May I Never Forget

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Reflecting on memories from past journal entries in Rwanda. Reminded of God’s faithfulness in seasons of transition. May I never forget the reasons to be thankful for this life. 

Thank you God for waking me up— for breathing a new breath of life in me and reminding me that I am fully alive; for allowing me to feel, to care deeply, and be shown glimpses of what I love.

Thank you for opportunities of heartache, hopeless and helpless encounters, and glimpses of humanity’s fallenness— to see how in need, how poor, and how helpless we really are.

Thank you that your definition of what’s ‘good’ and what’s ‘lasting’ is completely different than our mindless attempts with good intentions.

Thank you that you truly are the only hope we have to place our hopes for a better future.

Thank you that you promise to return one day and set all of this brokenness straight.

Thank you for promising to hold us all and never abandon us and for showing me your promise holds true for everyone— not just me, not just Americans, but my beautiful, new brothers and sisters in Rwanda, too.

Thank you for new knowledge, uncovered truths, and the uncomfortable confrontation with the “big” questions in life.

Thank you for giving me glimpses of my own poverty— may you continue to show me more.

Thank you for new, deep friendships, and encouraging sisters in Christ.

Thank you for sadness & grief— glimpses of what makes your heart cry.

Thank you for laughter that makes bellies hurt; for smiles that remind you of deep-set joy— surpassing circumstance— for singing echoing across the thousand hills of Rwanda; for dancing which draws us into the life of another.

Thank you for this life you’ve given me— for new opportunities and adventures and constant revelations of who you are along the way.

                  May I never forget. 

                                                                                  A Franciscan Blessing

May God bless you with a restless discomfort

about easy answers, half-truths, and superficial relationships,

so that you may seek truth boldly and love deep within your heart.

May God bless you with holy anger

at injustice, oppression, and exploitation of people,

so that you may tirelessly work for justice, freedom, and peace among all people.

May God bless you with the gift of tears

to shed for those who suffer from pain, rejection, starvation, or the loss of all that they cherish,

so that you may reach out your hand to comfort them and transform their pain into joy.

May God bless you with enough foolishness

to believe that you really can make a difference in this world,

so that you are able, with God’s grace, to do what others claim cannot be done.

                                                               And the blessing of God, who creates, redeems,

                                       and sanctifies, be upon you and all you love and pray for this day, and forever more. 

                                                                                                   AMEN.

 

The Dust Off My Feet

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The Dust Off My Feet

Over a month has passed since returning to the States, and while I came home with an immediate excitement to share my pictures, stories, and greatest memories, I’ve more commonly experienced a desire to retreat— to avoid the questions, the space to remember, and frankly to avoid the frightening emotions yet to be experienced.

I wasn’t sure where to start.

The homecoming was nothing short of exciting. After the bittersweet reality finally hit that I was indeed leaving Rwanda and heading home, I began to prepare for what that meant; I would be reunited with friends who have been away, a recently-married sister and new brother-in-law, a very-soon-to-be-graduated brother, and parents who looked so relieved once they saw I returned in recognizable form. 

As I made my way up the escalator, with a wide grin set under half-opened eyes, the search for familiar faces stopped with a neon yellow sign, which read, “Welcome home Mzungu! We’ve missed you!!” Without meeting their eyes with my own, I knew they were with me.

The thrill of being home began to fade as I realized the difficulty of readjusting to life at home. The luxuries in my own room were meaningless and trivial and the guilt of having so much “stuff” took root. I wanted to get rid of it all, in order to quiet the overwhelming feeling to do something worthwhile, but more than that, to prove that I was no longer the same me.

Honest questions from people I care most about, inquiring about the past semester, began to seem overbearing and maddening. The thought of providing a simplified “Good” to answer how this past semester was felt far from appropriate or sincere. So I hunted around for synonyms with greater impact which attempted to verbalize what I really wanted to say. But the English language seemed to fall short.

Naturally I found it easiest to enter into a state of avoidance, which included avoiding people I haven’t seen in a long time in fear of conversation turning to me and trying to voice what I have been up to the last semester.

I just don’t know where to start.

So here I am, returning to the one thing left to do. To begin to unravel stories left untold. Acknowledging my avoidance of confronting honest emotions and the real struggle of what comes next, has taken time, over a month to be exact; yet in these times of fighting to try and articulate what I cannot put into words I’ve learned that until I put thoughts to paper, nothing has truly been told.

I have kept silent long enough. There’s so much to tell. But these are the words I would say.

I just wish you knew what it was like.

I wish you heard the same stories I did.

I wish we walked together down the red dirt roads contemplating endless questions and striving to give reason to unsettled longing and indefinable answers.

I wish you saw the look in the childrens’ eyes as they let go of your hand when you left them.

