A Week in Little America

Culture shock hit me as I was blessed to have the opportunity to visit the capital city of Kigali last week to help choose Rwandan students to be a part of the Presidential Scholars program. This is a program started by a consortium of universities that work with the Rwandan government to both contribute the money to give Rwandan students a free education in the US at universities like my alma mater, Hendrix.

We took the 150 students who scored best on the national exam (given at the end of high school) and gave them an English test. We then picked the best 50 to interview. Finally, we chose 17 deserving, wonderful, and now very happy students.

I learned a lot from this experience, but was also surprised at how much spending a week in the capital with 9 other Americans eating at nice restaurants and speaking English felt like…well, being in America. Like a Little America, and it gave me a bit of culture shock. I had my first hot shower in over 6 months. Others toured around the city, but I was content to spend free time enjoying a bed larger than my room here in the village, a shower and bathtub, a hotel pool (though unheated of course), a hotel gym, and the tv and refrigerator in my room (neither of which I used because I didn’t need them, but it was nice knowing they were there….). All these “usual” parts of a hotel really just kinda blew my mind. So did eating hamburger and fries, tacos, etc. There are places in the capital to get such Americanized food, but to get to the capital is quite a trek, not to mention it all costs a lot of money. So I was so blessed to have this opportunity paid for. 

There are all kind of missionaries in all different places. I am by far not the poorest, and not in even the poorest environment. But my village is substantially different than a growing developing city like Kigali (where there is also nothing wrong with being a missionary). So while there, I got to realize how much I have identified in a way with my village. All of a sudden the people around me weren’t speaking my new language or wearing the types of clothes we wear or eating the type of food we eat. And it felt a little odd to be a part of. So even though now back home in the village I don’t have my hot showers any more, it’s still good to be back. 

Hard Lessons Learned

Hard Lessons Learned

Today I spent a good 30 minutes crying on my bathroom floor. When I first accepted this call as a missionary, I thought many things:
1) I will be changed, but will change others more.
2) Because this is a calling, I won’t look back.
3) Because I am intelligent and well educated, I will do my job well.
4) My faith will grow through this experience.
5) I will be here for many many years.
6) Old demons and struggles of mine from years past will not haunt me again.

6 months in, I have come to discover many things.
1) I am learning way more than I am teaching, and I teach a lot.
2) Before coming here, I’ll admit I idolized Rwanda and was a little rough on America sometimes. Being here, I’ve seen things about Rwanda both more beautiful and terrible than I had known before. But I’m even more surprised at how God has changed my relationship with my home country. He has given me a sense of pride in where I come from, with it’s problems and all. He has given me a sense of gratitude for my church and family that I previously took for granted.
3. Running a school is hard work. There are a lot of aspects of my job that I am super amazing at. There are others that I am not. I’m humbled by my lack of experience. I’m being shown that while God has gifted me greatly in educating and leading, my forte is not and continues to not necessarily be managing, though I give it my best daily.
4.) My faith flounders all the time. Being here in the center of God’s will for me is not enough. I still have to actively pursue him daily as he actively pursues me.
5) I might never come back to the United States. I might come back in 3 years. I might come back at the end of this year. I cannot plan. I am open to listening to what I feel I’m being asked to do, whether that means being homesick or looking like an idiot for not being gone nearly as long as expected.
6) Wherever you go, there you are. The struggles that have plagued me for many years follow me wherever I go. Demons I hoped were behind me have resurfaced and require me to fight, even in a place where they are not understood. Hence, the crying today.

But as I sat crying, I also ironically felt a lot closer to God than I have in a while. I just kept praying, “Use it for your glory. Use it for your glory. Use all my misconceptions, all my inexperience, all my naivety, all my hard work, all my love, all my struggles, all my sickness, all my uncertainty, all my failures, use them for your glory.”

