The thousand hills seem brighter and greener today and I am grateful. When I left Rwanda the first time I did not think it could be more beautiful, but once again – as in so many other ways – Rwanda has pleasantly surprised me with unexpected beauty at every step. This beauty in the banana trees and bright blue sky is only fitting for what the day was to hold: hope. Today, we were finally able to see in person the work that we have heard about for so long and it was encouraging to every one of us.
The day began singing a few songs with the World Relief staff. We were lucky to have chosen so many old hymns that the staff already knew in their own language because it resulted in all of us singing songs to the same God in our own language and that is a truly beautiful thing. It is beautiful because it shows that, despite many many differences, in the end we believe the same thing. It is easy to assume that because some live in Seattle and others in Rwanda (or Germany or China or India or England or Costa Rica or Romania…you choose) we are all marching to the beat of our own drum with no regard for the other. The reality is that we are all tied together by one thing: love. That is what I learned today over and over again. Without love, we are nothing. We explore it over and over again through books, songs, scripture, film and the lives of others…but how often do we explore it in what is perhaps the hardest place of all, our own hearts?
While sitting in a church surrounded by six different couples studying the importance of being faithful to their partners (an HIV prevention program called Mobilizing for Life), one man said something that stood out to me above all else. On the topic of good communication, this is what he had to say:
Whatever is said, when it is without love, it is nothing.
Have truer words been spoken? Why waste our energy on cruelty, hate or intolerance? The world has plenty of that already, so why on earth should we add to it when we know the significance of love? Here in this room, we heard story after story of transformation. It is incredible that all that is required for lives to be transformed is a space in which to talk about why relationships are important and why love is necessary in order to have healthy relationships that reflect values of truth, respect and patience. The beauty of a group like the one we witnessed today is that it will grow. The couples having these discussions will realize their significance and they will spread the word. The conversations will continue, lives will be transformed and love will reign. For it is love that always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails. (I Corinthians 13:7-8)
It was in this same group that a man told us he had written a song dedicated to World Relief to thank them for the way in which they had transformed his marriage. Of course, this is Rwanda, so it was not merely a song. There was a dance to go with it. You could see in his dancing the pain he had once felt in his life and the love he now felt for his wife (a beautiful woman, about to give birth to her fourth child). It is hard to express in words the way he danced, but it was clear in his dancing what he was feeling in his heart. His head would hang low as he yelled and then he would return to his wife with loving eyes, delicately brushing her shoulders and very pregnant belly. It was later explained to us that these motions meant that he was once feeling lost and confused, but has now learned how to have a family that is founded on love. Absolutely amazing.
The second half of the day consisted of meeting volunteers of the Orphans and Vulnerable Children program (OVC) and then a few of the OVCs themselves. Meeting these volunteers made me realize just what a sacrifice they are making. Once a week (for some even more), these volunteers go to the home of an OVC and provide them with the emotional support that they need. Once relationships are developed, these OVCs have health insurance, are attending school and have a relationship with a trusted adult that they would not otherwise have. The volunteers in this program do not leave – with about a 95% retention rate – and that is a testament to how much these volunteers are willing to invest in the lives of the vulnerable in their area.
Once a week. Every week. For 3-5 years. This is indeed a sacrifice, but of the utmost significance to those on both sides of the picture.
What amazed me was what happened when we went to visit a young girl named Josephine, considered vulnerable because she is the head of her household with a father passed away and a mother suffering from HIV. When they started to share their story and their thanks for our visit, they both started to cry. I have never seen Rwandese cry in this way before and it touched my heart in a way I didn’t expect. These beautiful women are so strong and so courageous to be living life at all. So many could have given up by now, but they are not interested in that. I felt honored to be in the presence of such strong people and I don’t know if I could ever have the strength to live the way they do.
This is what is always baffling to me about Rwanda. It is a country with a dark past. A very dark past. Yet it is so full of hope for the future. You find a man dancing in front of his peers to a song he wrote about his own life and the lessons he has learned in it. You find a young girl and her ailing mother touched by the fact that you would want to visit their home. These are the tiny fragments of hope nestled between brick walls, tin roofs and a few more bumpy roads. The hope fragments will continue to pop out over the next ten days and I look forward to seeing how I am surprised next. In the meantime, it is time for our team to rest because, as always, we’ve got a big day tomorrow.