, etc. Throughout this explanation I was being extremely intentional about the words I was using and trying to be aware of how my words were settling in the space. The period ended and as other students left the classroom, one stayed behind to continue the conversation. We talked for a bit. I checked my phone to look at the time and, upon seeing my lock screen, she asked if my friends knew that things like this happen in the world. I told her that I think some of my friends know about these problems in the world, but I couldn’t speak for all of my friends. After a few more questions were asked, the conversation progressed into a more personal space, connecting to a person/persons in my life in the United States and what my life might become. That day I made a promise. Through that conversation, I was given extreme clarity. I don’t believe that was a coincidence and I sensed that making a promise was the right thing to do. Who would have thought a twelve year old student would press me with questions that would come to strike a chord so deep inside me?

the rain began to fall harder, and the break was over, so I went back into the main building to finish the workshop. I continued to have conversations with the youth who were present and enjoyed their company. We shared a meal, heard stories and they continued to commit to ways they’d help their country. They’re conviction was truly amazing and exciting to witness. I don’t know if they’ll follow through with their commitments, or even remember them as their holiday break ends and they head back to school, but I truly pray that they do. I’ve wondered if anything will come from this. Each time I question it, my thoughts go to the place of, “Lord, only You know.” and that puts my mind at peace.

This photo was taken at the International Peace School in Nyanza before a genocide survivor came to speak with us. The youth set up the space and were attentive throughout the stories the man told us. They asked thought provoking questions and continued to talk about the presentation even after the man had left.

I’m Starting to Notice

Psalm 143:8 “Let me hear of your steadfast love in the morning, for in you I put my trust. Teach me the way I should go, for to you I lift up my soul.”

As we are in the commemoration period of the genocide against the Tutsi, I find myself struggling. This struggle is very different from anything I’ve experienced so far during my time in Rwanda. It’s a mix of emotions, which is difficult to explain. The best way I believe I can explain what I’m feeling is by giving you a brief Kinyarwanda lesson. Each of these words, or phrases I’m going to define will relate to what I’m noticing in my community and to how I’m currently feeling. I’ll give an explanation of both in hopes that you will have a glimpse into what life kinda looks like for me as I’m figuring things out.

Kwibuka – to remember

Remembering can be tough. The words I see frequently around are Kwibuka and Twiyubaka, the later meaning “we rebuild”. This pretty much sets the tone for the commemoration. Often times we want to move on with our lives and try to live in the moment. This is one way to live, but it short changes the experiences we’ve had and the things we’ve felt. Even in the morally/ethically grey areas of our lives, God still is working. In these moments we often times want to throw everything out and start over, but maybe we should instead do the hard work of remembering and seeing the truth in the grey spaces.

Before I left Chicago, my small group leader had the people in my small group write a letter to ourselves. This letter would, ideally, reach each of us around the mid point of our times of service in our various countries. My letter reached me in January, but I didn’t read this letter then. I had a feeling if I truly and deeply read it, that I would be extremely critical of my past self, or I’d cry. That is why I held off reading this until last Saturday. I chose to read it as a way of beginning the commemoration, maybe I thought it was my way of being in solidarity with my community, because I’d be doing some remembering of my own. Upon reading this, I became irritated, and I did cry. Stephen from mid August basically called present me out and was calling me to remember things that I had tried to shake off, or tried to not think about. I’m not a fan of being called out, or being forced to reflect, and I definitely didn’t appreciate past me for forcing me to do the hard work of remembering.

Yesu abarkunda – Jesus loves you (is loving you)

The love that I have seen people show each other during this period has been truly amazing. Many times it seems that community members are aware of the impacts of this time on those around them. The amount of compassion, care, and love I’ve seen in these past few days reminds me of the steadfast nature of God’s love for us. It isn’t present only in the fun, cheery, exciting times. God’s love is with us through the highest of highs and the lowest of lows and this is a love that never ends.

During this period of time I’ve been feeling a little confused as to what my role is in the community. I continue to go to work, go to the market, walk around town, teach, etc. but I’m not certain if I should adjust what I do to fit some role that I simply haven’t discovered yet. The first phrase I learned in Kinyarwanda was the phrase listed above and I’ve found that in this phrase, I might find part of my role. Maybe part of my role is to show people Jesus’ love and to simply continue to say it.

Ituze – silence

During this period, especially on the first day of the commemoration and almost every afternoon, the streets of Huye are fairly empty. Many of the shops close during the middle of the day and there won’t be any events held at the stadium for two weeks. This silence has played a large part in setting the mood for this commemoration period and it, at times, makes it feel like time is almost standing still.

