Monday, February 20, 2012


We intuitively know when one is treated with digni­ty. We know that dignity is not a matter to negotiate. Human dignity is for all – rich or poor, black or white, adult or child. Many of have had the moment in life where we were the poorest in a crowd, sep­arated from others by lack of status; and someone of great status saw our potential, believed in us, and gave us an outstanding opportunity. We are thankful for the one who believed in our dignity.

Thousands of years ago, simple old Hebrew herdsmen argued with power brokers of their day who con­sidered humanity worthy of exploi­tation. They proclaimed all men are made in God’s image (Genesis 1:27). In our contemporary times human rights groups and the NGO commu­nity have argued for human dignity.

Yet, there is an image of Africa that is frequently seen which strips chil­dren of dignity. It is the picture of poor, malnourished, snotty nosed children desperately waiting their “salvation.” It plays to images of a hopeless Africa in need of rescue. It manipulates donor guilt and in the process turns a child’s dignity into a marketable commodity.

I am convinced those gifted with profound moral insight and excep­tional powers of expression would find the images of children stripped of dignity for marketing purposes repulsive. These courageous spokes­men would not hide their heads in the sand of denial. They would acknowl­edge the horrible effects of poverty, nonliteracy, and gender based vio­lence. Children are abandoned ev­ery day. These children are treated as despised objects by both those who abandon them and those who market with them. The answer for these chil­dren is not an INGO. The answer is the timeless one of family.

Approximately 2,700 years ago these gifted spokesmen told parables. One told us, “On the day you were born, no one cared about you. Your umbilical cord was not cut, and you were never washed, rubbed with salt, and wrapped in cloth. No one had the slightest interest in you; no one pit­ied you or cared for you. On the day you were born, you were unwanted, dumped in a field and left to die. But I came by and saw you there, helpless­ly kicking about in your own blood. As you lay there, I said, ‘Live!’ And I helped you to thrive like a plant in the field. You grew up and became a beautiful jewel (Ezekiel 16:4-7. The New Living Translation.)”

A few weeks ago outside the 2020 Vision Estate in Gaculiro we lived this parable. On a Saturday night at approximately 8:00 p.m. security guards noticed dogs barking in the adjoining field. They went to see what the commotion was and found a few day old abandoned baby girl. Even on the edge of Kigali’s model communities humanity falls into our old destructive patterns of despising children. Thankfully, the child was alive and healthy. The following day the child was fostered in a family’s home while legal processes sought long term answers. The first picture of this child on the internet was of her dignity being preserved in a family.

Another spokesman told us, “Can a mother forget her nursing child? Can she feel no love for the child she has borne? But even if that were possible, I would not forget you! (Isaiah 49:15, New Living Translation.)”

Last week again in the poorer homes near Gaculiro we lived this parable. In the early morning hours neighbors heard a crying baby girl. When they investigated the biologi­cal mother was gone while the child she had been nursing remained. As I write the child has yet to find a fam­ily. Yet I believe with all my being in two matters. First, our God describes himself as both a Father and a Moth­er. He describes His care for us as One who adopts us like a patent who embraces abandoned children. He sees this child. Second, Kigali is made up of many people who love deeply. One from our Kigali community will be the family that represents God to this baby girl. She is spoken for.

A few common responses happen as most of us become aware of aban­doned children. The first questions we ask are for details. Who were the biological parents? What were their lives like? Then we ask the why ques­tion. Why did they choose to abandon this child? Each situation is unique, but almost all have the common sto­ries of nonliteracy, poverty, and a dysfunctional family filled with gen­der based violence. Many of us will be called to build the institutional frameworks so abandoned children become much less frequent. In a world filled with exceptional church­es, schools, and businesses children are valued and nurtured. We must build our institutions for the sake of these children. When our institutions are strong children are abandoned much less frequently.

Yet, there also become the very pointed question for that specific child. Children do not belong in in­stitutions like orphanages. Children belong in the institution of a family. Who will care for this specific child?

Two thousand years ago, a man named Paul proclaimed the story of Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection. Social comfort of church has dulled us to the offense of this story. Paul gave a metaphor to illustrate Jesus death and new life. The metaphor is adoption. We are all like abandoned children. God rescues us. We are not rescued by an INGO or orphanage. When we are rescued we are given full legal and relationship rights. We are called sons and daughters. We are no longer called orphans.

