Thursday, October 25, 2007

The problem is not God, the problem is the choices humans make

October 22, 2007 (cont)
It was helpful to ride to and from the memorial with Jacques, who works in the Geneva Global office in Kigali. GG is an investment research, monitoring and evaluation group whose premise is to show hard-to-translate value in philanthropic investments. We are partnering with them on some projects in Rwanda.

Jacques is from the DRC (formerly Zaire), which borders Rwanda. His story includes experiences as a refugee and it was fascinating to hear his honest and humble recounting of terrifying moments. Though he was not in Rwanda during the genocide, he has a huge heart for “national reconciliation” because of the ethnic tensions from the past that spill over from country to country via refugees. This is a key element unique to certain countries because of their histories. In “national reconciliation” people from different ethnic groups are brought together over common interests and in the process move forward together in positive interaction. It is also referred to as “peace building” which inherently promotes a future of hope as well as healing from the past. I am greatly encouraged that the projects we are funding include a heavy emphasis on peace building.

October 23, 2007
Today we drove to visit some people near Rhuengheri who are receiving rainwater catchment tanks via Moucecoure (moo-say-coor), a Rwanda-based ngo focused on spiritual and economic transformation through community-initiated self help groups. Often the groups pool together their own funds, resources and sometimes manpower to make contributions toward the water project. They also identify the poorest of the poor in their village and take initiative to improve that person’s life, perhaps by building a new house or giving some animals and crops. Moucecoure prioritizes reconciliation of relationships and restoration of hope in their work.

The drive from Kigali is about 2 ½ hours on winding roads between altitudes of 5000 and 8000 ft. The scenery in Rwanda is stunning with lush green plant growth everywhere along tiered hillsides. Every inch is utilized for agriculture, animals, and homes. I’m invigorated by this place because there is evidence of purpose and contentment in work as I look around. As we climbed up and down the roads there were steady flows of people walking on the roadside carrying food, riding bicycles with goods, or working in the foil throughout the fields. Sure, there are those that don’t work and may not be happy, but I sensed an overall pride and joy unique to Rwanda.

My initial shock upon arriving in the village was the difference in the reception of mzungus (white people) here, at least away from the city. As we pulled into the village, kids surrounded the vehicles yelling “mzungu, mzungu” and reaching their hands out to beg. Unfortunately it seems their interactions with mzungus in the past have been more in the fashion of handouts. Or perhaps traditions and lore have perpetuated those ideas. Regardless, I was saddened and reminded of the importance of community ownership and relationship.

The recipients of the clean water have done so much in preparations; they have formed groups to tackle problems in the village and already raised funds toward the projects. Essentially BWM funds are helping provide the installation of rainwater catchment tanks that each serve 4 families year round with clean water. The villagers will no longer have to walk 9 km down a 1000 ft drop of elevation—and then back—each day to the lake in the valley, which is filthy too.

As we listened to a volunteer speak about her community’s response in mobilizing a self-help group, we saw pride and joy and felt a sense of hope across typical barriers. Leading up to the initial water project, one of the groups took initiative to identify the poorest person in the village and then built a new home as well as provided some other tangible needs. BWM funds are not simply dropping a gift off, but instead are supporting and building capacity based on a solid foundation with the help of Moucecoure.

The rest of the day included lunch with our partners in Rhuengheri and the return drive to Kigali. Jacques was in our car and continued sharing freely about his life experiences and cares. His presence and steadfastness has been very inspiring to me. When we got back to the hotel we had a chance to relax and check in with emails or by phone, and dinner brought us to a fabulous Indian restaurant to finish out the day.

October 24, 2007
I had my best night of sleep yet, sleeping thru the night and waking fairly refreshed at about 6:30. The hotel breakfast has been a great start to the day with some fruit, breads, omelets, juices and tea. I’ve continued to maintain a drop in my intake of chocolate and sweets during the trip, which is probably helped by the fresh fruit consistently available for snacks and meals. I will miss that.

Our trip is finishing with a day of visiting some communities with our Rwanda-based partner AEE. They are doing amazing work in a separate rural sector north of Kigali near Buyumba. They are similar to Moucecoure in their approach via self-help groups. I had the privilege of riding in the car with and listening to stories and thoughts of Antoine, the head of AEE. One of my favorite aspects of this trip has been the opportunity to converse at length with fantastic people, and I will miss them all.

Antoine was born in northeast Rwanda and lived through the genocide with his own unique story. He and his wife had fled from Kigali toward Buyumba as the genocide approached, and spent several months in a refugee camp. They had one child at the time and were expecting another (his wife was 2 months pregnant and suffering from morning sickness frequently in the refugee camp). He, like Jacques, has a great passion for improving relationships through reconciliation nationally. This passion is obviously from the implication of moments in his life. His insight and opinions were inspiring to me; his honesty too.

We visited Nyande Primary School where BWM funds are helping provide a rainwater catchment tank. Right now the kids spend school time each day fetching water for drinking as well as cleaning schoolrooms and the latrines throughout the week. When the tank is finished in the coming months the students will be less distracted from school and have more water than before.

