Monday, December 21, 2009

Update on Aponere

Jen emailed me this morning with the text of a note she received from Aponere. Remember my HW club kid? See below, exactly as the note was written.

Hello momy,
Many thanks you for come our country.
Momy I enjoy my heart because you helped me.
Please I want to speak to Emily momy
I do not forget you and Emily forever
Always I remember Emily.
I want to see you Emily face to face.
God will bless you many because you help me.
A reason told to this because I like you and Emily.
I do not know my mother but now my mother is you.
In 1999 years I hurt 2000 years 2001 years I hurt 2002 years I hurt 2003 I hurt 2004 years I hurt 2005 years I hurt 2006 year I hurt 2007 I hurt 2008 year I hurt but 2009 I enjoy my heart because Jesus gave me everything.
First Jesus gave me my mother you Second Jesus gave me school.
Number three Jesus gave me a house and food.
I miss you momy. I know English will come to tell you very things
I know your eyes cry.
Many promise me that you will be my mother forever
Forever God is strong
Forever God is with me
Our father is the king we pray.
Momy you and Emily Jesus bless them every day every week
Every time every month every year
I will remember the time for help me momy
I like the Bible
Jesus loves me momy.
I thanks you things that make for one momy
Is yourself who helped me
God bless you
Thank you so much momy.

I cried! I didn’t even know she was in touch with Aponere. I had told her and Serge to keep an eye out for Aponere when I left because he had so much potential. But I wasn’t sure what would actually come of that, ya know? Well, they (Jen, Serge, and ITeams) got a house for him and another boy from HW club and they support him with rent, food, school, life. They’re trying to get them both to eat right, said that Aponere is a really responsible guy. But I knew that! She said he spends his money very wisely and looks after the other boy, who I think might have been one of my kids in HW club as well. Aponere’s English is coming along very well, amazing really. Serge makes him speak English when he’s with him, so Aponere practices every day.

So my boy is good! I get goosebumps thinking about it. He’s gonna do so well, guys. He’s so smart and do determined and so eager. I’m so so excited for him! To think of where he’s come from, of what he’s sacrificed, and of just the small part of the journey I took with him – and to see where he is today, its really pretty incredible.

Friday, July 10, 2009

I'm ba-a-a-ck

I'm home!!

First meal: Chili’s
First reunion/neck to hug: my fab friend Michelle
Favorite thing once I arrived on USA soil: using my cell phone
Material possession I missed most: my car
Travel time: approx 28 hours
Fun fact: its amazing how a pair of jeans you haven’t worn in 6 months can feel so new!

Thanks for everything. Thanks for reading. Thanks for the journey.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

More goodbyes ...

Tonight was my last night in Rwanda. We spent it with Mama Chantal (aka, Mama Meat) and Mama Debra. Lots of laughter, good memories. My goodbye with Debra was emotional. Not really a lot of words were said, but they didn’t have to be. I think we both just knew. We heard each others hearts and what they were saying.

The closer it gets to me leaving, the sadder I get. I didn't expect that. I’m ready to be home, but in a way this has become my home. These people are people I love and have done life with for awhile. And will probably never do life with again.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Goodbye to Ubuzima

Today was my last Ubuzima. It was sad, but I felt so loved! They presented me with all kinds of gifts and with a certificate of appreciation for my time serving them. Certificates are a BIG deal in Rwanda, so this certificate was a bigger deal than what you and I would normally think of. Mama Debra, Enoch, and Bright (Ubuzima leaders) all gave speeches about me, and they had some of the ladies come up and talk about why they were thankful for me and what I had meant to them. Then they all “laid hands” on me and prayed for me. A group of praying Rwandans is a unique experience. No praying to yourself in silence. Its every man for himself, praying out loud and passionately, all at once. Of course, I couldn’t understand any of it, but it was still special.

After Ubuzima, Natasha and David had a surprise for me. They took me to a movie! A theater had just opened and we had been wanting to go to a movie since I’d been there. Now it only had one screen, and was about half the size of a theater you’d find in the States, but still it was a movie on a big screen. So fun! And, Natasha finally got a picture of me on a motorcycle for those of you at home that can’t picture me on a moto, as we call them in Kigali. :)

Sunday, July 5, 2009

A Big Opportunity to Bless

So you know how I/we have this ministry money to use? Money that’s part of my budget to be used to bless others in big ways? Well, I got to bless the pants off of someone special today! Bear with me, cause this entry is gonna be a long one, but I promise you’ll want to read it!!

As I’ve been preparing to leave Kigali, I’ve been tying up loose ends with my money. Like figuring out how much I need to keep for travel, what to leave behind for the ministries of ITeams-Rwanda, and what to do with my leftover ‘ministry’ money. In thinking about the ministry money, Mama Debra (leader of Ubuzima) keeps coming to my mind. She’s always been one of my favorite people in Rwanda, and I’ve always felt there was so much more to her to know than I do. So I’d been thinking and praying about giving a large sum of the money to Mama Debra. I mentioned it to Jen b/c I was I didn't want to make Debra uncomfortable or offend her. But Jen did nothing but encourage me to follow through with the Spirit’s leading!

Tonight was my going-away party, which was great – just a good time to be with all my Rwandan friends one last time. Mama Debra was one of the last people to leave. As I walked her out to the gate (the cultural thing to do that we mzungus often neglected), I stopped her and presented her with the envelope of money. I explained to her that I knew she was aware of the money we, as interns, had set aside to bless people. (Because she was head of Ubuzima, she saw us give it away all the time as that was where we found most of the opportunities for blessing) I told her that I had a lot of leftover money from that fund and that I wanted her to have it. The money was for her to use however she wanted. If she wanted to use it for Ubuzima, she could. But it was intended for her! I told her I didn’t know what her situation was, what her needs were, but that I felt like God was telling me to give this money to her, and to give her this specific amount. (Keep in mind that if this amount is a large amount to you and me, its huge for a Rwandan) I went on to explain how much she meant to me, and that she was one of my favorite people in Rwanda and that she would always be in my heart. I told her that I saw how much she gave endlessly to others, and how I wasn’t sure I had known anyone with more love. So I wanted her to receive back some of that love, some of the blessing she gave out to so many. She asked me a couple times, “this is for me?” I think it caught her off guard, she didn’t quite know what to say, but she was very grateful and just remained her calm, peaceful, beautiful self.

Not long after, Natasha and I were cleaning up from the party. Jen and Serge had left just a few minutes earlier, but a few minutes later I received a call from Serge. He asked me what I said to Debra when I walked her out, and I explained. While Jen knew my plans, Serge had no idea. It turns out that Debra, when she got home, opened the envelope with her family around her, and began sobbing. She called Serge in tears and just went on and on about how she couldn’t believe what I had done. Finally after he calmed her down, she told him what happened. And she told him why my kindness had been such a blessing to her. She would have called me herself, but her English is very minimal and she knew she wouldn’t be able to communicate with me like she wanted to.

Most people don’t know that Debra has a hard life. She seems so put together, always presents herself as not lacking or needing much. You’d never know she was struggling. And she’d probably never tell you, either. But as Serge explained from his conversation with her, last week Debra didn’t have money to buy food for her family. Its my understanding that Debra is one of the people that buys the food for the street kid feeding program, and I assume she uses this same vendor for purchasing supplies/food for Ubuzima as well. So because she has a very good relationship with this person, she pleaded with him to let her purchase food for her family on credit and she would pay for it the next Monday. Today is Sunday, tomorrow is the Monday that debt was due. Just that morning at church, she had had words with God about how she had this faith that God would provide, but that she didn’t know how she was going to be able to take care of this debt. And now, she can take care of it! Not only that, but just a few days ago her children had been kicked out of school because their school fees weren’t paid. So now, not only was Debra going to be able to pay off her debt for the food, but she would be able to pay her debt for the school fees and her kids would be able to go back to school without missing anything! AND, she was even going to have money left over to feed her family with no worries for the next month!

What makes this story even better, is that I almost didn’t give the money to her tonight. I was going to wait until Tuesday when I saw her at Ubuzima, but I just felt like now was the right time. Had I waited, she wouldn’t have been able to pay the debt on Monday. I love how much I listened to the Holy Spirit, and I didn’t even really realize I was doing it! And it meant so, so much more to be able to bless someone I loved and cared about and actually knew, as opposed to the rest of the people my ministry money had gone to. I mean, I knew them, but not like Mama Debra. She had a special place in my heart, and to be able to bless her in such an extraordinary way – just to be able to bless her period – meant a lot to me. I can’t stop thinking about it! I’m beaming. God is so good!

Saturday, July 4, 2009

On American soil, but still in Rwanda ...

Not only did I get to celebrate my birthday in Rwanda this year, but I got to celebrate the 4th of July!