Adoption is offensive for the very reasons those 2,000 years ago found Paul offensive. However, it is the only answer to abandoned children that fully restores their lost dignity. Here though once despised they are loved and given full rights. Our com­munity must endorse the dignity of adoption. Our families must be the answer.

Sunday, February 19, 2012


We live in a season of history that has stripped humanity of its dignity. The previous century made rapid advances in science and technology, but instead of completely leaving the most destructive nature of humanity gave us holocaust and genocide. Both arose in a climate nurtured by prejudice and economic pov­erty. Religion was no help in the matter. The Jewish Holocaust happened in the Protestant Ref­ormation’s home of Germany. The Rwanda Genocide hap­pened in the Balokole home of Rwanda.

Seemingly smaller matters abound in our daily lives. Chil­dren are abandoned. Poverty is ever with us. Education does not do all we hope. A quick in­ternet search can rapidly show us how humanity’s dignity and beauty is distorted into ugly ex­ploitation. Science, technology, and religion have not had the influence we had hoped.

Economic theorists saw an answer in globalization. In his book The Lexus and the Olive Tree, Thomas L. Friedman ob­served that no two countries with a McDonald’s franchise had ever gone to war with one another. He noted that when a country has developed a middle class strong enough to support a McDonald’s network, it will not be interested in fighting wars anymore. However, practically the theory failed as the USA in­vaded Panama, NATO bombed Serbia, and India and Pakistan tangled over the Kashmir bor­der. (

Maybe, our theories need to have some room to wiggle un­der timeless principles? Maybe, even religion in seeking to be contemporary missed the time­less?

One of humanity’s most time­less books is Genesis. We may have different interpretations of its author and authority. How­ever, its first words resonate with timeless truth. During the season of history that Genesis was written slavery abounded and child sacrifice was part of religion. Simple Hebrew herds­men concluded instead that all men were created with the im­age of God and their work was a source of great dignity. The ultimate value of humanity was life. Life was expressed and nur­tured through the institutions of family and labor (Genesis 1:27-31).

Thousands of years later these Hebrews became the nation of Judah. They were taken into ex­ile for three generations. When they returned to their home land they built institutions. The first task was to build a wall to maintain security and a temple to nurture their spirits (Ezra and Nehemiah.)

Those old Hebrews got it right. Life is what matters. Re­ligion can be a waste of breath. Yet, life is so fleeting that we dare not put all our hope in this world. Thus because of our love for life and human dignity we must build institutions. The key ones keep us safe, nurture our hope, provide for our liveli­hood, and prepare our children for the future. No earthly insti­tution can provide eternal secu­rity, but if we love our children we will build institutions so hu­man dignity remains for genera­tions.

We need a few visionary lead­ers to make this process happen who can relinquish power at the appropriate time. My friend, Andrew Mwenda once told me over lunch, “Leaders make things happen. Institutions make them last.”

Yet for some institution build­ing is offensive. One strand that finds offense in institution building is the NGO / AID com­munity. “Projects” are the pre­ferred mantra to this crowd. In this genre what you need is a clear goal, budget, and time line. The project only happens if the grant writer succeeds in getting the funding. Nothing is started without an exit plan. As my dad built roads we called this mentality, “side jobs.” At the end of the day if there was some spare tarmac near a busi­ness that needed their parking lot paved we did a quick job to dump our tarmac and put a lit­tle money in our pocket before the weekend. We quickly moved on. We intended for our roads to endure and later drove on them with pride. However, we never thought twice about the “side job” parking lot. Project mental­ities produce short term results and reasoning.

Institutions require long term vision. The good institutions never make an exit plan. They call an exit plan “bankruptcy” which is an unacceptable out­come. A church intends to func­tion until the Lord returns. A school intends to function as long as there are children. Me­dia houses intend to operate as long as people create news and communicate. Businesses intend to operate as long as commerce continues. Governments intend to continue as long as people need leadership. These institu­tions can be messy and disor­derly. Thus when it gets rough their leaders don’t exit. Instead, good institutional leaders be­come creators.