To tell you the truth, I have no idea what God is doing. I don’t know if he’s training me and preparing me to better serve this school long term, or if he used this school as a way to get me to this country so he can show me somewhere else he wants me to serve here. I don’t know if he is using my time here to change Rwanda more, or affect those in America following and praying for me, or just to change me. I don’t know if he wants to soften me to living in America again, or teach me to love a new home. I don’t know.

But I know that game I have played with these children has brought a smile to them.
I know that every new Bible story they have heard from he has enriched them.
I know that every long hour put in has helped coworkers have more peace.
I know that my friendship has been a blessing to the other missionaries here.
I know that nothing has been wasted. And nothing will be.

So why the picture of 7 year old me? Because I love this photo. I have this peace on my face. God is with that girl. God has a purpose for that girl. And, “the LORD will fulfill his purpose for me, his love endures forever.” Psalm 138:8 So let him continue to work in me, however that looks.

Little House on the Prairie Day

I have always said that if I could live in any time period, it would be “Little House on the Prairie” times. Yesterday I just basked in the glory that living in the village in a third world country is a lot like living in America 100 or 200 years ago. Here’s my journal entry from yesterday:

It’s Umuganda, the one day a month where everyone in the country does physical labor in the morning to better their community. There is a never ending line of people flooding a village path currently a few feet wide but destined to be a full fledged road in a matter of hours. The rhythmic sound of plow crashing into soil and the hands of experienced, barefoot African diggers rings in the air. Today I refuse to feel embarrassed about my lack of skill with a hoe, or my quick to blister white privileged hands. Instead, I let these people teach me and assist me and in doing so, give them the dignity they deserve. We have different knowledges, and that’s ok.

I return to wash my clothes in the hot sun that reminds me so much of a Texas summer day. The smell of the sunscreen I lathered on my face before umuganda aids in the feelings of nostalgia. I soak in the smell and the easy breeze while enjoying washing my clothes in cold rain water, splashing some on myself, daydreaming of swimming pools and water parks and actually looking forward to a nice cold bucket shower later. Treading through tall grasses reminiscent of the scene in the credits of Little House on the Prairie, I take my bucket of clothes to the line hung between two trees with a clear view of the valley and hills far away.

After lunch I take the bicycle to the main road to buy some little things. After five months of being only a passenger in any vehicle, riding the bicycle has transformed me to driver of my own vessel, captain of my own ship, controller of my own destiny. I fly down the dirt path to the shop and greet the owners I know so well. A busted tire threatens to ruin the easy laziness of the day, until I am directed to a man’s house in the village who can fix it for me. I find myself enjoying watching his hands works expertly with such utensils as a rock and razor blade. Women nearby are washing cassava crops and young children. The man fiddles with the bicycle in an impressive display of expertise and gives it back to me in better condition than it began. Knowing he is capable of doing things I most certainly cannot humbles me. We have different knowledges, and that’s ok.

Upon my return the school I see children playing volleyball. I kick off my shoes and let the feel of the soil on my toes stimulate my senses and connect me to just how beautiful the earth God created is if only I remove the barriers that keep me from noticing. After hours of play, I grow tired and retreat under a tree reading in the shade for an hour or two, and listening the sound of birds singing and frogs croacking.  As the day closes, I write in my journal by candlelight until I drift to sleep.

Yesterday was a much needed break. Many days end in frustration, sickness, crying, disgust, distrust, or stress. But that’s what makes days like yesterday all the more beautiful. I don’t know how long I’ll be in Rwanda, or at this school. Only God knows. So for now, I’ll soak up every minute for better or for worse. 

