Last week, I received three e-mails in which we realized that a conman in Nigeria was using my blog as a means to deceive potential apartment seekers in New York. I went from concerned, to outraged, to thankful. When I sent out a mass mail to warn family and friends there were many responses. Also, my blog had more traffic than ever before. For some reason this odd experience struck a chord. As I sat a bit I realized that this conman exposed the very reasons that I choose Rwanda and choose to invest in leadership. I hope you will continue to join me.
There are many images of Africa. Some are disastrous. Non-literacy. Poverty. Disease. Corruption. Famine. War. For some in the Aid industry they are marketing tools. For some in the media industry they are familiar themes to boost ratings. Also, for portions of Africa they are true images. I have lived in places in Africa in which hope was crushed by staggering corruption. Last week’s conman played to these images. The conman succeed because we expect Africa to be a disaster. Also, we quickly joined a chorus and giggled because the theme of African conmen on the internet was familiar. This con was just a new twist to an old one that had previously cluttered our inboxes.
I believe there is another story to be told. I choose Rwanda. She is a beautiful nation. Her soil is rich. Her geography ranges from savannahs to rainforests to wetlands to lakes to mountains. Her history is rich. The history is both inspiring and tragic. Her faith story has impacted sub-Saharan Africa for generations.
Her recent years have been full of hope. Her leaders labor at a pace that leaves me exhausted. Their vision is inspiring. I am thankful to be a participant. Each day I see new construction. New roads, schools, homes, and businesses surround me.
Her youth are delightful. I find myself smiling and giggling each time I am privileged to be with them.
Something unique is happening here. It reminds me of Paul’s instructions to a young church developer, “I urge you, first of all, to pray for all people. Ask God to help them; intercede on their behalf, and give thanks for them. Pray this way for kings and all who are in authority so that we can live peaceful and quiet lives marked by godliness and dignity. This is good and pleases God our Savior, who wants everyone to be saved and to understand the truth. (1 Timothy 2:1-4. New Living Translation.)”
Our family has had a remarkably peaceful time in our 5 years in Rwanda. Paul tells us to pray for leaders so we can live quietly. In such a climate the gospel becomes a source that sustains generations. We settle down and build. Let me tell three brief recent stories of life in Rwanda. Our friendly conman reminded me of just how much I enjoy life here.
A little over a month ago, I was in a minor auto accident. My previous experiences with police in Africa had taught me not to trust African justice. In this situation I made a surprising instinctual decision. I chose to seek out the police and trust for justice to arrive. (The experience became this week’s Focus column. If you want to read more check out http://jenkinsinrwanda.blogspot.com/2011/02/tale-of-two-african-knockings.html.)
A little less than a month ago local elections were held in Rwanda. I again did something surprising. I got up early, drove to CCR, and helped set up the sound system for elections taking place across the street. I am not a Rwanda citizen and did not vote. However, I walked into the assembly, greeted friends, prayed, and wished the best for our community. In a nutshell – I acted the way a pastor should in a democracy. Later that evening I was at the Rwanda Development Board Dinner. An expatriate friend asked about my day and was a bit surprised that I left my home to help. He had been taught that “foreigners” should keep a low profile during African elections. For years I had agreed with the counsel. I never thought about it, but Rwanda had changed both my mind and my actions. I felt no fear that day and was thankful to help.
A few days ago; my son, Timothy and I went in the evening to meet Jana on her flight back from Nairobi. Her flight was delayed. We bought some ice cream and sat the airport cafe. I got just a little bored and remembered a newspaper in our truck. I left Timothy eating ice cream and walked about 75 meters to the truck to get my newspaper. Timothy was out of my sight for a couple minutes, but he enjoyed the ice cream; and I trusted the people near us.
I’ve said this theme many times, but Kigali reminds me much of the stories I heard from my grandparent’s generation. There is a sense of trust, hope, and community here that I have found very rare. I choose Rwanda.
Our helpful conman reminded me of another choice. He played to a theme of helplessness. Again, this is the image of the Aid industry, western media, and far too many missionary types. To be perfectly honest I no longer in good conscience can fill my blog, newsletters, and stateside presentations with sad or hungry children. My photo opportunities are rather limited. I just like being with my friends. If someone takes a snap shot and tags us on Facebook I am happy. My friends are not opportunities. They are people. I like them. They are leaders. I choose leadership.
My years in a previous assignment were ones where I made many mistakes. Then a light bulb went on. It happened as Jana and I were doing radio. We heard the term, “thought leaders,” and were transformed. In fact, it seemed we discovered that the spiritual gift God gave us was to make friends with the upwardly mobile and talk to them about Jesus. Thankfully, those who nurtured our discovery were not power mongers. They just hungered for influence in the midst of humility. They wanted their lives to count and have meaning. We realized this too was our calling. Thus we entered Rwanda determined God’s leading meant we would invest in leadership.
Others may choose to see crisis. We see opportunity. Some may see helplessness. We search for those who desire to build. Our photos have smiles of both those with gray hair smiling and children laughing. Joy is our reward. Even when we engage the most vulnerable, we do so believing in the image of God displayed in each human life. Dignity is our choice. We choose leadership.
Thus we’ve planted a church among those we call “thought leaders” from our media days. Others call them “nation builders” as they survey history and seek to understand the present. We’ve also put our hands to the building of an international school so other building family’s children can thrive. We’ve made friends with any who could help, but carried little power. By these old methods of prayer and friendship God has used our hands to help hundreds of Rwanda’s brightest minds attend universities in the U.S.
Lately, I’ve been teaching Ethics at a local university. It has been delightful. The students remind me too much of myself even in their struggles. They are eager to listen, question, and think. When faced with a struggle they seek an answer. A few wallow in self-pity, but many build. They work extra jobs, cover for friends, and live in community. They learn new skills. They restore my hope in humanity. I choose leadership.
Our conman friend neglected these truths as he used my blog as bait. Today, he’s reminded me of these great truths. I hope you’ll join me on this journey. Choose Rwanda. Choose leadership.