As we studied the books of Genesis, Matthew and Romans at school last year, we often sang a song called “Beautiful Things.” It’s a lovely song that sings over and over again, You make beautiful things, You make beautiful things out of the dust. I would cling to those lyrics when life was feeling too hard to handle. Amidst the pain and brokenness, there must be something good. Sometimes I would find it, other times I would not. As the weight of Rwanda was heavy on my heart, I began seriously questioning that theology. During the past few weeks, questions of the past and present of this country began to make me weary. It felt as though the weight of the world was on my shoulders and I was saddened by the fact that I felt too overwhelmed to do anything. And then there was beauty.
As eight Rwandan school kids ages 9-24 sat in the living room of the guesthouse, I saw hope. There they were munching on pizza and popcorn, in a truly American Friday night fashion, and smiling some of the biggest smiles I had ever seen. As soon as the guitar came out of its case, a two hour sing along began and my heart was overflowing with joy. There was singing and dancing, English and Kinywarwanda, and two cultures squished together in the living room to make a very beautiful song. As I listened to their voices, my heart filled up and enthusiasm filled me from my head down to my toes. I learned to dance and when I started to sing songs with them out of the Kinyarwanda hymn book, I was told for the second time that day, “You are Rwandese!”
I don’t know exactly what happened that made people in my life here start calling me Rwandese. Was it the dress made out of Rwandan fabric? Was it learning bits and pieces of the language? Was it the dancing? “It’s not about color,” they assured me as I doubtfully put my hand next to theirs pointing out that I was about as far from Rwandese as I could be. “You love Rwanda?” I nodded and smiled. “Then you are Rwandese!” I can handle that. In fact, I would love nothing more than to live into that. I’m here for only three weeks more, it is important that I embrace those weeks fully. It is important that in spite of the brokenness I find the beauty.
I have been discouraged by the poverty. My heart aches when I look into the tired eyes of a child that has no food to eat. I look at the longing eyes of the widow in the savings club and wonder what those eyes have seen in the last fifty years. The little boy is riding a bike much too big for him with a bundle of sticks on the back. There is a woman sprawled out on the grass and someone looks over her with concern…is she okay? I drive by a genocide memorial site and wonder what happened at that one. Was it a murder of a hundred or a a thousand? Either way, my heart aches the same. But somehow, in the midst of it all, discouragement gave way to profound joy.
Sorrow, however, turns out not to be a state, but a process…grief is like a long valley, a winding valley where any bend may reveal a totally new landscape. A Grief Observed
I heard the laughter of the kids and decided to turn around the next bend to see what they were laughing about. When I did, I found joy. I found friendship. I found love. I found hope. I found LIFE. Kids for Compassion, that’s how they are able to go to school. A program started by a ten year old girl who had a heart for these kids and decided to raise money to send them to school. She’s sixteen now and I had the pleasure of living with her for four weeks. Hearing the stories of the hope these children hold was very encouraging to me. When I would be discouraged at the end of the day, she would share a story of the kids eating pop rocks or going on a long bus ride out of the city. I would remember that it’s not all bad, that there is so much beauty even in the midst of a very broken world.
As I attempted to define poverty for a curriculum I am helping to write, I came across a perfect passage in response to the brokenness of the world that feels like a heavy and often hopeless cause:
While the good creation is deeply distorted, it retains some of its inherent goodness. Flowers are still pretty. A baby’s smile brings joy to all who see it. People are often kind to one another. And both poor individuals and communities continue to exhibit God given gifts and assets. When Helping Hurts
Indeed, people are often kind to one another. When you watch the news or listen to the radio, that is not the impression that you get. These are things that do not give you a full picture of the world. They are important things to pay attention to, but don’t forget to open your eyes to what is right in front of you. When you read about the Norway killer, don’t forget that outside your window there is a family out walking their dog. When you read about the homeless population of Seattle, don’t forget that there are ways to get involved to serve them. Good things are being done in this world…zoom in for a moment to the individual stories.
Do you remember the story of the barber? Life looked grim for him, someone took a stand for him and he is now able to care for an orphan. A woman in a savings group took out a loan and was able to start her own business. She has now paid back the loan and makes up to 8000 francs a day (about 15 dollars)! Ezra is a boy who was alone and afraid and now he is in school and participating with other kids because a group of women decided to pay for his school fees out of their own limited resources. A woman volunteered for a children’s care group and then learned valuable techniques for taking care of her own special needs son. Day after day things are being done to bring hope to the hopeless.
Whoever you are, wherever you are, ask yourself what you can do. Big or small, rich or poor, an hour or a minute, do something to serve. You know the limits of your generosity…push them just a little bit further and imagine what can be done!