Tuesday, December 21, 2010

MY FIRST AFRICAN CHRISTMAS

Christmas with Joseph, Mary, and Jesus taking refuge in Egypt
Another Christmas full court press is on.   Some may ask what drives me. I like people. I like Jesus. It seems pretty simple. Anytime I can host a party and tell a Jesus’ story I’m eager.

However, I many times feel like I am a living Joseph narrative. What went wrong many years ago taught me lessons that are a deep part of my being. I am a wounded healer. My first African Christmas was a disaster. The scars from that day will never leave me. Like the scars on my back that motivate me to run, the scars on my Christmas spirit motivate me to celebrate. I cannot stand the thought of someone in my community being alone and discouraged when the world celebrates the profound truth that God became flesh and dwelt among men. As a result no matter what our trauma we can find joy and peace.

I think I’ve finally hit that Joseph moment where I can say, “You tried to harm me, but God made it turn out for the best, so that he could save all these people, as he is now doing. (Genesis 50:20-21. Contemporary English Version.)”

Let me tell the story of my first African Christmas.


Childhood photos of the Christmases of my youth look like nostalgic Americana - Snow, snow, and more snow. Toboggans, sleds, and inner-tubes rapidly sailed down the hills. Family and friends gathered beyond measure. Meals of turkey, ham, stuffing, and potatoes with grandma’s pies filled our stomachs.

I came to Uganda in 1993 with a heritage of Christmas celebration. However, my church heritage was distinctly non-liturgical. In fact, the extremists in my church heritage used the Christmas season not to proclaim Good News of God Incarnate entering the world, but as an opportunity to bash “the denominations” that through syncretism turned the pagan ritual of Christmas into a religious tradition. (I never quite bought the theological implications of these extremists, but I feared the social implications of holding them to account.  Though in Rwanda God finally gave me the courage to stand up to denominational bullies.) Thus Christmas for me was largely a secular gathering of family and friends.

As a result of the social implications of theological extremism I had almost no spiritual friendships outside of my church heritage. Jana and I have always been people gatherers. However, our early career was a season of loneliness when we were in situations in which we could not gather from our church heritage.

I also came to Uganda heavily influenced by spiritual naivety that was nurtured by my seminary training. I assumed if I came to help people would reciprocate in kind with no ill motives. I assumed that I could be candid with supporters and they would understand. I assumed that each struggle of mine would be met by a quick answer that would make good newsletter material. I assumed that prayer was the only substance of sustenance. My first African Christmas broke my naivety. In a way it set in play events that stripped my innocence, left me distrustful, and only in Rwanda have allowed me to return the purity of heart I first had as I entered Africa.

Dave, Jana, and Sophia just before departure to Uganda
Our family in February 1993 sent almost all our earthly goods to Uganda. In March 1993 we moved to Uganda. In May 1993 we found a home, hired a staff, and tried to settle into life in Kampala. In May 1993 we also became embroiled in a life defining church conflict. In June 1993 our container arrived. Our possessions would not be released to us until January 1994. Christmas 1993 broke my spirit.

However, it also set in play a series of maturing events that taught me to make many diverse friends, not take visitors’ impressions too serious, avoid the entanglements of government and church corruption, and to celebrate in community at each possible moment.

Jana and I did our pre-departure Uganda budgeting by listening to Kenyan missionaries from the Churches of Christ. During the late 1980’s and early 1990’s Kenya was a dirt cheap country to live and work. On a minimal salary one could live well, serve fruitfully, and put money in the bank. We had never heard the term COLA (Cost of Living Adjustment). We spent over a year discovering funds assuming our future Uganda experience would be the same as other’s past Kenya experience.

When we entered Uganda we faced a tremendous economic shock. Homes were renting for two to three times what we had budgeted. Uganda’s cost of living was approximately double Kenya’s. When we asked other Americans where they shopped, their reply was, “Kenya.” Uganda was just recovering from over 20 years of chaos and very few goods were locally produced. Uganda’s currency was unstable. At one point the exchange rate dropped in half. In one year’s time we lost half our buying power when we had initially come to Uganda already underfunded. We tried explaining this to our supporters, but made no progress. In fact at one point they remarked, “All you asked for us to do is pray. Why are you now asking for more than that?”

To save money and still practice our spiritual gift of people gathering we rented a large home outside of Kampala on Lake Victoria that was horribly run down. Our rent was low and we labored for 2 years to restore the home. We used it as much as we could to serve through hospitality.

Lydia Bagira with her sons Emmy and Joel
We found our first household staff, Lydia Bagira. Lydia’s mother was a Rwandan refugee to Uganda from the chaos of 1959. Her father was a Mukiga from Western Uganda. Lydia always introduced herself as a Mukiga, but she seemed to always socialize with other Rwandans.  When we moved into our home we thought we would only be without our possessions for a few weeks. We slept on a mattress on the floor. We used Lydia’s cooking utensils and dishes to eat.

We chased getting our container cleared and made every possible mistake. We understood that personal effects of a missionary could be brought into Uganda duty free. However, we did not understand the social implications of Uganda’s corrupt tax gathering system. We ran into a man who noticed two skinny young white men (Greg Carr and myself), and saw an opportunity. This tax collector made us hop through hoop after hoop. We explained until we could explain no more. At one point when we were exasperated he remarked, “If you don’t like my answer go see the Minister of Finance.” Ironically, we had one Uganda friend, Peter Ngobi who knew Uganda’s Minister of Finance, Mayanga Nkangi. Thus we in good faith with Peter’s introduction went to see Minister Nkangi. We had one meeting that seemed to go well, and then all sorts of passive aggressive behavior began. (We years later realized how poorly we had handled both the meeting and the repercussions.) It seemed that we offended all. I now think that the tax gather was trying to work a bribe from us. On the other side Minister Nkangi concluded we were trying to bribe him and was deeply offended. Thus our poor cultural skills made us look like a prude to the corrupt, and corrupt to those with moral integrity. Thus from June 1993 until December 1993 we waited and waited for our container to be cleared with almost no movement.

Not only did we suffer at the hands of the Uganda Revenue Authority. We suffered at the hands of a church organization called Uganda Church of Christ. This church organization had a similar history to many organizations in Uganda in the late ‘80’s and early ‘90’s. It had been started as a legal mechanism for missionaries from Churches of Christ to enter Uganda and to keep the churches they planted legal in the early 1970’s. When Idi Amin came to power the missionaries left. In the vacuum a corrupt system and leadership developed. When missionaries began to re-enter Uganda during the boom of the early 90’s the corrupt system went into overdrive to discredit missionaries who would eventually hold the system accountable.

In May 1993 we went to check our mail and found the first of dozens of accusatory letters generated by the Uganda Church of Christ leaders. A meeting had been called to discuss us, we had not been invited, and letters were now being circulated to our supporters. For the next 6 months, Greg and I traveled extensively in Uganda to try to explain ourselves to approximately 30 local churches. While doing this traveling we heard a continual theme. “We want to change our leadership structure. We want missionaries. We see a problem with the current leaders of the Uganda Church of Christ. Can you just pay for us to come to a central place and have a meeting? If you do, we will straighten out the Uganda Church of Christ and work with you.”

We decided to pay for the transport, housing, and meals for a group of Uganda Church of Christ leaders in early December 1993. Their instructions were for us to just introduce ourselves at the meeting, leave for two days, and then return to discover the results of the meeting.

When we returned we were shocked to be told that the Uganda Church of Christ had disfellowshipped us. They considered us “the greatest threat to the Churches of Christ world-wide.” In order to avoid this discipline we could turn over our homes, vehicles, and finances to them. If not, we were instructed to have nothing more to do with them or face legal consequences. We could not believe it. We had served for 6 months, taught and traveled widely, and financed a meeting when we were broke only to be disfellowshipped. My identity was so tied to Churches of Christ that I did not know how to respond. It felt like a complete stripping of identity. After the disfellowshipping, they began writing letters to our supporters and any others who would listen. In the end they even were able to get half truths about us told in Church of Christ watchdog papers.

We had made a key mistake in that year. Older Church of Christ missionaries in Kenya had tried for years to work with this group of churches with similar results. Their counsel was to have nothing to do with them. However, we believed in “unity.” We thought with enough love and good teaching these churches could be turned around. Instead, we learned through hard knocks some only use the language of unity as a means to manipulate. These churches were religious organizations masquerading as churches. We should have had the discernment and courage to call them that. Both our youthful naivety and pride were at fault. So we suffered.