The P6 Commandments

My students in 6th grade (called P6 here) did an exercise in Bible class after studying the commandments, everyone (including me) wrote their own! They had to have some serious and some silly ones, and we compiled our favorites into the P6 COMMANDMENTS! Here’s what we got:

1. Everyone must eat Chapati, maize, and Mexican every day.

2. All P6 members will pass the national primary exit exam

3. Laugh every single day at 6 am

4. Do not drink alcohol

5. Work for your own things

6. Go to Church

7. Comfort your friends

8. Every Rwandan must have two good loving parents

9. Do not fight

10. Everyone gets to play with Sarah’s hair.

 

Some that didn’t make the list but were hilarious were, “kiss someone every day,”  “every child gets a sponsor!”  “do not wear clothes”  “do not wear shoes”  “watch a film every saturday night” and “when another team beats ours at football they get punished.” haha. It was fun but also interesting to see some of the things they valued – many of their commandments involved special food or moral decisions. 

From Rashes to Rain Dances

From Rashes to Rain Dances

It sounded like a bomb exploding when rain fired down on the tin roof of my classroom this afternoon. At first the noise and the wet and the cold made me shiver and frown, until over the thundering murmur of water on metal I heard a student utter one word to me: fetch. I immediately knew what he was saying. I tried to scream the good news but the roar of wind drowned my voice, so I turned to the chalkboard and scribbled out excitedly, “WE DON’T HAVE TO FETCH WATER!” – and all at once my students and I lifted our arms and jumped out of our seats and cheered and danced a grateful dance for rain.
Why? Because now that dry season is upon us and we have more than twice as many boarding students as last year, everyone has to fetch water every day to bathe in. Friday everywhere in Eastern Province the electricity and water was shut off, so even those who normally have running water had to fetch from the spring. Which is why Saturday morning when I went to go do laundry, I found a surprise that really made the reality of life here sink in: there was a line of 37 jerry cans all waiting for water from one little tap from a spring. And you know what? It was a problem that you can’t just throw money at and have it go away. It’s the infrastructure of the country and the reality that even paying to have running water doesn’t guarantee there’s enough for you that day. The poor, the rich, the local, the foreigner- no one is exempt from waiting in the line. Hope you don’t have any emergency, because it’s gonna be a while.
By Sunday the desperation caused fighting near the spring and the violence made it too dangerous to take the children there to fetch. The matrons took them for the hour walk to a lake, whose water is not pure. The following day two children came to me with rashes and blamed the lake water. Luckily by Monday the rest of the province had gotten water back on, and the spring was safe to fetch from again.
So today felt surreal dancing around excited for rain. Now we have at least 3 days without needing to fetch, and without worrying about any rashes. Don’t worry, I still made my declaration on the blackboard relate to our lesson about dependent and independent clauses :)

The Dark Side of Sarah

The best part of yesterday: At least now I know I’m not allergic to wasps! Yesterday was one of those days where all the little things were going wrong. My patience was at zero, and I cried twice out of frustration and stress. Why do we bother mopping if we have to go out in the mud to get from room to room? Putting a nail in the wall only makes it crumble. The rain has simultaneously made it cold and made it impossible to dry my only two pairs of pants since I washed them the previous day. By body is aching for a fruit, a vegetable, anything besides a boiled potato. Finally, a sharp pain is felt on my arm. In confusion and pain I rip off my sweatshirt to get a better look and see a red mark develop and start to swell. Confused, our cook who is with me turns my sweatshirt inside out to reveal a wasp in the sleeve. It’s the last straw. As I am about to break into tears once more, laughter exits my mouth.How long have I been wearing this sweatshirt? Hours now. What a sneaky little wasp! I got to hand it to him, he’s good. In fact, considering there’s a wasp nest outside of every building on the compound (and inside my classroom) it’s a wonder I haven’t been stung sooner!