I, for the most part, enjoy silence. A lot of clarity has been given to me during the silence leading up to the commemoration and during this period so far. The area where this silence is impacting me in an unexpected way is in my home. There is a somber atmosphere in my home. My housemates aren’t listening to music loudly, or choosing to be in the common area together much. It seems like a general feeling of needing time alone has hit the house and there doesn’t seem to be a determined time for when that might change.

Amahoro – peace

Rwanda has been pretty peaceful since the genocide against the Tutsi. The concerted effort to remember and rebuild has led to a peace that has lasted for many years. There seems to be a pride that comes from maintaining peace and many have a passion to find ways for peace to enter areas where conflicts persist.

I’m discovering in myself a sense of peace around some things I can’t control. This has been through a good deal of prayer, and quiet time. In this space I’ve received a lot of clarity. I’ve found in conversations, a sense of confusion when people don’t have the same level of clarity and I’m faced with some decisions. Often times I want to prove myself, or explain why this clarity is so obvious, but instead I’ve taken to being at peace. We each have different lived experiences and it’s okay if I don’t act like I have all of the answers because, put frankly, I definitely don’t. It’s best to simply be at peace and to trust that God will sort out the rest.

Kwitega – to wait for

In 1994, many people in Rwanda were waiting for something. People were waiting for peace, support, an end to violence, justice, and the list could continue. This waiting for something lasted many days and finally came in the form of liberation. This period of waiting for something finally had a result, but at what cost?

I may never know what this kind of waiting for something feels like. I wait for things almost every day, but have never had to wait for something in the midst of extreme adversity such as this. Most of my waiting for something is done in anticipatory excitement. During this period, I’ve found I too am waiting. I’m truly waiting for a world where suffering, devastation and sin don’t persist, or prevail in any way. Realistically, I believe this means I’ll be waiting for Christ’s return.

Gusenga – to pray

During the first two weeks of the commemoration period, at PIASS, intentional conversation periods about reconciliation occur daily. These conversations are held with people from various faculties and backgrounds. These conversations normally end with a period of silence and a prayer. Each of the events I’ve witnessed also seem to incorporate a prayer at the beginning or end of the event. There is unity found in this and that unity transcends the barriers we see or create.

Prayer has been a part of my daily routine since I arrived in Rwanda, but what I’ve prayed about has changed throughout my time here. During this time, I find that I’m not really praying for myself. I don’t know why, but at least during this first period of the commemoration I find myself deeply relating to the song “God Help the Outcast” from The Hunchback of Notre Dame. This is informing parts of my spiritual life.

Here’s the song as a reference if you don’t know it.

Umwanya – time

The commemoration period in Rwanda lasts until liberation day, which is July fourth. During this period, I’ve been told, celebrations will be minimal. Also, during this time, events will be held every month at various locations in order to focus groups on remembering and rebuilding. This is a reminder of the time we are in and a reminder of how the genocide against the Tutsi only occurred twenty-five years ago.

Time feels so strange right now for me. At times it feels like time is standing still and then I realize days have flown by. In moments I find myself becoming aware of all of the things that have happened since I arrived in this country and I become a bit overwhelmed. I want to live each day fully and to completely feel all of my emotions, but I’m not certain I can truly know if I’m doing either of these things. This is where a sense of stillness seems to find me and I’m reminded that this part of my journey isn’t finished yet and God isn’t finished with my larger journey.

Ndagukumbuye – I miss you

This is something that some people will never be able to directly say to their loved ones. In stories I’ve heard from 1994, there seems to be a common theme of not being able to say this to loved ones. A part of remembering is also knowing the things that were left unsaid and the stories which go untold.

I’ve thought about this phrase a bit recently and I’ve come to realize that I miss some people, but I haven’t said it because of the general stigma around men expressing their emotions. I also don’t want others to feel obligated to say it back. More surprising than this is that I miss aspects of who I was before I came to Rwanda. Most of these things I miss about myself are ways that I was able to slip into complacency and ways I’d doubt myself and go with what other’s might say because of my uncertainty. It’s good that through God’s working in my life these traits are falling away, but I’m very aware of how that could effect my relationships and lead to sequences of difficult, discerning, and relational conversations.

Umva – to listen, to understand (to hear)

During this period a lot of listening has occurred and this listening is to understand. 1994 is only twenty-five years ago and there are people who have many different experiences from this time. This level of intentionality and genuine care is very evident. To listen to others and to make efforts to understand is a part of rebuilding and pressing on to a future full of hope.

