It was exactly a year ago that I found myself in the middle of the Austrian Alps, completely awestruck by the fact that I was blessed to be a part of this world. I had never understood the magic of the mountains that my parents always spoke of until that very moment. Now I find myself a year later in the land of a thousand hills. Mountains after mountains as far as the eye can see, until the haze of the dry season tricks you into thinking your eyes have reached the end of the earth. It’s a beautiful world that we live in.
Hiking in these mountains is an experience unlike any other. Phil Smith and I went hiking a week and a half ago thanks to some well-scheduled holidays. Due to their Independence (from Belgium) Day on a Friday and their Liberation (thanks to Kigame’s army) Day on a Monday, Rwanda had the amazing opportunity to enjoy a four day weekend. Phil, Becca, Iranzi and I packed into the truck and made our way to the north end of Lake Kivu where beaches are sublime and hiking is everywhere. Hiking in Gisenyi started when Phil and I stood in a valley, pointed to the highest hill we could see and said, “That’s our mountain.” It started out like a normal hike…for approximately ten seconds. Soon, every eye in the valley was staring at the two crazy mzungus going for a hike in the hills. I will tell you, though, it was one of the most fun things I have done since I arrived.
As we continued hiking, children began to emerge from the fields and follow us. The men and women in the village asked us where we were going and we pointed up to our mountain. They would shake their heads and laugh as they pointed us in the right direction. As sweat started to break out on our foreheads, we started to notice the immense strength of the women going up the mountain with us. Big baskets on their heads, babies on their backs and not even close to out of breath. Phil and I were having a good time, but to think of doing this every day out of necessity is an exhausting thing to think about. Yet, as I started to long for water and a moment of rest, I was once again struck by the joy of these women. Here they were, carrying their hard day’s work on their heads, up a very steep hill to the mud hut they call home, and they still looked happy. As I watch them, I wonder to myself if they understand how hard their lives are. Perhaps they don’t know what their life looks like in comparison to mine. They must have some idea, but perhaps they do not quite know the extent to which our lives differ.
I live in a sturdy wood house. Glass windows, electricity, clean water from the tap and shingles on the roof that keep the rain out. I have my room with a bed and a desk and probably ten times the belongings of an entire household in these mountains. They live in a mud (and plaster if they’re lucky) hut. A tin roof is typical, though many have thatched roofs. Some have windows and others do not. The floor is dirt and when you are inside one of these huts at night, there is complete darkness. Water? Find a stream to collect it from and boil it if you can. These are different worlds.
When I think about these mountains and compare them to the mountains I was in last summer, it amazes me to think that they are all part of the same world. The same shades of green, but in entirely different forms. Here in Rwanda, the hillsides are a beautiful patchwork of agriculture. One patch is tea, another is a banana plantation and yet another is a tomato crop. In these mountains, people walk miles for firewood to boil their water. In these mountains, there is a school on the top, where children who are able to walk that far everyday have the opportunity to learn English. Rewind to Austria and I see an old Austrian couple living in their mansion called a hut, where they live off the well spent salaries of the tourists who are truly backpacking through Europe. I see the same mountains on different continents with completely different inhabitants. The mountains in Austria are for recreation and those that I encounter here are where millions in Rwanda live their lives every single day. Yet I am somehow filled with the same peace when I walk along the different trails.
The same God created all of these hills, He is the God of all creation. When coming across Psalm 47:1, it reads, “Oh clap your hands all you peoples!” Not just the Austrians, not just the Rwandans. ALL people. We are the people of one earth and of one God. We are each in our place for very specific reasons. My friend Dominik asked me in Austria (the same day the picture above was taken) if I ever wanted to go to Africa. My response was, “No, but I suppose if the opportunity presented itself…” And now here I am. I am learning new things as each day goes by. The children walking home from school bring me joy. The women on the trails show me the incredible strength of those living in rural Africa. The staff at World Relief present to me the hope that Rwanda has. The lives of the most vulnerable people in the world are being changed every single day and though I will not see them all changed in my lifetime, I firmly believe that it is our calling to use the many gifts we have to serve those who need it the most. In the process, you will continually learn more about yourself and the world around you.