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It started as an idea one year ago when I was wandering through the loud and colorful market stalls in Musanze. So many patterns and bright fabrics, yet I had no idea what to do with all of them. Remembering the yards of fabric still at home from my first journey here, I decided these fabrics must have a purpose. Thus came my idea to make a quilt – to turn these long neglected yards of cloth into something beautiful. I have been babysitting my sister’s sewing machine since she left for Germany four years ago and it has been ignored for the most part, just like the colorful fabrics. When I returned from Rwanda, the new fabrics joined the old and the sewing machine remained untouched.

Life got busy immediately, things at PATH picked up, there were rumblings of a tour for the band and Kristi got married. In January I left PATH and decided to pursue music wholeheartedly and return to work at my favorite place in the world, Nielsen’s Pastries. The fabrics remained in their hiding place until I returned home from the Friends and Family tour and I was soon told that the band would be breaking up. There was a lot of heartache and pain in this news, but mostly an overwhelming feeling of failure. Failure to accomplish all I’d wanted and failure in my fear to start something new. That day when I saw the colorful fabrics poking out from their basket, I knew it was time to begin.

In part, it was the words of a Rilke poem that inspired me: She who reconciles the ill-matched threads of her life and weaves them gratefully into a single cloth. I think this is a poem I shared with you years ago after meeting widows in Rwanda spinning wool into yarn. I learned something from those women and I never forgot it: It’s never too late to start fresh and the pain in your life is no reason to neglect the beauty that could be in your future, so long as you give it the time and space it needs to grow. It was time to make a goal and follow through from start to finish. It was time to try something new. It was time to find beauty.

The whole process has been very therapeutic for me and has certainly instilled a confidence that wasn’t there before. With each strip sewn together and then each square and then each strip of squares and so on and so forth, I was reminded that creating art, just like living life, is a process. Easy days and hard days. Old lessons coming to the surface and new ones being learned everyday. It felt so good in each step of the process to see the work that had been done each day. A very tangible thing to hold onto when life feels, for the most part, out of my control.

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Now I am nearing the end, but it will still be quite some time due to the strong opinion of a well respected friend. I told her I was going to back it with dark brown fabric and tie the squares together with embroidery thread…that I was almost done! She begged me not to do either of those things and to give the back  of thequilt a life of its own. A colorful back and a hand quilted touch were really what this quilt needed. Sure enough, I bought a beautiful backing fabric and I am learning how to hand quilt. Of course she was right: the quilt is absolutely stunning and something I will surely treasure for the rest of my life.

The lessons continued that day as I remembered that it is often so tempting to take the quick and easy path, but it is often the long and tedious roads that offer a much greater reward in the end. I will forever be reminded of many life experiences thanks to this quilt. When the bright colors meet my eye, I am transported to many fond days in my second home, Rwanda. As I look at each seem and patch tediously sewn together, I will remember my final days with the band I have fallen in love with. Best of all, there will be the constant reminder that if you dedicate yourself to something and you care for it each step of the way, excellent fruit will surely come of it.

 

On May 1, 2009, six people clad in flowers played a show at the Q Cafe. I was lucky enough to be one of those people, but I definitely did not anticipate all that was to come after that point. I did not expect this group of people and the music we created together to entirely change my life.

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Through three years of college and the two years that followed, Friends & Family was my constant. Practice once a week, shows smattered throughout, and bandmates slowly becoming some of the people I was closest to. We were the first to be told about big changes in our lives. Engagements and break-ups, leaving jobs and finding to new ones, weddings marking the beginning of new seasons, and the deaths of those we held dear. We have stood next to each other through huge life changes, embracing some with joy and others with sorrow, all the while laughing at stupid jokes and trying to peel bananas with our toes.

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It is with a very heavy heart that I am sharing the news with you that we will play our final show in September. I am so proud of us, I truly am. At the risk of sounding egotistical, we have accomplished much. After our Q Cafe and SPU picnic days were over, we played at venues all over Seattle, from the Tractor to the Triple Door. We had the honor of opening for The Polyphonic Spree five times, feeling like friends by the end. Our Album, Happy, Good Looking and In Love, is a work of art we are all immensely proud of. This past spring we got to tour the country with our music – Seattle to Chicago to Texas to Cali, with a whole lot in between. When time and energy and money started to run thin, it became painfully evident that what we have is not matching with what many of us desire: to be full time musicians.