Years later I would find that some of those who disfellowshipped me in Uganda also had been also exceedingly unkind to Rwandan refugees in Uganda. A Joseph like moment was realizing that God through this experience taught me what it was like to be harshly and inaccurately judged outside of one’s home. I pray for my Uganda persecutors. I hope someday they will find redemption. Their hearts must be much more troubled than the hearts of those who suffered under their abuse.

After we were disfellowshipped, Greg and Debra Carr returned to the USA for a few weeks to spend Christmas with their family. We were left “alone.” We had few friends. However, somehow four visitors from the developed world came in contact with us through a friend of a friend. (I won’t share their national or denominational identity to protect them, but it is different from my own.) They had done well in life. They were on a church sponsored trip in Africa. They came to Uganda after a stop in pre-Genocide Rwanda. They were spending a few weeks in both Rwanda and Uganda.

We invited them to share an evening dinner with us. They were wise and delightful people. However, two bits of counsel from them did not set well. At the time I was too naïve to argue. It just did not feel right.

The first bit of counsel was their belief in “faith missions.” They did not believe missionaries should live on a budget, deal with COLA’s, know what to expect from supporters, etc…. Their belief was in the power of prayer. If we just prayed, God would move in hearts, people would give, and our needs would be met. We tried for years to follow this counsel, and it always seems to end in cycles of financial disaster. Prayer changes many things. However, COLA is real. No international organization has stable personnel if they do not deal with COLA.

Second they debriefed from their Pre-Genocide Rwanda experience. According to their Rwandan counselors Rwanda before 1959 was a feudal system ruled by arrogant and exploitive Tutsis. In 1990 the sons of these past rulers had invaded Rwanda with the intent of restoring the monarchy. Rwanda was now taking action to prevent Rwanda from falling back into a feudal state.

They discussed their political observations while we ate a meal cooked on the utensils of a Tutsi woman, Lydia Bagira. Intuitively I knew their political observations were inaccurate. However, I did not have the cultural, historical, or political tools to argue. Also, I was lonely and wanted friendships from a similar culture to my own. I’ve never quite forgiven myself for not pushing back harder on their observations from Pre-Genocide Rwanda’s politics. Five months later the world would see what these flawed prejudicial presuppositions produced. Today, I’ve probably become much more ornery in arguing against assumptions about culture that fuel stereo-types and prejudice.

So in early December 1993 Jana and I had been disfellowshipped, dined with expatriates empathetic to future genocidaires, were in Uganda with no missionary co-workers, and had yet to receive our household goods.

Finally, after months of arguing with the Uganda Revenue Authority we relinquished. We would pay the taxes even though we did not believe we owed any. We paid tax on personal effects. We even paid tax on Bibles. We filled out the forms. We were told to come to the warehouse on Christmas Eve, 1993 to collect our household goods.

We came to the customs bonded warehouse early in the morning. No matter how difficult 1993 had been we anticipated on Christmas Eve we would receive our goods. We would go home and unpack and unload. Camping would end. We would sit on our furniture, sleep in our bed, eat from food preserved in our refrigerator and cooked on our stove. Our toddler, Sophia would play with her old toys. We would be whole again.

We spent the day waiting. We missed lunch. We asked questions. Where was the man with the key to open the warehouse? He was gone, but he would be back we were told. We waited some more. We asked a few more questions. Then finally the end of the day came. The guards began ushering all out of the outskirts of the warehouse. No man with a key had come. We were lonely, tired, hungry, and more discouraged than we had ever been. We left realizing that for a day people had been polite, but there was no intention of us taking our possessions home on Christmas Eve.

I had grown to have a strange habit. Because we had received so much criticism I avoided checking the mail unless I was at the top of my game. Most trips to the Post Office in 1993 found critical letters and threats. Opening the mail was traumatic.

However, a new communication tool was developing in 1993 called e-mail. We had started using it. We shared an account with Greg Carr that went to our 1 phone line in our office. The account went through a server ran by Makerere University.

We were desperate for good news. Could something encouraging come from home? We decided that surely on Christmas Eve one of our supporters in the US would choose to find a way to encourage us.

We came to our office, turned on the computer, and hit “Send / Receive.” A long message was coming in slowly. We were eager. What could it be?

Then as we opened the message our hearts were completely broken. During the season of economic down turn we had tried to communicate our need for more financial support. We learned about COLA and tried to explain it. Our supporters now interpreted the communication.

We received one of the cruelest letters we have ever received in years of ministry. Our supporters had taken some Christian courses in Financial Management. They had consulted mission’s leaders in Churches of Christ. They had concluded that we were mismanaging. A phrase I’ll never forget from their letter was “We can support two missionaries for what we are giving you. If you can’t live on it, send it back.

On Christmas Day, 1993 we quickly packed and left Uganda. We drove down quiet roads to the Kenyan border. We crossed a border that is usually full of commotion in desolation. We then drove into Kitale to see older Church of Christ missionaries. We were broken. The older missionaries nurtured our spirits. A few weeks later we returned to Uganda and tried again.

In late June 1994 our support collapsed. Christmas Eve 1993 was the turning point.

In June 2005 we moved to Rwanda. Our container was released to us in November 2005. In December 2005 and January 2006 I sorted through my old files and correspondence from Uganda days. A mentor had counseled me to keep the written records. He and I hoped someday the truth of our early Uganda years would be told. Truth is healing. I decided to read through the old correspondence. I was older, and maybe a little wiser. I must have made some key mistakes that resulted in such cruelty from both the Uganda Church of Christ and from our former supporters. I read critically and found few mistakes that merited the cruelty. It was shameful for anyone to treat a young missionary with a toddler the way we had been treated.

Yet, something more moved in my heart. Without the suffering seasons in Uganda we would not have come to Rwanda prepared. It was time to move on. I shredded the documents, took them to the bottom of my new home’s yard, and burned them. I would no longer seek to be vindicated.

A few months later Christ's Church of Rwanda (CCR) was granted registration when others' dreams of church planting stood in line. I suspect a few old friends who saw me suffer in Uganda and also suffered at the hands of my Uganda accuser helped the document go through. I was thankful for the opportunity.

On my first Rwanda furlough as we returned to the USA I received a phone call from an old friend at our old supporting church that had been so cruel. We had lunch at McDonalds and I spoke at their church. My anger was gone and I felt mercy. Though I could not deny how their treatment of my family in Uganda was very poor they had given us a chance. They gave us a start. Without their start we would not have got where we are today. Also, I realized that they too had suffered. I did not need to see them suffer any more. I prayed God’s mercy upon them. They apologized.

Now each Christmas I walk with a wound. I know what it can be like to be alone on Christmas. I have learned we should never define friendship based upon denominational, ethnic, racial, or national heritage. I have learned what it is like to be falsely accused and judged based upon ethnicity. True community is based in Christ.

Thus I invite all in my community to celebrate beyond measure. Our lives are an absolute mess. In Jesus we find joy and hope.

I am thankful for my first African Christmas. Whatever measure of blessing and joy I can share with others through this season would never have happened if not for our disastrous Christmas of 1993.

Monday, December 20, 2010

MR. KANUMA GET FOCUS BACK ON LINE


Mr. Kanuma;

Get Focus back on line. Rwanda needs an independent on line newspaper. My day starts with reading New Times on line to get the news; Monitor, Independent, and East African to get analysis; and my Bible to get truth. Without Focus on line I have nowhere to turn on line to get legitimate independent analysis from Rwanda. I do not believe that I am alone.

My reading habits have only gotten worse during the time that Focus has been off line. While I was away from Rwanda I noticed Focus’ on line disappearance. I am technically challenged. Thus I thought surely it must be somewhere I cannot find, or else Focus has ceased to exist as a newspaper.

When I came home I spent 3 months asking what had happened to Rwanda weekly or daily printed newspapers. On occasion I would see an old copy of New Times or Focus, but a timely print newspaper has been quite a challenge. I am cautious to listen to theories of paranoia, but seeing Ugandan daily newspapers on the streets of Kigali, but no English Rwandan newspaper fuels paranoia theories.

I asked business people and friends from church and government what was happening. The most reasonable theory I heard was that there must be management problems at New Times. Then I heard another surprising answer. Many don’t bother to read print editions of newspapers any more. We read on line news.