I wish you saw the beauty of the thousand beautiful hills of Rwanda, reminding you of the hope of the future and the presence of a brilliant God.

I wish you could feel the physical heartbreak as you passed so many children on the street, all begging for the one thing which somehow left them unfulfilled.

I wish you were there to see the precious little ones pleading  for your hand to hold— a beautiful braid of intertwined black and white, refusing to let go.

I wish time could stop as you held onto a little boy who spoke a different language, but the same heart language— full of laughter, goofy faces, and painful good-byes .

I wish you could hear the beautiful hearts of my peers, struggling with new knowledge in a new reality .

I wish you could experience the uncomfortable, foreign reality of becoming a minority, adopting a new name: “mzungu,” and finding your own at the same time.

I wish you could sit atop a lime green land cruiser jeep and for a brief moment soak in the unbelievable image of a breathtaking painting come to life as exotic animals run around in their native homeland. 

I wish you could feel the warmth and security of the intense sun, reminding you of the hope of “today” while illuminating the lavish landscape.

I wish you could dance with the women as they sang songs to you full of heartfelt gratitude.

I wish you could experience the freshness and realness of church— not as a Sunday morning event, but a lifestyle engrained in the everyday lives of the people.

I wish you could struggle with the challenging language of kinyarwanda, longing to communicate and longing to be understood.

I wish you could see the beauty in difference— 5 bordering countries proudly presenting their traditions and heritage through song and dance, without competition and desire for a gold medal.

I wish you could feel the undisguised stares as you walked the busy streets of the city and the countryside.

I wish you could smell the sweat of the person squeezed next to you in the matatu, revealing years of hard work and long hours spent toiling under the sun.

I wish you could taste the richness of the flavorful spices of ginger and cinnamon in African tea.

I wish you could wipe endless tears from your cheek as you saw the reality of hundreds of kids living without the love of family.

I wish you could accept the hug and greeting from an unfamiliar face with humility and grace.

I wish you could have your patience tested on long bus rides where time was disregarded.

I wish you could admire the simplicity of living in this beautiful land, where security and joy are experienced without ‘stuff,’ beyond unfortunate circumstances.

I wish you could see the gravesites for thousands— unmarked and yet decorated with flowers— signifying the respect and remembrance for the fallen.

I wish you could hear the footsteps of tiny feet hitting the dirt road as they ran towards you.

I wish you could feel the pressure of having much in a land that has more life to offer.

I wish you could accept the extended hand that welcomed you to the front of the church to join in dancing— celebrating the life of the moment, the breath of today, and the joy of togetherness.

I wish you could walk down steep hills, in open land to collect water, with a little girl’s hand held tightly and a jerry can in the other, with guilty thoughts of running faucets at home.

I wish you could be challenged by Michael to tune into your intended design as a little “creator”— made to reflect the One Creator who gave you the ideas, tools, and imagination to create and reveal His goodness with the life you have.

I wish you could join in the creation of cooking with Aidah— accepting correction and the look of satisfaction when you finally roll the dough the right way.

I wish you could spend a timeless afternoon with Adele watching the birds from the front porch, taking notice of the details of God’s creation.

I wish I could see you smile at the unnatural juxtaposition of baby Tarison’s cry turn into a contagious laugh.

I wish you were there. 

I wish we could sit down together, with a cup of African tea in hand, and through the silence of unarticulated words we could share a slight grin with mutual understanding of a shared yet unspoken experience.

These are the words I would say to you— probably with moments of unattractive sobs mixed with memory-filled laughter. And through my puffy, tear-filled eyes you would get a glimpse of another land, another life, a place unlike your own. You would begin to see what could-be: experienced, felt, seen, and learned. You would undoubtedly know the depth of an experience spent in Rwanda, in a land of a thousand hills and 10,000 images of a beautiful life.

As I wipe off the faded red dirt covering my shoes, I would hope that it would land on your own. Your plane ticket would be bought and your adventure would begin, chasing hard for what could be and what is.

These are the words I would say.

And I’m far from being done.

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welcomed home

photo credit: Brittany Libby

At the Table of Forgiveness

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At the Table of Forgiveness

Several weeks have passed since the happenings of this story; yet the images and impact of translated words remain engrained in my mind— an account of forgiveness, in it’s flesh, fully exposed, yet clothed with untold truth and sincerity.

Seats had been taken around the familiar wooden tables in our outdoor classroom. Another day of class was to follow; with little knowledge of the content of discussion, Pastor Anastose, our professor, had mentioned we would have two guest speakers for the day.

Thirty minutes had passed until they arrived.

With open notebooks and ready pens we anticipated what would fill the blank pages.

A middle aged man, slender and dressed in a navy suit, stepped out of Pastor’s white car wearing a solemn expression; following closely behind, a woman clothed from head to toe with matching fabric, green and vibrant in color, wearing a sheepish smile foreshadowing her quiet and sweet disposition. The deep scar on the left side of her face foretold the depth of her wound. As she pulled the chair to take a seat we could see that she was missing her right hand.

