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)