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I have now been out of Rwanda for four months. I don’t need to be tempered, moderate, nor politically correct. This season will likely be short. It is a season of prayer with the opportunity to be prophetically candid.
The twitter banter about Rwanda is almost a daily event. About every two weeks some new expert weighs in. It seems now is a season for me to speak. What do I think of contemporary Rwanda? Let me tell a story.
During my last few days in Rwanda I had dinner with a member of the foreign diplomatic corp. Both of us loved Rwanda dearly. Both of us were nearing the end of our posting. What did we think? My friend used a phrase that resonated deeply. He said, “Rwanda is a nation with 1,000 narratives. You can assemble many narratives. All can be true. Many are contradictory. Then you can draw the conclusion you want.”
If we live in the world of shadows and rumors contradictory narratives are abundant. Shadows are dangerous places and easy to manipulate. Few of us can accurately know what happens in the world of shadows. Yet, most of us get a moment where in our area of expertise light shines and we see full truth.
An area I have seen up close and personal is university education and scholarship programs. Allow me to construct two contradictory yet true narratives.
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I can document exceptional Rwandan university students. Some come from privileged backgrounds yet many come from the poorest village. They have succeeded under the most difficult of circumstances. They come to school tired from poor sleeping conditions, hungry from lack of food, study long hours, volunteer any place they are needed, create ideas beyond their youth, start new businesses, and inspire me at every turn. They refuse to see the world through the lens of race and ethnicity. Words such as scholar and entrepreneur are fitting descriptions. This is a true narrative that I can document.
I can also document rampant plagiarism and forged attendance lists. I’ve caught students cheating on exams. I’ve failed many (or at least told them to start over.) When confronted I’ve been accused of prejudice due to race, ethnicity, heritage, and language preference. I’ve heard rumors frequently of sexual favors and bribery schemes to get high marks. A couple times I thought someone was trying to see what I’d trade for marks. In problems they will choose the easiest possible route without considering the ethical implications. Words such as conman and prostitute are fitting descriptions of some of these Rwandan students. This is a true narrative that I can largely document, but you would need to trust me on matters where I did not have a witness.
One thousand true narratives exist in Rwanda. The choice we face is which narratives are defining. In every area of life in Rwanda you can find contradictory narratives. Education, church, business, and government will all provide abundant contradictory narratives. We can label individuals charlatans or shepherds; crooks or businesspeople; and leaders or thugs.
Yet, I believe there are four defining narratives.
The first is Creation. (I’ll avoid debates on science and evolution, and confine my discussion to the nature of man.) We humans were created in the image of God. We are full of agaciro not because of a government policy, but because of God’s proclamation. We are all worthy of respect. We are intelligent, gifted, creative, and compassionate. We innately are born with a sense of justice, peace, and grace. We can overcome any difficulty and forgive any wrong. Dignity is our destiny.
The second defining narrative is the Fall. Our dignity was sacrificed by our own choice. We are totally depraved. We are full of lust, greed, jealousy, and hate. We destroy one another, ourselves, and creation. We have all done things that we keep hidden from others. Still, we are full of pride. We are ashamed at who we are, what we have done, and what our future deserves.
The only way I can make sense of the contradiction of Rwandan university students who I can both describe as entrepreneurial scholars on one hand; and prostitutes and conmen on the other is through the defining events of the Creation and the Fall. In fact, on any university (even Balokole ones) in North America and Europe I can find students with such contradictory narratives. The contradictory Rwandan narratives are just part of the broad human story of history. All humanity is full of both dignity and depravity.
The third defining narrative is the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. The only way to deal with our human depravity was for someone to be punished. In fact, the punishment for such grave offense had to be death. The UN and human rights watchers could not restore dignity without one being brutalized. Yet three days after Jesus’ brutal death, He overcame death. His body came back to life. He went to heaven to be with our Father, and sent His Holy Spirit to live in our hearts. Only when we accept how depraved we are, but hunger for dignity, put our hope in Jesus’ resurrection, and have the Spirit of God living in us can we become full of the full human dignity God intends.
