I went to Musanze for two days this week with the purpose of getting to know the people. I wanted to know what set this part of Rwanda apart from others, why people enjoy living there, what their struggles are in everyday life and what they hope for in the future. To me America seems to be the land of dreams. It is the place where we learn about other parts of the world, desire to travel and do. It is a place where after we tire of one job we search for another. It is called the land of opportunity and after spending time in Rwanda, I understand why. Rwanda is full of beauty, but the people still face immense challenges everyday. I see the smiles on their faces, but behind those smiles are stories and struggles that they carry with them every day. I think of my own story and see opportunity. I can afford to go to an excellent university, receive an education that tells me no dream is too big and I have the opportunity to go anywhere in the world. Though I don’t take every opportunity that comes my way, the point is that they are still there. Whether I am twenty or fifty, there will always be a whole world out there that I can experience for myself if I try.
So here I am, riding on the back of a motorcycle up a muddy mountain road to experience this corner of the world. Let me tell you, IT IS BEAUTIFUL. Musanze is located in the northwest corner of Rwanda and it seems a fitting place for a church in Seattle to concentrate on. The mountains are home to endangered gorillas, are full of lush green forests, and the rain pours all year long. Speaking with the different people in Musanze, I began to realize that the world is small. Even though the pastors and volunteers and villagers that I met are living in mud huts in the mountains in Rwanda, they hold pride for where they live, for how they dress and for what they do. Over the course of 36 hours, I met 29 people who live in Musanze and every single one of them shared that they love the climate and they love the mountains. They’re just like you, Seattleites! They live in a mountainous rainy place and they love it.
Sharing with you all that they told me is going to be difficult, but I will try my best. Even though our conversations were short, there are words spoken that are difficult to forget. I will not forget the way my heart felt as the widow living with AIDS touched her own cheek to mine. I will not forget the leaky roof of the mud hut in Rwaza and the mountain trails that turned into rivers of slippery mud. Most of all, I will not forget Pastor Jean Baptiste who could not understand why a 21 year old university student from America would possibly want to hear his story. I will not forget the smiles, the embraces, the gratitude and the honesty about where Rwandans stand. They stand in between a place of frustration and contentment, smothered in a blend of sorrow and joy.
My journey helped me look into the eyes of the Rwandan people and ask them how their hearts felt. They were honest conversations with honest answers and after my time I began to understand that we each have things to give and take from one another. One conversation with three people living in an area called Rwaza led to a discussion about the fact that even though America is wealthy, there are still people who live with the same struggles as people in Rwanda. There are still people who go to bed hungry each night, who don’t have a place to sleep, who cannot afford health insurance and who are locked in a circle of debt. AIDS is in America too. College graduates in America also have a difficult time finding jobs. There is no solution to the whole world’s problems and there is no American recipe to success.
There are responsibilities of the church that are similar in each country. In Rwanda, the church is rising up to serve the vulnerable people living in their communities. A seminary student asked me about the wealth that many American Christians have and I told him that we must live generously. We have been given the gift of opportunity, but if we selfishly hold onto it, it is a wasted gift and it is not being used in the way God intended. During Spilling Hope, we were all encouraged to simplify our lives, to learn about the struggles that many Africans face daily and to give generously the money that we have saved. It seems that too often, the more we have, the more difficult it becomes to give. Financial security becomes something that ensnares us and though I am not encouraging you to waste the money you have, I would encourage you to trust that if you give generously, God will provide.
In the next few days before I return, I will begin to share with you the lessons that I have learned from visiting Musanze. There are lessons about generosity, poverty, joy and hope that we all have to learn from Rwanda. There is a different way of life and a different standard of living, but there is also the realization that we read the same Bible and pray to the same God. There are values that have been lost over time and if they are gained once again, perhaps hope will be something that is more prominent in everyone’s lives, not just in the lives of those living in this beautiful mountainous pocket of the world where the rain falls daily.