My best friend prayed for me before I left for Rwanda. She prayed that as I rode on the rollercoaster that the trip would be, I would always hold fast to God’s promise that he loves all of His children and wants to do His work through us.
The first four days were high highs. Even in the midst of visiting the genocide memorial and a church where the killings took place (I haven’t even begun to process), in hearing about the amazing efforts IJM is making to stop child sexual abuse and in meeting and creating with the women at the co-op, there was profound hope. My heart felt open, not broken.
And then came yesterday.
It all started to weigh heavy on me.
One of our translators – a good, good man who lost his wife 2 weeks ago to sickness – was ousted from his previous journalism career because he spoke his mind, is struggling to piece together odd jobs to provide schooling for his two daughters. He is bright and friendly, educated, intelligent and kind. And he can’t find work. It feels so unfair.
We met a 14 year old IJM client who has endured the unthinkable – physical pain, mental trauma, rejection, hopelessness – and although she is a walking miracle, I just grieved for the suffering she has been through. It happened when she was 10. My oldest is 10. I can’t even imagine.
I had the honor of visiting the home of one of the co-op partners, Solange.
She is a genocide survivor, but lost all of her family. Her husband left her with 5 children, the oldest of whom is 23. Jean-Luc is his name. He is a high school graduate, was the president of his English language club and was so enjoyable to visit with. We sat in their small rental home (one living area with a bedroom they share. It was clean and open and despite the fact that it was a very poor house, I felt comfortable and at home. Their hospitality was inspiring). Jean-Luc, a translator and I had a long visit where we laughed and asked questions and got to learn more about each others’ countries. He is a sweet, handsome, smart young man. He wants to go to University, but he will need to pay his own way and can not find a job.
Note: when I say he can not find a job, it literally means, there is no job for him. It’s not like he is being picky or lazy. There just are not enough jobs in Kigali. Not even for a bright, hard-working, goal-oriented man like my new friend Jean-Luc.
We have many of these same problems in America – violence, unemployment, corruption and coercion – but we have fairly functional systems that make dealing with the issues somewhat easier. Welfare, unemployment benefits, legal representation, a developed justice system.
The people of Rwanda do not have such luxuries. The government is doing all it can, but it is still in its infancy. Keep in mind that the country was absolutely destroyed 20 years ago after the genocide. They are starting over. Things are progressing, but not yet there. There is no unemployment, food bank, free public education, medical benefits.
These are not issues I was passionate about 1 week ago. I knew nothing of the country of Rwanda other than a few facts about the genocide. I knew nothing of the people, the culture, the resiliency, the strong community, the hardships, injustices and need. Now that I know, I can not un-know.
It all came to a crashing low yesterday. I felt like I just wanted to curl up in a ball in the corner and cry. Cry for the sadness. Grieve for the loss. I had to hold it together, but my heart was busting with emotion and I barely made it through the morning.
One of the things I know about myself is that I am tender. I cry easily. I empathize with everyone. I am sensitive and emotional. So it’s no surprise that I fell apart. It was only a matter of time before all of the heaping stories of injustice caught up with me. So much hardship.
But God didn’t let me stay there. He never does. He is a God of hope.
Later in the afternoon, after the enjoyable visit with Jean-Luc and the sweet hospitality of Solange, we said our goodbyes. The neighborhoods here have the most amazing community feel, so all of the neighborhood children were out playing and interested in meeting the foreigners. We hadn’t been around a lot of children until this point, but playing with little ones is one of my greatest joys – I was so excited to see those sweet faces. Communicating with children who do not speak English is difficult, but the wonderful thing about children is that you don’t need language. Hand clapping games, Polaroid photos, hugs – they respond to it all.
I’m not sure how it happened, but with 20 or so children gathered around me, we held hands and hopped. Hopping is universal, I supposed.
So we hopped, saying the word hop each time. Hop. Hop. Hop.
Their little accents made it sound more like another word: hope.
With each jump, hope. Hope. Hope. Hope.
Twirling is my thing. Twirling is dancing, yes, but more importantly, it is just being who God made me to be. Sometimes it might look like crying with those in pain. Sometimes it is playing with children on a dusty dirt road. But always it is loving. Loving through tears, through creating, through helping wash beans or folding mounds of laundry at home. Through reading a book to my children or giving our money in support of organizations like IJM and Noonday.
We can not solve all injustices and pain on our own. I can not give our translator a job or ensure that Jean-Luc has a future. I can not bathe every one of those babies and make sure they have a meal tonight.
But I can love. Love in the best way I can at the moment.
And sometimes that looks like twirling in Africa.