Only a few were whispering, “If you want to hide something from Rwandans write it down.” Hopefully, this modern proverb is only a reflection of Rwandan discreteness that rarely participates in written debate. However, without on line news the theories of Rwandan illiteracy gain credibility.

You captured my attention when I finally saw a copy of Focus that took on the question – What is going on with Rwanda’s print media? You had the courage to raise the question, and lay the problem squarely at the feet of professional incompetence. Without the question being addressed either the paranoid bloggers or booster outside journalists becomes Rwanda’s history makers. Rwanda needs her own home grown history makers.

At the time I was shopping my writing talents around, but growing increasingly uneasy with media outside of Rwanda leading in her analysis.

Nation Media’s on line Rwanda Review has not gotten off the ground as predicted, and Charles Onyango-Obbo has ceased responding to my e-mails.

Andrew Mwenda’s Independent has well captured the emotions and reasoning of many in Rwanda. His analysis is always insightful. However, he gets his facts wrong. There were 500 witnesses to Jesus’ resurrection. We know those who saw Amin’s soldiers kill in Uganda. We sometimes wait hours to weeks for medical treatment at King Faisal Hospital instead of the 15 minutes of which Mr. Mwenda speaks. The Gaculiro 2020 Vision Estate now has a church and school in her midst and not a theatre. Mr. Mwenda is a good friend who has made me a better pastor, but I have yet to see him acknowledge when he gets his facts wrong.

Mr. Kanuma sometimes I think your analysis is overly harsh. However, I can find no fault with your extreme willingness to acknowledge when you did not get the facts right. I find the apologies which occasionally are part of Focus speak volumes for your credibility as a seeker of truth.

Though there have been other attempts at an English independent newspaper in Rwanda only you have kept my attention. A few expatriate friends of mine moan the demise of Charles Kabonero’s, Newsline. I started reading it when I first entered Rwanda. I knew few Rwanda details at the time and my discernment of his analysis was quite limited. However, all good men I have known have always nurtured and protected the beauty of their wife, daughters, and sisters. Mr. Kabonero’s fascination with publishing soft-core pornography left me with serious concerns about his motives. I have no grief that he is gone.

As I began writing again for Focus I decided to post my columns on my blog and facebook. In the process a not so surprising phenomena has happened. Rwandans are reading and commenting. Some of the comments are public. Some are private.

One of my Rwanda privileges has been to facilitate 200 Rwanda students to study in the US through the Presidential Scholars program. The US Embassy tells us that there are at least 800 Rwandans studying in the US. I have heard estimates of between 3,000 and 10,000 of Rwanda’s brightest studying outside of Rwanda. I believe this generation of scholars will be the ones who take Rwanda’s national vision to a new level of excellence. These young minds read on line. Without Focus being on line they are unable to read Rwandan analysis of Rwanda. I believe their desire for an on line independent Rwandan newspaper should be heard.

Lastly, I believe Rwanda’s future will be discovered in three independent institutions who model civil decency in dialogue and debate. These institutions are churches, schools, and media. The pioneers in the formation of these institutions will not become rich in Rwanda. An on line independent newspaper may not be financially profitable. However, it is essential for our future. Please get Focus back on line.

P.S. If you agree with my request to Mr. Kanuma please send him an e-mail at shyaka2001@yahoo.com.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

HONEYMOON IN ARKANSAS

I need to publicly tell a story. Maybe, even I should use the terms confess and repent. I was a pathetic husband for the first 3 years of marriage. Jana has had 20 good years of marriage.

Occasionally, Jana or I will be at a party. People start telling stories about an anonymous honeymoon disaster in Arkansas. Everyone is laughing. It is not anonymous. It is our story.

When we first married we were dirt poor. (In fact, we now have a much bigger income, but still eat beans at the end of the month.) I met Jana while I was a seminary student at Abilene Christian University. I worked part-time jobs for a little spending money. After months of labor I had $200 in savings on our wedding day of December 15, 1990. Jana planned a wonderful wedding. I planned a honeymoon disaster.

We married in Abilene, Texas and intended to spend Christmas with my parents in Minnesota. We needed a place in between for a week long honeymoon and Arkansas was appealing.

In the midst of planning Jana’s grandmother from Harrison, Arkansas called. She was a widow with a gentleman suitor named Clarence. He had a cabin on the lake in Northwest Arkansas. He was willing for Jana and me to honeymoon there for FREE. I heard a magical word for a poor pastoral student – FREE! FREE! FREE O LORD GOD ALMIGHTY, FREE INDEED!

The details were so enticing – running water, electricity, TV, on the lake; and FREE!!! Clarence was eager for grandma to spend time with him at his cabin and by offering her granddaughter a free stay his romantic prospects increased. We planned to spend a week at this honeymoon get away before seeing my family for Christmas.

Our Wedding Day, Saturday, December 15, 1990, Abilene, Texas, USA
After a perfect wedding we began our journey. We spent our first night at a Bed and Breakfast hotel in Dallas. Our second night was to be spent at our dream Arkansas cabin. However, as we drove we realized that we would arrive at Jana’s grandmother’s home on a Sunday evening. Without a doubt we knew our Church of Christ roots would land us not at the cabin on the lake for a honeymoon, but in a Sunday evening service with the faithful. We chose to pretend to be running late and spend our second night in a hotel in Little Rock.

On Monday morning we arrived at Jana’s grandmother’s home in Harrison, Arkansas. She made a phone call to her suitor Clarence. We waited in anticipation. Clarence arrived in a fully loaded new Chevy Silverado 4WD pickup. With such an expensive truck his cabin must be a dream home.

Grandma got into the pickup with Clarence. Jana and I followed behind in my old Buick. We drove through beautiful country roads. The scenery was beautiful. As we neared the lake and saw elegant homes we pondered which cabin would be ours. Our excitement increased at each bend in the road.

Finally, we reached a boat launch. This was far beyond our expectations. Clarence must have a cabin on an exclusive island. We would make our final journey in one of the stunning boats docked at this launch. Grandma had chosen well.

We gathered our suitcases and eagerly followed Clarence and grandma on the dock. At each boat we pondered which boat would take us to our island honeymoon. We passed one boat after another.

Then something just began to not feel right. At the very end of the dock was a fishing shack. It was kept afloat by 55 gallon barrel drums. Across the drums was laid a frame work of 2” x 4” lumber. Then like a little boy a make shift structure was built. Deep in our spirit we cried, “O, Lord, not this one.”

Then in the quiet we heard, “My child this is it.” Our honeymoon smiles still endured. Clarence opened the padlock and showed us into a true Arkansas fisherman’s shack.

Empty whiskey and beer bottles littered the confines of the shack. Clarence caught grandma’s stern disapproval and explained his nephews had spent the previous weekend at the shack.

Spindly exposed wires coursed through the roughshod ceiling. A black and white 10 inch TV sat on top of the beer filled fridge. Clarence turned it on and through the snow storm we found one Arkansas channel.

The sink was filled with dirty dishes that would have been a micro-biologists field day.

We looked for a bed and saw none. Cagey Clarence caught our honeymoon bliss and mentioned that the couch doubled as a hide a bed (that filled all the shacks spare room when opened.)

Next, Clarence took us to see “the facility.” We stepped out upon the narrow walkway that skirted the shack. He took us to a side room. He opened a door. Inside was a 5 gallon bucket with a toilet seat. Clarence instructed us in the use of this honey bucket. Use it. Take it outside. Look both ways to make sure no one was near. Throw the contents over the side into the lake. A few minutes earlier, Clarence had instructed us to gather lake water to wash the dirty dishes. Yes, this water was guaranteed to make us have the runs.

While internally we were both beyond despair. This was still our honeymoon. We were still in our honeymoon bliss. We dared not disclose our disappointment.

Also, during this season of life we were morally opposed to credit card use except in an emergency. We had spent our last dollars on groceries for the week. We had enough cash to drive to Minnesota. I planned on shoveling snow for gas money back to Abilene. We had to make this work.

With our best honeymoon faces we began settling in for the night. I quickly volunteered to cook dinner. Jana began cleaning up. We had bought expensive bacon. Tonight we would feast on BLT’s (Bacon, Lettuce, and Tomato sandwiches). I grabbed the cast iron skillet, light the stove, and threw the bacon in the pan. However, I did not notice that the skillet had a crack. The grease ran through the crack unto the flame and we had a wild grease fire. Like Lucy and Desi we fought the flames back and saved Clarence’s shack from becoming an inferno.