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I even shocked myself when I realized that that is what I desire right now. Somehow what was once something I did on the side, just for fun, became exactly what I want to be doing with my life. I want to be a musician. It was somewhere in between our album release show in May of 2013 and playing live on KEXP last August that I realized how important playing music is in my life. Beyond that, I came to realize how important playing music is in the lives of others. There have been enough people over the years who have said this to me after a show: I finally felt like I could be myself for the first time in a long time. It is these people who helped me find my goal and purpose as an artist: to allow people to be honest with themselves and feel how they truly want and need to feel.

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Whether it means someone feels immense joy or found heartache that has been buried for a long time, I feel it is my own purpose to give people a space where they feel close and comfortable enough to be themselves. It seems, though it took five years, that’s what Friends & Family did for me. It allowed me to be creative while navigating the choppy waters of major changes, questions of faith, confusion in relationships and all of the large shifts that come in this strange and ever-changing season of life. There will most certainly be a void in my life without this beautiful band, but I look forward to seeing what happens as I pray and discern what is next for me as an artist, as a musician and as a person. I also count myself lucky to be facing this change with several others who know exactly how I feel. So please, enjoy our last show on September 21st and keep your ears peeled for what’s next for me and the other members of Friends & Family. I know I’ll be doing the same.

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Post Script:

I think it only necessary to thank you for your support throughout the years. We could not have done any of this without your attending our shows, buying our music, taking photos, dancing, writing, and spreading the word. Beyond all of those things, I know I could not have done any of this without you believing in me. Without you looking at me and thinking I was crazy, but paying the $10 cover to watch me play anyways. Without you reminding me that if I thought it mattered, then it was important to keep going. And, thanks to you, that’s exactly what I am going to do.

Friday was my last day of work at PATH. It’s strange to be laid off at the ripe young age of 23, but that is the way the world works sometimes (especially the non-profit world). I am okay with it, I truly am. Though it would have been easy for me to cry and be upset and scramble to find my next job, I instead chose not to do that. Ever since I started college, the entire way I view life and the way it ought to be lived is rooted in the confidence that I don’t need to have it all figured out. I can live my life one step at a time and rest in uncertainty because one thing is always certain: no matter what, I can still live a life of joy, kindness, thoughtfulness and love. I can assuredly tell you that this is rooted in faith and the fruit of that faith is not seen in how successful I am at work or where I go out to eat. The fruit of my faith is seen in my actions and if my only actions are to push forward in my career without paying attention to the world around me…well then I’ve done something wrong.

I will always treasure my time at PATH. It is still amazing to me that I was able to work there right out of college and feel so deeply connected to what I had spent so much time studying in school. It was always wonderful to receive a weekly email with the top news in global health and realize that PATH is right in the middle of it all, slowly reaching its goal to create a world where health is within reach of everyone. Beyond just the work of PATH, I will miss going to work where my coworkers were not just coworkers but people who I consider my friends and mentors. I look up to every single person who works at PATH for the stellar work they do and for the beautiful souls inside of each of them. The people I interacted with every day were not simply at work to get a paycheck. They were at work to make some small difference in the world through their excel spreadsheets and daily phonecalls to candidates.

There were days I was frustrated staring at my computer screen and wished that the picture of children running through maize would come alive in front of me and I could feel the warm Kenyan air on my face. But alas, the dusty African roads are not for all of us, and it takes a strong will to remember in the midst of technical difficulties or formatting frustrations that somewhere out there a child didn’t die of diarrhea because of the work being done in the headquarters office. Yet everyday ended with an overwhelming feeling of gratitude because the attitude of every coworker is one of generosity. And with generosity often comes joy and love and, in my very lucky case, friendship. There is no greater joy to me than being able to call my coworkers my friends, but PATH certainly provided me with a wealth of lunchtime conversations, hilarious mid-morning chats in the kitchen and one tear filled walk to a pick-me-up hot chocolate the day I was laid off. It is a blessing to be able to cry on your last day and not be embarrassed when a co-worker sees it. Because these were no ordinary co-workers, they were friends.

It is good timing to end my job of nearly a year and a half with the celebration of Epiphany. Epiphany by its very definition is a sudden insight into the reality of something (life is not defined by what I do, but by how I live), usually initiated by some simple occurrence or experience (I am now unemployed). In the church calendar it comes at the end of Advent – a season of anticipation and reception of something new. With Epiphany comes something new entirely and I think that Jan Richardson writes it best in her book Night Visions:

“As we cross into the season beyond Epiphany, we are beckoned to ponder other passages we may be making. The thresholds of our lives serve as places to choose, to discern, to sort out what we consider important and where we feel called to go. Whether or not it seems sacred at first, a threshold can become a holy place of new beginnings as we tend it, wait within it, and discern the path beyond.”

