Archive for December 2009

I’ll be Home For Christmas

December 23, 2009

I slept in my own bed last night, at the end of a long journey.  I had a wonderful time in Rotterdam and Kigali.  I was able to spend time with friends, make new friends, learn about amazing investments of human effort and time into the work of restoration and reconciliation and learned through patience and self reflection.

A quick summary of my learning, a) the diversity in God’s kingdom is something to be recognized and celebrated, b) waiting is a term that is over-used or mis-used in the West, c) basic Africa food is nutritious and tasty, d) worship is a commitment, an attitude, an investment and an opportunity for growth, e) laughter sounds great in any language, and f) there’s no place like home.

Diversity

The way I see it, our Creator God loves diversity.  From the intricate design of the myriad of microbes, to the varied hues of green of the forest canopy, the diverse songs and sounds of birds and the colors of human skin, it seems apparent that differences are part of the grand design and an aspect of life to be celebrated.  The achievements, styles, tastes and art of mankind indicates our own vast and diverse ways of living, loving, serving and celebrating.  My time on this recent trip to Rotterdam and Rwanda has been a wonderful opportunity for me to recognize the diversity of God’s creation and of human experience.  I am personally convinced that there is strength and beauty in diversity.  The diversity of human artistic and cultural expression is also an opportunity for learning and celebration.  I am learning to love and appreciate diversity myself.

Waiting

To wait: “To remain or rest in expectation”.  A basic difference in life that I noticed between Rwanda and the US is how time is categorized.  Rwandans spend a lot of time doing what Americans call “waiting”.  Typical days in Kigali involved waiting for people to show up for scheduled appointments, waiting for transportation, waiting for events to occur.  Although, it seems that Rwandans don’t consider this to be waiting as Americans do.  Several times while I was in Kigali, I had Rwandan friends apologize to me for being late to appointments.  At the same time I let them know that there was no problem, I also realized that they expected an American to be impatient with their being tardy.  I am unsure if Rwandans apologize to one another for being late.  One observation I had though, is that Rwandans didn’t seem to carry an impatient attitude nor did they seem to mind waiting.  Spending over seven hours in the Nairobi airport waiting for my plane was a challenging time for me, as I was expecting something else to happen (being on a plane).  So, could it be that sitting in an airport is any less of a life occurrence than sitting on a plane?  The very act of being, of sitting in a chair in an airport or on a plane is life, is it not?  How was I, who was I and what was I doing during these times?  Was I waiting for something else to happen, or to do, or was I living?

African food

I admit that I can’t real judge the nutrition value of the typical Rwandan diet.  Though, the several realistically typical Rwandan meals I had were quite a bit different than a typical American meal.  Fresh fruits and vegetables were in abundance.  Rice and beans were served.  Meat was on the menu, but in very small quantities.  There were no bread products.  The food was either baked, boiled or broiled.  The food was tasty and filling.  I lost several pounds during my three week trip.  My judgment is that the diet was pretty good.

Worship

I have come to recognize that worship as a concept and activity is rather broad.  At a point earlier in my life, I saw worship as singing or praying, or thinking about God with an attitude of awe or appreciation.  I believe that worship is actually the expression of my recognition of the character and commitment of God toward me and my willingness to put myself in a position to recognize and acknowledge God in my words and actions regardless of my location. That is, worship occurs in the heart and comes out in various ways.  The way worship comes out might be influenced by my surroundings, including my culture and my location and my daily activities.  I note that Friends in Rwanda during a church service worship in different ways than Friends in Newberg.  Yet, I am thinking that the condition of the heart is the same.

Laughter

Laughing and smiling and even crying seem to be acts of the heart that mean the same in any language.  In Kigali, I observed a man in deep sorrow at the Genocide Memorial.  As he wept, I experienced the same grief.  In a back street of Remera, a young child saw me, shouted, “Mazunga”, laughed, came over and gave me a hug.  I knew what he felt, I felt happy and blessed to get a hug, too.  Imanuelli and I returned to the car after visiting the church at Ntarama which had been the sight of a major massacre of Tutsi’s in 1994.  As we sat there, he told me, “now, we pray”.  He prayed in Kinyarwandan, and then I prayed in English.  Afterwords, I knew how he felt, as I felt blessed to be experiencing the horror of man’s inhumanity to man with another brother, with whom I could pray, even if I did not understand the words he used in his prayer.

