Tuesday, January 11, 2011


Yes, this is a completely ludicrous title for a blog on Rwanda living and ministry, but I’m convinced it is true. All I needed to know about Rwanda I learned (or re-learned) at a Kigali Yard Sale. Our family last week completed a yard sale. It was de-cluttering. It was finding the resources to pay our bills. However, it was also a profound experience of listening, discovering, and processing.


Rwanda’s President Kagame says, “Others can walk. We must run.” It stirs my runner’s ambition. Yet, it also describes the pace of life for all who gather in Rwanda with both vision and work ethics. Our days start before the sun rises. Some of us are doing office work at 5:00 a.m. Some of us don’t call the work day over until 11:00 p.m. Our To Do list is never finished. Our phone rings. Our inbox is full. The community we serve has many needs and expectations. In the midst of our business sometimes the mundane and ordinary becomes trivial. It falls to the category of “I will take care of that after the important matters are done.” Somehow the important is never done and our community’s needs increase.

Our family packed all our earthly belongings in storage in Uganda in June, 2004. In November, 2004 we decided to move to Rwanda. We arrived in June, 2005. In November, 2005 our container arrived. At the time we were struggling to live, exploring the idea of KICS and CCR, and Dave was teaching Ethics at KIST. We never had a quiet week or two to unpack. We simply pulled what we needed for the day from our container. Yes, we lived in a country for 5 ½ years without ever completely unpacking. We managed our house so that many guests were served. Our home appeared orderly. However, we knew our container was full of years of clutter and it troubled our inner sense of order.

Last week, we finally had our chance to unpack and organize 6 ½ years after our first packing.


We knew we needed to do a yard sale. We never had a quiet week. However, we also never had several required earthly possessions in our hands until last week. Rwanda is blessed with abundant rains for almost 8 months per year. We use every room in our home (including the garage) for our kids and guests. We have no spare garage to host a sale. If we place sale items in our yard the rains will leave it all drenched each day. We needed several large tents and many tables to be able to organize a sale.

A by- product of CCR are 2 tents and many tables. Though frequently used on weekends during weekdays they are available. Thus it was in God’s timing when CCR had the maturity to have tents and tables that we finally had the capacity to host a yard sale.

We spent several days sorting the contents of our container and organizing the sale items on CCR tables underneath CCR tents.

We needed 6 ½ years of settling to be able to unpack. We left Uganda during a season of turmoil. Our call was painful relinquishment. Now it all makes sense. I don’t think we would have had the emotional reserves to unpack 5 ½ years ago. God knew what timing was the best for our spirits.

As we unpacked we found our memories. Some we sold. Some we threw away. Some we gave. Some we kept. One memory now sits in my office in the same emotional place as my deer horns. In my teens and twenties I was fortunate to hunt and fish with my dad, brothers, and friends in Minnesota and Arkansas. Those men are still the best friends in my life. My office deer horns speak of those old friendships. The memory I discovered that I would not sell, throw, or give away is the baby back pack that I carried all 5 of my children in up Uganda’s hills. The frame was broke and held together with duct tape. With Rwanda’s limited supply of childhood goods I still could have sold the backpack. However, I would not sell its memory. It is now on my office wall. The 5 kids in Uganda were a treasure. They represent the best years of my life.


For those who have never lived in a developing nation I am not writing about the debate between Pepsi, Coke, or even RC. COLA stands for Cost of Living Adjustment. For many in the US COLA is more foreign and confusing than a vernacular language. How can a poor country where the average person lives on a little over a dollar per day be expensive?

Yet financial realities hit all who try to labor with a family and professional skill in Rwanda. Diesel fuel costs $6 / gallon. Some homes go through $300 per month in electricity while never even owning an air conditioner. Others spend $150 per month on cooking gas, but never heat a home. Cereal sells for $11 per box. Public school is not an option so we send our children to private schools and pay their tuition.

Rwanda is simply expensive. Many COLA indexes list Kigali as 40% more expensive than Washington D.C. January is my month of both school fees and quarterly rent. COLA speaks to me in January with all her force.