I find myself now at a threshold, wondering what might come next. I have chosen to take time to pray and consider what it is I would like to be doing with my life right now. I will be pursuing my passion for music more wholeheartedly than I have in the past, but other than that I am choosing to wait. To not jump at just any employment opportunity. To trust that in time all will be made clear. To patiently hear where God might be calling me next. Life needn’t be incredibly glamorous for me to feel fulfilled, it simply needs to be lived well. Thankfully I have a community around me supporting me in my quest for what is next and they are not rushing me into the next step. One step at a time, pausing in each threshold and waiting for direction. That is what I strive for this year to be and I hope you will walk with me as I learn new lessons every single day when I open my eyes and ask, “What will I see today and what will I learn from it?”

To our dear friends,

We are filled with gratitude that you have shared your time, your love and your energy with us over the past two weeks. For Jennifer and I, it felt like coming home, but I know that many more of us feel like we are leaving home as we head back to Seattle. We have been touched by the way in which you have shared your hearts with us and given us such great joy. As we have been debriefing as a team, we have come to realize we would not want to change a thing about this trip. We have learned so much from you and your beautiful country and that makes it incredibly hard to say good-bye. We want to leave you feeling filled and encouraged, though, so I will share with you words from 1 Thessalonians. “We always thank God for all of you and continually mention you in our prayers. We remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.” This verse, written to the church in Thessalonica, applies to you. You all carry with you such a deep faith and a love of the world around you. We leave here with a greater understanding of how to live that out in our own lives. As a team, we have been reading from Ephesians and I would like to leave with you these words:

I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith and I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge – that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations forever and ever! Amen.

Those words are for you and we hope to continue to partner with you as church partners, but also as partners in faith and partners in the incredible work God is doing in transforming our world. We love you and send our blessings on you.

Imana iguhu Mugisha!

Team Bethany

A proper good-bye should never be easy; this is something I firmly believe. Tomorrow will indeed be a proper good-bye, as today was and as the day before that was. I suppose this has been a trip of many good-byes, some more difficult than others. Today we spent our last day in Musanze and made the journey home once again through the winding hills. Returning to Musanze from Ntungamo truly felt like we were coming home and I think that made us each feel very happy and like our trip was worth every hour spent (in preparation, in our time here and also in the many hours spent together after we return) and every dollar donated to this journey. It has not simply been an adventure for the sake of adventure. No, it has given us great insight into life halfway across the world, causing voices and stories to jump out of photos when we look at them. Though I might encounter news headlines more often than others related to poverty and disease in the developing world (because I encounter them everyday working at PATH), we will all be looking at those articles through a different lens, knowing that behind every statistic and every face is a life that is fragile and in need of love.

For our last day in Musanze, our team visited some of the pastors working in the district and learned about their everyday life. What they do in a week, what struggles they face, how they shepherd their church communities and what they do to get through each day. If I were to sum up these meetings in one sentence, it would be simple: life for them is not easy. It’s as a plain as that. The pastors work six days a week, sometimes seven, and they are unpaid. This leaves their wives working in the field or selling goods in the local market to feed them and their many children. Pastor Hosea’s daughters do not have a good reputation among their peers because of their social status and he fears for their future. Though the parents desperately want to see their children succeed, the means are simply not there. My heart was broken in one sense and inspired in another. As we listened to both pastors, Hosea and Emmanuel, I saw that the need was deep. I saw that their faith was even deeper.

“Once you realize that you yourself cannot do anything,” Emmanuel said as he looked us in the eyes, “you will learn to rely on God.” As I mentioned after our time in Ntungamo, perhaps we (I can only speak quite honestly for some of us) have never been materially poor enough to need to rely on God. Many of us have likely never been relationally poor enough to rely on God. We are lucky enough to have people to turn to in our times of need, be they unemployment or loneliness or fear or sickness. When I am sitting in a small home in rural Rwanda hearing a pastor explain that it’s difficult to scrape by each day, yet he is looking after the sick, the orphans and the widows…well, who am I to complain about a blessed thing?