I just got back from a 4th of July picnic at the American Embassy. It was so surreal! Being on the grounds, it didn’t feel like I was in Africa at all. It felt like I was in the USA! It looked and felt different. I wasn’t used to all the green, green grass and so many white people in the same place all at once. And the building just looked like buildings in the States. I went inside and the bathroom made me feel so much at home!! I was told later that they have the building materials shipped over from the US! Now, in my opinion, that’s a little extreme, but anyway. There were hot dogs and hamburgers, chips and potato salad. Everything typical of a 4th of July barbeque. I had heard that sometimes the Marines have Dr. Pepper shipped over, but they said it didn’t get here in time this year. I would have been in heaven. There was also volleyball, and some other lawn games, but mostly it was all about socializing with the other Americans. I even saw someone I knew from the States! Sarah served with me in Malawi when I worked with Children of the Nations, and she was in Kigali on a short-term trip. We hadn’t seen each other since Malawi, and now here we were reunited in another African country. I think that’s pretty cool.

Anyway, it’ll definitely be a fun memory!

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Preaching, Teaching, and Growth

Just a warning ... this is a long one, so bear with me.

Its been amazing to see the growth that's happened in me since my time in Malawi and even in seminary. I look at myself and think, "who is this person?!" One of the biggest surprises has been the fact that I taught a series on the covenants!

Seminary was one of the hardest, but most growing times of my life. One of the life-changing classes, and my favorite class, was Introduction to the Old Testament by Dr. Sandy Richter. Through her class, she gave me a new love of the Old Testament, when for so long I was scared of it, b/c of all the kings and wars and things that didn’t fit or make sense. One of the ways she helped “organize my closet” was in her presentation of the OT through covenants. There is a theme in the Bible of covenants, which I had never realized. It started with Adam and Eve, then to Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, and finally Jesus (the New Covenant). I could go on and on about this, but perhaps reading the notes from my lessons would be better if you’re interested! I can feel myself starting to preach!

Dr. Richter recently published a book that essentially lays out her curriculum from the class, but is meant to be read by lay people. I brought The Epic of Eden with me to Rwanda but never would have guessed I'd use it in this way. Never would I have been able to remember all the details and teachings from the class that I want to share with others, so it was definitely a God thing that I brought it.

The entire week before I presented (or taught or preached-whatever you want to call it), all I did was prepare! I mean, it was practically 24-7! I didn’t leave the house. I skipped all of my normal activities and responsibilities. I don’t think I’ve worked that hard in the entire time I’ve been in Rwanda. There was SO much information and I remember so many times when I started to have a freak-out session because of all the things swimming in my head that I didn’t know how to translate in words and on paper.

It started out as being a sermon series, but then Jen needed more time for her series so we had to move my stuff back. But I’m leaving in a few weeks, so there wouldn’t be time to do it in 4 weeks. There was no way I could get it all into 2 weeks, so I kicked it off one Sunday, then we had two special teaching nights during the week (which where translated into Kinyarwanda), and the last was given the following Sunday at the English service at church. I was able to recreate some of the diagrams and maps from my class for PowerPoints (yep, we have PowerPoint in Rwanda) ... and they made quite an impression! The full-time missionary here and her husband have been excited about the series for awhile. And they given me great feedback! The pastor of the church has requested my notes to possibly teach it to the Kinyarwanda service - this is huge b/c the relationship between he and the mission organization I work with has been very strained for awhile. It was so fun to hear about light bulbs that were going off for people, connections they were making. And they say it all made sense, it wasn’t too academic or over-their-heads and were even teasing me about what this means for the future, that I should be a teacher. Dr. Richter always told us she wanted us to be able to simply “tell the story [of God], and tell it well.” That was her mantra. SO I'm telling the story, and telling it well!! And honestly, never in a million years did I think I'd be telling it like this. Maybe to friends here and there, but not to a church ... in RWANDA!
* * * *
Its really cool to look at this whole situation and see how much I’ve grown in the last several years. I know I mentioned that at the beginning of this blog, but its big; even just last year, I would have reacted so differently to so many things about this.
1) I would have never volunteered to do this on my own – to teach, let alone teach the material of Dr. Sandy Richter, material that intimidated the crap out of me!

2) I never once freaked out in all my preparations. So many times in seminary, when I didn’t know what I was doing or was overwhelmed by the material or frustrated with the fact that I couldn’t communicate what I wanted to, I would get so emotional. I would stop and cry and doubt myself and what I was doing. I would tell myself I couldn’t do it and was crazy for even trying. Eventually I would get out of that place and be able to do what I needed to do. But this time, none of that happened. Yes, I was overwhelmed by the material and workload and thoughts in my head, but I knew that it would all work out. There was a peace that remained with me the whole time ... I didn’t know how it was all gonna come together, but I knew it would. And it would be because of God. He would give me what I needed to say, and help me communicate like I needed to. I knew this. Yes, I doubted what I was doing, but I knew I could do it. And it was more of a funny “what have I gotten myself into?” than a serious one. Does that make sense? And finally …

3) in the days before I was to give the teachings/sermons, Serge had his doubts. He was concerned that it wouldn’t keep people’s attention and wouldn’t be received well. This had nothing to do with me personally, it was more of because of his own knowledge of how Rwandans work and how they respond to African preaching, rather than “white-girl” preaching. In the past, this would have torn me down. It would have made me doubt myself and fear would have taken control. It would have brought up so many negative feelings about myself. But this time, I was so confident! I kept telling Serge, “don’t worry, it’ll be good.” I didn’t let his anxiety make me upset, it just made me more confident about what I was doing. Isn’t that awesome? SUCH a change in me, and a big one!!

This teaching is probably the highlight of my time in Rwanda. The biggest and most rewarding thing I’ve done. Rewarding from the preparation to the delivery to the emotions tied to it. God’s been growing me, and maybe He needed to bring me to Rwanda to show me this one particular way I’ve grown.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Kamari Family

I've talked about Jen and Serge throughout my posts, and wanted to give them their own special entry! In case you missed it, they are the full-time missionaries with International Teams here in Kigali and have served as our leaders/mentors/friends. They're awesome, what more can I say. Although we love to cut up with Serge, he is one of the most genuine people I know and I'll never forget his grin. Jen - I'm grateful for her investment in my life (and the lives of Natasha/Jocelyn) and for her unconditional support ... I always felt so very validated in whatever I was feeling, which meant more than she'll ever know.

Isabella (one of 3 Kamari kids) - 3 going on 30!

Friday, June 12, 2009

God Provides

I’m thanking God a lot right now! I left my job in January to come here, knowing there was a good chance I wouldn’t get it back. But, they had told me that if they could, they would love to have me back but it just depended on their situation in July. Not long after I left for Rwanda, the economy took a huge downfall and they like many were affected, having to lay off a good amount of people. At that point I knew my chances of going back were slim. But it turns out since then, they’ve gotten some large projects and are in a lot better place financially ... and have offered me a postion to come back. So I have an income waiting for me when I get back; such relief!

God, again, has taken care of my needs … He is good!

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Back to Malawi

I think I shared with you that I've been praying about going to Malawi while I'm in Africa to see some of the people I worked with when I was there a few years ago, particulary my dear friend and sister-in-Christ, Wezzie. Well, I went! It all happened very fast. Just a little over a week ago I was in town with David killing time before we had to go to Mama Bridgette’s, one of the street kids houses. So on a whim, I went to a travel agent that was in the “mall” we were in, just to see how much a ticket to Malawi would be. It turns out the airfare wasn't as expensive as I thought it would be – it was like $1000 cheaper! At that point, I couldn’t not do it ... I knew I’d regret it. So, I bit the bullet and made the trip! (Don’t worry, it was my own money, no supporter funds). Its been so good to reconnect with a few good Malawian friends. Wezzie and I have been trying to reunite ever since I left, and there've been several times it almost happened but every time a roadblock surfaced. So this was quite special to see each other again. Mada, one of the aunties (my favorite auntie, whom I had lost contact with) I worked with just had a baby - 4 days old - so I guess I picked the perfect time to visit! It was a short trip and I wish I could have visited more people, but it was still worth it. Good to be around people I love and to remember my time in Malawi in a new way.

(pictured: Wezzie, Mada, myself)

On a side note, Wezzie has hot water! Oooh, I've never felt so clean in my life. Pure bliss.

It was good to be back in Malawi. Sometimes it doesn't feel like i'm here, but just the thought of it is nice. I was hoping we'd get to go back to Chiwengo, the village where I spent time and where all the kids are. But its two hours away and their car is broken, so that is a problem. But as Wezzie and I were talking, I realized that a lot of the aunties aren't there anymore (got married, etc) and a lot of the kids are probably gone too, to secondary school, so it probably wouldn't be what I pictured anyway.

Its so weird to see Wezzie as a wife. She works like crazy - ALWAYS cooking or cleaning, in addition to her regular job. Being married has really made her grow up (she was quit naïve and childlike when I was with her in Malawi years ago), so although the same Wezzie is still there, she's different too. In a good way.