Then as time passes good lead­ers relinquish authority to good institutions that use authority to nurture generations. Dignity is built by institution building. Re­linquishment teaches that there is always another. We can be re­placed. Dignity lives in a new generation of leaders.

The second strand of those of­fended by institutions typically are evangelicals from western nations. They repeat the his­torical failures of institutions, but neglect complexity. They may even literally consider the institutions of humanity to be demonic as they retreat into a view of the heavenly that is no earthly good. Like their secular NGO / AID counter parts they focus on short term projects. They are emotionally moved by sights of poverty and distress. They create marketing images of destitution. The answer to the lack of human dignity usually is a retreat into devotion without enduring labor. They frequently live in an imaginary world fan­tasizing about a future utopia brought on by masses of the de­voted. Most will never stay en­gaged long enough to see that life is more complex.

The few that do stay engaged long enough to see outcomes will return to old documents like Genesis, Ezra, and Nehe­miah and become institution builders. Institution building combined with faith has been one of history’s most enduring combinations. The old Hebrews did it. Religious reformers did it. Those who value human dig­nity today do it.

Yes, we live in a season where humanity has been stripped of dignity. The easy answers have not worked. Yet, the timeless en­dures. Life on this earth is fleet­ing. We cannot experience all here. Yet, if we love our children and intend to bless future gener­ations we will build institutions. Human dignity requires it.

Saturday, February 11, 2012


Dear Family and Friends,

Thank you for the support and encouragement you offered us during the Christmas season as we struggled through Gabriel having seizures. His seizures have reduced from approximately 3 per day to now only a few in the last month. We are very thankful.

We are entering a season of great transitions. Through such seasons it is best to remember the faithfulness of God. This month we ask your prayers in the following matters:

1. On Thursday, 9 February we turned in all the documents we understand are needed for Rwanda’s Child Commission to declare Mugisha Gabriel adoptable. We ask that this process will be will be rapidly completed and Gabriel will be matched with a family who can nurture him to thrive.

2. Last year, Dave begged God for Sophia to be admitted to Wheaton College. After her admission we did not know how we would pay the tuition. Friends in Rwanda and the United States arose to the challenge and her first semester was paid. As she left Rwanda from her Christmas holidays we still did not know how her second semester of tuition would be paid. A few weeks ago, Sophia was given a grant that has paid all except a few hundred dollars of her spring tuition. We are very thankful.

3. Our family will be returning to the United States in June sensing God has called us to mature ROC as a missionary sending organization. Please pray for this transition
. Our hearts are much like how we perceive Paul must have felt as he left a local church to move to a new location. We are pouring our lives into people while entrusting their future to the Lord. This season requires for us to give up our sense of home and community to answer a new call. May God be glorified in this transition.

Thank you for your prayers, support, and encouragement that empower our family and ministry.

Imana ikurinde (May God Stay with All of You),

Dave and Jana

P.S. To read more stories of our transition see our recent blogs at

Friday, February 10, 2012


A few weeks ago, I was at King Faysal Hospital in Kigali with Mugisha Gabriel getting immunizations. We waited a bit of time and I fed him a bottle of baby formula. When the feeding was done I began to burp Mugisha as an American. I firmly and affectionately patted his back in rhythm. Before the burp came up a Rwandan mother noticed my poor child care techniques and quickly offered her correction. A baby is best burped by a firm rhythmic back massage. Firm pats such as mine are close to abuse.

All humanity expresses affection. We’re made in God’s image and feel compassion for one another. We touch. Our touches heal, nurture, and help babies burp. These gestures of affection are irreplaceable.

Babies in Rwanda burp to massages. Babies in America burp to pats. Humanity thrives with gestures of affection.

During our Uganda years we were fortunate to find a good pediatrician, Dr. Mary Mpalampa. She was a healer of bodies, minds, and spirits. Her very presence made us well. Our children thrived under her care. When our children had their first immunizations with Dr. Mpalampa she rapidly placed her hands on the location of the injection and firmly pressed down. Our kids screamed. She was convinced her hand’s pressure would prevent swelling and our children would more rapidly heal from the injection.