I’ve struggled quite a bit with this recently. If you haven’t picked up on it yet, I’ve been experiencing many things in the matter of ten to fourteen days. I find that I’m concerned about how much I’m saying, if it’s enough to convey what I want to, or if it’s not. This leads me to ask questions like, “Does that make sense?” Or “Do you have any questions?” This desire to be understood I think is natural, and at the same time I don’t want to overburden those who listen. In this space I sometimes feel defeated, but know that somethings simply can’t be understood until the conversation is face to face and maybe, just maybe, I’m being to hard on myself. This is when I’m reminded that I can also give some grace to myself.

Umuhigo – promise

The promise of a peaceful, hopeful, united Rwanda is very clear. Community members, NGOs, elected officials, and everyone in between seem to strive for this. This promise has inspired many great initiatives in Rwanda and has created cooperation between people from diverse backgrounds. This promise has held true for twenty-five years and is continuing to hold true.

In the letter I wrote to myself many months ago (shout out to my small group leader Julie for being so insightful and having a knack for suggesting some great ideas) I made some promises that I had forgotten about. These are promises to myself and promises to people, even if they don’t know I’ve made these promises. I became frustrated when I read this letter because I knew that past me was holding current me accountable for these promises. I could choose to blow off these promises by saying I didn’t know what I know now, or that those promises don’t actually matter now, but something in my gut tells me that’s not right and I shouldn’t turn my back on these promises. I believe these promises are meant to be kept and it makes sense that during this time of commemoration and remembrance, where part of that remembering is in a promise, God would be inviting me to remember promises as well.

Turi Kumwe – we are together

Throughout this commemoration period we are together. I can’t think of a better way to say this. We, as an international community, are interconnected in amazingly beautiful ways. Even if the struggles we’ve experienced are not the same, we are connected. There is One who has gone before us, guides us and travels alongside us. In the wake of this information, why not take risks for the betterment of the world? We should choose to be in solidarity with one another and strive for a future where wrongdoings cease to triumph.

I’m still trying to decipher some of these feelings and to clarify my role in all of this. I know that God is working in all of this and it’ll all be sorted at some point. Until then, I hope the things I have noticed give you some insight into my community, you have a some grasp of things I struggle with and that you’ve enjoyed having a bit of a Kinyarwanda lesson.

Below are images from the places I work.

1) This sign greets me and will greet me each day I go to PIASS. It has a twin at the other entrance. It roughly translates to, “To remember the genocide committed against the Tutsi in 1994, it’s been 25. (years)” I could be slightly off, but that’s due to the fact Kinyarwanda doesn’t utilize as many prepositions as English.

2) The is a similar sign at the primary school I teach at.

3) The flags at PIASS at half mast in remembrance.

Planning for Another

Matthew 6: 25-34 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life?And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. “So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.

This week has been filled with reading over documents, editing notes and sitting in planning meetings. It’s nice to have steady work and to be in the thick of things going on with the CRASPD (Center for Research and Action towards Sustainable Peace Development) team. I feel like I’ve gotten into the flow of things and I have a clear sense of what my role is in this team.

This weeks meetings with the CRASPD team were an Interns Orientation Meeting and an Operational Planning Meeting for the rest of the year. The Interns Orientation Meetings occurs twice a year and the Operational Planning Meetings occur during the student’s break times, so four times a year. The system works really well for keeping tabs on all areas CRASPD is involved in and to check in as a whole team for what is going on.

I was present for the first Intern Orientation Meeting, and for two of the Operational Planning Meeting. This means that my name was assigned for many tasks, I was able to assist new interns, and I had the chance to build camaraderie with the team. As I entered the room for our Operational Planning Meeting I realized something. This would be the last Operational Planning Meeting I’d be in.

The next Operational Planning Meeting will be the second week in July, by which, I will no longer be in Rwanda. I participated in the meeting and saw my name, which was once all over our planning board, was now in only a few places. This experience hit me in many different ways.

It was very bittersweet. I initially felt a sense of sadness. I’ve grown to work with this diverse group of people, and that time would be coming to an end. This sadness later shifted to a sense feeling content. I’ve participated with this group, learned many things, found my niche, and have effectively done each task I’ve been given. I had no clue exactly what I’d be doing once I was introduced to this team and I wasn’t aware of how God would use me in this place, but here I was, April second, planning events I wouldn’t see.