Funny story – before I left for Malawi, Serge kept telling me about how iTeams had a new staff person in Lilongwe. She was from Italy and was about to marry a man from Burundi, who would soon be on staff with iTeams as well. They had all met a couple months ago at the iTeams Africa conference. Well, turns out the guy lives behind Wezzie!!! The couple goes to their church! Wezzie started talking about her neighbor, about how he was about to marry an Italian, etc and I instantly knew they were the iTeams people Serge had talked about! I went outside and chatted with the guy for awhile and he later brought me a document to give to Serge when I returned to Kigali. I know Serge and Jen will flip out! Small world.

Wezzie’s church is the church I attended whenever our team in Malawi was in the city, so it was fun to be back there. SO many people spoke English! A lot of missionaries attend there, but Malawi’s second language is also English b/c they were settled by the English. So my entire trip to Malawi was interesting in that it almost felt like I was back home b/c of all the English (vs French in Rwanda) around me!

Being here, connecting with a good friend and being around those I love and am comfortable with, makes me miss my friends at home ... one in particular! But the good news is that it won’t be long till I’m back in their presence!

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Spiritual Gifts

We’ve been going through the spiritual gifts at church since I’ve been in Rwanda and a couple Sundays ago we took a Spiritual Gifts Inventory. I’ve taken many of these "tests" and usually I get similar results. This time, sure enough, I got similar results BUT a couple gifts showed up that I’ve never had before – Wisdom and Leadership tied for #3.

I was kinda excited about Wisdom – it was a surprise, but a pleasant surprise. I mean, who wouldn’t want to be wise, right? My friends here and I have been joking about how they need to listen to me because I am wise! However, they have said there is some truth in their comments, that the things I say and advice I give is good advice ... that there is wisdom in my words! So, all of you at home? I guess the next time I talk, you better listen well! :)

Leadership? That was a big surprise! I’ve always been more of a follower than a leader – I mean, my top gift was Helper if that tells you anything. So the only thing I can figure is that maybe I’ve grown into the role of leader a little bit more over the last couple years. I’ve asked myself, “Has this always been a gift? Have I just not recognized it before? Or is it that it's not necessarily a gift, and the test lied! :) Can you learn your gifts? Or grow into them? If you grow into them, are they really gifts or are they 'learned behaviors'? Does God give you different gifts at different times according to your life situation? Can they change?” My answer is yes, they can change. Because we are on a journey in life and we never stay the same; God is molding us and making us into who He wants to be. So of course our gifts will change from time to time ... after all, they are “gifts” and not talents. Gifts are something given to us, not in our control.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Change is good!

Jocelyn's departure and the end of HW club brought about a schedule change for Natasha and I - and it has been just the boost we needed! The change has done us good and I feel revived and ready to go on a whole new level. Its almost like it’s a different internship. I've been tutoring a church member in some computer basics and have, surprisingly, been really enjoying it. I think it’s because it’s my niche - at home, admin work had become a burden but here I've discovered that maybe it really is a gift and that I DO actually enjoy it! So that computer lesson has turned into a class. Mostly I'll be teaching some ITeams staff so they are better able to do reports, etc, but there's a couple non-staff that will come too. I’m even going to do typing lessons! Oh, the memories of typing class in high school. Right now the computer classes are once a week, but could turn into more. And we’ll see what the attendance is like. It could go either way; I mean, we are in Africa. :)

I'm also preparing to preach a sermon series on the covenants of the Bible! You might remember that I was considering this, but now its official. I can't believe I'm doing this - not in a million years would I have pictured it, but I would have never pictured myself in Rwanda either! And this was even MY idea which is even crazier. I'm super nervous but excited at the same time. Its material I learned in my favorite class in seminary (for those who know it, Sandy Richter's Intro to Old Testament) and its been on my heart for awhile to share it with the people here. Its a rather daunting task as I put together all the details (there's a lot of them) and wrap my mind around how to communicate it, but here's where my faith comes in - where I trust that God will make it all come together, cause I surely can't communicate by myself! So please pray for me!!! My first "teaching" isn’t far away and I still have lots to prepare.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Last Day of HW Club

On Friday we had our last day of HW club. We each wanted to do something fun with our kids, rather than schoolwork, since they’d been working so hard. Well, mostly working hard. :) Jocelyn took her girls to get a Fanta at a restaurant down the street, Natasha made her kids balloon animals and ran around like a monkey, and I played UNO and Chutes & Ladders with my kids. They loved Chutes and Ladders!! The next day we had a big party for all the HW club kids and Kindergarten kids together - played tons of games, gave out sweets, and let a few balloons loose among them, which they loved and we had to stop b/c it got so rowdy. It was all bitter-sweet for me, as although I was ready to move on from this program, it was hard to say goodbye to the kids.

You remember me telling you about Aponere, my prize student who chose school over a home? That goodbye was rough ... at that time, he was still homeless and not sure what was going to happen, but he thanked me over and over again and said he'd always remember his teacher. Good news, though! I was back at Moureen's the next week and saw him and discovered he found a job washing clothes nearby that would also provide him shelter! Praise God!

Friday, May 22, 2009

Birthday Celebrations

For my 29th birthday, one of my best friends took me to see The Lion King; for my 30th birthday, I was taken on a scavenger hunt that ended with an awesome surprise party; and for my 31st birthday, I spent it in Rwanda! Um, I’m kinda afraid for my 32nd year ... it could potentially be a let-down after the last few years of celebrating!

Yesterday, in case you didn't figure out, was my birthday. All of the interns have had birthdays since we’ve been here, mine being the last, so we’ve kinda gotten into a routine with celebrating. Usually there’s decorating of the house, some kind of breakfast-in-bed sort thing, and a celebration that night. My breakfast? Chocolate fondue! It was great! I got a bag of goodies, too … my roomies are awesome! Then, we got dressed and went out for housevisiting. I guess word had gotten out that it was my birthday because one of the ladies we visited gave me a bag of fruit for my birthday! I mean, if you think about it, she gave me the fruit she would normally be earning her income off of to feed her kids! It was so sweet ... As for the nightly celebration, my roommates/fellow interns have had lots of fun trying to surprise me, but I kinda suspected it would be at a Chinese restaurant. I had told them a couple times I wanted to go have dinner at a Chinese place for my birthday. So after lots of hoopla and acting as if there was not going to be a party, that we were just hanging out at Jen and Serge’s house, we all ended up at one of the nicest Chinese places in town. Some of my closer Rwandan friends were there, probably about 14 of us total. It was the first time some of the Rwandans had had Chinese food, so that was fun.

Then, today at the street kids feeding, I got another birthday surprise. David, our best Rwandan friend and translator, didn’t come to my party and I gave him grief about it! So to make it up to me, he had the ladies preparing the food that day make a plate of rice with beans carefully placed in a circle around the top of the rice. They came out singing Happy Birthday with one large candle in the middle of the makeshift birthday cake. At the end of the song, I blew out my candle and “cut” my cake with a huge cutting knife! I was also chased down with a cup of water – a Rwandan tradition for birthdays is to pour water on the birthday girl/boy. I have to give David props, he made it up to me and gave me an awesome story to tell in the future!

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

This isn't goodbye?

Today we told the kids at Moureen’s that this week was the last week of HW club and Kindergarten. A lot of them knew that the property was being sold and they were having to vacate, but some didn’t. So we tried to explain as best we could and they seemed to take it pretty well – at least on the outside. Some of the older ones asked several times, “so we will not see you after this?” We told them that for Jocelyn, yes, because she was going home, but for Natasha and I, we would still be around the area and would stop by to visit when we could. But honestly, I don’t know how practical that is – some of them are pretty spread out in the area so I wonder if we’ll even see them again. ITeams still wants to keep some sort of weekly program to stay connected to the kids they support in school, so Natasha will probably help out with that when we figure out what it looks like. Its weird … I feel kinda numb to it all. Seems like I should be so sad that this is goodbye to these kids. But maybe, again, I’ve put up that emotional wall of protection. And maybe, too, I know that there is still opportuntity for me to see them somehow, someway. I’m not dropping off the face of the earth.

I do have to say I’m gonna wonder about Aponere especially. He’s still homeless, but he seemed to be doing a lot better when I talked to him today. He’s been able to eat, and his cough is better … but he’s still homeless. Thing is, this kid seems to not be fazed by it. Its like life as normal. And even if he wasn’t okay with things, I don’t think he’d tell me. AND, he didn’t ask for more handouts, when he knew I probably had more money to give. That’s what makes me respect him that much more … and have that much more hope that he will make it in this messed up world.

** On a side note: I made flash cards for my kids this week with their multiplication tables. Wanted them to get away from looking on the back of their book or having to "think" through it. They LOVED this! They were yelling out the answers and trying to be the first to yell them out. They'd get excited when they were getting close to the answer. It was crazy! But, alas, I wouldn't be able to do this for a whole other month, so I think it was a good ending to my "teaching" time with them.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Times are a changin'

Today we met with Jen to talk about the coming week – this is Jocelyn’s last week in Rwanda so amidst her final preparations, some of our programs are ending too. Looks like next week after she leaves, Natasha and I will basically re-work our schedule. HW club is coming to an end on Saturday. We figured it was a good time for some closure since Jocelyn is leaving and we don’t know how long we’d be able to continue to hold HW club on that property … and Natasha and I are ready for a change anyway.