I let the laughter feel good and realize I have been a horrible representative of Christ on this day. All the people around me are in the same if not worse positions of inconvenience, but I alone am flustered to the point of crossness and tears. I take a moment of humility to express my apology at being angry and my understanding that being cross and impatient is not a Christ-like state, and that with the help of Jesus, I want to improve my attitude. Immediately I have peace and the cook and I smile at each other. It was important for me to confess my sins to this man who, before had never gone to church and was confused when I asked us to pray over each meal but now reminds me to do so if I start to forget. I am a missionary, but I am also a person who fails, and I can’t let that negatively affect anyone’s view of Christ. I was humbled by this man, standing in his shorts, tshirt and muddy bare feet on this cold day, never having complained a day that I’ve known him. I experience another humbling glimpse of Christ on the road in the form of a little girl with a rope fastening her oversized skirt around her belly. Her shirt has a tear that exposes both her young, undeveloped breast and three ribs jutting out from her side. her barefootedness is a given. But she is laughing and smiling and greeting me in Kinyarwanda. “She is clothed with strength and dignity, and she laughs without fear of the future.” On this day, this little girl has been more of the image of a woman of God described as such in the book of proverbs than the bitter missionary.
So I thought more about the dark side of myself. There are more sins I need to confess. I fail daily. I need a savior daily. I often wish for privacy more than opportunities to show hospitality. I glorify how hard-working I am, but go to bed too tired to read my Bible or pray. I idolize the poor and criticize the rich, while in the next moment idolizing the rich and criticizing the poor. My first instinct in interpersonal conflict is to win my argument rather than winning my brother. I waver between an untrusting inferiority complex and a prideful superiority complex. When I don’t let Christ rule in my heart, I’m a selfish, proud, critical, argumentative fraud. And without Christ, you are too. So please don’t respond to this with any kind of reassurance that I’m actually not so bad! What do you or I know about goodness? So little. Only as we delve deeper into relationship with Christ do we begin to see glimpses of it and understand it. So what do I need to do for 2014? Die to self daily. Thirst for Jesus more and more. Learn lessons from barefooted Rwandans. Have no fear of wasps.

Adventures in Uganda

Because I hadn’t gotten my work permit here yet (through no fault of my own), I had to leave Rwanda for a few days and re-enter. Hence, I ventured to Uganda.  Travel alone to another country to stay with a friend of a friend but a stranger to me? Sure! These days I feel I can handle most knew things. So off I went on the 10 hour bus ride, which really wasn’t bad. Stopping at the border proved to have no hiccups, and I got through just fine into Uganda after paying a fee of course. I arrived at 4 in the morning, picked up by Yusuf, the brother of one of the directors of the school. We took a moto down to the village outside of the capital of Kampala where his family owns a lot of rooms for rent.

Day 1: The renters there in the village eye me carefully, but are kind enough not to shout “muzungu!” In fact, it is Ugandan culture for women and girls to have to kneel on the ground to greet their elders. Thus, about 4 different little girls come and kneel before me in the dirty mud. Though I’m pretty sure it’s supposed to have the opposite effect, this humbles me.  Who am I that you should be dirtening yourself for my sake?! The little feminist in me is upset that this cultural norm is only for females, but that’s not my battle I suppose. As a foreigner, I was not expected to participate in this norm. We walked around the village area, which is huge compared to mine, but also much dirtier. Rwanda is so clean compared to most countries in Africa.

Day 2: Went into Kampala, the capital city. It’s very developed. Half the time I felt like I was in Rwanda, and half the time I felt like I was in the US, though neither of them feeling just the same. I even saw a very short overpass! I ate some American food, but to be honest all but the ice cream was pretty disappointing. No one seems to know how to cook it right. I asked for extra sauce on my pizza, and the waiter was very confused. After explaining that no, I was not talking about having ketchup on the side, I was talking about adding more of the tomato sauce when they made the pizza. Yeah, I ended up with a nearly no sauce pizza and two cups of ketchup on the side. *Sigh* But I did try a new food called jackfruit which was yummy!  I also got to visit Amy, another CTEN missionary who is working in Kampala. She showed me around the slum she works and we got to catch up a bit and that was really nice.

Day 3: Went into the city once more, got excited to see a few Christmas trees. Traveled by moto but there they put like 3-4 people on a moto (motorcycle taxi) at one time, all with no helmet, which seems like a bad idea…haha. Then went to the downtown market, and struggled to make it out alive. Ok, not really, but those people are shameless venders. They’ll scream at you, and physically force you into their store. I think they need a lesson in customer service. Yusuf and I left there exhausted.