Dr. Mpalampa’s hands were used different than our American doctors, but she kept us healthier than any doctor we’ve ever known. Humanity thrives with these gestures of affection.

Early on in our Uganda years we tried to do everything ourselves. An older Navigator missionary, Jeff and Carla Steinke put us under their wings for a few months. They pointed out that in a developing world one can hire people to do household tasks for low costs. For instance, a Ugandan cook’s monthly salary is only the cost of eating out once per week. If a household cook prevented us from eating out the cook's salary was actually a budget saver. By hiring good household staff our lives are more focused on ministry and family, and less on butchering chickens. Also, by making good hires we create an economic means to pull a few families out of destitute poverty. Thus our home since the early days has always been filled with people. We look like an Old Testament household with a large family, many frequent guests, and staff. It is an expression of the gestures of affection in which humanity thrives.

Some of our CCR members, Marguerite Nyagahura and Rose Apolinary noticed that we were hardly sleeping during our first months with Mugisha. He needed to be fed about every two hours to recover from his pre-mature birth. As a child Rose was in a refugee camp with a friend, Susana Batamuliza. Rose did economically well in life while Susana remained part of Africa’s working class. Susana however is a skilled mom and grandmother. Rose and Marguerite suggested we hire Susana to care for Gabriel through the night. We pay her $200 per month. She is now one of his grandmothers. We all smile when she comes in for the evenings to watch Gabriel.

Susana on occasion gives Mugisha his medicine to prevent seizures. When she gives him his medicine she lifts his left arm. It is a Rwandan gesture of affection. We’ve never done it this way in America. Yet when Gabriel’s arm is lifted he takes medicine better. He now lifts his arm on his own when his medicine is given.
Humanity thrives with these gestures of affection. They change from culture to culture. At times one’s culture sees another as “odd,” but when you receive the gesture with an open heart it has a way of nurturing our body and spirit.

One of the Lord’s promises for those who are called to leave family and friends is that we shall receive many more friendships in this life and the one to come than we left behind (Mark 10:28-30). As we close our season in Africa’s Great Lakes Region we have been very blessed by many friends and experiences. Their affection to our children is irreplaceable. We are blessed.


Many of us spent years in Uganda, our brother to the east. Parties, laughter, debate, and flamboyance mark the joys our eastern brother. Yet another marker of our eastern brother is the roads. In fact, roads are usually the first item of conversation our eastern brothers raise when they visit Kiga­li. Something is horribly wrong with Kampala. It is the roads. Something is right with Kigali. It is the roads.

Metaphors are dangerous com­munication devices. They turn the profound and complex into a simple symbol. Yet they resonate. The trag­edies of our Great Lake’s history can be obviously seen in our roads.

Two weeks ago, I compared Nairo­bi’s roads to Kigali’s and concluded the fatal flaw of Nairobi’s roads was poor colonial vision. Nairobi would have been a perfect city with perfect roads if only Nairobi had remained a city of no more than 250,000 making the life of British administrators com­fortable. Nairobi refused to be con­tained by such a short-sighted vision.

A journey to Kampala easily sees the same problem. The best tradi­tional neighborhoods of Kololo and Nakasero would have been perfect if not for Uganda’s Independence. Yet, I propose another reason that Kam­pala’s roads are so disastrous – Far too few fathers play with their chil­dren in sandboxes.

My earliest childhood memories are of my mom and me following my dad’s labor. He was a road build­er. The profession literally required, “Life on the road.” When we would enter a new city mom sought a park where we could play. Thus my first habit in a new town is always ask­ing, “Where can my children play?” When we moved to Kigali we found the Kimihurura roundabout by the Prime Minister’s Office, and knew we were at home. As I became school age, dad continued to travel while mom kept me in school. My second question in a new town is “Where will my children go to school?” Thus I’m a fervent believer in education.

During down time my dad had a sandbox for us. Into the sand came a few toy replicas of the construc­tion equipment my father mastered – trucks, dozers, and graders. We played together and my father taught me the basics of civil engineering. Enduring roads require drainage. You must have a good ditch. If not, water will rapidly erode the roads.