I recount the story told, drawing from scribbled notes and raw emotion:

His memory begins:

I am among those who killed during the genocide. I am also among those who have repented and are born again.

The room grew silent and solemn. The facts we had learned days before of the harsh realities of the genocide were now manifested as testimony and personal story; a story between a middle aged man and woman, labeled as a “killer” and “survivor” yet both pleading to be perceived and received with grace and understanding.

His eyes stared back, waiting for Anastose to translate his words and searching for a reaction to the harsh truth he relayed. His story began.

April 12, 1994. Many soldiers came to my home; they took me and I followed. I was told I would be given money. The money quickly turned into killing. I entered the first compound, took the cows, and killed 14 people.

April 13, 1994. The next day a similar routine followed. I killed a nurse that day.

April 14, 1994. Soldiers returned to my home, shooting bullets this time. I went again and killed two women and one child. I took more cows before I left. 

April 29, 1994. Many buses full of soldiers arrived and were taken to Ntarama. The people at the churches had already been killed. We went into the swamps and killed many who were in hiding. 

It is here where his story gravely intersects with the woman’s who sat inches away at the same table.

First I cut off her hand at the wrist. Then, I slit the side of her face along her cheekbone. Next, the baby strapped to her back was killed right before her eyes. 

The woman was distant and cold to the words coming out of his mouth. Like daggers his words flew her direction, no mercy, yet managed to cause no further harm. As he grabbed her wrist and turned her face toward us to show his marks, she remained detached and withdrawn.

To me, she was just one among the dead- a number whom I killed. 

Shame quickly followed the happenings of the killings. 

In 1996 I felt so much shame and began to reap the consequences. I went to the district office and turned myself in, asking for forgiveness from the officer I spoke to. The police officer asked who sent me here. I told him, ‘It is my heart which is accusing me.’ It wasn’t until the next year that I was called back into the district office. My penalty was 8 years in prison. I began to feel relief when I confessed my past, although I had to keep quiet while in prison for fear of death. I wished to meet those whom I had offended. 

I had two hearts- one telling me to ask for forgiveness, the other telling me to keep quiet in fear of losing my life. Yet I continued to seek those whom I had offended. A year passed before the first man accepted my plea for forgiveness. I offered him a bicycle to get around, a debt not to be repaid. He accepted. I found the son of the nurse I killed; he didn’t want to listen, and has not forgiven. 

I saw the woman whom I had cut passing one day. I recognized where I had cut her. I thought I had killed her. I visited her home and she did not recognize me. I asked her to join the association which worked to bring together killers and survivors. She accepted. 

The day came when I knew I had to tell her that I was the one who offended her. I knelt down in front of her and told her I was the one who cut her and killed her baby. 

She collapsed. She was taken to her home. 

Our next encounter was in the Gacaca Courts (a court hearing to try genocide perpetrators). She had become the secretary of the same courts which would pronounce my sentence. I asked her for grace in judgments and asked for a speeded process. She granted this request and a 10 year sentence quickly turned into community service. 

His words faded as his story continued. Silence was offered and accepted from those who were in the room. And then his final remark revealed both the hurt and the healing of his heart.

I know you see me as a sinner, but I am forgiven by God and I ask for your forgiveness too.

Then, it was the woman’s turn to share.

After a warm greeting and genuine smile she began recounting the facts of her past:

I was born of Tutsi parents. In 1959 our family was chased from our home. In school I experienced ethnic discrimination. They separated Tutsis from Hutus, and did not allow us to sit for the secondary exam. My name was put on a list; they took my possessions and my family fled to Nyamata church. This was in 1992. 

The destruction continued in 1994. On April 7, people came to our house and took our cows. In my family of 45 members, including my husband’s side, only 5 survived. On April 11, the militia came. Around 200,000 refugees were there. I saw 11 bushes full of soldiers who surrounded the place. 

All my people died in that place, but God chose for me to survive. 

I escaped with my baby and was separated from my husband. I walked 12 hours to a swamp to flee the killings. 

A pause was taken. A moment to put her words into thoughts and distant memory:

The militia found us in the swamp and killed all they could. I was hit with a club and nail; a spear pierced through my shoulder; my baby was taken from my back and was killed. I was cut in the face and my hand was cut off. I lost consciousness and came back 4 days later. When I awoke, I was surrounded by dead bodies. Days before I was rescued, my husband found me. I did not know my baby or family had died. My husband had been given a house in Nyamata. I began to ask many questions and started to hate myself and everyone else.

My situation was hopeless and my life was disgusting. 