People are making preparations to leave Moureen’s property, or at least trying. A lot of them have come to Serge telling him they have no place to go … and what do you tell them, ya know? Its just impossible to find homes for everyone; its even becoming impossible to find homes for just a few.

Jen was talking about how the sermon series is about to come to an end at the English service. Said they wanted to do something completely different – they’ve been talking about spiritual gifts. And said she was open to any insights/ideas we had. Then, all of a sudden, I found myself asking if they were open to others speaking … aka, me. I mentioned how I had taken this Old Testament class in seminary that I absolutely loved, and the professor had written a book on it, which I had with me. And I had thought of teaching about the different covenants in the OT and how they were all connected to our story of redemption in Jesus. It was kinda like an out-of-body experience. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing myself say … whoa, whoa, Emily, you are offering to preach! And preach on the OT, stuff that could easily be gobbly-guk in your head!

So I haven’t committed to it yet, I have this week to think about it. But I think I already know that I’m gonna do it … I’m just trying to live into what came out of my mouth.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Because He Lives!

Because He lives, I can face tomorrow
Because He lives, all fear is gone
Because I know He holds my future,
and life is worth the living just because He lives.

I never really liked this hymn … until now. It's taken on a whole new meaning since I’ve been hear and I think will now be a favorite. They sing it a lot at the English service … seems like they sang it nearly every Sunday for my first couple months in Rwanda. But, oh, it got me through so much! I remember in my first months, some days I didn’t think I could do it and I didn’t face another day. And I was afraid of things I couldn’t even name. I just didn’t feel like myself. This song reminded me that Jesus was with me every step of the way, that I wasn’t alone. That it was through him that I could get through it; that he had already taken away the fear; that he knew my future--each hour, day, and year; that I could trust him and praise him; and most of all, that if put my focus on HIM and not on myself, everything would be more than okay! And when I thought that way, when I sang those words, I would be at peace – even if just for a few minutes – and was most always brought to tears.

So today, when we sang it again, I remembered those times of trials and what was going through my mind when we sang it before. Remembered the person I was then, and the person I am now. Both the same and different. And this time when I sang the song, just like the observations of my own self, the song meant both the same things and different things. It’s kinda like I was able to sing it with more confidence now … before I sang it with that blind faith, with eyes closed to everything that is and would be. But today I sing it with more of an eyes-opened faith. A faith that has little more knowledge or trust. A faith that is still faith, but not as much of a “help my unbelief” faith. I’m sure I’ll be back in that unbelief stage at some point—I think we all migrate back there from time to time—but for now, I’ll enjoy the peace that comes with the knowing and seeing that God has indeed held my future these last several months (and more) and taken care of me and gotten me through each and every tomorrow. He has conquered my fear and laments … and has conquered this big, bad world because, simply, He lives!

Friday, May 15, 2009

School vs Shelter

If you had to choose between school and a home, what would you choose? Most of us will never have to make a choice like that, but this week I know someone who did.

You’ve heard me talk about Aponere, one of my HW club students. ITeams pays for his school fees, along with all the rest of the kids we “teach.” Several weeks ago we found out Aponere was living with a family supported by Compassion International and was missing school frequently because they were sending him to work on the, Compassion farm instead of going themselves. It turns out he didn’t end up coming to live with Moureen (previous blog entry) – all he said to me was, “I just can’t come live with Moureen, I’m sorry.” One of the Compassion kids from the household even started coming with Aponere to HW club, and it happens he’s in P4 – my class. It was really difficult for me to give him the same attention I gave to my other kids,especially when I knew he was part of the reason Aponere, my brightest student, was missing school. And honestly, most of the time I didn’t give him the same attention. I wanted to tell him to go home, but there wasn’t a whole lot we could do about it and really in the long run, it wasn’t hurting anything.

Anyway, today I discovered that Aponere has been kicked out of that house is living on the streets. It sounds like he was told to leave because he stopped going to work on the farm on the days he should be in school. It was either go work on the farm and have a roof over his head, or go to school and have nothing. He chose to go to school. And education was more important to him than food and shelter! I admire him for the choice, a choice I’m not sure I would have made. Man, these kids! They’re amazing.

The thing is, he’s not even the one who told us! It was Claudine, one of the older kids, who said something. Now it made sense why Aponere was sick. It wasn’t just a normal cough; it was probably due to the fact that he had been sleeping on the street somewhere for the last couple nights. So immediately we thought, “well, just come live with Moureen.” But even Claudine said she didn’t think it was a good idea.

Unfortunately, we (ITeams) can’t find an immediate solution for every person put in this kind of situation. My immediate reaction was to find a home for him, but that’s just not possible. I was told the reality was that he’d find a place to stay somehow, and in the meantime ITeams would put him on the list of kids that have no family, nowhere to go once everyone leaves Moureen’s property, and try to find a place for him.

I ended up giving him some money for food, hopefully enough to last till the next time I see him. I told him I wished I could do more, but that I would be praying for him … for God’s protection and care to be with him in a mighty way. And that God would provide what he needs when he needs it. So far, it’s been the best way I’ve spent my ministry money, and I almost wish I had given him more. He’s a strong kid … brave, smart, and enthusiastic. Hopefully one day soon I’ll see that excitement in him again and his spirit will be renewed. You could tell he’s pretty discouraged. Who wouldn’t be?

Aponere has been on my heart and mind ever since. ITeams works with street kids a great deal, I see street kids every day. But now I have new exposure to a street kid. He’s one of mine. He had a name and a face before he was a street kid. Hopefully, he won’t be on the street for long. Hopefully he’s already found a friend to give him shelter. These kids are so much more grown up than many adults. But I wish they could just be kids.

Jenny's "Alimentation"

Today we helped one of the Ubuzima women start her own business! We visited her a few weeks ago on one of our house visits and had been burdened by all her needs. I look at a lot of these people and truly don’t understand how they live – if they have no job, no money for school fees or medicine, how do they find the money for food? How do they survive? I guess they literally take it one-day-at-time and just have a truly amazing faith, trusting God to provide.

So originally, we wanted to buy her a goat! To give her a sustainable income. But they told us the city of Kigali doesn’t allow animals, even though tons of people have them. The city is trying to get away from “rural life” and trying to become an actual city. Plus, she probably wouldn’t have a place to put the goat or the money to care for it. So, instead of a goat, we went to the market with her and bought all kinds of items for her to sell on the road beside her home. When we were finished, it was like she had her own little mini-store! A bunch of bananas that was like 4 feet high, tomatoes, spinach, petrol (oil), candles, charcoal, and I don’t even remember what else.

So hopefully, we just became part of a long-term income for her … and she’ll be able to provide for her family now. Let’s just hope she is fruitful in sales and everything multiplies! Food, supplies, income, love, joy, blessing and thanks! :)

Thursday, May 14, 2009

RTA love!

I just got a package from my former co-workers in the States! It was huge … and such a nice surprise. I actually cried because I was so touched – they blew me away.

So I just have to say thanks again! It meant a lot! Thanks for making my birthday that much better!

One thing I’ve learned being here in Rwanda … many more people care about me than I realized. And I need to not be so quick to judge that just because I don’t see the “care” doesn’t mean it isn’t there. Something I knew before, but you tend to see things differently when you’re outside of it. God has your attention in a bigger, deeper way when you’re so far from your normal reality.

Small Trees

Natasha was having dinner with a Rwandan that she works with on the worship team at church. At the end of the meal, he kept saying, “I just need to find a small tree and I’ll be ready to go. I need a small tree.” A small tree? She couldn’t figure out what in the world he needed a small tree for! Turns out he was talking about a toothpick … they use toothpicks religiously here after a meal. And I guess there’s not really a specific word for toothpick in Kinyarwandan. :-)

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Not My Jesus

We were visting one of the Ubuzima homes last week, and Enoch was telling us how sometimes its hard to go and visit these people by himself because it takes so much out of you. And how also there are some needs that are greater than others. We found out there were some needs that we didn’t know about it in the past that we could have used our ministry money for, so we asked Enoch to not be afraid to let us know of such situations. And we encouraged him to take advantage of us while we were here and take us with him to visit the people in more difficult situations, who are paralyzed or have been bed-ridden for instance.

One of us said to him, “We are there for you Enoch!” His response?

“You are not my Jesus.”

Oh, we had a good laugh. It was so unexpected. Thing is, we couldn’t tell if he was being serious or joking … but that’s one of the reasons I love Enoch. He keeps us guessing. But in that guessing, he keeps us thinking too. Because although we initially took his comment as a joke, there really is some reality and truth to it. How many times do we think of other fellow Christians/friends/companions as our Jesus? We put so much weight on their place in our life, we forget that weight should be put on Jesus. And on the flip side, sometimes we find ourselves in the place where we think we can solve people’s problems or give them what they need, be their helper and comforter. But really, its Jesus who is saving them, not us!

