I’ve been looking into a lot of terrified eyes recently as I answer the question, “What are you doing over the summer?”  I guess “two months in Rwanda” is not the answer they were expecting.  I understand their surprise…until recently Africa wasn’t burning on the heart of any Dahlstrom.  Austria and Germany fit much better to the mountain loving Dahlstrom name, but who am I to do something everyone would expect?  That’s not me.  I understand their fear as well.  As soon as one hears “Rwanda,” words like poverty, AIDS and genocide come to mind.  That’s not where they want me, but it is where God wants me.  Allow me to answer a few of the questions I have been getting that you may also be asking.

WHY ARE YOU GOING TO AFRICA?

On the first day of my History of Africa class we were asked to describe what comes to mind when we hear the word “Africa.”  I wrote about the two steady streams of thought I am constantly exposed to.  First, there is a very skewed Western perspective of Africa which I myself am guilty of.  In this perspective, Africa is nothing more than an economically impoverished continent full of oppression and a dying population.  This is what I study day after day: Why does Africa fail to develop?  There is another side of the story, though, found in the people.  It is found in the song and dance of their worship services and the unbelievable reconciliation of warring cultural groups.  Rwanda, like several other African nation-states, has faced a horrifying genocide, yet there is forgiveness.  I want my eyes to be opened to this new reality of a beautiful Africa.  I want individual people and stories to come to mind when I study the continent.  I want to join in their dancing and live with them their lives of love.

WHY ARE YOU GOING NOW?

Why not go now?  I’m still in school and I have a summer with nothing pressing to do.  The sooner I go out in the world, the more I will gain from my studies that follow.  I firmly believe that we as Christians are called to go out in the world and bring the kingdom of God to earth.  Not in a month, not in a few years-NOW.  When I told God I wanted to go to Africa, I didn’t think He would respond so fast.  The reality is that He has put an extraordinary opportunity in front of me and has given me enough courage to reach out and take that opportunity.  So here I go.

WHY ARE YOU GOING FOR TWO MONTHS?

To some these two months seem like the blink of an eye.  To me, two months feels like an eternity.  The longest I’ve ever been away from Seattle is six weeks and the longest I’ve every been away from my entire family is no longer than a week.  I’m a homebody, it’s true, so why would I want to leave for so long?  The answer is simple: if I truly want to even begin to understand the culture I am going to be living in, I must go for longer than a few weeks.  I think that lightning fast mission trips have their place, but I desired to be somewhere for at least six weeks.  I want to become familiar and comfortable with the culture in Rwanda and though two months is not nearly long enough to fully experience it, for the time being it is a very good introduction.  At SPU we are constantly being told to “engage the culture” and I have latched onto that mission statement.  I don’t have a desire to go in as simply another blondie with a passion to save the world, I have a desire to learn and experience the beauties and intricacies of a culture that feels so very different from my own.

WHY DO YOU WANT TO WORK WITH WORLD RELIEF?

World Relief’s mission is “Empowering the local church to serve the most vulnerable.”  Bethany Community Church has started a church partnership with World Relief and this has put me in the position of being a liaison between the two.  I have been interested in World Relief for a few years now because of their refugee resettlement program in Seattle and when I found out Bethany was doing their new partnership with World Relief, I was thrilled.  They hold many of the same values that I do and I agree with their development programs.  They are very conscientious of the fact that culture must be respected and valued in whatever plan is being implemented.  In Rwanda specifically I will have the pleasure to work with locals in the World Relief office in Kigali and I will also have the opportunity of meeting villagers from Musanze (the village where the church partner is located).  The hope is to spread the love and light of Christ through economic and social reform.

WHY DOES IT COST SO MUCH?

I need to raise $5,000 to go to Rwanda.  I was shocked the first time I found out how much mission trips to Africa cost, but after further research discovered that about half of that price is for airfare.  The other half goes towards room and board, transportation, vaccinations, and other miscellaneous costs.  Any amount of money I raise beyond that will go towards Bethany Community Church’s partnership program with World Relief.  Though the number is high, I know that if God truly wants me in Rwanda, I will have no trouble raising enough support.

That is the very extended answer to your question, “What are you doing over the summer?”  My answer, “Two months in Rwanda.”  I wish I could look into your eyes to see if you’re still terrified, but through trust in God and prayer in the coming months, we will just have to hope that all shall be well.  I truly believe it will and I hope you do too.

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