While feeling this mixture of emotions internally, I became aware of the fact that the rest of the planning I was doing would be for another person. An intern, or staff member who might join the team after I am gone won’t necessarily continue what I’ve been working on, but they will benefit from the work I’ve done. There are templates for documents, examples of how to take certain types of notes, dialogue for building relationships with new NGOs, and websites built for our partners, all of which can benefit those who come after me.

At the end of this meeting my mind settled with two ideas, which comforted me. The first was, “well done good and faithful servant” and the second was not to worry about the troubles of tomorrow. Even though my role on this team might be shifting, and I’m planning for another person, it’s okay. I’m still here, I’m still working alongside people from this country and all over the world, and it’s not time to go.

God willing, tomorrow will come, but that does not mean I shouldn’t live today as fully as I can. I think being a good steward of the time God has given me means living in the moment and when the time comes, passing on all of the work I’ve done for the further success and benefit of those who come after me, even if that means I may not see the results.

This is what the initial planning phase of one of the CRASPD teams meetings looks like. It might seem like a hot mess, but it turns into a really well organized schedule for the period of time that is being discussed. Maybe that’s what happens when a group of diverse people, who enjoy each other’s company, work together for a few hours.

Listen, Listen She’s Calling to You

Hebrews 10:24-25 “And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”

Many months ago, I was introduced to the native language of native Rwandans. This language is called Kinyarwanda. Learning new languages can be extremely difficult, but I saw this as an adventure. To me, this language is simple, complex, and all around beautiful.

I know something being simple and complex might sound a bit confusing, but I think it’s true in this case. There are sentences, or ideas that can be expressed in one word and at the same time, there are concepts I find easy to explain in English that I think take many words to explain in Kinyarwanda. All of it is beautiful because it challenges me and gives me a way to build relationships with people all around the country. I have felt that I’ve hit a wall in learning the language at points, but I’ve worked through them and continued to do my best so I can connect with more people.

Building these relationships is amazing, but I became keenly aware of something last week, which directly impacted my drive to speak Kinyarwanda. I became very aware of how I can read and understand the language well, but sometimes I’m slower at replying to people than I’d like to be. I don’t know why, but this caused me to become very critical of myself.

I’ve been studying this language and communicating in this language for over seven months, but this internalized criticism really did a number on me. I would actively listen to people speak around me, people who know I can speak the language, and I would not attempt any phrases unless I knew I could say them correctly at a decent pace.

I continued to study and practice, but I had it in my head that my speaking was burdensome for others and that I shouldn’t contribute unless I could do so perfectly. Now let me say, I am in a better space now. I also know that expecting someone to speak a new language perfectly in seven months isn’t realistic. This was all an internal struggle of expectations and doing other’s thinking for them.

I had been in this space for a few days, when I left for a retreat with an intentional group of people. While at the retreat English, French and Kinyarwanda were constantly being spoken. I could follow most conversations, but continued the pattern of only speaking in Kinyarwanda when I knew I could perfectly communicate what I wanted to.

Two of the women in the group would continually ask me questions in Kinyarwanda and I would respond in Kinyarwanda. I felt like I was speaking slowly and became a little ashamed. The other people in the group could speak English fairly well, and I felt like I wasn’t living up to that standard.

On the last day of the retreat we were discussing future dreams for the partnership of two organizations and the Deputy Vice-Chancellor, one of the women who would continually talk to me in Kinyarwanda, called my name, “Stephen, could you translate this, in not certain how to say it in English. Umushonji arota arya” (my rough phonetic spelling: Oom-ew-shown-jhe ah-row-ta are-ya)

I started deciphering it out loud. I don’t know why but pretty much all of the thoughts in my head flooded out of my mouth. In a few seconds I had it. It means, one who is hungry dreams of eating. I surprised myself and others judging by the looks on some people’s. The Deputy-Vice Chancellor simply smiled, told me she knew I could translate it, said thank you and continued to make her point.

This moment shook me out of my funk. She pulled me out of myself, showed that she believed me, and that I should believe in myself. The kindness, grace, and support I was shown in that moment has impacted my entire outlook on learning languages. Since this moment, I have had days where I ask people to only talk to me in Kinyarwanda and am growing to be more confident in speaking the language. I’m definitely not fluent, and struggle from time to time, but I know there’s a community that supports me and I’m excited to keep surprising myself.

(These are two of the friends I made at the monastery where my retreat was held. They didn’t have names but they were well taken care of and loved by the nuns who operated the retreat center.)