Didn’t do anything too touristy, for lack of time and money and transport. But I met some nice people, got to see Amy, and bought a sweater. However, the most important part of the trip for me was the unexpected feeling I got when I entered back into Rwanda. I just got so excited to be home. I jumped giddily over the border and smiled all through customs. Whizzing by signs in kinyarwanda, the beautiful clean and quiet hills that are my country, I just felt in my heart a renewed sense of my call. Yes, I heard God remind me, these are the people I need you serving still. 

77 High Fives

I give/receive about 77 high fives a day in the 4 hours I teach in the holiday tutoring we’ve been doing every morning.  The high five has become a sacred ritual in my classrooms, given for correct answers, at the end of each class period as a goodbye, and at the end of the school day as another goodbye. Other rituals have developed as well (the 2nd graders always hide before I enter the classroom. I then proceed to act really baffled as to where they have all gone, before they pop out from behind  their desks to surprise me. I have to say, this is adorable. But I think the 1st graders win on adorable rituals. When they see I’m coming, they all put their heads down on their desks and pretend to be sleeping. It’s adorable, and it’s the quietest they’ll be all day. I then proceed to declare I simply MUST wake them up for class, through a means of tickling them and shouting, WAKE UP WAKE UP! These take about 3 minutes of class time, but put the students in a happy mood so it’s worth it). But the most used and cherished rituals is of course, the high five.

Yesterday I finally counted because I was curious just how many times I engage in what to me is a really amazing gesture for the following reasons.

High fives are fun. This makes them an ideal positive reinforcement tool for young children, and great way to motivate them for a lesson. Can you add and write the answer? Boring. Can you add and write the answer to receive a high five? WHY, YES I CAN TEACHER!

High fives are friendly. They allow someone to come into your personal space for a brief moment of intimacy that says, “yes, let’s be friends.”

High fives are appropriate. Boy? Girl? Old? Young? No problem. Everyone can get a high five without feeling uncomfortable.

High fives are versatile. The 1st grade students have now become fans of the psych out first high five, in which they purposefully miss the first time because it makes everyone laugh, and then they come back for another. After this became old, one little boy named Akim snuck over to an empty seat on the other side of the room which I hadn’t reached yet in my high five tour so that he could get a second one, much like the never ending line of goodbye kisses Snow White gives the seven dwarves. I giggled endlessly. The 2nd graders have become a fan of the high five while jumping, which requires both parties to jump, and I don’t mind this at all. The 3rd graders have introduced the double high five, using both hands. And the 5th graders have introduced the “pound it” knuckle punch after the high five. This is a sacred ritual, I’m telling you guys!

There are two downsides. 1) My hand is the color of a tomato at the end of the day (but it’s well worth it) and 2) it’s amazing how many germs must be spreading. But I think we’re spreading even more love.

The Second to Least of These

ImageThis is Queen Shalon (named Shalon, nicknamed Queen). She is the least of these. She is young, uneducated, poor, and was abandoned by mad parents as a baby, left on the side of the road at night.

Because Queen Shalon now has a sponsor, she will be attending school with us in January! As I was going around visiting sponsored children’s families, I was blessed to meet the family who found Shalon on the side of the road that night, and took her in to be their own, which quickly became legal as authorities found out more about the situation. “She is ours – fully ours,” her new family told me with pride. Queen Shalon’s mother is an older woman, and her other children are mostly grown, all good big brothers and big sisters to little Queen Shalon. Her mother kept praising God for the opportunity for Queen to get schooling. She had tried to enroll her in school once before, but after two weeks ran out of money for the government school (there is no free education) and Queen Shalon was sent home, devastated. Sitting there in a house with sheets for doors and benches as the only furniture, lit by a candle because there is no electricity, I sat in amazement listening to Shalon’s mother tell us what a blessing we are to Queen Shalon. Because Shalon’s mother is perhaps not the least of these, but most definitely the second to least of these, and here she is sharing her little resources selflessly with this little girl. Who has been the biggest blessing to Queen Shalon, the least of these? It is her mother, the second to least of these. This is who stepped up to do the job, and this is incredible.

