Sunday, March 20, 2011


If you have functional eyes in Kigali you have seen the latest condom advert. A beautiful young couple gazes at you. She holds a condom in her hand. The message states clearly, “PROTECT YOUR LIFE WITH A CONDOM. PROTECTING ONESELF AND OTHERS AGAINST HIV/AIDS IS EVERYONE’S RESPONSIBILITY. I CHOOSE TO USE CONDOMS; WHAT ABOUT YOU?”

Ministry of Health, The Global Fund, and the Rwanda Health Communication Center; thank you for your message. Besides protecting life you gave me hours worth of delightful discussions on university campuses. We conclude that of all that exists on this earth the supreme value is life. Therefore, our taxes are well served by messages that save life.

However, there are other lesser values. Three quickly come to mind – beauty, dignity, and love. These are the substance that our grandparents hungered for when they counseled us to save our sexuality for marriage. The bzee really were wise. You see in the condom advert reality is shown. The young woman is missing a tooth. Something happened. Let me share my best pastoral guess. The following story is no specific individual’s, but the collection of 26 years of pastorally listening to young couples.

The young woman grew up in a home without a father, uncle, or older brother. Her mom and sisters were good people. However, they were vulnerable. As a little girl she watched her friends with fathers, and she hungered for a man to provide, protect, and nurture her. When she was in secondary school she discovered her beauty. She found that by offering her body to a young man she could have intimacy. She had several boyfriends. However, the sexuality was always clumsy, awkward, and a bit shameful. The relationships all ended with bitterness. When she visited with her girlfriends about her old boyfriends, she used the word, “a#+*>@^!!” to describe them.

The young man grew up the first born son of a polygamous father. Initially, he carried all the family hopes. However, his dad found other women besides his mother. In the end he became the forgotten son. Before his dad left he watched his parents argue. The argument ended when his dad slapped his mom and walked out of the home for the last time. He told himself he would never do that to a woman. He wrestled inside with seeking a complete family. In secondary school he thrived as he was clever, handsome, athletic, and sociable. He had several girlfriends. Like the young woman the sexuality was clumsy, awkward, and a bit shameful. Also, like her the relationships all ended with bitterness. When he visited with his boyfriends about his old girlfriends, he used the word, “b#+*>@^!!” to describe them.

Our young couple met at university. They both did well at university. Her beauty made every young man notice her when she entered a room. His athleticism and charisma had the same effect on young women. They spent 3 years exploring relationships, having fun, growing their minds; but still having sexual relationships that ended in bitterness. Then they started dating and found new hope.

Jesus meeting a woman in Samaria who lived with 6 different men (John 4)
Last year, Minister Murigande gave them an unintended and regrettable gift. The living bursary was removed. With their dysfunctional family backgrounds they had no extended family to help. Both found casual jobs, but could not quite make enough to live. Then they had the idea of their life. If they lived in the same room they could save money and be almost like the family for which they hungered. Their families were too removed to care. They had not been in church for years. Their friends cheered for them. With free condoms on campus she could avoid pregnancy, and both of them would have no risk of a sexually transmitted disease.

For one month, they had the time of their lives. By living together their shame and sexual secrets disappeared. They slept, bathed, and ate together. They had the best sex of their lives frequently. They lived simple, but they were not hungry. Their friends noticed how often they were gathering the condoms at the distributors, and were exceedingly jealous. She was not pregnant. Neither of them had a sexually transmitted disease. Graduation was coming shortly and their lives were full of hope.

Then all changed. One day she did poorly on an exam while he lost his casual job. When they came home their attempts to console one another had just the opposite effects. Their relationship was full of youthful passion. Now the passion stirred the opposite way. They argued. They blamed one another. They called one another names. Finally, he had his limit. No woman would speak to him with that level of disrespect. He slapped her in the mouth. As soon as his hand hit her mouth out flew a tooth and blood. He had never seen the effect of his strength used in violence. All stopped. She cried. He felt guilt beyond measure. He had just done what he had promised his mother never to do. In the quiet moment, they gathered their remaining francs. They went to a clinic on the other side of town hoping no one they knew would see them. Their shame remained. She was not pregnant. Neither of them had a sexually transmitted disease. She no longer had a tooth.

What were they to do? A thin piece of plastic protects one from unplanned pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases. It protects life. However, it offers no protection for beauty, dignity, and love. Those values were now fleeting. Beauty, dignity, and love were what they hungered for.

Kigali’s most recent condom ad got it right. A sexual relationship without a covenant made in community frequently  leads to violence. This is what our grandparents knew and why they counseled us in ages past to wait.

However, Rwanda has another story. Though she is a young nation she has bzee. There are those who have wisdom to balance forgiveness with accountability. This young couple needs to do what they have not done in years. Their life still can have hope. It is time for them to visit the gray haired unorthodox professor who calls his past student’s friends. It is time to go to church and be the last to leave as they seek a pastor’s counsel. The bzee are here. Though her tooth is gone, hope is not lost.

1 comment:

  1. Haha..Dave!!, Really like your analogy to the lost tooth of this girl on the ad..!! Though, I have different opinions on abortion and the use of condoms in Rwanda. You know, if it was possible that every young fella wait till their marriage, that would be pretty awesome. However, not everything is honky dory in this world. With this modern world we live in, not every young man and woman can abstain themselves. I agree with you that it would be great for us and for our lives if we were to wait till our marriage. However, thats not the case. In a highly populated country like Rwanda with limited resources, 11 million people, and an expected growth of 300,000 people each year, we need to do whatever possible to cut down the population growth. We already have enough poverty related issues to deal with, so helping the youth to avoid pregnancy is a good way to go to worsen those issues including avoiding Mayibobo(street kids), and children with no care in general. In your example, imagine if that that dating couple had unprotected sex and gave birth to a child. If they cant even sustain themselves, how can they afford to raise that kid? In addition, they are still young( Not mature enough to raise another human being..!!),What kind of care/education are they going to provide to their children? You talked about following the example of our elders, which I think is a good advice. However, Rwanda they lived in at around 1950s, 1960s, 1970s, 1980s, and 1990's is completely different from what we live in now. Nowadays, there are a lot of things that incite temptations( modern music and movies, parties,etc..!!). Bottom line is that, ideally, I think that we all know what is the best way to avoid these problems, but since its hard to handle them, there must be other ways to solve them. Thanks