It’s never easy to think about going home, especially when you are leaving a place that also feels like home. But this is always inevitably part of the process, is it not? When our intent was to come to East Africa and build relationships with the people we would meet, I would be concerned if no one on this team felt a bit of ache in their heart as we prepare to leave. For me deeply planting, even if only for a short time, is worth the pain of uprooting in the end. It has been very tiring and very good to have several debriefing conversations as a team in the past few days because it has made me see that this trip has been very impactful for each member of the team in different ways.
For some of us, the trip has opened our eyes to a whole new part of the world and the beauty and pain that exists within it. For others, it has brought out the skeptic in us, questioning why we are here and if it is good to be here or not. Many of us have made friends here and are already feeling welcomed or called back. For a few of us, this has been the thing that draws us to stay at Bethany and remain committed to the community we have been searching for for so long and have finally found. I do not doubt that this will be an unforgettable experience in many ways, but it is so easy to forget all that you learned as soon as you are back into the comforts and rhythms of everyday life. That is my fear, and no doubt the fear of others, so I ask you to pray for us as we begin to ask ourselves what going home will hold in store for us.
I wish I could share with you the many stories we have shared with one another, the different reactions we have had to our time here and the brief moments that touched our hearts in nearly indescribable ways, but there are nine of us and that would take an eternity. There will be times at Bethany for us to share with you our photos, the stories of transformation, and the hope in our hearts after being in such an incredible place, so please contact one of the members of the team if you are interested in being a part of that. Sharing is a critical aspect of the process of returning to “normal” life, so if you have ears and a heart to listen, I pray you will. This will be so helpful to the team and will help in healing our hearts that are breaking as we leave.
Tonight I asked the team to choose one key player in their journey that will spur them into a world of other stories for those who care to listen. My key player is a World Relief staff member named Denise. I met Denise two years ago on a very rainy day high in the mountains of Musanze. When I arrived on the back of Pastor Bwende’s motorcycle, she was standing under an umbrella with a huge smile on her face and she walked with me underneath that bright rainbow umbrella all over the muddy hills of Rwaza sector. There was a certain warmth about Denise that made me feel so safe and happy even though I was cold and wet and in a very new place. When I arrived in a classroom of a Catholic parish, Denise was there with several other church leaders and I got to know her a little bit better. She was a volunteer for World Relief at that time, working with the savings clubs, and she was also the choir director at the church.
I never had a conversation as deep as the one I had that day on the mountain. After a long discussion about poverty in America versus poverty in Rwanda and the lessons we can both learn from one another, I asked the group a question I had been asking myself for the nine weeks I had been in Rwanda, “How are you still smiling? Are you happy?” Silence came over the room for a short time and then Denise spoke up. “No, this is not the life that we ask for, but we make the best of it. In our bodies we have poverty, in our spirit we have hope.” The moment the words left her lips, I realized it was all true. As we often hear when people return from trips similar to the one we are on right now, the people we meet in Africa are living in destitute circumstances yet they are still happy. Perhaps it is not happiness that they feel in the midst of their poverty, but it is indeed true that they carry a hope, and even a joy, with them that we have never been (materially) poor enough to even imagine.
Now Denise is a staff member at World Relief and her partner in crime, Pastor Emmanuel, was once a pastor who walked into a World Relief pastor’s training one day. Their lives have been transformed in the past two years and now they are working hard to empower so many others to transform their own lives. There are so many stories of this kind of transformation in Rwanda and Uganda and we have had the honor to be witness to some of them. As the relationship between Bethany Community Church continues to grow with World Relief Rwanda and Living Water Uganda, we will have the pleasure of seeing so many more of these stories with our own eyes. We see transformation of individual circumstances, church congregations, and entire communities. God is hard at work here and it is incredible to see. That is what makes leaving so difficult…it feels like we’re just getting started! The reality is that this is all part of a much grander process and that is why we are choosing to stand for the vulnerable and bring the living water of Christ to all who need it. It is an honor to be even a small part of this process and I thank God that you, our supporters, are choosing to walk alongside us and take part in the process as well.