My husband and I were both Christians. He brought home a couple Bibles. I began to read. I had a dream one night and I was being told to write. I did not know how to write with my left hand. I ignored the voice and in the morning I tried to write— I wrote verses as drawings but my heart was still heavy. 

People had come together to pray. I was prompted to join, and I started returning to church. This was hard as killers were coming back to church and choir. My time in prayer I began hearing voices prompting me to forgiveness. I asked for forgiveness for hatred. I said to God, ‘If you forgive me, give me a sign… show me the one who killed me.’

That day came when he confronted me, revealing the truth of his actions, the scars I have, left to tell. I collapsed as I heard the words penetrate my heart. I had prayed to know my killer, yet I was filled with so much hate.

Time passed and in 1997 I was elected among leaders of villages to help bring people back together. I felt God told me, “This is the way to healing.” Soon, I was elected to be a judge in the Gacaca courts, choosing the fate of  the perpetrators of the genocide. 

Her eyes left ours for a moment as she glanced to her left at the man sitting next to her.

This man approached me in the Gacaca courts. His fate was left for me to decide. My heart was heavy and weak when I encountered him, yet I was reminded that I had asked God to show me my killer. He pleaded for mercy for a just punishment. Recognizing his truthfulness and honest plea for forgiveness, ten years was reduced to community service. I truly felt the peace and love of God when I chose to forgive him. I asked him to extend this plea for forgiveness to my few family members who survived. He accepted.

One man’s past and one woman’s scars converged, a quick moment in time, to narrate the story of matchless forgiveness. “Killer” by weapon and “killer” by hate, sitting adjacent, sharing space, time and the same air to breathe. Life given. Life forgiven. Life restored. Life shared. Beauty beheld in forgiveness and redemption. A glimpse of hope— restored and redeemed— through one’s encounter with another, weapons relinquished and memories lucid but in the past.

Now, sitting side-by-side at the table of forgiveness.

Life forgiven is life restored.

April 7

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April 7

It’s hard to imagine this country, the Land of a Thousand Hills, veiled with vegetation and bound by beauty today, overcome then with roadblocks, massacre, and terror.

Ethnic discrimination marked the year of 1994 in Rwanda.

Nineteen years gone since the happenings of genocide. To this day.

Numbers tell of the aftermath: 3 months passed. 300,000 orphans. 500,000 rape victims. 1,000,000 dead.

And still, thousands unaccounted for, buried under massive unmarked graves.

Yet stories and testimonies give the figures faces and form.

Ange. Valentine. Fanny. Gracian. Frederick. Patrice. Jeanette. John. Maria.

Individuals.

Individual stories.

Individual stories left to tell. Left to live.

Countless accounts of supernatural survival, tragedy, and relentless heartache.

Is it possible to forget? Is it possible to forgive?

Up the road in plain view from our front porch, the stadium stands underneath the city lights tonight.

Thousands gather. Thousands remember. Thousands mourn.

Within the country borders, yet separated by memory and experience. With knowledge limited to textbook and brief but gracious encounters.

The stunning peaks and peaceful dirt roads mask the unfathomable events of the past.

On April 7 memories are reborn.

The past is not far from the present.

Deep emotions exposed; haunting images and experiences relived.

Each day, each month, each year faced with the reality and repercussions of ruthless violence.

Memories remain.

Never again.

Never again.

Remembered. Forgiven. Known. Today. Forevermore.

“No longer will violence be heard in your land, nor ruin or destruction within your borders, but you will call your walls Salvation and your gates Praise. The sun will no more be your light by day, now will the brightness of the moon shine on you, for the Lord will be your everlasting light, and your God will be your glory. Your sun will never set again, and your moon will wane no more. The Lord will be your everlasting light, and your days of sorrow will end. Then all your people will be righteous and they will possess the land forever. They are the shoot I have planted, the work of my hands, for the display of my splendor. The least of you will become a thousand, the smallest a mighty nation. I am the Lord; in its time I will do this swiftly.”

Isaiah 60:18-22

 

One: Not Such a Lonely Number

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One: Not Such a Lonely Number

Hello from Gisenyi, Rwanda! March has nearly come and gone and the African adventure continues to be nothing short of a thrill. For the last 3 weeks I have been in Northern Rwanda in the midst of the Virunga volcanos, located a short, and very tempting mile away from the DRC border. We have all been placed in our practicum sites scattered across the country, working with 5 different organizations and institutions. This is a time we have all anxiously anticipated; it’s a transformational part of the GoED program— an amazing opportunity to develop relationships, experience home stays, and be involved with the efforts of the locals. Any time spent in Gisenyi guarantees a refreshing break from the busyness and chaotic way of life— surrounded by beautiful hills, mountains, schools, small businesses, and people who are in no hurry to get anywhere.