During the winter construction stopped. However, for there to be work in the summer my dad submit­ted bids to tendering boards. When there were school breaks I went with him to the reading of bids. We had breakfast before the bids were opened with old friends of his who worked for other construction com­panies.

As my brothers and I were in school dad was away and only home on the weekends. He labored hard and sometimes work was frustrat­ing. Mom heard his frustrations on the difficult weeks. Once I overheard him say, “I don’t care whether a man is black, white, purple, or polka dot. I want to work with men who tell the truth.” I noticed he no longer consid­ered his old friends to be his friends.

A few years later I overheard a ru­mor. My dad’s old friends had been caught in a bid rigging scheme. The scheme involved brief case construc­tion companies that manipulated racial quotas. My dad’s old friends went to prison.

During my secondary years my dad came to every football and bas­ketball game I played. Whenever he was not working he gathered my brothers and me for excursions in the lakes and forests of our home village. My dad’s old friends were in prison. He didn’t know that I knew.

He visited me once while we lived in Uganda. He never could under­stand Uganda’s roads. They were of­fensive to everything my dad consid­ered right, good, and true. They were full of potholes, no drainage, nothing straight, and worst of all abundant evidence of poor workmanship and “eaten” resources. His mind never stopped trying to find a way to fix Uganda’s roads. Finally, he came to a conclusion, “Start over.” Tear up ev­ery road, relay the foundation, install drainage, then put on a good thick layer of tarmac. Only in a complete start over was there hope.

A few years ago, I was at my par­ent’s retirement home in the village. We had a quiet morning’s breakfast. I started asking questions about my dad’s labor and childhood memo­ries. He did not know I knew his old friends had gone to prison for bid rigging. Children learn things from their parents without them knowing.

I know why Uganda’s roads are such a disaster. No sandboxes. Little boys are not playing with their fa­thers who model to them the satisfac­tion of an honest day’s labor. In those sandboxes come pragmatic lessons. Drainage is essential for a good road. Also, in those sandboxes are more philosophic lessons taught. Truth is more important than profit. Honor is more important than relationship. Not every action of truth and honor is immediately rewarded. Yet, over time truth and honor build enduring infrastructure and institutions.

I studied theology in university. I built roads with my dad to pay for my tuition. I’m not a civil engineer, but I know the basics of road build­ing with honor.

I like engineering students in Kiga­li. I lecture for many reasons. One is my dad played with me in a sandbox between building enduring roads. I hope my students have similar peo­ple in their lives.

Something is horribly wrong with Kampala. It is the roads. Something is right with Kigali. It is the roads. We thank God for older generations who taught us to play, study, and labor with truth and honor.


The paintings of Jesus portray comforting images – a shep­herd, a healer of children, and a suffering servant. There is one painting we rarely see – Jesus kick­ing over tables with a whip in hand while he drives from the Temple livestock and merchants. In our con­temporary world we can imagine Je­sus as we listen to one preach before thousands, see a doctor heal the sick, and watch a leader suffer for his people. Yet, where in our contempo­rary world do we find it acceptable for fundi to kick over tables with his gum boots and to continue the con­versation with a stick in hand?

The skeptics of religion find many failings of the people of faith. How­ever, one jumps out over and over again. It is the failure to feel and express outrage at the appropri­ate time. Our outrage comes in two unacceptable extremes. The first is the destructive outrage of offended pride. Someone has slighted us and we express our frustrations. Many times our perceived slights are just that – perceived and not reality. Oth­er times there is a historic wound or just contemporary banter that has some measure of justification. Yet, our human tendency is to take a slight, nurture our wound into rage, and then either overtly or through passive/aggressive behavior seek to destroy another.

The second unacceptable extreme is to be so dulled by religion as a sedative that outrage is never felt. Nothing offends. Nothing is nur­tured, hoped for, and protected. The quaint pictures of Jesus as a shep­herd dull one’s sensibilities. Some­how, the contemporary images of a herdsman’s earthiness are too much to behold. A herdsman carrying both medicine and a weapon is too much for those whose sensibilities are dulled by the narcotic of religion.