It seems like the best thing we can do is encourage and empower the poor to the best of our ability, giving them a place to stand and let their voices be heard. I get very annoyed whenever someone says the phrase, “Be a voice for the poor.” The poor have a voice, they just need the rest of us to be quiet for a minute and hear what they have to say. Once we are quiet, that is when we realize why Jesus preached the Sermon on the Mount. Why he spoke to the woman at the well. Why he told the sinless man to throw the first stone. Why he turned over the tables in the temple courts and washed the feet of his own disciples. God didn’t send Christ to earth just to hang out with the healthy and wealthy and say an even better time was coming. No, that is not it at all. God sent Christ to earth to turn it upside down and to bring those “better times” straight to earth. Christ came to earth to bring hope to the hopeless, light to the darkness, water to the thirsty and food to the hungry.

In Rwanda they have a phrase, “buhoro buhoro,” meaning “slowly, slowly.” To me, that is the rate at which the kingdom of God is hitting this earth, but at least it’s coming. You can see it in the eyes of a widow who has just saved enough money to buy a goat. You can hear it in the laughter of the children as they line up to race a bunch of crazy muzungus down the road. You can taste it in the clean water spilling from a new tap, owned by a community in Uganda desiring to bring health to the next generation. You can see it in a group of pastors from different denominations coming across their differences to work together for the betterment of their neighbors. You can feel it as the pastor’s wife’s cheek brushes your own as you embrace. Hope is alive in Rwanda and Uganda and it has been a true honor to see it in action. Though it pains me to leave this beautiful place, hope will continue to rise here and it is important to watch hope rise at home as well. So, with tears I will say good-bye (for now) to Rwanda (my home) and return to Seattle with eyes wide open ready to see what God might show me next.

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations forever and ever! Amen. (Ephesians 3:20-21)

It’s never easy to think about going home, especially when you are leaving a place that also feels like home. But this is always inevitably part of the process, is it not? When our intent was to come to East Africa and build relationships with the people we would meet, I would be concerned if no one on this team felt a bit of ache in their heart as we prepare to leave. For me deeply planting, even if only for a short time, is worth the pain of uprooting in the end. It has been very tiring and very good to have several debriefing conversations as a team in the past few days because it has made me see that this trip has been very impactful for each member of the team in different ways.

For some of us, the trip has opened our eyes to a whole new part of the world and the beauty and pain that exists within it. For others, it has brought out the skeptic in us, questioning why we are here and if it is good to be here or not. Many of us have made friends here and are already feeling welcomed or called back. For a few of us, this has been the thing that draws us to stay at Bethany and remain committed to the community we have been searching for for so long and have finally found. I do not doubt that this will be an unforgettable experience in many ways, but it is so easy to forget all that you learned as soon as you are back into the comforts and rhythms of everyday life. That is my fear, and no doubt the fear of others, so I ask you to pray for us as we begin to ask ourselves what going home will hold in store for us.

I wish I could share with you the many stories we have shared with one another, the different reactions we have had to our time here and the brief moments that touched our hearts in nearly indescribable ways, but there are nine of us and that would take an eternity. There will be times at Bethany for us to share with you our photos, the stories of transformation, and the hope in our hearts after being in such an incredible place, so please contact one of the members of the team if you are interested in being a part of that. Sharing is a critical aspect of the process of returning to “normal” life, so if you have ears and a heart to listen, I pray you will. This will be so helpful to the team and will help in healing our hearts that are breaking as we leave.

Tonight I asked the team to choose one key player in their journey that will spur them into a world of other stories for those who care to listen. My key player is a World Relief staff member named Denise. I met Denise two years ago on a very rainy day high in the mountains of Musanze. When I arrived on the back of Pastor Bwende’s motorcycle, she was standing under an umbrella with a huge smile on her face and she walked with me underneath that bright rainbow umbrella all over the muddy hills of Rwaza sector. There was a certain warmth about Denise that made me feel so safe and happy even though I was cold and wet and in a very new place. When I arrived in a classroom of a Catholic parish, Denise was there with several other church leaders and I got to know her a little bit better. She was a volunteer for World Relief at that time, working with the savings clubs, and she was also the choir director at the church.