The night we returned to Kigali from Kampala was spent unpacking and repacking to ready for our journeys to our practicum sites the next morning. After a short night’s sleep, Brittany, Tee, Winona, and I crowded in a matatu with our bags and Kat and Mitch and took a three hour drive through stunning scenery on roads which twisted us around and in and out of the thousand hills of Rwanda; after passing through several small, rural towns we arrived in Gisenyi in front of a cute brick house painted pink, purple, gold, and all the colors in between; this was the home for several women, the workplace for many, and the foundations of hope for even more. Set across the road, the Pfunda Tea Plantation entices a visit with a sign promising that “Rwanda’s finest tea” could be found there.

Tara, Alison, and Elise warmly greeted us as we made our way inside. These three American women are the founders and visionaries for two organizations —No. 41 and His Imbaraga. Our time would be spent with these young Americans who dared to dream BIG, leaving the comfort of everything familiar, to pursue the purposes God had set out for them in Rwanda. In December 2010 Tara visited Noel Orphanage in Gisenyi as a part of a short term mission trip. After returning to the States, she soon found herself back at the orphanage, living in a guest house for the next 9 months, forming relationships with the children and loving them. Noel Orphanage is the home to over 500 kids, ranging from newborns to twenty-somethings; many of whom have spent the last twenty years of their lives calling Noel their “home.” Brittany and Tee were placed at the orphanage to teach the children constructive games, English, and simply be available to play with the children.

While Tara was among these children living in the orphanage, a need was recognized and her heart was broken. The dream to change the world for ONE became impressed on Tara’s heart. And so began the vision for No. 41: an opportunity for young women to break from the all-too-familiar confines of the orphanage and integrate into society with a chance to provide for themselves. In March 2012, No. 41 was launched. Alison soon joined Tara in Rwanda and together they have been faithfully running this program for a little over a year. Today, 21 women are employed at No. 41 sewing burlap handbags and other products, including a new line of aprons and oven mitts. While No. 41 has provided work for these amazing young women, and an opportunity to attend the University, the benefits have rippled outside the No. 41 house. There is so much more to it. When one bag is purchased, one child at Kanama Catholic School is fed for an entire year! Talk about changing the world for a lot more than one!

Before the feeding program, the children did not eat lunch during their school day. Now, 870 children eat for 140 RWF (Rwandan francs) every day; that’s 25 cents in American money. That means an average $10 meal in the States would feed 40 children for ONE day! Crazy to think what a small sacrifice, the cost of one meal, could do to change the world for one, or rather hundreds of children! It blew my mind to see how just a little goes such a long way. At first these were simply numbers which pleaded to be enough for advocacy; it wasn’t until Winona and I visited Kanama Catholic School that these figures became faces of individual school children who were thankful for something as simple as a hot lunch.

We were able to spend the day with Jean d’Amour, the manager of the feeding program, at Kanama. Jean’s dedication and belief in this program overshadows his inexperience in management. During our visit, we discussed possible solutions for budgeting and different management techniques to ensure a successful future for the program. At one point in our conversation he leaned back in his chair and plainly asked, “What are some important things that someone needs to know to be a manager?” Winona and I exchanged a look of surprise. His humility to ask for different ideas from us, a Journalism and Math major, revealed his desire and willingness to learn from anyone, regardless of experience or expertise. It was so neat to talk through simple methods and tactics of management that Jean could implement into the feeding program, despite our lack of textbook knowledge on the matter.

The feeding program has only been running for a little over a month, and although the needs for materials were voiced, Jean did not complain once about what he did not have; he is choosing to run this program with the resources he has been given, ensuring that ultimately 870 children, 36 teachers, 3 cooks, and 1 guard are able to eat every day. We were able to see the laborious task and process the cooks undergo to feed 910 each day. Kaunga, (maize meal), beans, and vegetables are commonly cooked in HUGE metal pots over the coals in a small kitchen right behind the classrooms. Shovels are used to serve the food into smaller dishes. When lunchtime rolled around, three representatives from each classroom file into the kitchen and grab a basin of food to share with their class. Our time at the school was one of my favorite days here in Gisenyi. Visiting the school and seeing all the work that is put into this feeding program made the efforts of No. 41 so tangible and real. To see how the same vision which began with the intention of changing the world for ONE has now multiplied to benefit 900 school children is truly a testament of God’s ability to do far more than we ask or imagine!

Winona and I have been working with Tara and Alison to help spread awareness for the first annual 4-1 Day. This event will fittingly happen on 4-1, April 1. Simply, this day is designed to raise funds for the feeding program that No. 41 supports through the profit from their bags. In just five days, people across the world (including you) will have the opportunity to donate the cost of one meal to provide a hot lunch for a child at Kanama School in Gisenyi. Once you’ve been given eyes to see a specific need, and meet those who are involved and affected, statistics and figures turn into faces— faces of school children who greet you with handshakes and high fives; the reality of the need quickly becomes apparent in the eyes of individuals rather than statistics jotted down on paper.

