Thursday, November 1, 2012


Dave and Sophia in 1993 at the Source of the Nile River in Uganda

                As our family prepared to leave Africa’s Great Lakes for the Great Lakes of North America many memories filled our minds.    Old values of our region resonated.    Two captured our attention.    Those two are dignity and generosity.     Yet, in a world where our human nature wrestles with her dark side contradictory values also raised their head.    The contradictory values are prejudice and opportunism.     My bzee (elders) called me to a better way.  Our dignity and generosity are not for sale.

                My first interactions with Rwanda happened in Uganda, the nation to Her east.    In those early days I heard “Rwandan” used as an adjective.   In the best use of “Rwandan” as an adjective it spoke of “Rwandan dignity,” and “Rwandan generosity.”    In my early months of learning Uganda I once traveled with my university friend, Charles Guma to spend the weekend with his family in the village.   His home village was in southwestern Uganda with a contingent of Rwandan refugees.   I’ll never forget watching an old Rwandan woman walk through the village with every eye following her movement.   Guma noticed me watching the old woman, and whispered, “She is a Rwandan refugee.”   Whatever her predicament she would never surrender her dignity.    Her approach to adversity made her unforgettable.

Lydia Bagira and her sons, Emmy and Joel
                My family’s naivety in our first months in Uganda met their match as we tried to clear our shipment through a corrupt Uganda Revenue Authority system.    Our possessions were held for months.    We were fortunate to hire a Rwandan refugee, Lydia Bagira as our housekeeper.   We had enough salary to pay her, but no dishes to cook or eat upon.    Our Rwandan refugee house keeper’s dishes became those we cooked and ate up.   Her generosity in the midst of adversity was unforgettable.   

                We marveled at Rwandan dignity and generosity. 

                Yet in certain situations humanity enters circumstances where our dignity meets opportunism, and our generosity is bombarded by prejudice.    Kigali yard sales seem to bring out our community’s demons and angels.    (For prior writing on Kigali Yard Sales as a tool to understanding see   Kigali is rapidly becoming the place to be for expatriates in Africa.   Rwanda has limited supply of goods.   Many of those goods are expensive.    An expatriate leaving sale brings out the desire to both bless the departed and loot his property.

Marguerite Nyagahura and Eron Asimwe Nsenga blessing our departure
                My family came to Rwanda as missionaries – trusting our sustenance to God while convinced we had been called to plant an English church with a good children’s program.   We left as missionaries – trusting our sustenance to God while convinced we had been called to serve Great Lakes Diaspora in the USA.   God has been exceedingly gracious to us.   We have the immense wealth He promised in friends and experience.   We also somehow found the resources to invest millions of dollars into Rwanda.   Yet, in the process we have no savings or guaranteed salary.     Thus our Kigali Life yard sale purpose was to gather the resources for a new start in the USA.   Our prices were as high as we could consider just and reasonable.   Also, we chose to sell almost everything.   With the sale all our lives were fully exposed to strangers.

                Thankfully, the vast majority of our possessions sold rapidly and for prices that we considered reasonable.   Most respected our dignity and came with a generous spirit.   Yet as our sale wound down we had some large unsold items and an increasing number of visitors who came seeking an opportunity.    They may have seen the color of our skin or the financial resources of our faith mission, and with prejudice concluded we were the wealthy from whom to steal.     These opportunists were not defined by ethnicity, race, or nationality.   They had been overcome by humanity’s demons.   In fact, the worst opportunists shared my skin color and some shared my passport’s origin.    To spend my final days in Rwanda haggling with opportunists would strip my family of our dignity.   

Ruth, Gabriel Mugisha Jacobs at CCR Christmas 2011 with Hixson girls
 We remembered Rwandans of old, and made a choice.    All that remained would be given away.   We would bless those people and institutions who had blessed us.   Our dignity and our generosity were not for sale.   We made a list.   We made a few phone calls to confirm our generosity would be accepted.   We loaded our former possessions.   We delivered to friends.    We thanked God for years in Africa’s Great Lakes that taught us such values.   We were no heroes, but we had known heroes.

                A few days after the delivery we spent our final Saturday packing our unsellable memories for an air shipment to Cyikago (Chicago), USA.   In the process we ran out of packing material.   We spent a few hours with a Rwandan friend trying to find more, but Kigali’s supply of good packing material was limited.   Exhausted we stared at one another.   Then we had a memory.   Many of us in Rwanda have come from abroad with shipments.   We sent phone texts (sms) to our fellow returnees asking if any had stored packing material.   Many wrote, “Yes.”  We asked them to bring it to Christ’s Church of Rwanda (CCR) during our final Sunday for packing.   Our Kigali community brought more packing material than we could use.   As we sought to return to the generous they just instructed CCR to keep it for the next sojourner.     We stood amazed.   In Rwanda our dignity and our generosity are not for sale.

No comments:

Post a Comment