When we arrived in Rwanda, Rachel lead our first team devotions and she pulled out a copy of Love Does for each of us. It is an excellent book that we have all been enjoying, full of short vignettes about living a full life that is driven by one thing: love. It is a book that inspires you to live your life unabashedly, courageously and joyfully. I can’t think of a better book to read while here in Rwanda, especially considering it is the book that pushed at least one of us to get on a plane to come here. What I enjoy about reading it while in this perfectly beautiful place is that this way of life – this unabashed, courageous, joyful life – has been displayed by so many of the people we meet. Through every home visit, on every bumpy car ride and over every plate of potatoes and bananas, we are able to better understand what it truly means to fully live a life of love.

Unabashed: not embarrassed, disconcerted or ashamed. So many different pastors, volunteers, staff and community members have welcomed us into their lives with warmth. They show us their homes with pride, give us seats of honor at their savings clubs, and we part ways feeling like friends. There is something truly humbling about being given a seat in someone’s home when they themselves sit on the ground. I should not be in this seat, we think to ourselves, yet that’s just it. We should be in that seat. Because in their home, in this moment, we are not there solely to give something. Indeed, we are sharing ourselves with them, but the purpose of these moments – these points of connection – is to show that we have a strong desire to understand where they come from. We too can receive something from them as we learn about the immense relational richness they experience in their lives. The fact that they are still able to support their neighbor who is living with AIDS when they themselves live off of only two dollars a day…well, why do we so often forget it is not that difficult to live generously, even when we have “little”?

Courageous: not deterred by danger or pain; brave. Tuesday was the day that we went to visit Josephine and her mother (Josephine is a vulnerable child, heading her household as she cares for her mother living with AIDS) and it is still a day I cannot get out of my mind. All I could think about as a big group of crazy white people crammed into her little home was how incredible it is that she still has the courage and desire to live a full life. To not be deterred by pain is no simple feat here in Rwanda, yet every morning people wake up, spend all of their daylight hours working incredibly hard and return home, only to do it all over again the next day. It is not an easy life, not in the slightest, yet the people of Rwanda continue to hold their heads high with hope for tomorrow. The volunteers who support the World Relief programs in Rwanda display an incredible amount of courage because they are stepping out of their own daily life and adding a new responsibility that will take a lot of extra time and energy. Yet there are hundreds of volunteers all over Rwanda reaching out to the most vulnerable people in their communities and their love is spreading like wildfire.

Joyful: feeling, expressing or causing great pleasure or happiness. Today we went to a community event in the Cyuve sector of Musanze that hosted about 300 men, women and children, all of whom are part of a program called “Mobilizing for Life.” This program is focused on HIV/AIDS prevention and marriage and faithfulness training, but there is no way you could have predicted what this event would be like. From the moment we stepped out of the car, dozens of children came running and stared at us with their big, beautiful, brown eyes. I knelt down and spoke to them, but when I stood back up, two of them grabbed each of my hands and brought me toward a giant group of people dancing in the middle. And when they dance, they DANCE. It was at this point that the smile went on my face and didn’t leave for the next three hours. The entire morning felt like one giant talent show with every choir from Cyuve competing (it felt like that because that’s exactly what it was, with the top seven performances awarded a goat for their community). To watch the singing and the dancing filled my heart with joy because every performance was about their lives being transformed through love. Loving God, loving their neighbors, loving their families, loving their spouses…it is incredibly encouraging to see the way they love one another so deeply and I hope that I can do the same. How on earth could my heart not be overflowing with joy when this is the story I get to be a part of?

We have been learning a lot so far on this journey, but this is most definitely a day I will not forget. It is a day that makes me realize my relationship with Rwanda is certainly not over. It makes me realize that my roots here are perhaps deeper than I realized and it makes me realize that Rwanda has taught me much about living life to its fullest potential. So, as we continue to read Love Does, I think we can hope that we can create our own version of the book compiled of our experiences in Rwanda where love transforms shame into pride, fear into courage and sorrow into joy.