Those of us who labor here learn to live without movies, Dr. Pepper, and delivery pizza. We enjoy the few costs that are cheaper than our home economy. However, there are some purchases that are difficult to avoid. They stir the deepest parts of our hope and ambition. We desire for our children to enjoy life and see a good future. With such hopes sometimes we must go extra-ordinary miles.


As we unpacked and organized we found the items that marked the seasons of life when our children were babies and toddlers – cribs, car seats, strollers, bikes, and toys. We remembered COLA and placed these items on the tables under our tents. Though the items were years old we sought to sell them for just a slightly lower price than we had purchased them years earlier. We advertised the sale. Our phone began to ring.

Kigali is filled with many whose parents and grandparents left Rwanda in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s as refugees. For the fortunate ones, refugee living became an experience similar to the Jews of the Babylonian Exile. In the Dispersion they gained an education and professional skill. As Rwanda settled they returned to a land that they had never seen. They came with vision and work ethics. They returned with young children. They did not have the resources to return with all the childhood paraphernalia of their place of exile.

Births of new children create scrambles for cribs, strollers, and car seats. No Baby Gap or Babies R Us exists in Kigali. Birthdays and Christmases create scrambles for bikes and toys. No Toys R Us, Target, or Wal-mart exists in Kigali. A yard sale of an older family creates the frenzy of a Tickle Me Elmo Stampede. The only difference is that Rwandans are well known as restrained, dignified, and polite.

To survive 18 years in this region of the world one learns to put certain emotions of compassion aside. I cannot survive if I weep over every tragedy. However, I also cannot survive if cynicism destroys my ability to feel other’s hope and disappointment.

A surprising moment happened in my de-cluttering of the memories of our children as babies and toddlers. My emotions stirred. I watched 5 childhood bikes sell in a few hours. The last family to purchase a bike arrived a few moments before another eager family. I could not express my regrets enough to the disappointed family. In January some were buying their children gifts for a Christmas 11 months in the future. Our cribs were gone before the sale even opened. Friends called and pleaded for a crib. I remembered what it was like to have babies and toddlers. I admired these families courage to return and build. I grieved for the sacrifices they made with their children for the sake of their grandchildren’s future.

At the end of our sale I sat with a friend. We discussed the struggle of being a returning Diaspora. We remarked that though our incomes were good and “reasonable” we were unable to provide all we hoped for our children. In fact, we knew the cost of sacrifice was immense. Yet, in the midst of self-pity we remembered that only a few miles from the struggle of middle class Rwanda exist the poorest of the poor. We would sleep with full stomachs. We would find ways to send our children to Rwanda’s best schools. Others would struggle to feed their children and even buy them a pair of shoes to wear to school. Empathy reigned. It is the substance of vision and work ethics in a community. May we never lose our ability to feel for others.


In 18 years in Africa I have learned that anger is an emotion best kept hidden. In my early years my anger was displayed far too frequently. Now some remark on my ability to withstand continual chaos with presence and grace. A fleeting thought went through my mind as we prepared our yard sale. I had done two yard sales in our Uganda years. With each one I had a moment in which I completely lost my composure. Would I do it again?

When our family moved into our Kigali home across the street was the Papyrus restaurant. It gave us charm, friendship, and meals when life was too busy to cook. Our neighborhood is full of trees. With these trees come a wide variety of birds and monkeys. Within our Kimihurura neighborhood is a park. We found our Kigali neighborhood to be delightful.

Upon our return to Kigali five months ago a new phenomena has happened. Our neighborhood restaurants seem to have become discos and bars. The noise level makes sleep difficult. I sometimes arise early and am in my office at 4:00 a.m. On those early mornings my quiet neighborhood street is filled with cars and people dancing in the streets. Some of the young women are dressed in a way that I am sure their fathers and brothers would never approve. A few months ago on my morning run I saw a woman and man with too much to drink physically fighting with stones. I have had pleasant discussions with bar and disco owners, but my patience is growing limited.