Elise has independently started and managed His Imbaraga (“strength” or “power” in kinyarwanda); similar to No. 41, His Imbaraga employs young men in the community to sew leather products— messenger bags, passport cases, travel bags and laptop cases; the proceeds will be benefitting the local community through a weekly feeding program. Elise is 21 years old and has taken time off of school to dare to follow where God was leading her. It is clear that she is living solely on obedience and faith to do what she thought she was unqualified to do.

Over the course of the last 3 weeks I’ve had the opportunity to spread the word about No. 41 and His Imbaraga through various social media outlets, help develop a campus rep program, edit content for websites and social media sites, and create flyers and brochures to spread awareness about these two organizations. More than gaining experience for my Journalism degree, joining Tara, Alison, and Elise’s efforts has encouraged me to be a part of something greater than myself and “do for one what you wish you could do for everyone.” (Andy Stanley)

Upon arriving in Gisenyi and meeting these girls I immediately saw their passion and enthusiasm for what they do in Rwanda. Hung amidst the array of burlap bags in the living room hangs a small canvas with the dreamer’s mantra painted in the silhouette of Africa, “If your dreams don’t scare you, they aren’t big enough.” Age, doubts, and fears are not limitations to accomplishing dreams- they are agents to drive you ahead and remind you that realistic expectations are to be traversed through acknowledging your weaknesses and trusting in God’s power. Faith is a lifestyle allowing His power to shine through our inability. I can’t tell you how encouraging it has been to be able to spend this last month with Tara, Alison, and Elise, who just like me, dream to make a difference; they have challenged me not let to let my dreams die in the making; to live by faith so you’re able to fully experience and clearly see God at work in the midst of your own fear, weakness, and inexperience. They recognize that what they’re doing here has nothing to do with them, but everything to do with being willing to say “Yes” to what God has called them to be a part of. Throughout my time in Rwanda thus far I have been reminded time and time again, that my inexperience and inability are insignificant when I’m willing to say “Yes” to the plans God has set out before me.

“I am only one, but I am one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something. And I will not let what I cannot do interfere with what I can do.” –Edward Everett Hale

I encourage you to take part in 4-1 Day by donating the cost of one meal to help provide for a child without. Donations can be made at www.No41.org/donate Help change the world FOR ONE on April 1!  For the full No. 41 story, more information on products and the women behind the bag you can visit www.No41.org. Elise is in the process of getting her website up and running and will soon be selling the leather products online!
 
Tee, Winona, Brittany, and I

Tee, Winona, Brittany, and I

Lake Kivu- DRC in the distance

Lake Kivu- DRC in the distance

The 41 house- our home for the last 3 weeks

The 41 house- our home for the last 3 weeks

Inside the 41 house- where all the sewing is done!

Inside the 41 house- where all the sewing is done!

The 41 bags and other products

The 41 bags and other products

His Imbaraga products

His Imbaraga products

 
One of the cooks serving kaunga at Kanama

One of the cooks serving kaunga at Kanama

Preparing lunch at Kanama

Preparing lunch at Kanama

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Traditional African wedding: AWESOME.

Traditional African wedding: AWESOME.

We joined Ange and her cousin to her friend's wedding

We joined Ange and her cousin to her friend’s wedding

Tee, Me, and Ange at the 3rd part of the wedding ceremony

Tee, Me, and Ange at the 3rd part of the wedding ceremony

Nyiragongo: active volcano in Virunga mountain chain

Nyiragongo: active volcano in Virunga mountain chain

Beautiful Lake Kivu

Beautiful Lake Kivu

Britt and I- dinner at Thai Jazz

Britt and I- dinner at Thai Jazz

Sunset on Lake Kivu

Sunset on Lake Kivu

Visited Zion Church with some of our favorite Rwandan girls

Visited Zion Church with some of our favorite Rwandan girls

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Pfunda tea tour

Pfunda tea tour

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Sleepless in Kampala

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Meet our escort to Kampala. His name is Jaguar; painted red and black to announce his dominating presence on the road, yet don’t let his name fool you. A list of rules could be seen by all who had a seat on the public bus, ensuring a safe and secure ride from Kigali to Kampala. By the end of the 11 hour ride, crossing borders and arriving in Kampala, the driver was the only one to forget the 10 Bus Commandments of Safe Driving; yet we filled the time with chatting, snacking, and trying to find a comfortable position in our seat. On our journey there many people randomly joined us for brief rides, including street vendors who board with brochettes, glass-bottled sodas, and chapati— only to leave us a few minutes later to continue their sales.