I never had a conversation as deep as the one I had that day on the mountain. After a long discussion about poverty in America versus poverty in Rwanda and the lessons we can both learn from one another, I asked the group a question I had been asking myself for the nine weeks I had been in Rwanda, “How are you still smiling? Are you happy?” Silence came over the room for a short time and then Denise spoke up. “No, this is not the life that we ask for, but we make the best of it. In our bodies we have poverty, in our spirit we have hope.” The moment the words left her lips, I realized it was all true. As we often hear when people return from trips similar to the one we are on right now, the people we meet in Africa are living in destitute circumstances yet they are still happy. Perhaps it is not happiness that they feel in the midst of their poverty, but it is indeed true that they carry a hope, and even a joy, with them that we have never been (materially) poor enough to even imagine.

Now Denise is a staff member at World Relief and her partner in crime, Pastor Emmanuel, was once a pastor who walked into a World Relief pastor’s training one day. Their lives have been transformed in the past two years and now they are working hard to empower so many others to transform their own lives. There are so many stories of this kind of transformation in Rwanda and Uganda and we have had the honor to be witness to some of them. As the relationship between Bethany Community Church continues to grow with World Relief Rwanda and Living Water Uganda, we will have the pleasure of seeing so many more of these stories with our own eyes. We see transformation of individual circumstances, church congregations, and entire communities. God is hard at work here and it is incredible to see. That is what makes leaving so difficult…it feels like we’re just getting started! The reality is that this is all part of a much grander process and that is why we are choosing to stand for the vulnerable and bring the living water of Christ to all who need it. It is an honor to be even a small part of this process and I thank God that you, our supporters, are choosing to walk alongside us and take part in the process as well.

“The Samaritan woman said to him, ‘You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?’ (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.) Jesus answered her, ‘If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.’ “ John 4:9-10

This has always been a personal favorite story in the Bible, so how perfect that it would come up here in Uganda as we spend time with the Living Water Uganda staff. Many parts of the past two days have been perfect in their own strange way. First, you will notice that I did not post while in Uganda because our “resort” was not exactly a five star joint with wi-fi and hot water. This was important, though, to be away from the usual comforts for a little while and fully engage where we are. We have been spending our time in a small town called Ntungamo and our experience here has really put life into perspective.

Upon arrival we were told that the water was not running, but not to worry because they were pumping water out of the swamp and we would have running water soon (this was after our bus had to back up 50 meters or so when the road ended abruptly with a very large hole…somehow this will make the road better). Of course, hearing that your running water is coming out of a swamp is not the most comforting thought, but as we visited the field the next day I think each of us understood the significance of our water not running on this trip. We were able to understand, just barely and oh so briefly, what life is like every single day for most of the world. As the Living Water staff gave an overview of the program, it was exciting to see how much they have grown in the past few years. The vision of Living Water Uganda is to see “empowered communities that have access to sustainable water and sanitation” and it was incredible to see this take place over the course of yesterday and today.

On Monday we drove along a pipeline that goes along a trench that community members volunteered to dig together for the sake of their community’s health and well being. The pipeline is powered through a gravity flow system and the water that comes out of each tap is clean enough for you and I to drink. We saw several different “water attractions,” if I can call them that, as we drove along the road. We saw some deep bore hole wells and met the community members responsible for tending them. We saw shallow wells built by the government that have since been abandoned. We saw other attempts to bring water to Ntungamo, but many of them were not built with a relationship with the community in mind. That is what sets Living Water apart from many water projects and it was very encouraging to be able to see it in action.

Today we set out to see what exactly is being done in the different communities in Ntungamo and for many communities it was the first time they have ever had visitors. We were far from any drivable road and even farther from any main roads, meaning a big bus full of muzungus (white people) was a very unusual spectacle. We first stopped at what is called a “triggering session.” It is in these sessions that Living Water staff members call a meeting with every member of the community that desires to have a clean water source and they explain to them why they must care for their water source. The challenge for Living Water staff is in getting communities to really own and operate their clean water source, but they try to ensure this in a few ways:

First, they must participate in the project. Living Water will not enter a community unless that community takes the initiative to approach Living Water and tell them they desire to have a clean water source. If the initiative is not there, then mobilizing the community to tend their well or tap is incredibly difficult.

Second, they must love the project. If the community does not love the project then it will not last. The project consists of more than just clean water, though. The project is about providing clean water in addition to educating communities about the importance of sanitation and hygiene education in order to create healthier communities. It is a hope that parents may see this as a way to create a brighter for their children and that they will invest in it now, out of love.

Last, they must own the project. From the start, each community must take part in the project and care for it on their own. From opening a bank account to nominating leadership to conflict resolution, the goal is that each community will be able to manage the water source on its own. The community must work together and care for it in order for it to continue, otherwise they will forever be dependent on Living Water and that is not the goal. The goal is to empower the communities we are partnering with.