Yet, we don’t live in Utopia. Followers of Jesus are still screw ups. We wrestle every day with our contradictory dignity and depravity.
Another day is coming that will make everything right. The fourth defining narrative is Jesus’ return. All will be judged. We’ll be found guilty as charged, but then be totally forgiven. All will be returned to God’s intent. All will be right at that day. There will be no sickness or death. We will be filled with love and peace.
But, what about today? We are still waiting for that final day. We have yet to experience the fourth defining narrative. Historians and pragmatists note that sometimes dignity overshadows depravity, and vice versa.
Maybe, the reason twitter is so busy debating Rwanda’s contemporary predicament is we live in a generational tipping point? Intuitively, we all seem to know the actions of today’s generations in Rwanda will resonate for many generations that follow. What will life be like for generations in Rwanda until Jesus returns? The answer lies in how the scales are tipped from depravity to dignity.
Two generations of Rwanda are essential. There is a group that a few jokingly call, “Mzee kijana.” We landed well. We may have excelled academically, worked hard, and gone through exceptional difficulties. Yet, we know in the deepest places of our hearts others could do a better job. We were able to lead because of grace. We’re younger than our peers in neighboring nations who carry such prestige. We’re in over our heads. We work long hours. The work never ends. The institution has to be stronger than our charisma. The temptation is to out of fear stake out our territory and defend it to the end.
Instead, the mzee kijana has two tasks. First, he must mentor. Second, he must relinquish. He must ask other to follow. He must teach and model everything he knows. He must correct with grace yet never leave a task undone. He can tolerate no ethical compromises. Then before it seems it is the appropriate time, he must relinquish. He cannot build a personal kingdom.
The twitter banter about Rwanda’s leaders until 2017 is just conjecture. In 2017 we will know the character of Rwanda and her leaders. Until then those of us labeled bzee must practice the paradoxical virtues of mentoring and relinquishing. Coming generations of Rwandans leave us no other choice. As bzee choose to embrace human dignity they mentor and relinquish.
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The second generation of essential Rwandans can now be found in schools throughout Rwanda, universities in other nations, and are just now beginning their professional career. Their task in the generational tipping point is to prepare themselves for leadership.
There will be several temptations they will face. For a fortunate few it is “spoiled brat syndrome.” Their parents have landed well and are quite busy. The spoiled brats squander their opportunities in academia by spending their evenings and weekends chasing the hottest party. On the opposite economic spectrum are the “woe is me” syndrome kids. Their parents have not economically landed well therefore the “woe is me” kids spend their time complaining and nurturing their “victim status.” If they land well enough to get a twitter account they spend their creative energy complaining instead of building. However, they share common pastimes with their peers on the other economic spectrum. Both overdose on self absorbed leisure that does not build their bodies, minds, or spirits. Both the “spoiled brat” and “woe is me” kids are incredibly dangerous for Rwanda’s future. They represent the triumph of human depravity.
However, the Rwanda youth who I choose to make my defining narrative pursue human dignity with all the passion of youth. They read everything they can find. They get the most of each academic experience. They come to class early and stay late to pick their professor’s brain. They master several languages. They make many friends. They give of themselves at Umuganda, church, and every other situation they can find that offers them an opportunity to serve their community. They work when they can find a job. If they can’t find a job they start creating ones. The really good ones take the role of mentor when they are still being mentored. They teach at schools on their vacation, tutor younger siblings and neighbors, and treat knowledge as a treasure to be shared. Their day to provide leadership is quickly coming. Their time is spent in preparation.
So what do I think of contemporary Rwanda? My diplomatic friend is right. There are 1,000 narratives. We choose the narrative that best fits our agenda. My agenda is the dignity of man was part of God’s intention from Creation. Our depravity at times triumphs. However, Jesus’ resurrection restores us to God’s intention of dignity. Now we’re at a generational tipping point. The commentaries and twitter banter is premature. The time now is for the bzee to mentor and relinquish. The time now for the youth is to prepare.
Let’s leave today’s judgment to God’s future.