Into the world of contemporary religion in Palestine came Jesus of Nazareth. Nothing would remain the same. Most of his time was spent in the villages, but he several times made trips to the capital. On one such occasion, at first the crowds cheered for him while not under­standing the nature of His kingdom. The praise of the children in the crowd was too much for religious profiteers.

They had a thriving business. The temple had various courts. The outer one was for those who did not share Jewish ethnicity. An ethnic minori­ty’s concerns are easy to override for personal profit. The religious lead­ers set up their own personal dukas in the Gentile Court. They took over the area designated for the ethnic minority and made a handsome per­sonal profit doing it. The scale of the commerce defies the imagination. One scholar estimated that 3,000 sheep were traded in a day.

The Old Testament communica­tors who were gifted with profound moral insight and exceptional pow­ers of expression had proclaimed over and over again that the temple was to be a gathering point for all people. Ethnic discrimination for personal profit in the name of reli­gion was repulsive to them. Howev­er, their voice had not been heard in hundreds of years.

Enter Jesus of Nazareth. The gum boots are put on. His strong legs kick over tables. He picks up a stick and drives out the livestock. His bold­ness and audacity strike fear in the marketers and they flee.

Where today do we find a Jesus follower with gum boots on kicking over tables and carrying on the con­versation with a stick in hand?

Yesterday, Leon Mugesera arrived in Kigali to face charges of making a speech in 1992 that incited the geno­cide.

Why in 1992 did no follower of Jesus have the courage to offend authorities with outrage that any mere man could compare others to cockroaches and scum? All men are made in God’s image and worthy of infinite dignity.

I suspect the answer to my ques­tion starts in much more subtle ways as we try to negotiate away outrage.

I remember reading an article in a newspaper in Uganda in 1993 comparing Rwanda women’s geni­tals to their noses. I was too cow­ardly to write a letter of outrage to an editor. Outrage can be costly as it means we may alienate our most trusted friends and family. My blog, column, Facebook, and twitter hab­its today partially reflect repentance for a lack of appropriate outrage in the past.

Approximately a year ago, a few friends of mine with whom I share a common nationality, faith, and passion for building Rwanda’s edu­cational network were in gum boot and stick mood. They had been for­tunate enough to have friends at universities in the USA willing to give Rwanda’s brightest students scholarships. In many ways with a cooperative university and a coop­erative MINEDUC it was just a de­lightful journey of helping friends talk to one another. Then came the gum boot moments – attending a university in the USA requires a visa, the visa requires an on line ap­plication, and that is followed by an interview. For the sophisticated ur­ban Kigali youthful Facebook addict it is an almost painless process. For the bright Rwandan student from the village it is a nightmare. My friends concluded that the internet system was designed to frustrate and the interviewer was simply rude and disrespectful. My friends wrote a few letters and had some point­ed conversations. They lost friend­ships among their countryman, but rested in the favor of God. I believe they represented Jesus in gum boots with a stick in hand. I’m thankful for friends willing to take the risks of Je­sus like outrage.

Saturday, February 4, 2012


For the last few weeks, I’ve been hearing a phrase, “We need you, mzee.” This Sunday, we’ll have a treat. Jana’s dad, Mzee Gaston Tarbet will preach for us at CCR. I hope you can attend.

I have been fortunate to have many bzee in my life that have permitted me to follow them around, listen, and ask questions. Most of what ever wisdom or skills I have are just something I learned from following someone a little more seasoned than I.

One skill that many remark that I possess is the ability to make friends rapidly and navigate through thought leader’s offices. Fortunately, when I was a younger missionary I had a master to follow; Jana’s dad, Gaston Tarbet. He always dressed well, carried a business card, put his requests in writing, and sought to shepherd people first. People were always seen as made in God’s image and worthy of infinite dignity. I learned a tremendous amount by the time I spent with him.

Maybe the most startling thing was prayerfulness. Gaston always asked people what was going on in their lives. Then if there was something prayer worthy he’d ask to say a prayer, and pray immediately. I can’t ever remember him saying, “That will go on my prayer list,” or “I’ll pray about that.” Instead he prayed for people immediately. It is a tremendously good habit to not speak about prayer, but to humbly pray immediately.

I trust those of you who come to CCR this Sunday will hear a masterful sermon.