Monday, November 8, 2010
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
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.