To bring this all back to our arrival, our time in Uganda has taught us that it is far too easy to take things for granted. Our home did not have running water for the first 24 hours and this took us aback. Then the next day we saw the conditions that most people live in every single day and the lack of running water is not their biggest worry. Us, we are at least able to open a bottle of water and drink it and brush our teeth with it, but that is not an option for most of the population. Talk about putting life into perspective…this certainly did it for me. It is surprising how easy it can feel in Africa to wipe many things away with the blanket statement, “Well, that’s just how it is.” This is true for some things, but I cannot let it stand for all things. So I ask you: when was the last time life was put into perspective for you? If you can’t remember, please, open your eyes and see for just a moment how blessed you truly are. And then I ask you to take it a step further and ask yourself what you will do with that blessing. Will you simply sit on it or will you pass it on and be a blessing to someone else?

The reason I love the story of the woman at the well so much is that it shows a face of God that is unexpected. God shows up in odd ways and unusual places, yet He always shows up. When Jesus approached the Samaritan woman, I cannot imagine how she must have felt. And when she explained to him that she was a Samaritan and he was a Jew, yet he remained to speak to her, that is where I see the face of God. I see it in being willing to step out beyond your boundary, be it cultural or political or economic, and simply love one another. Here in Ntungamo God is seen in the water. It is my prayer, the prayer of Living Water Uganda, and the prayer of Bethany Community Church that God might be seen even more clearly in the communities where water is springing up. Pray for the people of Ntungamo, that they will know the love of Christ and that they will open up their hearts wide enough to love one another deeply and spread that love wherever they might go.

“Let everything that has breath praise the Lord. Praise the Lord” (Psalm 150: 6)

What an honor it was to be back in Bwende’s church today. My heart is filled every time that Bwende introduces me because he has adopted me as his daughter in his beautiful home, Musanze, and he calls me the guest of honor. I am humbled to be considered a guest of honor, and I mean no disrespect when I say this, but I do not feel like a guest of honor. No, I feel far too comfortable and far too at home to feel a guest in this place. To be able to stand in front of a church in rural Rwanda and tell them it is good to be back and I am happy to see their faces and hear their voices once again…well, it has filled me with immense gratitude. And, like yesterday, it has made me certain (or at the very least, hopeful) that this is not my last trip to Rwanda.

I remember two years ago sitting in the exact same place, heart filling to similarly extreme levels, and listening to the voice of one girl in the choir wearing a green satin shirt. She is still there, same green satin shirt, singing like an angel. God bless her and her beautiful voice as it soars above the others and pierces me in the heart. I wish you could experience church in this place because it is an experience unlike any other. The singing, the dancing, the joy and the hope are all so beyond anything we ever experience at our churches in America. There is something incredibly humbling when you watch the smiles on their faces as they sing to God about the fact that even though it feels like everything is going wrong, there is still much to be thankful for. The people we joined in worship with today have every reason to complain; yet instead of complaining they come to church every Sunday praising the Lord for the way He provides.

This day marks our beyond halfway point in the trip and that is hard to believe. Though there is a part of me that desperately desires to be home (the lack of running water and exhaustion after a very long bus ride on a winding road all the way to Uganda today have not helped the situation), it is increasingly important to be here. Being in Bwende’s church today reassured me that leading this trip was the right thing to do and I would have it no other way. I originally came to Rwanda to help foster a relationship between Bethany Community Church and World Relief Rwanda, so never showing my face in the country again would make the original trip all for naught. Watching all of the hands of the congregation member waving to me as they said, “Come back and bring more of your visitors,” it filled me with emotions that I have not had the time to feel yet on this trip. Emotions that make me remember why I love this place as much as I do and make me realize that building relationships takes time and effort, but it is worth every moment.