As we put out the flames we ate our charred BLT and settled into bed.
Then our morning was interrupted by the trump, trump, trump of early rising fisherman. They arose before sunrise, trumped down the dock, got into their boats, and then sped off to their favorite fishing hole. With each rev of their powerful engines our little fishing shack rocked upon the waves.

Jana turned to me in the early morning hours and said, “I grew up in Africa, but I won’t camp on my honeymoon.”

With my wounded pride we packed. We unexpectedly returned to Jana’s grandma’s home. Jana covered well when she told her grandma, “I’m just not as tough as you.” We spent the night with her and then used our last cash to drive to my parents in Minnesota the following day. Honeymoon over.

From that day on repentance has been mine. Each anniversary we take a few days and get away to a nice hotel. When we are broke we put the bill on a credit card. There are some matters in life worthy of debt – property, education, and repentance.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

ONE REQUEST


As 2010 comes to a close we have just a single prayer request for December. This month we will celebrate 20 years of marriage. In a few months we’ll celebrate 18 years as missionaries in Africa. In about 8 months our daughter, Sophia will leave us to attend university. We need an extra-ordinary measure of wisdom from the Lord.

We have wonderful children thoroughly enjoying our life in Rwanda. Yet to make the most of this season in life we need an extra-ordinary measure of wisdom from the Lord.

CCR is thriving, but at a crucial cross-roads to mature. We need an extra-ordinary measure of wisdom from the Lord.

Dave is writing again for “Focus” newspaper. We need an extra-ordinary measure of wisdom from the Lord.

We are finite in our understanding. The strength of our youth is fleeting. God is sovereign. He provides. He is our refuge. We need an extra-ordinary measure of wisdom from the Lord.

Thank you for your prayers, support, and concern the last year.

Imana ikurinde (May God Stay with All of You),

Dave and Jana

Friday, December 10, 2010

RWANDAN SECRECY, HUMILITY, OR GOOD MANNERS?

Why in Kigali is the obvious so difficult to discover? Why do key pieces of information sit hidden underneath the table?

Rwandans will sometimes describe themselves as “discreet.” Our region’s rumor mongers love discussing Rwandan secrets. Those who lean towards paranoia conclude that like King Solomon’s hidden mines somewhere in the deep bowels of Kigali lies a massive store room of files and secrets gathered for the last 50 years.

However, what if Rwandan secrecy is simply humility? What if some secrets are just treasures to be discovered in friendship? What if secrecy is only good manners?

Mzee's wife masquerading as daughter
A few months ago, I returned to Rwanda after a year of healing in the US. I boarded a plane from Brussels to Kigali and pondered what old Rwandan friends I would meet on the plane. As I walked the aisle I noticed a friendly familiar face. She realized I was suffering from a fuzzy memory and had the grace to re-introduce herself as a university student of mine from several years ago. After our flight was underway I went back to see what life had given her. She had two beautiful young children. She had a good job. She asked me about my life. She shared that like many in Kigali my family’s health had been a subject of prayers for a year. She remembered 5 years previously when our church and school were only ideas and I a part-time lecturer. She thanked me for the labor. I realized what ever good I had accomplished was only by the grace of Rwanda and God. After about 15 minutes of conversation I decided to ask her about her husband. She gently mentioned that I may know her husband. I hoped he was not a former student or parishioner that would further embarrass my poor memory. Then she disclosed that she was married to a minister. I had never met him before, but seen his picture in the news. I was a bit shocked as he seemed about 15 years older than she. As she caught my foolish observation she told me their family story. I realized that like many of us in Kigali, the minister had married well to a woman who was his age and intellectual peer, but much better looking than he. I disclosed that sometimes my wife is mistaken for my daughter, and I like the minister am very thankful for a youthful looking wife.

I walked aware from our conversation and pondered Rwandan secrecy. If I had boarded a plane to Entebbe or Nairobi, met an old friend from days of youth, and they had married a minister we would not have spent 15 minutes in small talk. My old friends from the region would have disclosed their relationship power within moments of reconnecting. (In fact, my Bazungu clan mates would have done no better in their name dropping.) Maybe, Rwandan secrecy is actually humility?

As we landed in Kigali we both gathered our luggage and our children. We smiled at one another and wished one another well.

Airports are messy gatherings of humanity. After the order of security it all brakes down. Family and friends reconnect. Hugs and tears; smiles and laughter; warm hearts and broken spirits are the substance of airport meetings. In the joyful messiness of community life the crowd is jumbled. Lines become confused. Systematic order is forgotten. I like airport meetings and suspect many others find people watching at an airport much more enjoyable than the latest episode of Big Brother.

I watched my old student meet her husband. He had driven into the VIP section. He gathered his wife and children and prepared to leave. She noticed me and stopped to introduce her husband. We started a simple conversation, and I was a bit embarrassed.

Then we were interrupted an arguing Buvera Muzungu. He was trying to move his luggage cart, and the minister’s car was in the way. The Buvera Muzungu explained that the minister was improperly parked. The minister closed our conversation and drove away. The Buvera Muzungu moved on confident that Rwanda would conform to his corrections.

I was stunned. If I had been in Entebbe or Nairobi and a Buvera Muzungu corrected a minister it would not have closed so quietly. There would have been no peaceful parting. The Buvera Muzungu would have been introduced to the full force of the minister’s power. Only in Kigali would the minister keep his power hidden. Maybe, Rwandan secrecy is actually humility?

A few days later, I pondered the events some more. What are good manners at an airport? How should one respond to the messiness of life in community? Should life become orderly for every luggage cart pusher? Are there parts of life more important than order? It seemed to me that good manners at an airport are full of grace. Good manners at an airport greet and embrace. Good manners at an airport smile as they watch old family and friends reconnect. Good manners at an airport enjoy making new friends. Good manners at an airport wait. They do not correct a stranger. Good manners at an airport treat one with respect whether one’s status is VIP or not. The Buvera Muzungu was rude. The wife was humble. The minister was kind. Maybe, Rwandan secrecy is actually just good manners?

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

THERE ARE NO RWANDA EXPERTS


Have you noticed our contemporary plethora of Rwanda experts? Everyone knows one. Many want to be one. Some are quick to take the title. Yet, I propose there are no true Rwanda experts. Webster’s Dictionary defines an expert as one with special skill or knowledge representing mastery of a particular subject. No one within or without has yet mastered the knowledge of Rwanda. All who labor and live in Rwanda are still discovering. A few are wise. A few have mastered a specific area of knowledge. None have mastered Rwanda.

Twenty years ago, Rwanda’s northeastern neighbor, Uganda sought to explain her chaotic post-colonial past. Alex Mukulu wrote the play, “30 Years Of Bananas.” The opening scene involves the search for an unbiased narrator. One by one each narrator option is eliminated. No one from within could narrate Uganda’s history due to tribal and political bias. No one of influence from without could narrate Uganda’s history due to the “view from the Pajero.” Only a Rwandan refugee, Kaleekeezi could tell the story of Uganda through the eyes of an unbiased participant. Kaleekeezi made us laugh with his humble and pointed critiques. He danced, he drank chai, and his fortune followed Uganda. Some today, desire to be voice of Kaleekeezi to Rwanda. Maybe, even those who discovered Uganda through the eyes of Kaleekeezi ponder if they are the Rwanda equivalent. Yet, none have walked the path of Kaleekeezi and been a 30 year humble participant. Some Rwandans find Kaleekeezi offensive. He represented the stereo-type that never permitted them to be at home. Yet, Kaleekeezi’s charm is inescapable. Maybe, Kaleekeezi is the reason so many desire to be his home’s narrator. Let us follow Kaleekeezi’s search to discover a Rwanda expert.