Home

Dorothy said it best, “There’s no place like home”.  Yes, I was tired and a bit sick, and the journey was long.  Yet I was so pleased to be back home, to familiar routines, sounds and people.  The noise of children playing is comforting to me, as I know I am in a place that I can be tired, or a bit sick, and people will let me be.  We celebrated Ruth’s birthday and Abby’s birthday.  It is a blessing to have people to honor, to celebrate, to have fun with, and to love.  There is no place like home.

Slowing Down in Remera

December 20, 2009

I had a visit Friday morning with Augustin Simparinka. the General Superintendent and Legal Representative of the Rwanda Yearly Meeting. He was on his way out of town. I learned about the Evangelical Friends Church of Rwanda. Afterwords, David Thomas gave me a tour of the missionary kids’ school in the compound.  I discovered that the Friends Church in Rwanda is quite young, only dating back to the 1980s, with the pioneering work done by missionaries Willard and Doris Ferguson. I also learned about the Friends Peace House, an outreach program of the church here, to connect with others in this country who are committed to peace and reconciliation work.   If i get the opportunity to return to Kigali, I would like to visit the Peace House and learn more about the projects and activities that it has undertaken.

I also met Gary and Wendy Baxter, the parents of Aryn, the director of the Go Ed program here, and hostess at the house where I am staying.  Gary and Wendy are from Houghton College in New York.  I learned from them that Houghton is very active in sending students to international sites, both short term during a May term, and for longer, semester study abroad programs.

Saturday was umuganda, the monthly Saturday morning of community service that all Rwandans participate in.  All the shops and other businesses were closed until early afternoon.  People are organized by small neighborhood groups (about one hundred households) to do one morning of community service a month.  This is an old tradition in Rwanda and is mandatory.  I spent the day packing, reading, reflecting on my trip and my journey home.  I shared pictures of my family with Aidah and Imanuelli.

I pray that God will bless the people of this household and the other friends I have made here in Kigali.  I am grateful for them, their lives and their kindness extended to me.  My life is richer for the people I have met here.  My life is rich in relationships with fine people.  I think of my family, my church family and my colleagues and friends at home.  I look forward to getting back during Christmas week to celebrate and enjoy with them.

Horizon Express to Huye and Back

December 18, 2009

My friend, Mariette met me at the taxi stop just up the hill from the house at 7:30 on Thursday morning.  We were waiting for the bus to take us into the town center to catch the intercity bus to Huye.  Huye, formerly known as Butare, is about 130 km south of Kigali, near the border with Burundi.  After several minutes, Mariette became concerned that we would miss the bus, so she suggested we take the moto taxis instead.  I agreed, and at that point, I realized that I had not been on a motorcycle in about 17 years (since I was involved in a serious accident in Colorado, when I drove a trail bike into the side of a garage).  Mariette located several experienced drivers, and I climbed aboard the back of the moto, and away we went.  I was given a helmet to wear and no further instructions or security.  I hung on to the bike and was a bit nervous, but my driver was quite good and it was a smooth, ten minute ride to the bus center.

The bus center was jam packed with people, cars, motos and buses.  We purchased tickets at the Horizon terminal and boarded the express to Huye.  This bus was quite nice.  The seats were large and comfortable.  The two hour trip cost us about four dollars a piece.  We went through the crossroads town of Gitarama, to the west of Kigali, and then turned south.  The only drawback on this trip was the very loud rap music that the driver had playing in the bus.  I could barely carry on a conversation with Mariette, but did learn about her time at the National University and her family.  Mariette was serving as my official guide and translator for this trip.