As Queen Shalon was sitting curled up on my lap (she was the most affectionate girl I’ve found since I’ve bee here), I noticed some burn scars on the side of her head. And then her arm. Her mother sadly informed me that she has had those since she was found. As she instructed Queen Shalon to lift up her shirt for me to see, much of the right side of her tiny body has bad burn marks. These grow as she grows, and sometimes wake her up in the night from burning and itching. Her mother also lovingly recommended that we teach her to write with her left hand, because the burns have affected her nerves. As I asked what she meant, Queen Shalon stuck out her right hand and tried to extend it fully, but is unable to make her fingers straight. In this moment, I wanted to cry. How could this most precious creature have been treated so abominably in her past? What has she done to deserve this? And the truth is, nothing. There is sin in our world and not even the cutest most innocent of children is spared. But it made it all the more touching to me that this mother would take in this child, slightly deformed and with obvious problems. This is not another “worker” for the house. This is true selflessness. This woman, let me tell you, is more filled with God than me or any missionary I have met. God has chosen the second to least of these to serve the least. May his name be praised.

We are a chain. I have been blessed to have been taken in and been given nice meals by other missionaries who have more resources and better living conditions than me. They serve me, who is less, and I serve Queen Shalon’s mother, who is less, and she serves Queen Shalon, who is the least. Everyone has a place and a role.  And in the serving, we ALL become less that Jesus might become MORE – more evident, more glorified, more praised. 

Jesus doesn’t take no crap from nobody, not even a missionary.

I have found myself complaining more than usual the last few days, and I think it has to do with the fact that the electricity has gone out every single evening for the whole evening for the last two weeks.  And so I sat in the dark (since there’s no electricity), in the cold (since there’s no heating/AC unit), in the rain (because it’s rainy season), building a fire (since there’s no stove or oven) to reheat some beans for dinner (since the food I cooked yesterday and was saving for today was eaten by someone…) and I asked God, “Is it really just too much to ask for some electricity?”

And Jesus, trusty mediator between God and man, answered me this: “Yes. That is in fact too much to ask.” He continued, “I recall sacrificing living in a place way more glorious than the United states to live 33 years without a single day of electricity.  Which means just like for you, preparing my food took forever over a fire, with smoke getting in my eyes all the way. It means just like for you, there were some times I was thirsty and there was no clean water to drink and no quick solution to the problem. It means just like you, the day is shot by 6 pm when the sun went down. And just like you, it means no easy solution for being hot or being cold. And in case you were wondering, yes, we had mud everywhere too in rainy seasons. I gave all of this up because the time and place that the Father felt was appropriate to send me to redeem you of your sins did not have such luxuries, and so it was indeed TOO MUCH TO ASK for any of them. Get over it. Because your neighbors are all doing the same thing as you, just like my neighbors were all in the same boat as me. So get over it. Because I don’t recall having hot tea from a kettle when the electricity DOES come on in the morning. I don’t recall occasionally blow drying my hair or having nearly perfect weather all the time or a mosquito net to protect me from disease and insects. I think I blessed you with those things, though, didn’t I? I also don’t recall having a laptop, and being able to access the world wide web from my bedroom. In fact, I also did not have a telephone to instantly connect me to friends and family. And the taxis you complain about waiting for? Yeah, ours looked a lot more like donkeys. So the next time you want to complain to me about all the things you don’t have, you just remember you’re preaching to the choir. So you sit boiling your clean drinking water over your fire and be grateful I created fire for you at all.”

Jesus doesn’t take no crap from nobody, not even a missionary. And that’s my favorite thing about him. So in my evening prayers tonight I know what I’m thanking God for- fire.