The team has moved on to Uganda today to help foster our relationship with another organization, Living Water International. Similar to what we have been doing with World Relief, we will be learning about their WASH programs (Water Access, Sanitation and Hygiene) in a small town called Ntungamo. Our bus ride to get here was an adventure, to say the least, but we praise the Lord we have made it here safely and in (mostly) good health. I have been feeling exhausted lately even though I have been sleeping plenty, mostly because I have not been able to give myself space to feel the emotions I need to feel as I find myself back in Rwanda, my home. Therefore, a six-hour bus ride through winding hills looking more beautiful at every turn has given me plenty of space to begin processing many many different feelings and emotions. Please pray for me and the rest of the team as we already must begin to think about leaving while still remaining present in our time here. It is a blessing to be here, but it does not come with no cost. Our hearts have quickly been captured by the smiles, the warmth and the hope that is Rwanda and the thought of leaving is painful. Yet this is all part of the process and I pray we can navigate the pain of leaving with honesty, allowing ourselves to feel whatever emotions might be bubbling beneath the surface. I thank God I have people to process with this time around and in the end it is good to realize that we are all connected through Christ, even if we are halfway around the world.

When we arrived in Rwanda, Rachel lead our first team devotions and she pulled out a copy of Love Does for each of us. It is an excellent book that we have all been enjoying, full of short vignettes about living a full life that is driven by one thing: love. It is a book that inspires you to live your life unabashedly, courageously and joyfully. I can’t think of a better book to read while here in Rwanda, especially considering it is the book that pushed at least one of us to get on a plane to come here. What I enjoy about reading it while in this perfectly beautiful place is that this way of life – this unabashed, courageous, joyful life – has been displayed by so many of the people we meet. Through every home visit, on every bumpy car ride and over every plate of potatoes and bananas, we are able to better understand what it truly means to fully live a life of love.

Unabashed: not embarrassed, disconcerted or ashamed. So many different pastors, volunteers, staff and community members have welcomed us into their lives with warmth. They show us their homes with pride, give us seats of honor at their savings clubs, and we part ways feeling like friends. There is something truly humbling about being given a seat in someone’s home when they themselves sit on the ground. I should not be in this seat, we think to ourselves, yet that’s just it. We should be in that seat. Because in their home, in this moment, we are not there solely to give something. Indeed, we are sharing ourselves with them, but the purpose of these moments – these points of connection – is to show that we have a strong desire to understand where they come from. We too can receive something from them as we learn about the immense relational richness they experience in their lives. The fact that they are still able to support their neighbor who is living with AIDS when they themselves live off of only two dollars a day…well, why do we so often forget it is not that difficult to live generously, even when we have “little”?

Courageous: not deterred by danger or pain; brave. Tuesday was the day that we went to visit Josephine and her mother (Josephine is a vulnerable child, heading her household as she cares for her mother living with AIDS) and it is still a day I cannot get out of my mind. All I could think about as a big group of crazy white people crammed into her little home was how incredible it is that she still has the courage and desire to live a full life. To not be deterred by pain is no simple feat here in Rwanda, yet every morning people wake up, spend all of their daylight hours working incredibly hard and return home, only to do it all over again the next day. It is not an easy life, not in the slightest, yet the people of Rwanda continue to hold their heads high with hope for tomorrow. The volunteers who support the World Relief programs in Rwanda display an incredible amount of courage because they are stepping out of their own daily life and adding a new responsibility that will take a lot of extra time and energy. Yet there are hundreds of volunteers all over Rwanda reaching out to the most vulnerable people in their communities and their love is spreading like wildfire.

Joyful: feeling, expressing or causing great pleasure or happiness. Today we went to a community event in the Cyuve sector of Musanze that hosted about 300 men, women and children, all of whom are part of a program called “Mobilizing for Life.” This program is focused on HIV/AIDS prevention and marriage and faithfulness training, but there is no way you could have predicted what this event would be like. From the moment we stepped out of the car, dozens of children came running and stared at us with their big, beautiful, brown eyes. I knelt down and spoke to them, but when I stood back up, two of them grabbed each of my hands and brought me toward a giant group of people dancing in the middle. And when they dance, they DANCE. It was at this point that the smile went on my face and didn’t leave for the next three hours. The entire morning felt like one giant talent show with every choir from Cyuve competing (it felt like that because that’s exactly what it was, with the top seven performances awarded a goat for their community). To watch the singing and the dancing filled my heart with joy because every performance was about their lives being transformed through love. Loving God, loving their neighbors, loving their families, loving their spouses…it is incredibly encouraging to see the way they love one another so deeply and I hope that I can do the same. How on earth could my heart not be overflowing with joy when this is the story I get to be a part of?

We have been learning a lot so far on this journey, but this is most definitely a day I will not forget. It is a day that makes me realize my relationship with Rwanda is certainly not over. It makes me realize that my roots here are perhaps deeper than I realized and it makes me realize that Rwanda has taught me much about living life to its fullest potential. So, as we continue to read Love Does, I think we can hope that we can create our own version of the book compiled of our experiences in Rwanda where love transforms shame into pride, fear into courage and sorrow into joy.