Monday, May 4, 2009

HW Whoas

Tonight was rough! I think I’ve hit a wall with my HW club kids. Over the last couple weeks I’ve been teaching them present and past tense of some irregular verbs. Its amazing how quickly they learned them. I gave them some flash cards and within the first couple times they looked at them, they had the words memorized! So, I decided to be ambitious last week and ask them to use these words to complete some sentences in English. I figured it would help them process what the word actually meant, help them use some of their other English vocabulary, and show me what vocab they still needed help with. Well, it was a disaster. They didn’t know any of the words in the sentences! And when you only know a limited amount of Kinyarwanda, its rather difficult to explain the meanings. I knew they knew some English, because they had been speaking it and using it in previous classes. So I scratched that whole assignment and told them to turn their paper over and just write all the English words they knew. They wrote nothing! I was at a loss.

So where do I start now? Do I go back to the beginning? Do I keep truckin’ along and give them grammar lessons when I know they don’t understand most of the words in the lesson? How can you make sentences negative when you don’t even know what the words are in the sentences? AND, how do you help them with their homework when you don’t even know what they’re doing in school?

I’m trying to be patient and take it one day at a time, but its so challenging. I’m not cut out for this and I’m hoping God will release me from it soon! Just pray for me and these kids!

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Rwanda Reality

Today we got another dose of Rwanda reality. We visited two more genocide memorial sites – churches where thousands of people sought refuge and safety, but in the end found the opposite. In one sense, this visit was worse than the Genocide Memorial we visited when we first arrived in Kigali; but on the other hand, it didn't seem as traumatic. I think maybe because we had prepared ourselves this time.

Both churches were in the Bugesera district, an area about 30 minutes outside of Kigali. The first was in Nyamata; 4,000 were killed here but I honestly don’t know how 4,000 people fit inside that tiny one-room church! We were given a tour by a genocide survivor, all in Kinyarwanda. Our taxi driver went in with us and tried to translate, but his English is very limited. Besides, for something like this, there’s only so much translation that you need … or want.

As we entered, we found piles and piles of clothes drapped over the benches/pews; some of the piles were so large you couldn’t see the bench underneath them. They belonged to those who were killed. I think this is the point where all of a sudden, a wall went up for all 3 of us to perhaps shield us from the potentially overwhelming emotions that result from seeing something like this. In the middle of the room, we walked down some steps into a small basement type structure where there were shelves of skulls and bones of the victims, as well as caskets drapped in purple – the official genocide memorial color. It was hard to really look at them, but the glances were still enough. In some of the skulls, we found arrows; others were almost completely cracked in two, probably the result of a machete. Outside, we found more memorials and “graves.” At one point in the “tour” we even got a demonstration by our guide of how the weapons were used. I know it sounds horrible, but I had to try hard not to laugh. I think maybe it was nervous laughter I could feel surfacing. I mean, it was just so surreal … standing in front of this man who witnessed so many deaths in the way he was re-enacting. Dried flowers were everywhere, probably placed there during the memorial week in April by loved ones. And everything was so quiet … it was a peaceful kind of a quiet, but at the same time a haunting kind of quiet.

The second church, located in Ntarama, was a lot of the same. This one, however, wassmaller but supposedly was the site of 1,000 more deaths than the previous church. It seems impossible. Really, how could so many people fit in such a small place? Instead of clothes on the benches, they were draped on the walls and in the rafters above. People’s belongings were still there as well, belongings they had brought with them thinking they would stay for a couple days and wait out the madness. Dishes, books, papers, toys, even mattresses. The priest’s quarters beside the church had been cleared out to collect the overflow of remains of people that are still being found today.

Both churches were in the middle of a village, one deeper into the village than the other. As we drove through it, I tried to imagine the people who lived there both then and now. What must have been going through their minds as they ran to the church, seeking refuge? Did they have any hope? Did they know that it was a lost cause? How many bodies did they have to step over on their way? Did they have to fight to get in the door of the church? Did they all enter at once or did new neighbors come every day? And then, what is life like in the village for those that live there now? Surely they are haunted every day by the memories. Could I live in a place where something so horrible happened just steps away? How many of these people returned to their original homes? How many homes are still empty to this day?

How many normal lives are these people living? Not just in Nyamata and Ntarama, but in Kigali and Rwanda as a whole. How can life ever be normal after something like they experienced? Perhaps it never will be. But perhaps people have no choice but to live “normal” lives, even if the normalcy is forced. Anything else is just too hard to live with. Is that okay? Is it acceptable? That’s been a question I’ve been wrestling with since I’ve been here, and I’m not sure I’ll ever find the answer.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Update on Moureen

It looks like we’ll be saying goodbye to the property where Moureen and company live. Nothing much has changed in the situation. They are still being asked to leave, but the owner has at least given us until the end of May to vacate. Although its not we hoped, at least people have time to figure out where their going to go and ITeams’ leaders have a chance to breathe and think about what to do.

ITeams is planning to help all the people as best they can to find housing. Those with any kind of family are being asked to take up residence with them. But as for the orphans, ITeams is planning to help find homes for them and is currently determining which of the kids on the property are actually orphans and have no place to go. They are also trying to determine how to keep track of the kids that will go back to families and be in new schools – ITeams plans to continue paying their school fees as promised. As for Moureen, she has reached a place in her ministry where ITeams feels its time for her to regroup and refocus … and take some time for herself. Apparently she’s been through a lot in the last couple years, and we wonder if maybe this whole situation is God giving her a chance to start over, start fresh.

There was talk of ITeams buying this property … they have many dreams for it and see SO much potential for ministry. And they have supporters who are ready to fund the purchase of it. However, I think there is quite a bit of history behind the property. It was a former nightclub and the owner was a participant in the genocide … and the list goes on. Long story short, ITeams is just not at peace with pursuing the purchase.

So although I’m sad to see this ministry/association come to an end in a sense, and I still don’t understand why things are happening as they are, I’m beginning to accept and see that this is all in God’s plan and He will protect and provide in the ways these people need Him to. And maybe even better things will come for Moureen and these people and kids. We just can’t see it now.

Keep them in your prayers … particularly that all the orphans will find shelter and homes, rather than finding themselves on the street once again. And for Moureen … her heart is breaking in all this. She loves these people and kids and continues to think of them before herself. She is concerned for them, and all are starting to realize the goodbyes that will be happening in the coming weeks. (pictured on the left)

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Sacrifice in love

Seems like a lot of my entries are becoming experiences I’ve had during house-visiting!

Our first visit was quite different than most of the other visits we’ve had. This lady was so excited … but sick. But her joy and life were stronger than her sickness. Only months ago she was close to death. And I really think her joy is part of what built her strength back up … it must have been. Some people you can see Jesus in more than others … and she totally had the love of Jesus in her! It was written all over her!

The visit that stuck with the most today was a house in which we were told a story of how the lady, already struggling with her own health, took in a man who was sick with HIV; its not enough that she’s sick with kids, but she said “come on, we’ll give you a place to stay and people to care for you.” Wow! Eventually he moved away and married … but his new wife was HIV negative. Enoch, who takes us to these visits, had a problem with this. Why would you even marry someone and do that to them? Enoch, even if the woman was madly in love with him, wouldn’t do that to her; he wouldn’t marry her. So, although the wife was still HIV negative, this man was probably infecting her with the virus.

Then, we were asked the question, what would you do? Would you marry someone with HIV? Would you marry them knowing that you’d never be able to have sex? Or, would you marry them knowing that you’d most likely become sick as well? Would you give yourself that death-sentence? With all that set aside, would you even marry them knowing they would most likely not be with you long? The popular answer was not to answer. To say that we can’t know what we’d do until we’re in the situation. We talked an especially long time about whether you’d marry someone knowing you’d never be able to be sexually intimate. The girls really couldn’t answer, but thought most-likely they couldn’t marry them. I, on the other hand, said I thought I would do it. If I was in love with a man, and really felt that we were suppose to be life-partners, I think the love and companionship would outweigh the sexual intimacy. Now, maybe this sounds crazy to most – and like I said, we really can’t know until we’re in the situation – but that’s my best guess. I think I love the heart more than the other stuff. I’d rather live a life with that person and sacrifice that one aspect of our relationship, than live a life without the person at all.

What about you? What would you do? Really, stop and think about it. What would you do?

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Fun Story

So you know those no-bake cookies with cocoa, peanut butter, and oats? We made some for Natasha’s birthday party last month and SO many of the Rwandans thought they were meat! It was priceless to see their reaction as they bit into it and realized it was far from meat! :)

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Listening to the Spirit

House-visiting: We went to 3 houses today … one was suppose to be at the hospital, but we got there and they had sent her home. But it was still fun to be able to see the hospital. So with lots of fruit and juice in hand, we traveled to her house, and visited her there. The poor thing: when she got up to greet us she was bent over almost 90 degrees! She had surgery on her uterus – apparently had lots of abysses removed. She looked like she was in SO much pain. But oh my, she was a beautiful lady … her face looked so soft. Its funny, you notice a lot more of the beauty in people when you see the suffering. I don’t know if its because you look for the good and beauty so that it doesn’t make the pain as bad, or if its just that with pain comes beauty. Maybe it’s a beauty that comes from strength and perseverance. It starts in the soul and grows outward … so much so that you literally see the beauty in people.

