I never know how to start. It’s the first sentence, the initial impression, and the point to start all other points that is hard to find. But I must start eventually, that’s only fair to you. So, here it is: week one in Kigali.

The beauty here masks the poverty in a frightening way. “Just like Seattle,” Dad points out. Yes, like Seattle, but here it is even worse. Here the poverty is worse, but just as well hidden. The city is built on several hills where the government buildings, big houses and the single skyscraper are all on top of the hills and on the hills. I look out the window of the World Relief office and see other big houses and think to myself that this is a well-developed city. And then I look down.

Looking down I catch a glimpse of the Africa that I read about. The houses are packed together and there are women working in their vegetable fields in the bottom of the valley. It looks like time has been working its way through Kigali from the top of the hills to the bottom, but then time stopped about halfway down the hill. Yet I somehow see beauty. There is joy here, even on the faces of the poor. Where do they find it?

I was having a conversation with one of the World Relief staff who works with the local church in Rwanda. His name is Ngoga and the way he speaks English makes me captivated by his every word. He speaks very soft and slowly, choosing each word quite carefully (the real possibility is that it just takes time to think of the right words, but I choose to think he’s very wise). He told me he doesn’t understand why Americans are unhappy. “The United States has everything, yet they are still unhappy. Why?” He goes on, “We have nothing. Why?” He went on to explain that we’ll never really know why, but we must work to develop Rwanda. Perhaps the most insightful words I have heard since my arrival were from Ngoga:

I believe that achieving the development of the West is important, but not at the expense of our own social values. We have good values and we should not lose them with development.

Ngoga is right, the values here are good. The people work hard. The people are generous. The children smile at me with their deep brown eyes. As soon as you say “Amakuru?” they smile and that barrier that exists between wealthy and poor is broken down for just a moment. And then you continue driving in your car and they continue walking their three-mile walk home from school and all of a sudden you are once again faced with the truth that life here is not fair. The people here do not deserve the life that they have. Nobody does. And that is where my head has rested for the moment. Nobody deserves this life.

Enough resting, though, the journey does not end in that mindset! Why am I here? I’m not here to save the world, but I am here to take the gifts God has given me and try to use them. Though I am unsure of what that means right now, I know that rides to work with the director of World Relief Rwanda and a law student working at IJM are teaching me a lot of things I never would have learned about otherwise. With that learning comes growth and with that growth comes a very new outlook on the heartbreakingly grim Africa I have come to know in my studies.

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