Tuesday, December 21, 2010


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. 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


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


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


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


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.