From within Rwanda we search for an mzee. We seek to find expertise through age and history. True there are those with gray hair. They can tell the stories of old. Some have studied and are masters of academic subjects. They are the advisers to both the powerful and the youthful seeker. Yet these men and women of wisdom refuse to take the title of Rwandan expert. Most even deflect compliments about their wisdom and knowledge. The academics have seen the unending rows of books in the library. They know their knowledge is only finite while expertise is infinite. Others just acknowledge their wounds. Many have found healing. They sing, smile, and dance. Yet, the wounds have left scars. A scar upon one’s joints limits mobility. Limited mobility prevents one from turning one’s body and head. Even when one’s ears are attentive and sound, a wounded joint prevents clear discovery. The healed sometimes is unable to turn and fully see. The wounded mzee’s limitations taught him to go forward quickly. His generation’s task is to build. In the building our wounded mzee may not understand all Rwanda requires. His humility knows this and looks to another for expertise.

As our Rwandan mzee refuses the title of expert many pretenders arise. The Bazungu quickly takes the title of Rwanda expert. He knows with expertise comes fame, power, and reward. His appetite for all is unending. Thus he will pretend and even deceive himself to take the title of Rwanda expert. The Bazungu Rwanda experts come in three flavors. You can meet them all on any international flight into Kigali. The first one to be noticed is the V.I.P. Muzungu. He is one of power, wealth, and influence in his home nation. If he has a measure of wisdom, he like our Rwandan mzee deflects compliments to another. He realizes that like Kaleekeezi sometimes the ball just bounced well for him. He was on a winning team when he may have been a poor player. Yet the appetite for expert status is too much to resist. He is met at the airport by another V.I.P. He is quickly ushered through immigration. He is driven to the Serena. He eats and sleeps well. He tours Rwanda in style. He counsels the powerful. If he is proud, he begins to believe the words that are spoken about himself. In the sweet words and posh treatment he misses that the profound is discovered in waiting and suffering. The V.I.P. Muzungu will leave as quickly as he came. He will never sit and wait in an office. He will never be told to return days after days. His children will not be subjected to Rwanda’s medical care nor even have a minor case of malaria. The only humble Rwandans he will know are the ones he meets in a photo opportunity. Because he never becomes a suffering friend of the humble he will never be a Rwanda expert.

The second Muzungu pretender is the Buvera Muzungu. He enters Rwanda with an item he bought in the international airport just before he reached Kanombe. He walks through customs thankful for the wine, chocolate, and perfume of his last stop. He carries his duty free trophy in a plastic bag. Then he meets a Rwandan customs official and is informed that Rwanda allows no buvera. He does not know what a buvera is, but he knows his property rights. No one will take his plastic bag. The Buvera Muzungu comes arguing. He will stay in Rwanda arguing. He will leave Rwanda arguing. He likely will never even discover what a buvera is. If he does learn the meaning of buvera he will search for buvera in Rwanda. He will find the inconsistency of Rwanda practice. Yes, there are buvera in the trash piles of Kigali. The Buvera Muzungu stands upon these trash piles and argues until he reeks of dirty buvera. None can stand him any longer. He simply leaves and with his buvera enters the blogosphere of Rwanda haters.

The third Muzungu pretender is the “I’ve been around the block” Muzungu. These Bazungu come in 2 sub-flavors. The first is the one who entered Rwanda before 1994. His early discovery of Rwanda came through colored lenses. He may be a master of Kinyarwanda. However, his mastery of Rwandan language and culture is seen through lenses that did not experience refugee living from 1959 to 1994. Rwanda was peaceful before 1990. However, not all Rwandans lived in peace before 1990. If this sub-flavor of Muzungu is wise, he like our Rwandan mzee looks to another for expertise.

The second sub-flavor of the “I’ve been around the block” Muzungu has an old history in the Great Lakes Region, but entered Rwanda after 1994. He knows many people. He hears many rumors. His mastery of Rwandan comes through the lenses of friendships with those who were refugees from 1959 to 1994. He ponders if he like Kaleekeezi is just a recipient of good fortune. He suspects that if he is asked to narrate and participate he will still be the subject of secret jokes. If this sub-flavor of Muzungu is wise, he like our Rwandan mzee looks to another for expertise.

In our search for Rwanda’s Kaleekeezi journalists enter the race. Something about Rwanda fascinates the deepest part of their being. Is it the beauty of Rwandan women, a clean and orderly city, or just an unfulfilled longing? They are enticed with the rewards of being a Rwanda expert. The world’s eyes are upon Rwanda and her story teller will be richly rewarded.

The Rwanda critical journalist enters the race as a Rwanda expert.    For those who learned Rwanda through the lens of Kaleekeezi Rwanda criticism stir deep wounds.    The wounds are so deep that first emotions are of self-hatred.   Naively the Great Lakes once heard banter about peace and democracy in the early 90's.    Naively some of us listened to mythology about Rwandan women's sexual prowess that later justified rape.   Naively I even once provided dinner to Bazungu travelers who told stories of Tutsi invaders from Uganda.  The stories sounded reasonable, but the philosophy a few months later justified genocide.   Many of us are still in a season of repentance that may last a lifetime. 

Our scars are full of pain.  The stories of the Rwanda critical journalist are too close to our old wounds.   Our wounds will be healed by time, compassion, and shared labor for coming generations of children.   Kaleekeezi was an expert to our neighbors through humility and humor.    The critic must humbly acknowledge our pain, and be with us until our tears of grief become tears of joy.   That day is not here yet.   When it comes we'll be overwhelmed by how God's grace took us through such painful reality.

The Rwanda booster journalist may also pick up the title of Rwanda expert. His history is likely entangled with Rwanda. He may be young, but his stories are old. He is well read and connected. His fascination with order reflects his hidden wounds. His childhood heroes are disappointments. He has found a new savior in Rwanda. He pours his full energy, intellect, and resources into Rwanda boosterism. The Rwanda mzee will quietly try to usher the booster away from Rwanda salvation. The mzee knows his and Rwanda’s failings. Another expert must arise. The pretenders must cease.

Rwanda experts are arising. They will be numerous in number. They can be found today in Rwanda’s nursery, primary, and secondary schools. A few may cluster in universities. They are true believers in Rwanda unity. They see the wounds of the bzee and feel no disdain for the bzee’s lack of expertise. They are friends with both those who were refugees in Uganda and Congo. They listen well and ask many questions. They seek before they speak. They know suffering and waiting are the uniting principles of a new Rwanda. Yet, they are not content to live in destructive cycles. They study history not to complain about the past. They study history to discovery Rwanda’s future. They are masters of Kinyarwanda and understand the complexities of Rwanda’s history and culture. They listen to the Kigali’s many radio languages. They choose a favorite radio station, but not a favorite language. Rwanda’s future will be discovered in Kinyarwanda, but implemented in English, French, German, Kiswahili, Lingala, Luganda, Arabic, and Chinese. Languages are only the tools of trade. Rwanda’s experts will arise as her youth become bzee. They will manage complexities with grace and show their expertise through comprehensive wisdom.

So today Rwanda is a nation with no experts, but great wisdom. The wise acknowledge their colored lenses and wounds. They giggle at both their failings and the pompous pride of the pretending experts. The wise listen well to the ambitions and questions of Rwanda’s youth. The wise suffer with a smile and wait for Rwanda’s youth to become mature. Rwanda experts are coming.

Monday, November 8, 2010

PASTORAL REFLECTIONS ON ORPHAN SUNDAY


My family has now been back in Rwanda for 3 months. I felt our first 3 months most important task is to listen well. CCR is doing very well. In fact, I cannot think of much more that we could have hoped for in her 3 ½ year life span. Even the difficult seasons we’ve faced have made me conclude much like Joseph that “God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done (Genesis 50:20).”



In many ways my spirit feels much like how it felt in 2006. We had labored in Rwanda for one year with a simple agenda – plant a church among Rwanda’s thought leaders. We settled into life by teaching ethics at a university. We walked government offices seeking a church registration. When the registration was granted it came with the instructions to develop property. Then our community discovered that one of Rwanda’s premier property locations was available. The Lord could have found others, but He chose us. I was struck by what Keith Green called, “Holy Fear.”



Since those early days much has been done. Hopefully, God has been glorified in both the labor and the fruit. Yet, I see more in the calling. As I wrestled with the opportunities in the fall of 2006 that became the fruit of 2010 I sense that God again intends to again take us to a new place for His glory.



We have an easy CCR temptation to settle into comfort. Something inside me says, “Ask God for more.” I see several crucial areas that CCR must address if we are to become all God intends. One is the issue of Orphans and Vulnerable Children.