After several busy days in Kigali, we have finally made our trek north to Musanze. For those of you unfamiliar with Musanze, I will try to depict just how beautiful this place is. As you drive out of Kigali, the road quickly climbs up, winding through mountains, with a new incredible sight at every turn. Just when you think it cannot get more beautiful, the hillsides somehow seem more green and small waterfalls that you’ve never noticed or wildflowers you’ve never seen now come into sight. The sun is beginning to set and the road is smattered with people returning to their homes after a long day of hard work. Women balance large bundles of sticks on their heads, men walk slowly with tools over their shoulders and children are running with small yellow jerry cans in their hands. You can see anything balanced on a woman’s head or on the back of a bicycle and it never gets old. It almost becomes a game on these long drives to see who can find the most crazy thing balanced so perfectly on someone’s head as they walk down the road.

As we pass the sign that says, “Welcome to the city of Musanze,” Pastor Bwende says, “You are most welcome here in my home, Musanze.” I cannot believe I am back here. It was dark by the time we arrived last night, but when the sun rose over the steeple of the Catholic church this morning, the dark shadows of the Virunga Mountains appeared in the distance (these are volcanoes located on the border of Rwanda and Uganda where wild gorillas roam freely) and it felt good to be back. The air is crisp and fresh in the mornings and it feels like home. Like my Seattle home, that is, but I suppose it is only accurate to say that Musanze is my home as well. I nearly cried when Bwende introduced me as his “guest of honor,” his daughter, his friend. Bwende was so very happy to have the team from Bethany in this lovely place where hope is rising and life is improving quickly for many vulnerable people. He is happy to have us here because we play a role in this hope and we are beyond honored to learn what is happening.

The first half of this day was devoted to time spent with nine pastors working the Musanze Church Empowerment Zone (CEZ). A CEZ is a specific geographic area (in this case it is Musanze) where World Relief partners with churches in the area to reach out to the most vulnerable providing hope in many different ways and slowly but surely transforming lives, one household after another. After we heard about all of the incredible change for the better that is happening in Musanze, one thing stood out to me above all others: we are all part of one church and we can accomplish so much more when we overcome our differences and work together. Sitting in this room there were pastors from the Evangelical church, the Pentecostal church and the Anglican church. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg…there are more denominations in Rwanda than one can count, yet when they enter into partnership with World Relief, this difference in denomination becomes a strength, not a weakness.

Church leaders in Musanze are responsible for picking out the most vulnerable people in their communities and discerning the best way to meet their practical needs, be it purchasing school books or building house. For a part of the world that has 85.7% of its population living off of subsistence agriculture, it will come as no surprise that vulnerability is high. So, when a pastor named Boniface explains to us that churches used to only be concerned about their own congregations and now reach outside of their church and work together with five other denominations, I feel now more strongly than ever that we must embrace the fact that we are one church called to one thing: to love. I’ve said it before on this trip, but I say it again because it is a truth. There is absolutely no reason that the Church should be spending its time and energy in any other way but loving the world it is a part of. In a time when humanity feels increasingly dark and cruel, why not put your faith and your energy in something that instills beauty and hope? That is what each and every one of the pastors, staff and volunteers that we have met so far have done and it is resulting in an incredible wave of change in Rwanda.

Our team was moved by what the pastors had to share about all they have learned in the process of changing their mindset from “every church has different ways of believing” to “every church has the same calling.” Leif stood up to share with the pastors, comparing them to the church in Acts.

All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

Acts 2:44-47

So, as Pastor Theogene said, when the church grows the community will grow with it. As churches continue to cross denominational lines, more savings clubs will start. More children will use mosquito nets. Clean water will become more accessible. Homes will be built for widows. Those living with AIDS will no longer be rejected, but will be supported. Let me turn this around though and remind you that the pastors in Rwanda are ahead of the curve. Look at Bethany and look at Seattle. How many differences have you gotten over recently? Imagine for just a moment how many more people you might be able to reach out to you if you stepped outside of your non-denominational church and opened your eyes to “the other.” Would you be able to with hold your judgement and instead ask how you can work together? Please hear Bwende’s prayer and take it with you.

Let us pray for Bethany, that they too may be empowered and reach out to many more people.

 

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