I came home last night and there was a birthday gift on my doorstep. It was from my dear friend Braden and as I opened it tears were welling up in my eyes. It was a basket from Rwanda Partners and a copy of A Grief Observed by C.S. Lewis. The combination of these two gifts is so representative of my heart right now and it was amazing that he was able to piece my heart together from the small reflections I had shared with him. Many have been asking me lately if I am excited to go to Rwanda. I am…most of the time. But then there are the moments of sheer terror when I realize that in ten days I will be halfway around the world in a city I’ve never been to away from everyone and everything that I know. And I’ll be there for ten weeks. Excited? Terrified.
The significance of this gift is impressive to me. Perhaps he thought nothing of it and it was simply happenstance or perhaps he put a lot of time and energy wondering what a proper gift would be, but either way it has made an impact on me. I will start with the basket. It was a small woven basket with a tag attached. On the tag is a picture of the woman who made it and a small snippet of her story. There is something beautiful about knowing this basket was created by the two hands of a Rwandan woman named Anastasia. Anastasia has probably seen a lot in the last fifteen years of her life. Rwanda from our Western perspective is an impoverished country that was thrown into the hands of a bloody civil war. When I see the picture of Anastasia, though, my perspective changes. There is a story behind each person in Rwanda. Each face that smiles or cries, every blistered foot and all of the scarred hands that have made these baskets have stories. It is not just a country full of blood, violence and heartache. There is redemption, there is beauty, there is joy.
The book, perhaps, is even more significant. I told Braden recently that I was scared to go to Rwanda. It’s an interesting feeling, fear. Sometimes it hits you in the face and your legs give out as you cry out in terror. Other times, it slowly wells up inside of you and then one day the uncertain shakiness you have been feeling is identified. It was after watching the movie Blood Diamond that fear struck me. I suppose it was only a matter of time until I would realize that the civil wars and child soldiers I study every day were, not too long ago, in the same city that I will soon be sleeping in. My dad says I shouldn’t worry…”You could just as easily fall down the stairs and crack your head open after you wake up this morning.” I suppose so, but I think that it is still legitimate to be afraid. And then I read the cover of A Grief Observed:
“No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear. I am not afraid, but the sensation is like being afraid. The same fluttering in the stomach, the same restlessness, the yawning. I keep on swallowing.”
I remember recently saying that my heart breaks for Africa. Perhaps it isn’t strictly fear that I am feeling. What is it, if not grief, that makes me start crying while I read my History of Africa textbook? What is it that makes frustration well up inside of me as I read statistic after statistic of AIDS and infant mortality in Sub-saharan Africa? It is the injustice of the continent that makes me want to go even more. There’s no way to fix all of Africa by myself, but I can at least do something. Yes, I am afraid, but there is no doubt in my mind that God has put it on my heart to go to Rwanda. I know there is beauty there, but it is hard to see from here. We can’t squint our eyes as we look at the sad faces of African children on our computer screens and pretend they are smiling. We can’t look through a telescope across the ocean and assume that the crops growing there are actually good for the economy. We must get up close and personal and consider what we can do. Some of us can write checks. That’s good as long as you don’t forget why you’re doing it. Some of us can pray for a family in need. That’s good as long as you don’t forget why you’re doing it. Some of us can hop on the plane and go to Rwanda. That’s good as long as you don’t forget why you’re doing it.
I want you to know that my fear is not just about a war breaking out while I am there. There is the fear that I will come home changed and everything here will remain exactly the same. There is the fear that I will forget all that I will learn. The biggest fear of all is that nothing will happen. What happens if I come home and nobody listens and I begin to ignore what I learn? I think there is an unhealthy mindset when working overseas that we will see some earth shattering change because of something we did, but that’s not it at all. All we can do is our best and God will equip us to do that. I pray that while I am in Rwanda, I can live fully in the present and not fear what will happen when I return. Fear gets us nowhere. As C.S. Lewis is helping me observe, grief is a stage. And stages move us. From one stage to the next, we slowly grow and are shaped as we continue to live into the story being written.
I hope my thoughts are coherent enough to understand. My mindset at present is very distracted by Rwanda and the buzz of finals studying is too faint to focus on it. I pray that once I finish finals, I will be able to understand what it is I am feeling about Rwanda. Fear, grief, excitement…perhaps a bit of everything. All these thoughts thanks to a book and a basket. Thank you, Braden.