This past Sunday CCR joined other churches and organizations around the world to remember Orphan Sunday. We entered with little agenda. We entered with no 3 point sermon. We entered with no project proposal. We entered with no program. We just came seeking, expecting, and waiting. As I struggled with a Sunday planned for discussion and prayer my wise wife stated, “If these issues could be solved with a 3 point sermon it would have been solved a long time ago.”



As in the past God’s glory has been shown through reflection I thought maybe this season also would honor the Lord by reflecting on the past Sunday’s discussion and discovery.



For the last few months CCR has been studying Romans. As we come to Romans 8 we explore adoption. J.I. Packer wrote in Knowing God, “Adoption is the highest privilege that the gospel offers.” Some theologians contrast Paul in Romans to James’ letter. An interesting observation is that Paul uses the illustration of adoption to go to the deepest theological description of God’s relationship with man. Then James boils the pragmatics of faith down to simply caring for orphans and widows (James 1:37). It seems there is no contradiction between the two writers. Instead, they build upon one another’s thoughts. We are adopted into God’s family. Therefore we represent God to the world by taking the most vulnerable into our family.



CCR has a tradition of weekly Holy Communion. We also have a tradition of open communion where all who believe in Jesus’ resurrection are welcome to take communion with us despite their ethnic, racial, national, or denominational heritage. This Sunday we chose to place our Communion focus upon adoption. All of us who believe in the resurrection and surrender our lives to Jesus’ leadership are adopted into God’s family. No task or performance is required to belong in God’s family – only acceptance.



CCR is made up of many who at this season of life would be considered influential. However, almost all of them have personal stories of rejection, crisis, and refugee living. Some as young children were separated from their family. At their most destitute points someone found them and cared for them as if they were their own child.



Most of our CCR families of African descent care for children who are not their biological children. Frequently, this care is for extended family members. For instance, an adult sibling has passed away and their children are cared for by their adult brothers and sisters. In many African vernacular languages there is no word to describe a cousin. Instead, the words “brother,” and “sister” are applied to all age mates in an extended family.



A few of our CCR families are considered “heroic” in their extra-mile efforts to care for children outside of their extended family. Some are the first families others turn to in crisis. Their homes are filled with children. Sometimes these children are true orphans. Sometimes it is just a safe place for a family in crisis. Sometimes their home is just one of Kigali’s youth’s favorite places of play. Yet for each of these families when others draw attention to them, they have a habit of pointing to the Hero of Heroes – God Almighty. When questioned about their reasons for such hospitality and inclusion they may humbly disclose that during their childhood they lived in a season of turmoil. In this season another gave them an extra measure of care. This generosity and compassion from others created a deep sense of both duty and love. How could they do anything else, but extend compassion?



As we came to our traditional sermon time we set aside the sermon format. I decided today’s discovery would be best as a discussion. I asked 5 from our Kigali community to participate with us in a panel format. My Uganda radio days lived again for just a few minutes. It seemed in our uncertainty a community discussion was more important than the discoveries from a pastor’s study.



Our panel included Bonita Munyemana, a dear friend who works as Gladney Center for Adoptions In Country Facilitator; Roger Shaw who with his wife Faith have taken in 20 Rwandan orphan children; Eddie Mwunvaneza, my CCR co-pastor who also has initiated orphan care in Rwanda; Keli Shreck, our colleague whose family has adopted 2 Rwandan boys; and my wife, Jana.



Our discussion had many powerful moments. Eddie told of the care he received as a youth. He spoke of how in situations that seemed tragic others had seen great potential in him.



Roger became passionate as he told his story of coming to faith and the impact of being a “doer of the word instead of just a hearer.” He challenged us to live beyond a life that is easy to control and manage. He called us to step out in a world of sacrificial living instead of management. (This came as quite a contrast as Roger is a successful businessman and entrepreneur. His words were preached most powerfully by the actions of his life.)



Bonita and Jana fleshed out of the current situation in Rwanda. Their thoughts were powerful as they came with no N.G.O. fund raising agenda. Rwanda has 1,000,000 children in vulnerable situations. A few years ago, 13% of Rwanda’s households were headed by children. There appear to be 200,000 double orphans in Rwanda. There are 4,000 children in orphanages in Rwanda.



Bonita shared with us Rwanda government’s agenda of de-institutionalizing the care of children. The hope is for children to be raised in a family. She even made the statement every child has a right to a family.



Keli was the quietest of our group, but also the one who I was most eager to hear. Keli told of her journey and the call of adoption. She told of how her family went from a quiet house with 2 girls to a rambunctious one with 2 more boys.

Throughout the day, I felt inside my spirit that it was appropriate to deal with the embarrassing and uncomfortable. I kept watching and our crowd was on the edge of their seats. A question that I thought must be in our crowd, but not disclosed is, “Can someone love an adopted child as they love a biological one?”



I decided to ask Jana to tell an embarrassing story and she agreed. When we were in Uganda our Luganda was not good, but it was better than our current Kinyarwanda. We could hear and follow conversations. Ruth came into our home shortly after Ethan was weaned. Thus for a short time Jana nursed Ruth. Once while we were at a Kampala Kids League game Jana overheard a Luganda conversation.



“This woman cannot love this African child as her own. See those children playing those are her real children. When she grows tired she will leave this African child behind.”



The cruelest actions of humanity always begin in silent thoughts. They next are spoken in a seeming secret meeting. Anonymity is one of the cruelest forms of gossip. It is the tool of cowards masquerading as community leaders. These two women thought vernacular provided a means to build hatred and suspicion under the guise of concern. God saw children in need of homes.



Jana chose not to answer in Luganda. Instead she chose to answer with the universal language of mothers. Jana began nursing Ruth. The gossips were silenced.



As Jana told CCR this story our body applauded.



We closed with a video. Our five panelists disbursed so they could be in places to listen. We prayed. We closed. No project proposal was formed. Yet, in the uncomfortable and embarrassing God moved and continues to move.



One of our body members comments has sent me into a deep ponder. From our wounds we heal. Sometimes a scar remains. Sometimes it is a source of strength. Sometimes it limits our action. It is wise to listen to healed wounds.

A few in our midst grew up in polygamous African homes. A few in our midst grew up in Western nations where polygamy masquerades as serial divorce. Those tragedies left deep wounds. The healed chose to be faithful to their spouse and children. Yet, somehow the idea of non-biological children felt too much like step children in a dysfunctional family. Maybe, for our wounded healers the idea of raising non-biological children as nieces and nephews is more palatable than as sons and daughters?



Who knows? What if my agenda is not God’s? How will He chose to solve the problem of vulnerable children? What if we are interpreting the “family of God” through lenses of western nuclear families and God is more concerned about our clan compassion and cohesion?



So I leave yesterday with simple pastoral reflection. Adoption is the highest privilege that the gospel offers. Our faith is most clearly displayed in care for widows and orphans. Rwanda has many children in need of families.

What would God have me do? What would God have my church do? What would God have you do?

Friday, November 5, 2010

LIVING, HEALING, AND BUILDING IN A BROKEN COMMUNITY


Thank you to the many from our community who have given Ruth an extra measure of prayer and concern the last day as she broke her arm. God continues to amaze us with the love and labor of both our Kigali community and the community that with tears sent us to Rwanda. I sometimes hesitate to even mention when our children are sick or injured. I notice that the welfare of children is one of those issues that quickly stir emotion. The Lord has created this emotion of love called compassion to be part of our created order. If we live and breathe upon this earth we feel physical pain when our loved ones are in pain. Our guts hurt when our community hurts.



Sometimes in our shaky guts moments we don’t communicate well or others may not listen well. Inaccurate illusions further create wounds in our Kigali community.



Our family serves in Rwanda with a community of called people. My understanding of the Old Testament stories of calling is that they are always painful events. A crisis arises in a community and an individual through a series of previous events is the one God has chosen to lead a community to an answer. The series of events that have prepared one to lead leave one tattered and humble. The called would always prefer for someone else to go, but deep in his spirit he also cries out, “Here I am. Lord, send me.”



My Kigali community is largely made up of two groups. The first are Rwandans who are well educated and trained. Their parents and grandparents lived as refugees. In their refugee living they were placed in a location where they developed professional skill. As adults they made a choice to return to Rwanda and build. They could have chosen to stay in a foreign land and do well, but inside they could not live with themselves if they did not return home. Thus they return with both joy and trembling.



