I never experienced America’s phenomena of evening porch conversations. There was a season in America’s history where she transitioned from a rural to an urban people. During that season before cable television and the internet my country of origin was a place where neighbors knew one another as friends. While weather permitted evenings would be spent on a porch. Neighbors passed by and may have shared a glass of ice tea, lemonade, and soda. During this season of transition and building, the informal conversations and the hopes they inspired were the substance of nation building.
My porch in Kigali may be similar.
Two Saturdays ago, I sat on my porch, observed, and remembered. My oldest daughter, Sophia is 18 and a senior in high school. The school she attends, Kigali International Community School (KICS) has many similarities to the school of my grandmother’s diary. The class size is small. The school board is made up of friends. The board endeavors to lead by policy, but it is a hands on labor. They function as policy setters as well as janitors, coaches, cafeteria workers, and teachers. The teachers worship with us and live in community. Most weeks one or two will be in our home for dinner.
Our school serves many of the builders of Rwanda. Some are missionaries. Some are Rwandans who during a season of refugee living gained education and professional experience, and now have returned. Some are international business and embassy personnel. It is one of the most eclectic groups of people I’ve known. However, they are united in faith and hope.
My daughter, Sophia has exceptional skills at creating community out of diversity. Two Saturday s ago, a few of her good friends decided to gather the young women at KICS for a sleep over at our home. It was a Saturday and I sat on our porch. I read and tidied up a sermon. Our porch faces downtown Kigali. Our yard has beautiful trees. One of my favorite Kigali activities is to sit on our porch in the evening, read, observe, and drink a cup of coffee.
I listened to Sophia’s pre-organization and my mind drifted back to four years ago. KICS was just starting. A friend in the Rwanda government had opened some doors for us to get started. He called me in the evening to see if he could bring a friend to visit. A few minutes later, three of us were on my porch visiting. My friend’s friend had 5 children. Three of them were in the US studying. He could not find a suitable school in Rwanda so while he returned to Rwanda his older children studied in the US. He had two younger daughters. One of his daughters was the same age as Sophia. The other was the same age as Caleb. He wanted to know about KICS. The next day after our conversation he enrolled his younger daughters at KICS. Since then his oldest daughter has become one of Sophia’s best friends. They don’t share the same race. However, they share the same faith and similar experiences. I find it delightful listening to the two of them. They are wise beyond their years. Their vision for Rwanda’s future is better than what their parents have experienced. Both of us fathers trust a future with their leadership will be good.
These two young women had watched the diversity of students at KICS and seen some struggles. The sociological term to describe them is Third Culture Kids (TCK’s). These are kids who are most at home in an airport. Transition and diversity are the games in which they excel. Sophia calls TCK’s her tribe. They share a language, culture, and understanding. However, before one reaches a certain understanding and maturity being a TCK is a life of great turmoil. Where does one fit? Your parent’s culture is not yours. Your host culture is not yours. The easiest way to define one's self will be by race, national origin, parent’s employment, or maybe even denominational background. Yet, these old stereotypes no longer fit the context. Maybe, even they are outdated definitions that fuel division instead of unity? Our two wise young women realized it was time to do the old fashioned. They gathered those younger than themselves to socialize, laugh, and begin conversations about faith and shared experience. It was delightful to eavesdrop.
As I enjoyed Kigali’s evening and eavesdropping another new Kigali friend came by. Their family had only been in Kigali for a few weeks. They had lived their lives in the US, grown in faith, and just moved to Rwanda to take a job as a General Manager of a local business. They have three teenage children. Their kids were seeking to find a place to belong. They enrolled at KICS. Their daughter was coming to Sophia’s sleepover. The daughter quickly joined the girls and we listened to the giggles. Her dad and I and shared a soda and caught up on life.
As he left I remembered the stories of porch conversations from my grandparent’s day. I also remembered old porch conversations in Kigali. I thanked God for the journey. Who would have thought that a porch conversation four years ago would have resulted in such good friendships and such a broad community? I leave convinced that a few things in life are sure. We should listen well to our daughters and trust their intuition. We also should as friends visit, pray, and trust. God does the amazing with the simple.