We then went a little farther in the bush and hiked down to a newly protected natural spring (thanks to BWM donations). The hike followed a trail dropping 500 feet over a ½ mile stretch at an elevation of 6500 feet. It was difficult to keep good footing, but after filling 15 litre jerry-cans we all started the ascent and had an even worse time. The altitude got to me quickly in addition to muscle fatigue. As we neared the top we passed by a household of an elderly couple that needed some water, so I walked over and poured my water into their basin.

It was a humbling thing to walk as they walk. Many rural Rwandans don’t need exercise because they get it naturally every day. I can understand than now and appreciate the work that goes into getting clean water. It would probably take more than 20 trips per day to get the amount of water we use in the Sands household daily. It’s a little easier to understand why kids tend to be dirtier in the rural areas and their clothes are not very clean…if you only have a very small amount of water, some things just aren’t priorities.

I know the water hike and the trip overall have brought transformation about inside me that will affect the way I talk about Africa and its people. Its one thing to connect with people via a story or video—unfortunately this is all we have most of the time. But it is another to engage with them and walk together. There is nothing like being here. But once implicated on the ground here it changes the way you speak and the motivations behind your speech. This is a gift and blessing that can be shared with other people who only hear and do not get to see firsthand.

Which reminds me, as I close, of another thing Antoine mentioned: the ministry of presence. It is a forgotten art in America, as busyness and selfishness unfortunately guide hearts easily. Rwandans appreciate people coming to help, but even more they value that you’re spending time with them…that you are present with them. Time is viewed differently, and so is family. This is one of the great challenges as we enter into American life again with families, work, hobbies, community life and so forth: to be truly present with people and live out love and mercy together.

October 25/26, 2007
We are flying over the Atlantic right now on the 3rd leg of our flights from Rwanda to Nashville. Much of my airplane time has involved reengagement into work and the busyness of home. Thankfully work didn’t pile up terribly, but there are still emails and phone calls hat start pressing the mind with weight. Before you know it you’re quickly forgetting your “presence” in another land and it takes work to maintain and grow some love and joy from afar now.

Pictures will be helpful as we re-enter our lives. They don’t tell entire stories but they are an asset to personalizing stories and speaking from the heart with grace. I didn’t have a digital camera on the trip so I have been photo-free in my blog posting. I wonder if its been helpful allowing the imagination to wander into more fullness beyond the confines of a picture. Yet if my heart and joy is to dig deep and get to know people instead of words and numbers, pictures are a part of the story. I’ll try to post some in the coming days

There are quite a few phrases and one-liners that weigh on me still, and perhaps it’s a good time to share those now. Like any words or ideas, they are not always across the board and they lack the hours of context and backdrop leading to their utterances. But I want to share them with the hope that they spur minds to think and hearts to connect and bodies to action:

On investment that fails:
Investors often operate with the minimum expecting the maximum with no risk.

On fighting poverty:
Poverty is a mindset, not just a lack of materials goods and resources. If you change the mindset, you change a nation.

On culture changes:
There is a great tension between the more modern/western culture continuously growing in the cities, all the while the majority of Rwandans live in rural areas clinging much deeper to traditions, family, relationships, and purposeful work. The goal should not be to replicate city culture in the village or vice versa, as it is arrogant and presumptuous. Unfortunately most city folks stay in the office more frequently, and become less aware, engaged and affected by situations in the places the come from or people they represent.

On change:
Part of managing change is making readjustments along the way.

On being a refugee and having hope:
God prepares you for the things in the future, not what you want, but what you will need.

Referencing Jeffrey Sachs/End of Poverty:
Good development is helping people get their foot on the first or next rung of the development ladder.

On home life:
Having a good home is not about absence of conflict; it is how you work through conflict that is vital.

On asking “Where was God in the Genocide?”:
Do we want God to be a policeman or a judge? True love must involve choice.

On asking “Where was God in the Genocide?” (part 2):
God was everywhere…there is no one in this country who would say that God was not with us in that time. They may say that religion failed, and it did miserably, but God was present and working even through these dark things. The country was bent toward terrible evil that had been festering for years. Even with the family I lost, the friends I lost (and there are so many) I am thankful the injustice came to a close so that our children can once again have hope. God was merciful in bringing evil to its head and ending it rather than sitting from afar with hands folded and letting it continue for generations.

On being present:
In Rwanda we value a “ministry of presence” very highly. If you come and help build a house, you are often concerned with if you’re being helpful or a distraction; we’re just thankful you are with us and enjoy your presence. These are conflicting mindsets.

On achievement:
You can’t work everywhere and achieve much.

On why Rwandans and millions around the globe have unmet needs and yet the global community has more than enough money and resources to intentionally approach and provide for the needs; Perhaps said as, “How does God let people live like this [in poverty and deep brokenness] and why doesn’t he do something?”:

The problem is not God, the problem is the choices humans make. God is very present and merciful, man is not, and this difference will continue to bring awful things to bear until Christ returns to restore brokenness for good.


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