The second community is one like I. We are not Rwandan, but Rwanda courses through our heart. We also have professional skill and education. We could choose an easier life. Yet, something within us ticks and we cannot escape our Rwanda call.



These two called communities wrestle with their children’s present and future. Two questions quickly come to mind. First, if I go to Rwanda where will my kids go to school? The second, is if I go to Rwanda where will I take my kids when they are injured or sick?



The Lord put in my hands the answer to the Kigali calling question of “Where will my kids go to school?” In the process the answer was not just for me, but for our gathered called community.



Yesterday, my daughter Ruth broke her left arm. It was not a complex fracture. She is well. However, it was one of those days that reminded me of how the Lord has guided our community. It had its moments of uncertainty and pain. It had its moments of resilience and compassion. It also had its moments of struggle and even anger and frustration.



In the middle of the morning, Kigali International Community School (KICS) Headmaster, Trevor Maxwell called me with the news that Ruth was injured. I left my office at Christ’s Church Rwanda (CCR) and walked to KICS. I found Ruth in pain from a fall. Trevor thought it was likely just a bruise. Her arm had no distortion. However, she was unable to have a full range of motion. After about 15 minutes of holding Ruth it seemed her pain was not going down.



My memory went back to a day nine years previous when my oldest daughter Sophia was in a similar situation. At my urging she took a risk while playing on the monkey bars and fell upon her arm. She was in pain, but had no distortions in the shape of her arm. For two days I lived in denial while Sophia suffered. Finally, when I woke up from my denial I decided that maybe we should get an x-ray. We went to a family friend, Dr. Abdu Shirazi in Kampala, Uganda. Dr. Shirazi took one look at Sophia’s arm and proclaimed, “Green tree fracture.” He did an x-ray to accurately confirm his suspicions. Then Sophia spent 6 weeks in a cast while I spent 9 years kicking myself for not listening to my daughter’s pain. Repentance bears fruit in changed thinking and behavior.



On Friday, 5 November my Lord gave me an opportunity to display my repentance. Though it was unlikely that we would find a fracture I would not allow days to go by while my daughter suffered and we did not know what the problem was. Thus we went to King Faisal Hospital for an x-ray.



Nothing seemed out of the ordinary. We saw others in much worse shape than Ruth. We waited for the greater wounded to be treated before us. Finally, our turn came.



After the x-ray we were met by a doctor who recognized us from years before. He looked at Ruth’s x-ray and proclaimed, “Green tree fracture.” The bone was not completely broken through, but it was broken and needed to be in a cast for 3 weeks.



The doctor looked familiar. We asked a few questions and a story was disclosed. His name was Fabian. He met us shortly after we arrived in Rwanda in June 2005. We spent 6 months visiting churches to meet pastors and people so that we could labor in community. He was one of those initial people we had met at a Kigali church (Christian Life Assembly – a delightful friend and neighbor in Kigali.) We had forgotten him, but he not us. We had been at King Faisal Hospital for other matters – dog and monkey bites, broken bones, concussions, and malaria. When our son, Caleb had broken his arm, Dr. Fabian had attended him.



Dr. Fabian set Ruth’s arm and we thanked both he and God. As the arm was set we made a few phone calls to family and friends with the news. Trevor Maxwell heard the confirmation of the break and called us. He wisely suggested that we get copies of the x-rays so a few other doctors who are part of our community could double check Dr. Fabian’s findings.



Thus we went to collect copies and wander through hospital bureaucracy. After the wait a technician and a bureaucrat began giving us copies of Ruth’s x-rays. While throughout the day we had been treated with compassion, wisdom, and grace these two fell into the recurring complaint of many. “Rwanda has poor customer service.” It was beyond obvious that these two considered our request for an x-ray copy to be a waste of their time. Then they began their editorials. Most of the editorials were in Kinyarwanda, but on occasion they would insert English. It was one of those passive / aggressive taunts. The English insertions always included the phrase “no fracture.” For a brief moment I did the math. I am 6’1.” I weigh about 195 pounds. At 43 I still am about as strong and fast as I was in my 20’s. These two were short, poochy, and probably as physically weak as they were intellectually deficient. My tolerance for those making fun of my daughter’s pain was below zero. Or maybe, I could do something more sophisticated such as write an editorial in a paper or just visit their boss who is a friend. Then something stirred inside where I realized these two were wounded in need of healing. I was not to be their healer, but I could pray for them to find one. For some reason these two had neither technical nor professional skill. They also had a character deficiency that preferred to judge in jealousy instead of extend compassion to wounded child’s family. Their lives must be full of much more pain than Ruth’s.



I also remembered reading Rwanda hating blogs about men such as these two. The bloggers convince the world that Rwanda is a basket case. They neglect to tell the stories of those in my Kigali community who have lived wounded lives, but who choose to heal and build. They neglect to tell stories of regret, repentance, and redemption. They neglect to tell about life in Rwanda as it is and as it will be. We live with wounded people. A few are pure knuckleheads. However, most seek to heal and build.



I walked away thankful that one of our called communities questions was answered. Yes, in Rwanda when my children are sick or injured we can find help. Childhood illnesses and injuries can be treated.



I also walked away thankful that God had used some in my community to build a school called KICS. Five years ago those of us who desired to someday send our children to a university in the United States were in crisis. Today, we have a school for our kids and their future is good.



Yet, at the close of my day I visited families whose grown children were now planning to marry. Life was good. Refugees had returned and were building. Their extended family had gathered from inside Rwanda, Uganda, and the United States to celebrate this most sacred ritual. Pastoring can be delightful and last night was a treasure. Hope and love abounded. As we planned we visited. A familiar issue came up. New families have children. Those children have educational needs. KICS is the answer for which those families long. Yet, our community needs are greater than the KICS facility capacity. We have hundreds of kids waiting to attend KICS. Some of their parents don’t come to Rwanda to build because they cannot find an adequate school. Some of their parents send their kids to boarding schools outside of Rwanda while they remain.



Compassion moved inside of me again. I left the pre-wedding party, walked to some vacant land near KICS and prayed.



Rwanda has been kind to me. We live, heal, and build with a community that has been broken. Yet, there is more to do. May God give us the resources and strength to return God’s grace to others.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

OUR HERO


The dictionary defines a hero as a person of distinguished courage or ability, admired for his brave deeds and noble qualities.
Our world clamors for heroes. We have a strange fascination with those who do the extra-ordinary. Grocery stores check-out counters are filled with magazines that tell us the stories of celebrities. Maybe they just scratch a hunger for a life substance beyond food. Political columnists banter between seeing political leaders as either a contemporary messiah or demon. The sports industry thrives on our hunger for heroes. Yet heroes require more substance than physical prowess.

A few of us discovered far too late that we were surrounded by heroes who preferred to be ordinary. Church may have had an old man who faithfully did ordinary tasks. Only late in life did we discover his untold stories of heroism in a war he preferred to forget.

Missionaries are hero makers. Our business is to tell stories. At our best we tell stories of a carpenter turned itinerant preacher whose resurrection 2,000 years ago changed the world. As the stories continue we tell stories of our carpenter’s followers who spoke with conviction, served with compassion, suffered with dignity, and blessed following generations with their hero’s vision.
The marketing game we participate in encourages us to make the ordinary extra-ordinary. Sometimes at our worst moments of just shameless promotion we turn either ourselves or those gathered in faith with us into heroes when the season of accounting for the substance of one’s life has yet to arrive.

For the last 2 weeks I have been moving to a new office. I’ve changed offices 8 times in the last 4 years to try to be where it appeared God most needed me. It’s been exhausting. However, I think I’m finally settling into the long-term role and place where I may most show the Lord’s honor.

As I’ve unpacked I found an old prayer journal from 2006. I don’t often journal my prayers. However, in seasons of desperation I do journal. Finding an old journal has convicted me that I labor with and for a true hero. He is Yahweh God, Sovereign Lord, Creator of the Universe, Redeemer of Humanity, our Provider, our Protector, and our Friend.

Heaven forgive me for making men heroes who have yet to be held to account for the substance of their lives.