Anyway. It was just me on this visit. Jocelyn and Natasha went home after a couple visits because they were sick and didn’t want to put the people at risk that we visited, considering their weak immune systems. After talking to this woman for a couple minutes, I found out she had not received any pain medicine because the kind that would be the most effective was extremely expensive and not covered on her health plan (yep, they have health plans … paid by the church that sponsors Ubuzima). I continued to ask questions through the translator and found out more about her condition as well as about her husband and family. Her only two children died last year within months of each other in random accidents – the husband thinks someone put a curse on their family. Enoch, the translator, just kept saying how they were great kids. I think he had known this family for awhile. Somehow in our conversation, it came up that if she didn’t have this medicine she mentioned, she would die. Now, I don’t know how true that is, but I thought there might have been some validity to it – if she wasn’t given enough care and recovery time at the hospital, then who knows? Its always hard to know when to trust something or believe it. But I’ve learned to just follow my heart. And the whole time I was talking to this woman and her husband, it was on my heart to give her the money for the medicine. I had no one to really consult with, since it was just me on this visit. But I knew that if I left, and didn’t do anything, I’d regret it. I took that to be possibly the Holy Spirit talking to me. There’s no telling what they’ll use the money for … but if its not for the medicine, then I guess whatever they use it for was needed just as much.

* * * * * * *

The other two people we visited today had it pretty rough, too. You could see the emotional pain, weariness, and fear in their eyes. No money for school fees for the children, no money for food, trying to take care of themselves and their kids when their own health is failing. Sometimes it can be daunting to those of us who do the visiting. Like, there’s so much to do. You want to help them. You want to do something. But you can’t solve all their problems. You can’t dish out wads of money and make it all better.

One lady had taken in an orphan with AIDS. So on top of everything else, she was burdened with the health and well-being of this child who isn’t even her own. She had to borrow money from her neighbor for his medicine, and it wouldn’t be long before he’d need more. And this boy. He was 4-years-old, but looked like he was 2. But, of course, you’d never know he was sick with the way he was smiling and crawling in our laps. But, really, I would have totally guessed he was 2! We ended up giving some of our ministry money to this lady for his medicine. Again, so many needs, where do you start? This was where we started. And we hope and pray that God will provide in other ways for the rest.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Welcome "Home," Aponere

I want to tell you about one of the kids I tutor/teach at Moureen's place and how God keeps watching out for him.

Aponere – his mom is gone and father not around, so he lives with a family in Chimichanga (area of Kigali). Their family is supported by Compassion Int’l and therefore has to work on a farm run by Compassion to help earn their “income.” Well, a lot of the time, they send Aponere to do the work instead of the other kids and so he misses school … sometimes 4 days a week. Therefore, he misses exams and gets low marks in school when really he’s an excellent student! My best one … he’s so quick and eager! He’s eighteen and in the equivalent to what we know of as 4th grade (which, being older in elementary school is common here).

So when we found out about this, we asked Moureen about it … especially b/c a couple of the kids Aponere lives with started coming to HW club and I wasn’t necessarily okay with that. We weren’t sure if we should even tell Moureen b/c what can she do? She’s got enough to worry about right now with the property about to be taken from them … and we didn’t necessarily want anyone to say anything to the family he was with or Compassion, b/c then they’d take it out on Aponere and it could backfire. But, somehow, it came up yesterday with Moureen. We told her the situation and she non-chalantly told someone to go get Aponere … before we knew it, she was asking him if he wanted to come live with her. He said yes and left and that was it. We found out later that he had apparently come to Moureen not too long ago and pleaded with her to go to school … so ITeams started paying his school fees. But it didn’t solve the issue of the fact that he was a “houseboy” and couldn’t really work and go to school at the same time, which it looks like he was trying to do. He just amazes me.

Anyway, we didn’t even have time to blink at the situation, much less process what had just happened. The thing is, it was just SO not a big deal for her. It was like me asking if someone wanted coffee, they said yes, and its done. We were blown away, but at the same, I’m kinda not surprised. Moureen has a huge heart for people, especially for the kids in the area … she would take them ALL in if she could. Jen and Serge, head of IT, had to tell her she wasn’t aloud to b/c there wasn’t enough money. But Moureen, if it was just her, would take them in no matter if there was money to provide or not. She's a pretty amazing woman.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Its All Relative

So, I have a saying about Rwanda: “Its all relative!” Rwanda is definitely teaching me to go with the flow more – I did to a certain extent in the States, but its at a whole new level here. Learning lots about expectations. Learning that if you say, do, expect, or understand something to be true, its all relative!

If you are planning to go to a meeting (or if you have a “program” – they LOVE that word here!), it might or might not happen depending on the weather. If you are planning to meet someone for lunch, don’t count on it actually happening – they might have made other plans or need to go visit someone or just forgot. If you order a chicken salad, don’t count on them actually having chicken that day – its on the menu, but it may or may not be available. You come home to cook dinner, the milk may or may not be good … even if you bought it yesterday. Even though the internet is working at the moment, it may not work in 5 minutes. You are told the food will be ready in 14 minutes, that might mean that its 40 minutes. It’s all relative!

Monday, April 20, 2009

My first "holiday"

This weekend we went to Bujumbura, Burundi to get away. Really, it was because we needed to leave the country in order to renew our visas. When you enter Rwanda, they issue you a free visa for 3 months and you either have to leave and come back or you can write and request a new visa. We chose the former of the two options!

So, Burundi is beautiful! We were near Lake Tanganyka ... went to the beach a couple times. Its beautiful! I think I might like it better than the ocean b/c of all the mountains on the other side and looking at the clouds on and in the mountains. In one direction you could look at some of the city of Bujumbura (capital city where we were) and in the other direction, you were looking at the mountains of the Congo! Stayed in the city (wish we could have stayed ON the beach, but it was more expensive) ... its a small city compared to Kigali and Kigali is a lot more developed. But Bujumbura had a nice feel to it. I could live there longer, but the French would be a problem. It’s a lot more common than in Kigali.

One of the ladies at our church (her husband works with ITeams) is from Burundi and has family there. So her sister showed us around the whole time. We ate at little restaurants in the town ... one day we ate lunch on a hill overlooking the city. It was actually in the "red zone" ... a place that used to be off limits because it was dangerous from the war, a lot of conflicts happened there between the rebel forces. Rwanda has all the attention in media about the genocide, but there’s been ongoing conflicts between Tutsis and Hutus in Burundi for years. Its interesting how many NGO’s you see in Kigali and hardly any in Burundi. Anyway, we broke so many cultural rules that day!! People don’t eat outside (we found out soon why – b/c you’re eating in front of people that might walk by and not have food), women don’t eat in public (now its not so bad, but in the “old days” you never saw the woman eating with everyone), eating and being on that mountain in the red zone.

We went to the top of a mountain one day to an old university that has been abandoned from the war and is now unofficially used as a community center – kids play soccer there, people exercise, play basketball, it’s a hotbed of activity! It also looks over the city of Bujumbura and it is absolutely beautiful!! It feels like the clouds are so close, too. One night (and for lunch the next day when we went back) we ate at a restaurant on the beach. Food is pretty similar ... nothing fancy. Usually they have burgers and sandwiches (but not great quality) at restaurants as well as traditional food (rice and beans and ‘fries’.)

All in all, it was a good trip, but I'm glad to be "home" in Kigali.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Traumatized by the Genocide

Not a lot of "processing" in this one, but i want to share our house-visiting this week. It was pretty impactful to me.

This week we kind of focused on people particularly affected by the genocide, considering how we’re still a pretty heavy time of the mourning season in April. At the first house, we found a lady who’s father sent his children away to Butare when the genocide began while he stayed behind in Kigali. She married and had a baby, but Butare turned out to be no safer than Kigali … her husband and baby were killed; she’s 32, so she must have been like 17 when the genocide occurred. Her father was killed in Kigali genocide (I think other family as well … the only survivors were half-siblings). Then, she “took” a husband during genocide – it was a forced marriage and she was raped. She started getting sick in ’03 and found out she had HIV in ’04 (from genocide). Her stepmother at first wouldn’t let her live in father’s house and continues to “encourage” her to sell the property, but its all she has left of her family. She’s been in mourning big time these last few weeks – she calls it “traumatized.” I SO wanted to get up and go comfort her as she cried, but I didn’t know if it was culturally appropriate! Another girl lives with her – they met 4 months ago at the hospital, and she invited this girl to live with her b/c she was alone. This girl was one of a whole group of people who where taken to a house during the genocide and it was set on fire … she was like one of two survivors so she has serious burns on the right side of her body and is looking at having surgery done in Uganda. Its hard for her to move her body b/c its burned together; she was hidden by a muzungu and that’s how she lived. She might have been like 4 or 5 years old. I think her parents must have not been with her cause she talked about finally finding them and they had been killed when she did – I think. It all is running together. She was in school but traumatized and when she remembers things, it causes her classmates to remember, so she was asked to leave school and get “treatment.”