Once we arrived in Kampala, we noticed a stark difference between Kigali and Kampala. The two cities could not be more different. Kigali’s city lights go out after dinner, while  Kampala never shuts them off. Rwandans are reserved in nature and often keep to themselves; yet you would rarely pass a Ugandan on the street without hearing “Hello sista” or “You are my size.” Smiles are exchanged without question and with the busy city life and outgoing people on the streets, really anything goes.

We walked through the largest open-air market in Eastern Africa our first day in Kampala, weaving in and out trying to avoid collisions in the tight walkways that led you from start to finish. As thirteen of us filed through in a straight line, of course the stares and attention were unavoidable. A man or woman manned each small booth filled with clothes, shoes, bags, chickens, food, etc.— each trying to get you to pay interest to their merchandise. Our shopping continued at a craft co-op where much bargaining and buying ensued.

Saturday was a thrill in and of itself. A three hour bus ride to Jinja through the rural areas of Rwanda brought us to the Nile River. Everyone in our group had signed up to go after some convincing and reassurance that class 5 rapids got nothin’ on us. Before we knew it, we were all dressed in swimsuits and sunscreen, with life jackets and helmets strapped on tight as our source of security, listening to our instructions on how to survive the day of rafting.

Never try to stand up in the river.

Your raft is your biggest life jacket.

Float on your back with your toes out of the water when you flip out of your raft.

Many things to remember, yet all that stuck with me was the “when”, not if you flip out of your raft bit. I have been white water rafting in Colorado when I was younger, so I had an idea of what to expect: life jackets, helmets, paddling, an occasional splash. What could be that different between class 2 and class 5 rapids after all? Water logged ears, waterfalls, and whiplash were the three point difference that reminded me I was now treading in African waters. I now have learned that rapids are classified on a scale of 1-6, with class 6 translating to impassable water and a 99.9% chance of serious danger and possible death.

After spending some time in still water learning how to properly sit in, fall out, and get back in the raft, a short distance later we faced our first rapid. We were the first raft out of 8 to brave the waters. Paddling toward white capped waves, we quickly learned we were heading straight toward a waterfall. Our guide prompted our instructions, “Back paddle, hard.” “Forward paddle, hard,” with hopes of traveling around, instead of over the waterfall. Headed straight for the fall, we managed to get our raft stuck on a large rock that turned our raft sideways, parallel to the rushing water. I sat toward the front, on the side which taunted my fall and revealed what waited for us at the bottom. What seemed like a five minute sit and gaze at our fate, another guide came to help get our raft off the rock. With a few big pushes, our raft turned so now we were backwards, faced upstream, with the back of our raft leading us to our flip over the fall. Needless to say, our raft capsized and we were all thrown out; after ensuring everyone was back in our raft our guide told us we had just encountered (and survived) a class 5 rapid. Great news.

Can I just remind you that this is the same river baby Moses floated down to safety. I’m not sure what kind of a raft he was given, but that must have been one WILD ride. Seven more rapids followed through the course of our day, ranging from class 3-5. Our raft flipped several times and we took some pretty hard falls. When we floated down the still water we were able to swim and enjoy the peaceful moments before facing another rapid. They fed us fresh pineapple and crackers on the river and a large celebratory meal at the end of our day. This was definitely one of the most thrilling and fun things I have done! Despite the nerves of being in uncontrollable water, I would do it all again in a heartbeat.

On our last day in Kampala we had the day to explore the city. Several of us were sick and stayed in our rooms to rest for the afternoon. At night, we were treated to a nice meal and then enjoyed a Ugandan cultural performance of music and dance at a beautiful outdoor venue. The talent was amazing!

The following day we headed back to Kigali, stopping at the border for customs and passport stamps. We arrived home late that night greeted by the staff at the house and Aidah’s amazing cooking. The time spent in Uganda was a riot and it was neat to see how different two neighboring countries could be. Uganda’s atmosphere was lively and exciting, yet as we rolled up to our compound, through the quiet streets of Kigali, it really felt like we had made it home.

The wild and crazy Owino Market

The wild and crazy Owino Market

The streets of Kampala

The streets of Kampala

Enjoying dinner in the city at a pizza joint

Enjoying dinner in the city at a pizza joint

Craft market

Craft market

Our life boats loaded and ready for the rapids

Our life boats loaded and ready for the rapids

Beautiful view of the Nile

Beautiful view of the Nile

Stuck and afraid

Stuck and afraid

With a little help from a kayak guide

With a little help from a kayak guide

Out of our hands, into the water

Out of our hands, into the water

Enjoying the ride

Enjoying the ride

After the rapids... 13 went in, 13 came out

After the rapids… 13 went in, 13 came out

Thankful for our guide Sedat

Thankful for our guide Sedat

Rowdy bus ride back to Kampala

Rowdy bus ride back to Kampala

Beautiful sunset on our way back

Beautiful sunset on our way back

Ugandan cultural performance: Burundi drummers

Ugandan cultural performance: Burundi drummers

Balancing 9 jars on her head while dancing

Balancing 9 jars on her head while dancing

Scenic ride home to Kigali

Scenic ride home to Kigali

These cover the fields between Kampala and Kigali. They remind me of the trees in the movie the "Lorax"