Dave, Ruth, & Sophia with Aloysius Iga, Isaac Sanyu, Andrew Lwere, & Joy Kifuku
In early 2006 our family had spent 6 months in Rwanda. We came to Rwanda in weakness. God had removed from us all that we held as comfortable. Our years in Uganda had changed us into people who were no longer compatible with our past. We had a dream to church plant among Rwanda’s thought leaders. Our dream left us isolated from our past community. Yet, we were struggling to even secure the most basic government documents. Rwanda was very expensive. Our kids were struggling and we saw no school option for them. A few friends and we decided to educate our children in a couple garages with parents as teachers. We dreamed of starting a school. All we had was our Hero.

On January 6, 2006 I wrote, “Thank you for the many friends you are bringing to us here. May our home be filled with the blessing of visitors … The financial costs continue to be greater than I could anticipate. My ability to fundraise and communicate is very limited. We need your providence in a mighty and miraculous way. Give us our daily bread… I see options of ministry. May we have your vision. May you give us favor from government officials. May we have a great measure of your wisdom. I ask for you to let us see what we are to do – Disciple? Gather? Seminary? Church plant? Community Development? Please help us process a registration with wisdom and divine timing…. Help us to find the right place to locate. Give us property that will place us in a position to make the greatest impact for you on this city. Let it all be in your timing… But greater than these questions, give us you. We want you most… Thank you for our kids – Their joy, abilities, and insight. May you bless them immensely. Help their school go well next week. May teachers rise up for our school. Use these years in Rwanda for their development. May they find memories of joy here.

Another season of prayer in a younger day at Queen Elizabeth Park, Uganda
On February 7, 2006 I wrote, “Lord, I come to you groping for guidance and wisdom. It appears we are being hurried and redirected…. I see opportunities, but don’t know all that you intend to do. My dreams in Uganda rarely materialized. What went wrong? Was it me? … Or did you intend to do something I could not perceive? Were you preparing us for something we did not see? For another time or place? Part of me hungers to church plant. Part of me fears to church plant. I hunger to preach and see you change lives. I fear the responsibility and countless failures. Give me your wisdom.”
Today I sit in my office and remember our hero. The events of the last 5 years are not the results of man’s plans or labor, but the results of our Hero. On occasion we have been able to participate with Him. While we struggled in weakness our Hero:


Sophia's Baptism with Vital Byabushi and Fred Ssenkumba
Gave us many treasured friends from many denominations, nations, and organizations.
Always provided for our needs. We were never hungry or without a place to sleep.
■Our finances have yet to make sense, but huge debts have been paid. Most recently $1,356,000 was given to purchase our current church and school facility.
Used our past and present to build relationship wealth among our region’s government, media, academic, and business leaders.
Clarified our task was to plant a non-denominational church for Rwanda’s thought leaders. He continues to gather in ways we cannot imagine. Some Sundays now see as many as 350 people attend Christ's Church in Rwanda (CCR).
Caleb's Baptism with Gasangwa Family
Used many diverse people from fellow believers to agnostics to refine our thinking about how our faith community should build in Rwanda.
■Facilitated the completion of our church documentation.
Gave us one of Rwanda’s most visible properties for church planting in an estate that represents Rwanda’s vision for the future.
■Allowed us to be the boots on the ground to bring over 200 of Rwanda’s brightest young people to the United States to study (Rwanda Presidential Scholars Program.)
Filled our hearts with peace and joy.
Gave our children many diverse friends. Kigali International Community School (KICS) has over 200 students from over 30 nationalities.
Gave our children a school and made their years in Rwanda a joy.
■Provided teachers time after time, year after year in response to prayer when we had no idea how it all could come together.

■Pressed us hard like a coach who loves and believes in His team. We thought we would surely brake. However, He was always there at our lowest and loneliest points.
Ethan's Baptism in a Baptistry we did not build
■Took us through past seasons that were much like Joseph’s and Esther’s. We came to conclude our past disappointments were needed for the Lord to prepare us for such a time as this.
■Stilled our fears of failure and losing the favor of man while reminding us that we must ultimately fear the Lord more than all else.
■Allowed us the joy of preaching and seeing Jesus change lives
.

Ruth Baptism with Hixson, MacGruder, and Rossington Girls
Thus we conclude our thanksgiving to our Hero. Our short list does not give Him adequate honor. We are privileged to serve in Kigali.

Also, you may see why in our best moments we ask for you to pray and labor with us. Our Hero is amazing.


Imana ikurinde (May the Lord Stay with All of You),

Dave

Friday, October 15, 2010

OCTOBER PRAYER BULLETIN


Dear Family and Friends,


We can hardly believe it has been two months since we returned to Rwanda. Our internet has been poor so our communication has been inconsistent. However, we may have found a better internet service and we hope to return to our habit of regular communication. As we arrived in Kigali we found all was well with Christ’s Church in Rwanda (CCR) and Kigali International Community School (KICS). Those who labored in our absence did a fabulous job and we are very thankful for those the Lord brought to serve with us.


We’ve spent our first two months visiting and listening to seek understanding of what the Lord would ask for us to be our next steps. An interesting listening mode was that Dave taught history to KICS secondary students for 6 weeks as the KICS history teacher did her final fund discovery. Spending his mornings with high school students confirmed his deep suspicions – teaching is hard work and teenagers can be both exhausting and exhilarating. Listening to Kigali’s youth for 6 weeks has brought new insight.
This month we ask for your prayers for the following matters:

1. Thanksgiving that our children have adjusted well to Rwanda. Rwanda is home. Sophia won first place in a writing contest (http://expatyouthscholarship.com/2010_winners/EYS04.html). Caleb and Ethan are playing basketball and enjoying their friends. Ruth is blossoming with new discoveries. Timothy has found friends who may be as fast as he, and he’s running more than ever. We consider it a treasure to raise our children in Kigali.

2. KICS is doing well. Ruth’s 5th grade teacher will take maternity leave in January. Please pray for another quality teacher to arise to take her place.


3. CCR is growing and maturing with between 300 and 340 people attending most Sundays. We see several key areas of potential growth that require attention. Please pray for:

• Disciplining and training of more CCR leaders.


• An opportunity to begin a CCR university campus ministry in 2011.


• The proper time and opportunity for CCR to begin growing a ministry for Orphans and Vulnerable Children. CCR is joining other churches in remembering Orphans Sunday on November 7. May God direct our prayers to appropriate thoughts and action.


• May God give us wisdom and vision to lead CCR for His glory.


4. New co-workers: Rusty and Onawa Linden and their children, Evey and Salome leave for Rwanda on October 25. May their final preparations and journey be ones filled with divine appointments. May their final goodbyes be filled with joy. May Rwanda show them the kindness it has shown to our family.

5. Jana’s mom, Jan Tarbet will join us in a few days to spend a month with our family.
We are all eager for her return to Africa. We can’t wait to show her our lives in Rwanda. May her travels be full of safety and peace.


Thank you for your prayer, support, and encouragement that sustain our family and ministry.
Imana ikurinde (May God keep all of you),


Dave and Jana

Saturday, August 7, 2010

AUGUST PRAYER BULLETIN


Dear Family and Friends,


Our season of healing, renewal, and discovery in the United States will soon end. We begin our journey home to Rwanda this coming Wednesday morning, and arrive in Kigali on Thursday evening. Thank you to so many who have provided encouragement through this last year.


This month we ask your prayers for the following matters:


1. Rwanda’s upcoming elections on August 9, 2010. May our Sovereign God use this season to fill our hearts with peace. May He appoint those to lead who can usher in justice and establish systems to bless coming generations. Christ’s Church in Rwanda (CCR) is spending 40 Days of Prayer for these elections.


• You can find a guide to the CCR 40 Days of Prayer on either our ROC Partners Facebook group at http://www.facebook.com/note.php?created&&suggest¬e_id=407052306470#!/topic.php?uid=376017779133&topic=14270



2. Thankfulness that our year in the US resulted in the discovery of more like minded partner to pray, counsel, encourage, and support our ministry. May God be honored through the stories of God’s work at CCR, and Kigali International Community School (KICS).


3. Our children’s adjustment back to Rwanda. The last year has been one of stretching and discovery. May the coming year be one of settling and maturing. May our kids do well spiritually, academically, and socially as they return to Kigali friends and KICS.


4. Discernment, Wisdom, and Vision: As we return to CCR we will find that she has matured in our absence. Some suggest that our role is to provide vision for CCR to reach God’s intentions. May our return be a season of listening, discerning, and discovering.

Thank you for your prayers, support, and encouragement that sustain our family and ministry.

Imana ikurinde (May God Keep All of You),


Dave and Jana