Our sale opened at 10:00 a.m. each morning. Thus we spent the first hours of the day organizing the chaos of the previous day. On Saturday morning three men who spent the night drinking at a bar across from my home entered our yard at 8:30 a.m. I had yet to have breakfast or coffee. I asked for them to return at 10:00 a.m. They explained that they could not return in a few hours, but were eager to make a purchase. I reluctantly agreed to allow them to look through our yard sale. They picked up many items and vigorously shook each item. I tried to persuade them to be gentle. They argued vehemently with every stated price. Finally, one began rifling through a trunk containing my family’s memories that were not for sale. At that moment reason left my mind and outrage entered my complete being. I yelled. I screamed. I commanded their departure. When they slowed down I looked for a stick to beat them. Thankfully, they left before I found a stick. I had not been so angry since the last time I had a yard sale 9 years previously.

Jana overheard my rant and remarked, “Dave – right decision to have them leave. Wrong temperament.”

My conscience was troubled. A few hours later there came a knock at the gate. Two of the three had returned. They had bathed and changed clothes. I no longer smelled alcohol. They apologized. I offered my forgiveness. They gently looked at items. They graciously paid the price. We reconciled. Again, the biblical formula of repentance (changed action) met forgiveness and reconciliation happened.

Some matters in life demand outrage. Rage reflects offended morals. Hopefully, we are offended at the matters that offend God. Our region of the world has many areas that demand outrage – war, genocide, poverty, and non-literacy lead the list. These tragedies are not the sum of bad fortune, but the sum of bad leadership and broken or non-existent institutions. In order to make matters right an outraged authority figure may be required to bring order. Outrage is unpleasant. When it is over the outraged one may have regret. Rage touches the darkest places of our soul. Yet without an authority demanding accountability and change hope and love in community are impossible. Humanity in community is messy.


As we de-cluttered, sold, and visited with our Kigali community we were reminded the task of our generation is to build the sustainable institutions. Our children may not have all we hope, but they learn character from observing our labor. We labor in hope for what life for our grandchildren will become. Rwanda has too few churches, schools, and businesses. Her institutions that lead in education, justice, and preservation are young. When the sale is over and we return to our offices we find even more resolve.


Lastly, our Kigali yard sale taught us that old lesson that has been spoken by generation upon generation. Invest in children. They are the future. Today is fleeting.

As we de-cluttered I found construction toys my father gave my children. Our kids no longer played with them. Soon our children will leave us for university. With some regret we decided to sell some of the toys of childhood even though they contained treasured memories. With COLA in mind we chose to make the sale worth our while.

The toys high prices kept them sitting. Finally, on the last day a father with a new born son made an offer on one of the road construction toys. I asked him what he did for a living. He was an accountant at a local road construction company. I told him a story. When I was a child my dad was a road construction worker. He gave me road construction toys. He showed me how to build roads as we played in a sandbox. It was all about drainage. If there was not a proper ditch and the road doubled as a ditch the road would wash away. I shared my experience in Uganda of watching roads poorly constructed double as ditches and become our region’s running joke. The issue was more than drainage. I believe Uganda’s disaster roads reflect a deeper sickness – fathers do not teach their sons character. I asked the father of the new born son to promise me that he would use the toys to teach his son to build good roads. Roads that last are built by men of character. He agreed and I parted with my memories trusting they would bless another family.

As our sale closed we had a toys and clothes that still remained. We considered boxing them for a future sale. COLA would be a reality of our family as long as we live in this region. We considered boxing them for a future ministry. CCR is praying and pondering about beginning a ministry for Orphans and Vulnerable Children. Then God spoke in the present. We have good friends who in the midst of building a new business also have taken 20 vulnerable children into their home. We boxed our remaining toys and clothes, made a phone call, delivered our remaining items; and called our yard sale finished.

All I needed to know about Rwanda I learned in a Kigali yard sale.

No comments:

Post a Comment