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Easter, Beauty, Blessings

This is an entry with lots of misc things. Its probably not as detailed as I'd like ... hopefully I'll expand it later.

Easter was hard this year - didn't feel like Easter at all. They don't really celebrate it here, which blows me away. But it also doesn't help that April is the month of mourning from the genocide, so celebrations of any kind are not very common and sometimes frowned upon. But our church did make an effort to observe Easter, as least the English service did. We had an Easter message, but that was about all. And on Good Friday, they showed the movie Passion of the Christ. It was the closest I felt to the Easter season. I didn't watch all of it, but I know God spoke to me in the parts I did see. It just hits you a different way when you see that movie. You can put yourself there and it all becomes more real. As I watched Jesus' close friends and mother watching him being beaten, I couldn't help but imagine what it must have been like to see someone you treasure so dearly - your best friend or son - put through that. And then I thought, "well, Emily, but Jesus IS your best friend." But its just easy for me sometimes to think of Jesus as more removed or distant, but he's not. I long to truly love and think of him and see him as my BEST friend and one true lover of my soul.

* * * *

At Ubuzima today, Mama Deborah (leader of Ubuzima Ministry/Association) told some of her story. Her father and brother were killed in the genocide and all of one side of her extended family (I think). I don't have the time or space to relate the whole story, and don't know that I remember it all anyway, but I'll just say it was beautiful! I know, I know - how can you say a story like that is beautiful. But it was in the way she told it that was beautiful. And in the fact that Mama Deborah is beautiful herself, inside and outside. She has a glow about her and peacefulness and warmth that radiates from her. I wish I could know her more deeply, she seems like an amazing woman. And with her story of what she went through with the genocide, it just makes me think she is that much more amazing and beautiful. I think there's something special and beautiful that occurs when someone shares their heart, their story, their soul ... they are vulnerable but the fact that they are inviting you in, is just so precious to me. Maybe that's why I saw her as that much more beautiful.

* * * * *
One of the Rwandans we work with, who accompanies us on house-visits, requests each week for transportation money and there has been a big stink about how much money to give him. Poor guy is so frustrated because he keeps getting the run-around. My heart has been convicted lately that we've been making too big of a deal out of how much money we give him. I mean, after all, its only about the equivalent of $4 ... I've been thinking about and paying attention to how I might use some of my individual ministry money to bless Enoch. Sometimes we forget that even those who work alongside us and minister WITH, don't have it as easy as us and need blessing just as much as those we minister TO.

* * * * *

We were able to use some of our ministry money to bless one of the ladies we visited a few weeks ago and pay her rent for the next 2 months. Part of our budget each month has a certain amount of money set aside to be used to give away to a need we see in someone's life - to bless them in a special way. This lady was going to be kicked out of her house if she didn't pay, and it had been on our hearts to help her somehow. Unfortunately, paying her rent isn't a long-term solution, but its what we can do now. And we can just hope that it gets her by for now and that in the meantime, God will provide for her in other ways so that the months following she will still have a roof over her head.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Trouble at Moureen's - Intercessors needed!!

A large part of our time here is spent helping/teaching kids at Moureen's place - aka "Women in Action." Just a few days ago, we learned a lot of these kids lives are potentially going to be turned upside down in a couple weeks. A large number of them live on a property managed by a lady named Moureen, who is also the pastor of a church that meets there as well and in charge of Women in Action - the association for former prostitutes and their children.

Last week, Moureen received a letter from the owner (who mysteriously disappeared after the genocide and is now living in Belgium) saying everyone had to vacate the property by the end of the month, with no explanation as to why. It is very difficult for even just one person to find new housing in Kigali, so you can imagine how daunting it is to think about 30 people being displaced! And this is where I spend half my time working! So, needless to say, we’re all pretty stunned and don’t know what to think or what we’ll do in the near future if this all does play out as expected. PLEASE PRAY FOR THIS SITUATION!! Pray for guidance for Moureen and the other leaders of ITeams, pray for provision of the families being displaced, and pray for a change of heart or circumstances of this owner. And ask your friends to pray!

Genocide Commemoration Week

This month has been pretty quiet around Kigali. April is a time of mourning for Rwanda in that it was in the month of April that the genocide occurred, this year marks the 15th anniversary. In order to “help” people remember what happened and make sure it doesn’t happen again, you will find numerous memorials held around the country all month, radio shows with testimony, tv programs and music videos commemorating the genocide, and nightly prayer vigils. The city is covered in purple – the official mourning color of Rwanda for this time. Last week was the official mourning/commemoration week so most of our activities and ministries were cancelled and even today at Ubuzima (HIV group) the attendance was low because many are still observing the mourning or visiting relatives and/or graves. On Tuesday (April 7), life basically stopped in Kigali–stores were closed, transportation was slim, and hardly anyone could be found in a city where the sidewalks are normally jam-packed with people. April 7th is the day after the president’s plane was shot down, marking the beginning of the genocide (although, I don’t know that you’d officially call it the beginning – the killing had already started in many villages outside Kigali as the Interhamwe were planning the mass murders that would soon take place). The other interns and I wanted to attend the national memorial service, held in Kigali this year, but we were advised not to go alone. But how do you ask someone to come along and translate that kind of stuff? Especially when most of the people we work with were so closely affected by genocide. So instead, we stayed at home and watched what we could on TV, the parts that were in English. Most of the commemoration events and programs are in Kinyarwanda so we’re still pretty sheltered from everything.

Hopefully more later ...

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Am I Serving God, or is God serving me?

I’ve now crossed my half-way mark of the time I will spend in Rwanda! It some ways it feels like I’ve been here for longer, other ways it feels like I just got here. I think I’m finally settled now and have been able to focus more on why I’m here and doing the things I’m doing, rather than trying make myself comfortable. But you know, it never really should have been about me ... its about God and the people who are here. I’m not here for me – I’m here for them.

Last week I was reading 1 Corinthians, I think it was verse 7 or 8. It was The Message translation, so you never know what the specific verses are. But I love this translation of it ... its something I would never think about from the more traditional translations like NIV, RSV, etc. "We must never try to get Christ to serve us instead of us serving him." A lot of my prayers since I’ve been here have been things like: "Help me find my place; Make me comfortable; bring me relationships; I want to do this and not that." Hear a theme? Me. Now, I know that those prayers are okay – there is no prayer that is wrong – but I think lately I’ve been focused on what I can get out of this experience, rather than what God wants me to do. I know that I need to remember to focus on the fact that I’m serving and not here to get my own needs met or find what makes me happy.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009


So, its been awhile since my last post ... I've got lots of stuff to write and update you on, so bear with me ... its coming.

If you are on my email update list, some of the first few blogs will be repeats, since I included them in my email.

Thanks for reading!

Saturday, March 21, 2009

"Forgetting" Where I Am

House-visiting … the last house we went to was an older couple. We recognized the lady immediately from Ubuzima – she’s always on a mission and seems to be one that tells it like it is. She definitely has a spunky personality. It turns out that neither her or her husband have HIV, but her daughter (who died recently) had HIV and was a part of the association. This woman, Esther (I don’t use real names … just in case), was invited by Ubuzima to come and be a part of the meetings so that she could have that supportive community. Why? Because 6 of her 9 children were killed in the genocide … and now 1 of the 3 surviving children has died of HIV/AIDS. On top of that, she and her husband are caring for their five grandchildren who were left behind as a result of the genocide and HIV. Can you imagine? And the thing is, when people mention their family members that were killed in the genocide, its so nonchalant. So commonplace, so causal. And then when they say it, you remember where you are. You’d think we’d hear more about it, but we don’t. It doesn’t “feel” like a place where so much hatred and evil lived. Then, every once in awhile you are reminded that yet another person has been directly affected by the genocide. But what you don’t realize, is that there’s probably more people that you think … most people we come in contact with probably have family members or friends that were killed. Enoch, our translator that goes with us on the visits, told the couple we were visiting today about how is own mother had to deal with losing some of her children in the genocide. So, here, this man we’ve been working along side for so long, has a story of his own. How many stories will we know? How much will we know? I’ve started to accept the fact that we won’t know nearly as many stories as I’d like – and if we do know stories, they will probably only include the fact that family members and/or friends were lost. Nothing more …

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Simple Visits ... Again

On Saturday afternoons, Jocelyn and I tutor university students in English who are part of Women in Action. Mostly we just all read aloud together and go over words they don’t know. Its helping with their vocabulary and practicing their conversational English. However, Jocelyn knows some French from living in Quebec for a short time, so she uses French A LOT with them to help explain things. At times, I don’t know what we’d do if she didn’t know French … wish I knew some, it would be SO helpful. Although Rwanda is moving towards English as the second language, the majority of the people still know and speak French. And all the signs are in French, too! But, I’m learning little bits – like jambon is ham, and fromage is cheese. :) Can you tell its because I’ve had to order from a French menu?!