We got off the bus at the National Museum of Rwanda.  I spent several hours there.  It was a good museum, featuring the culture of Rwanda, some history, and a little of the natural history of this land.  One highlight for me was going inside a traditional thatched home and seeing how people lived in times past here.  I learned that milk was very important to the people, as was banana beer.  There was a good display on beer making.  Another display featured how homes had a special counter in their living area reserved for containers of milk.  These might have been wood or clay pots.  The milk was kept there to be served to honored guests.   Beer was often kept and transported in calabashes, big gourd-like containers.

We left the museum and rode motos to the National University.  The 5 km ride cost me about $1.oo. We toured the University, but I was unable to meet any lecturers or administrators as the University was closed for the holidays.  Mariette was an able guide, though, and I got to see academic buildings, athletic courts, student housing and faculty offices.  I took a number of pictures on this trip.  You can view them here. We stopped to have a Fanta at the pub on campus.  There was a basketball camp going on, so there were a lot of tall fellows eating lunch while we sat in the garden and had our drinks.  Francine, Mariette’s elder sister, joined us.  Mariette was raised in this town, and her mother and sister still live here.

We visited the public relations office of the University, the only office that we found opne and occupied at this time. I was presented with a brochure and some pens as mementos of my visit.  Mariette called a friend and he sent a friend of his to pick us up and transport us around town.  From the University, we went to the Hotel Credo and had lunch.  The special of the day was rabbit, so I took it, and it was served with rice, potatoes, eggplant and salad.  It was a very good and very full meal.  Our next stop was Mariette’s family home.  Mariette’s mother, Adelle, was a single mom who raised four children, and several additional orphans after the genocide.  The family home was quite modest.  Upon entering the house, I was greeted with a hug, and I was able to offer up a “Bonjour, Madame” to Adelle.  She spoke no English, so Mariette did all the translating work for us.  We talked about our families and our faith. 

Mariette told me that her mother had milk for us.  I turned behind me, and there on a counter behind my chair was a pitcher of room temperature milk, with the cream on top.  I graciously accepted and drank a cup.  I thanked Adelle for her hospitality.  This, I learned, was a high honor and I took it as such.

John from the DRC

December 17, 2009

I had dinner with another guest at the house tonight. John works for an international NGO in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). He confirmed all that I had learned about the Eastern Region (Kivu area) of the DRC by reading  news reports, as well as John LeCarre’s Mission Song earlier this summer.  It is a dangerous region and there is much violence, corruption, poverty and suffering.  Out of their headquarters in Bukavu, on the south side of Lake Kivu, His group works to provide various types of basic needs assistance for the residents in the area.  As John told me tales of life in the DRC, he laughed often, although many of the stories were not laughing matters.

Kinshasa, the capital of the DRC, is in the far west of the country and therefore, the eastern region is not connected by road nor by much of anything else.  Police officers and soldiers are not paid in the Kivu area, and therefore earn their livelihood by taking what they need from the citizenry. Commercial airflights are the best means of moving in and to the country, yet the flights are often cancelled, late, or have mechanical issues.  In some parts of the country roads are so messed up, they are not usable.

John has a strong faith and a desire to see his country turned around.  He is making a difference in the lives of the people he works with.  I am pleased to have met him.

Hell in Nyamata and Ntarama

December 16, 2009

Imanuelli took me for a drive today, and we ended up about 30 km south of Kigali.  Hell on earth would be a quite appropriate way in which to describe what I learned of today.  Google NyamataGoogle Ntarama. Be prepared.  I still feel fairly sad and tired after our visits.  We went to Ntarama first.  This little country church was about 5 km off the main road.  As we left the mian road, we stopped to ask directions and an older fellow told us how to get to the memorial.  He asked for a lift and I was the one that had to grant the request.  Of course, I agreed and he got out when we arrived at the site. It was raining as we arrived.  A young women came out of the Ntarama Sector Government office across the road.  She was there to guide us.  I was stunned. If you want to see my pictures, go here.  Think on it, a million people murdered in about 100 days in Rwanda in 1994.  And at Ntarma, about 5,000 folks, mostly women and children took refuge in the local Catholic church.  They were all killed by soldiers, militia men and local folk.  This scene was repeated all over the country, in churches and other public places, where Tutsi people were encouraged to go for protection.  Leading up to the genocide, all Rwandan citizens were required to carry identity cards, indicating their ethnic group. At that time, Hutu made up about 87 percent of the population, Tutsi about 12 percent,  and Twa, the final 1 percent. Rwandans whose cards indicated Tutsi were killed at road blocks around the country during the genocide.  Think about having your ethnicity identified on your driver’s license…

