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?


Me, Alice, & her husband Fabrise

Something clicked today. Relationships are on the up-and-up! All of a sudden I found myself in the midst of a friendship … it was one that I saw a potential spark in previously, but can’t really explain how it began today. Its almost like when someone decides they want to connect with you, the relationship has begun. Or maybe its just the Holy Spirit. That’s how a lot of my close relationships happened in Malawi. I knew some of them for the entire time I was there, but it wasn’t until a few weeks before I left that the friendships actually formed – and it wasn’t a gradual thing, it was instant. I couldn’t name what happened or what connected us. The only explanation was that we were bound by the Spirit, because apart from God, we had nothing in common to connect us or to build on. That was our common denominator … and from there, the relationship grows.

So perhaps my relationships will happen here just as they did in Malawi … and I’ve always kind of known they would. I’ve known I needed to just be patient and trust that God would make them happen when it was time. And maybe now its time. All I can do is keep trusting and waiting … trusting and waiting – a lesson that seems to come up in every area of life, and sometimes I wonder if I’ll ever really master it. But that could be a whole other blog!

Tuesday, March 3, 2009


I bought Pringles today! I had extra money left over from last month's budget … so this was my splurge. You’d be surprised at some of the stuff you can find here, but its usually twice as much as the States. The Pringles were about the equivalent of $4, but oh so worth it! :)

HW Club Progress

This morning was HW club again. I had started to freak out … again. BUT, I actually kinda had fun. Now, don’t faint. Yes, I said “had fun.” I made a couple more worksheets but didn’t use them because I still had one from last time that I hadn’t given out. It was a “conversation” worksheet asking them questions about themselves like their name, age, favorite color. They had to write the answers in complete sentences in English. Some got it really fast, but I think it was still good for them to practice. Others caught on really quickly, and then others (probably Primary 3) didn’t really get it at all until I basically did it for them. At this point, that’s really the only way I know how to teach since I can’t speak Kinyarwanda to be able to explain it. I have to hope that they learn by example. Sometimes I can get a translator to help, but even then I get stumped and am not quite sure how to explain it. But I got by! The kids love to learn … or else they just love to learn English. Probably a combination of both. One of the questions was “Who is your best friend?” Their answers: “My best friend is Emily.” :)(but keep in mind a lot of their answers were the same as their neighbors … but hey, as long as their learning to write sentences). We’ll see.

After the English worksheets, I gave them addition and subtraction problems on flashcards and they had to race to give me the answers. The one that was the first to answer correctly the most won a small prize. They loved this! But I found that even if they weren’t first, they still were so excited to have me check their answers. So this is something I’ll definitely have to do again.

SO, I might not be as on top of things as Jocelyn and Natasha … but I’m slowly coming around. The fact that I didn’t dread today was good, right?!

Monday, March 2, 2009

A couple fun stories

This past weekend I experienced my first Rwandan basketball game! They were having some kind of East African tournament here in Kigali and the stadium isn’t far from our house. So the three muzungus ventured off to brave the crowds. On our way, we saw parades of celebration in the street from the previous game. Once we figured out how and where to buy tickets (about $4), we followed the crowd to wait behind the entrance gate. Our “personal space” quickly went out the window. We were literally sandwiched together and I almost got trampled on when the guards tried moving everyone back from the gate. It was quite the experience!

The crowd was all into it! The stadium was probably smaller than my high school’s gym, so it was packed. It was Rwanda vs Kenya -- Rwanda won! All in all, it was a good time … and I think I might have got a taste of what UK basketball games might be like.

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We had a mouse in our house last week. It was BIG ... so maybe it was a rat? Natasha and I both were scared of it ... in our attempt to get it out, we prayed that God would help us. Then our neighbor (who I've only talked to once) pulled up and we asked him to help us. He's a Rwandan and thought we were crazy. "You do not have these animals in America?" he asked. Of course we do ... but we're still scared of them! But get this ... his name was God! (maybe its short for Godfrey??) So God literally came to our rescue. :)

Remembering to Be Thankful

I’m listening to Cindy Morgan’s “How Could I Ask For More?” right now. It’s kind of a hard hit to the heart. Like, Hello Emily, look at all the things you have to be thankful for! Think about those things. Like the fact that you have a nice house to come back to at the end of a hard, dirty day. And the fact that you have a crazy roommate, who despite how different you are and can make you crazy, doesn’t have to try very hard to make you laugh. And the fact that there’s a precious girl named Kalia that, although you only see her once a week, runs up to you with a huge glow on her face and how warm and loved that smile alone makes you feel. And the fact that you have a precious friend back at home whom you are learning to appreciate more each day. And that your heart is softening towards of some of your loved ones who were harder to love. And that you are learning, again, how to count on God alone for your every need. And that although it might not be what you expected, you were given the opportunity to come back to the continent where you left a part of your heart – and you’re being given the opportunity to discover whether your heart belongs here or whether it was just time to come find that part again and point it home.

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More to come ...

Psalm 143

So I realize it’s been awhile since my last blog … I think I’ve been a little distracted emotionally and sort of froze in that state. But I think I’m coming out of it, and am praying it continues. It always feels so good when you’re able to come out of yourself, ya know? Keep praying for me! I try to take it day-to-day, literally.

Psalm 143 has given me much comfort lately. Verse 8 is one that I’ve read several times … its one that was written in my “Bible verses” notebook.
Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love, for I have put my trust in you. Show me the way I should go, for to you I lift up my soul.
I love it because it reminds me that tomorrow is another day! No matter how hard today is, no matter how much hurt, fear, loneliness I’ve experienced … tomorrow is another day. A day to start fresh. If I can just close my eyes and allow my heart and mind to rest for the night, the morning will come. And with the morning, it’s a new chance to be reminded of God’s love for me and his sovereignty over my circumstances and life. It’s a time to be reminded of who He is and who I am in Him! If I’ve forgotten that He’s present, or if I can’t find Him, then there’s always hope for the next day. There’s always a new opportunity to start over and trust God again and allow Him to show me the way instead of trying to find it on my own! And there’s so many times when my soul is disheartened, when my soul is heavy and even empty. But “in the morning”—and really every minute of the day—all I need to do is lift up my soul to the Lord. He will make it well again. And if He doesn’t make it well right away, then there’s a reason. And I have to trust Him with even that.