Anyway, after our “lesson” yesterday, one of the ladies had us come to her house for tea and peanuts! Initially we didn’t want to go because we’ve found that usually when someone here invites you over, you are expected to stay the whole day or evening! But we didn’t stay long so it worked out well. I think she really just wanted us to see her home, and that’s it. When she and her friends were walking us down to the bus stop (its customary for you to walk your guests to the main road, which is usually up or down a big bumpy, dirt hill and can be the equivalent of several blocks or more), she said at least twice how happy she was that we had visited her home. She was glowing! Again I was asking myself why it means so much just to have us come for a short time, or even come period. It seems so simple … and I hestitate to say it, but meaningless. Maybe its because in the States sometimes people just stopping by can be an imposition. Because you are interrupting their day or they have to clean and make it presentable or they have their own schedule to keep. Or maybe its because Rwandans are just so proud of what they have, even if they don’t have a lot. This lady, like a lot of the people we visit with Ubuzima, lived in a mud hut/shack with a tin roof that’s maybe the size of my storage unit. But its her home, and she was proud to have us see it and sit in it and drink tea with her. Maybe its just that a visit for a muzungu is a big deal … and the fact that we would treck up the hill and go out of our way, even if its just for a short time, means a lot of them. But its amazing how blessed she, like others, feel from our visits. And you know, when I think about it it makes me a little uncomfortable. I mean, its like we’re movie stars or something. Really, we’re just normal people ...

Friday, March 13, 2009

House-Visiting, Realities, Stories

Our house-visits were pretty intense yesterday. We only visited two ladies, but we heard quite a bit of their stories. At the first home, it was Margaret and her daughter who was about 21. (not using real names) The daughter had two kids, a 4-year-old and a 2-year-old. The little ones were Margaret’s grandchildren … and step-children. Figure that one out! Margaret’s husband (who was not the father of her daughter) raped her daughter, Debra, when she was 17. Margaret had been in the hospital, practically on her deathbed from HIV, and then Debra had come home from secondary school to be with her mother. Years later, with her mother still sick and needing shelter and support from the husband, he raped Debra again. They don’t know where the husband is now. She went to the authorities with what he had happened, but I’m not sure anything was done.

We sat and listened to the daughter tell her story, wiping tears from her eyes. She had hardly said two words when we first entered the house. We thought we there more for the mother, who was a part of Ubuzima. But then one of our translators starting asking Debra all kinds of questions, and before we knew it, she was sharing her heart. Turns out both the women have HIV, and the mother has been sharing the medication she receives from Ubuzima with her daughter. (if you’re wondering, Ubuzima will now provide enough funds/medicine for two) So on top of the fact that they are both living with HIV, they are dealing with the wounds of what this man did to an innocent girl … not to mention the day-to-day struggles of a life of poverty. We were each asked to respond and give words of encouragement … but what do you say to something like that? In the end, it was a blessing for me to be able to hear her story and be allowed into that part of her and her mother’s life. I know it sounds crazy, but it was a blessing for me. My heart hurt for her, but I just loved her that much more too.

The next house was a similar story. A mother, 6 months pregnant, and daughter that lived together in a one room shack, a sheer cloth separating the “sitting room” and “bedroom.” The daughter, about 12 years old, was sitting on their bed—a blanket on the hard ground—eating her lunch as we chatted. Every once in a while she’d pull the cloth over her head so we could see her face when she answered our questions. We like to play this game of having people guess our ages … and like usual, they guessed I was 17.

The reason for the blanket as a bed? The father, after attempting to have sex with his daughter and being confronted by his wife, took their two boys along with everything they owned and fled. But despite all of it, the mother seemed to glow! She didn’t stop smiling – it was like I could see God in her.

So again, you wonder what good we do by a simple visit. But that simple visit shows that we care, we are praying for them, and we love them. Perhaps some of the words we speak give them comfort, no matter how simple or few the words are. And sometimes we find other ways we are able to bless them. Like bringing rice, beans, and sugar to those who have had a harder time than normal. Or being able to provide a mattress for our new friends (we’re surprising her at the next Ubuzima meeting). All in all, I guess all we can do is continue to be the hands and feet of Jesus, whether it seems simple or complex, and be reminded that things often have different meanings to different people.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

What Will Come of Your Love?

Tomorrow we go house-visiting for Ubuzima. Although its always an exhausting day, Thursdays are some of my favorites. But I was wondering yesterday, how much good do we do when we visit these people? How much do we do period? Its usually only for 15 minutes or so, sometimes longer, and the communication is all done through a translator so there’s really only so far we can go in conversation. Most of the time its just hi, how are you, how many children do you have, do you have an income, we pray and then off we go. It feels meaningless sometimes, like why do we even go? What’s the point? But it is a big deal for these women. Just to be able to welcome us into their home for a short time is an honor to them. And you’d be surprised at how far one verse of Scripture goes, too. And, perhaps, its an encouragement just to know that there are others praying for them … that our presence speaks to that. Pretty humbling. But I’m still not sure I “get it” all the way, still having a hard time understanding the value and meaning behind what we’re doing. But I just go where they tell me, or rather where God tells me, and leave the rest in His hands.

Sometimes we ask people if they have any questions for us. Ususally we get things like, “how do you find Rwanda?” (aka, what do you think of Rwanda). But last week one lady, her name was Pascellisa, talked about it was evident how much we loved them. I wanted to ask her how she knew that, what she saw in us to make her believe that. But there’s only so far you can go in situations like these. Then she asked us, “So if you love us, what will come of that love?” None of us had an answer. She stumped us … and I think I can probably speak for all of us when I say we’re still thinking about that one.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Care Package :-)

I got a comment on one of the blogs requesting that I post my address and what I'd like in a care package ... so here goes:

Emily English
c/o International Teams
BP 6723
Kigali, Rwanda
East Africa
+250 078 3866375

Pringles ... plain & sour cream & onion
Kraft Mac 'n Cheese (in the box)
any kind of munchie - i miss my munchies! like Better Cheddars, Cheese Nips, Chex mix, Combos, Ritz Baked Crackers - Sour Cream, etc

There's a few, can't think of anything else at the moment - surprise me! :)

Friday, March 6, 2009

Hard Questions

One of our new friends just left our house … and left us with hard questions, left our hearts and minds talking. I don’t even remember how we started talking about it, but it was about the genocide and whether reconciliation is useful or pointless – and really what reconciliation and forgiveness are.

The genocide is not talked about here. People don’t even talk about whether they were/are Tutsi or Hutu. It’s a strategy of the government to help with keeping the peace in Rwanda and possibly one day expelling the prejudice and hatred that has existed in Rwanda between tribes for generations. You are not to call or consider yourself Hutu or Tutsi, but simply Rwandan. Unfortunately, its going to take generations to get the point where there truly is peace and forgiveness … but its happening. This friend is among the first generation to be dealing with the after-effects of the genocide and taking the necessary first steps to real reconciliation.

So what does that reconciliation look like? And when does reconciliation and forgiveness really happen? And can it happen just like that? And when it does happen, how do you know it really, truly has happened? Can there be different kinds of forgiveness? I had never thought of it before, but its something I’m still thinking about tonight. Julie mentioned that you can forgive someone so you don’t have to face it, but then you can also forgive and it truly be forgiveness. Someone can say they’ve forgiven someone, but really its just so they don’t have to face them or the issue. Can you forgive someone in your head, but not in your heart? But then, sometimes I wonder if it’s a matter of knowing what you are suppose to do and wanting to do it and thinking about it so much so that it finally happens – that your heart finally catches up with your mind. A lot of the time my head and heart aren’t in line with each other. My head might know something, but it takes a while for my heart to believe it. Or my heart might know something, and I find that I have to justify it to my head.

I also think forgiveness is a process. And its not something that can be done overnight. Some people might disagree. And maybe in some cases, you are able to forgive in the moment. But I’ve found myself that if its really, truly forgiveness, it has to happen over a long period of time for me. I need time to heal. And time to remember and recognize my love for the person. And time to allow that love to outweigh the hurt and anger that I’m trying to let go.

That’s another thing I wonder … what if you were living amongst people who killed your family? Could you do it? Could you live under the same roof? There are people that do. They live and work with people who murdered their families. Or whose families killed their families. What if I fell in love with a man, and later discovered his family was the one that killed my loved one? Would my love for him be strong enough to figure out how to live with his family and exist in the world with them? Or would my hatred and hurt win? I like to think the former would be the case, but I really can’t know because it’s a situation that’s so far from my comprehension that its hard to be able to guess what I’d do. But if I know myself the way I think I do, I think the love would win. Would it win for you? Should it win for us as Christians?

And should we forgive as Christians so much so that we are living with those who hurt us? Are we humanly able to? (stealing these thoughts from one of my fellow interns) Some would say we are called to forgive no matter how it hurts or what it does to us, to forgive completely and “perfectly” … but then you also have to think about the fact that we are not perfect and therefore could never attain the level of perfect forgiveness we are called to give. Jesus is in the only perfect being … so can that perfect forgiveness happen?