I lingered as long as I could at this sad place.  When We got back in the car, Imanueli asked me if we could wait, to pray.  I said of course.  He began to pray aloud in Kinyarwandan, and my only recongition of his words was “Jesus”.  He was visibly touched, saddened.  I then prayed aloud and at the conclusion of our prayers, I felt a common bond with this man, who has three orphans living in his home as part of his family.  These were street kids, with no family or home after the genocide.

We continued on to Nyamata.  The town was much more built up.  We found the memorial by asking directions of a pedestrian.  This memorial is also a former Catholic church.  A similar story is told here, though 10,000 took refuge in this church comp0und, all killed, mostly by being hacked to death with machetes.

Skulls and bones are on display, as were identity cards and personal effects.  All the benches in the church building were piked with clothing, blood stained, torn and faded.  I was so sad walking around here.  I was greeted by a woman who spoke a little English and she showed us around.  In both places, I was asked to sign a guest book and to make a donation.

We drove back in silence, though at several points, Imanuelli tried to share some of the region’s history with me in very poor English.  He also gave me a Kinyarwandan lesson.  A pretty river valley seperated the Kigali area from the Eastern Province that we entered.  Bugusere District is where the two sites are located.  Satan had been at work, Imanuelli told me.  Now Jesus was at work.  He told me, “You love Rwanda, you pray for Rwanda”.  I said yes I did and yes I would.

Kigali Friends: Big F, Little F

December 16, 2009

Friends come in many varieties and I was blessed by visits with a number of them on Tuesday. On this day, our neighborhood was flooded with people. The national stadium was the site of a graduation rally for seniors finishing secondary school. I could hear shouting much of the day coming from the stadium. When I walked to the store in the early afternoon, I was amazed at the massive numbers of buses moving back and forth. A police officer was directing traffic at the intersection leading to the stadium. And, everywhere I looked, there were young people in white tee shirts walking, marching, riding in buses, laughing, singing and generally having a good time. On the back of the tee shirt was the message, “Youth are the strength of our nation” (or something similar to that).

Brad and Chelsea Carpenter, along with Drew Miller and John Kaye, were one half hour late in coming to visit me due to all the traffic. We came back to the house and talked for about 45 minutes.  Brad and Chelsea shared of their work as Friends missionaries here.  We talked about Rwandan culture and Brad shared what knowledge he had gained from his extensive research on the culture and traditional values of the Rwandan people.

John and Drew are here from Oregon for one year to teach English.  They had just returned from a Quaker Youth Event in Kenya.  They mentioned young friends from the Netherlands and that gave me opportunity to relate my visit to the Amsterdam meeting in 2008.  They spoke about their experiences as teachers working with primary aged children and their impressions of Rwanda.  John and Drew may have something for me to take back to Newberg.

This set of Friends left me and so I walked to the stadium to meet Vianney Nyamutera, the President of the Le Rapid Cycling Club.  We went to a local pub called The Bananna, which i doubt very many westerners visit.  It was quiet, as I learned it was far too early in the day (4:00 pm) for people to be gathering.  There I met Roland, a friend of Vianney.  Roland had been a friend of his parents and Vianney had been close to him for many years.  Roland spoke very little English.  He was quite welcoming to me, bought me a beer, and some meat on a stick.  I got to sample goat meat, which was quite good and beef intestines, also good.  These bits of meat were hot off the fire, quite tasty, and when I added the local pepper sauce (peri peri) it was a delightful appetizer.

After our visit, Vianney took us to the stadium, where we met his riders.  About 25 young people gathered.  There were about 8 bicycles total.  A few of the riders had the club uniform on and a few also had riding clothes.  Vianney introduced me, asked me to say a little speech, which I did, and then I took a number of pictures of the riders.  You can see some here.