These cover the fields between Kampala and Kigali. They remind me of the trees in the movie the “Lorax”

Fully Alive

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Come with me. Let’s take a drive. Press your head against the window; feel the coolness of the glass against your forehead as your eyes gaze at the beauty set before you. Watch the morning mist decorated on the valley floor vanish as the sun peaks over the hills. See countless shades of greens lain underneath the cloudless blue sky. Count the number of goats you spot grazing on the side of the road. Wave back at the excited children who stop and stare as you quickly pass. Catch the glimpse in his eye and don’t forget him. But don’t you dare blink, for you’re sure to miss what’s right before you: A wave of a child or a snapshot of deep valleys and high mountains through the tall trees. Fight the tired eyes that plead for rest reminding you of your early awakening, for you are only here once.

Open the window and breathe in deep. Fill your lungs with the clean, reviving air. Follow the steps of the woman walking in balance with a basket balanced on her head. Carry her load in your mind, imagining where she is coming from and where she is going. Anticipate the road ahead as curves and bends carry you along the panoramic view, offering new scenery and different points of view. Stare at the distant silhouettes of the blue mountains set deep behind the rolling hills. Take a deep breath as you pass the calm waters which mirror the majesty of the mountains on the surface— so clear a dropped pebble would distort the image. Forget the things that trouble you and the final destination of your travel. Soak in the sunshine and the raw beauty of life before your eyes; for this is what it means to feel fully alive: surrounded in the grandeur of creation.

I travelled along these roads, wrapping up and around this breathtaking scenery. I have never been anywhere so beautiful; it was the most magnificent drive I have ever taken with spectacular views around every bend. I was reminded of Donald Miller’s book, “Through Painted Deserts” as I sat gawking at the countryside outside my window.

“…I am finally seeing how how good life is, how beautiful it is. I start realizing that this is the first time I have encountered beauty in nature. I’ve read poems that have made my heart race. I’ve read scenes in novels that have caused me to close the book, set my head in my hands, and wonder how a human could so brilliantly orchestrate words. But nature has never inspired me until now. God is an artist, I think to myself. I have known this for a long time, seeing His brushwork in the sunrise and sunset, and His sculpting in the mountains and the rivers.”

A full day was reserved for a little relaxation and fun in the sun, away from the city. Travelling 3 hours Northwest among the most beautiful scenery, we arrived in the town of Kibuye, which sits on the Eastern shore of Lake Kivu. A small motored wooden boat took us across the huge lake, passing several little islands on our way to our destination. The water was clear and emerald in color, still and warm. We had reached our destination when we stepped foot onto Napoleon Island, also commonly known as Bat Island. Wasting no time at all, our boat guide trekked up the island, bringing himself above the trees. We all watched him from the shore as he picked up rocks and hurled them downward. As soon as the rocks grazed the trees, hundreds and hundreds of bats emerged circling the island and making their presence known through their eerie screeches. As we hiked to the top of the island, we picked and ate fresh guava; gaining a 360 degree view of our surroundings, the bats were still in full flight circling the trees they were appearing from. The view was incredible; indescribable.

The rest of the day was spent swimming, relaxing on the beach, and playing a friendly game of sand volleyball. A couple of the locals followed us to the court to join in; they were much more intense than any of us were; this made for some great laughs when they would yell things like, “ATTENTION!” to make sure we were alert and ready when the ball crossed the net. We headed back to Kigali late afternoon watching the setting sun disappear amongst the hills which were first illuminated under the sunrise. The darkness allowed us permission to shut our eyes and rest from a long, enjoyable day spent under the sun.

Kellie and I taking in the view

Kellie and I taking in the view

road-side beauty

road-side beauty

Musical entertainment (using a homemade instrument) during one of our stops along the road

Musical entertainment (using a homemade instrument) during one of our stops along the road

the view from the genocide memorial on our way to Kibuye

the view from a genocide memorial on our way to Kibuye

our ride to Napoleon Island

our ride to Napoleon Island

Bat Island: hundreds of bats circling the island

Bat Island: hundreds of bats circling the island

the view from the top of the island

the view from the top of the island

our crew hiking down

our crew hiking down

refreshing swim at the end of the hike

refreshing swim at the end of the hike

Rachel, Me, Erin at beach

Rachel, Me, Erin at beach

sand volleyball

sand volleyball to end the day

Rainy drive back to Kigali

Rainy drive back to Kigali

Beautiful sunset to echo the morning's beauty

Beautiful sunset to echo the morning’s beauty