After my visit with Vianney and his riding club, I met Mariette Utamuvuna, one of the people working with the Umuseke Association.  We took a taxi to the Papyrus Restaurant, which is in a fairly upscale neighborhood.  Maritte told me that a number of the government ministers live in this area.  I had grilled Tilapia and Mariette spoke with me about her family and her faith.  We had a good visit and made plans for a trip to Butare on Thursday.  She also presented me with a card and gift from Umuseke, to honor me for my visit to their office and to thank me for my interest in their work.  The gift was a wooden commemorative plate of Rwanda to hang in my office.

At the end of the evening, after I returned back to the house, I saw Aryn, who had been in Uganda for over a week visiting with her students as they prepared to return to the States.  All in all a good day with friends.

Cascading Rivers of Light

December 15, 2009

So, my very dear friends, don’t get thrown off course. Every desirable and beneficial gift comes out of heaven. The gifts are rivers of light cascading down from the Father of Light. There is nothing deceitful in God, nothing two-faced, nothing fickle. He brought us to life using the true Word, showing us off as the crown of all his creatures. (Epistle of James, Chapter 1:16-18. The Message)

I did a reading this morning of James Chapter One, in both the New International and Message versions.  This letter, written by the leader of the Church in Jerusalem which emerged after the death and resurrection of Jesus, has been quite instructive to me over the years.  I returned to it this morning, in search of encouragement and instruction.  James, on the whole, encourages action in the life of  the Christ follower.  He makes it clear that the words of a person are not enough to identify and characterize his faith, but that her actions, in particular in regard to serving the needs of others, and in personal morality reveal more clearly the person’s religion.

What struck me, today, and actually has brought encouragement is the view of God as the Father of Light.  Cascading out of this source are good and beneficial gifts, which are characterized in the Message as Rivers of Light.  Oh, to have eyes to see these rivers in all their glory; flowing, jumping, sparkling, glowing, advancing through life.  These streams of light are gifts meant for my good, and made apparent in my patient waiting during times of need and uncertainty.

Earlier in this chapter, the writer states, “Consider it a sheer gift, friends, when tests and challenges come at you from all sides. You know that under pressure, your faith-life is forced into the open and shows its true colors. So don’t try to get out of anything prematurely.”  Is it somehow true, though not always apparent, then, that the various difficulties and trials that I find myself in on a daily basis are the gifts?  I would say, upon my reflection on these words, that it is true indeed that my inner life is revealed in times of test.  And I am thankful that I am still able to learn and grow, and so, there is still hope that I will continue to mature as the deficiencies of my inner life are revealed, as well as my assets.

I can speak of no one else, or for no one else.  Yet, for myself, I can point out that tests at times and in some situations reveal the following; impatience, anger, doubt, and fear.  At other times and in other circumstances, tests reveal joy, peace, hope, trust and courage.  If I looked at these contrasting times and situations with a view toward self assessment and using James 1 as a guide, could it be that the situations that come that reveal the undesirable resp0nses are the very ones that I should receive as gifts?  If I am reading this chapter right, it seems that the gifts are intended for my benefit as they cause me to recognize additional aspects of my self that are not yet given up to God’s purposes in my life.

So, then there is something familiar about this for educators. Isn’t this about a cycle of test, reaction, observation, assessment, adjustment and continuation?  It is interesting to me how similar this cycle is to what we would use in helping learners gain mastery in our content area.  And there is a similarity with the cycle by which teachers learn about their own instruction in order to improve it.

Perhaps this whole notion of difficulty as a necessary means of growth is something to be celebrated, yes?  And if that is so, maybe we should not think of these cascading rivers of light as gentle streams which bathe us in a warm, comfortable glow.  Rather, we might see them as torrential currents, throwing off violent sparks and flashes, brilliant colors of every hue to startle us, shake us, stimulate us, expose us and carry us further away from our current point and ultimately toward our reunion with our source, the Father of Light.