Mutara Update

One of the things that I have been doing for the last few years in Rwanda is helping people communicate.  I have worked a lot with Amiss on newsletters and different updates.  (His spoken English is really good, but when he tries to write… it is very difficult to decipher.)  (Sorry Amiss.)

He is a great storyteller and communicator – so usually he dictates and I type – I make small grammar changes or ask him to clarify if I think things are hard to understand.  So the rest of this post is one of the recent updates we wrote together.  I thought it would also give you a good idea of how the project is continuing (but nearly in someone else’s words).

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We are thankful for what God is doing among the support group [for people with HIV/AIDS].  They are growing in their relationship with God, and they are building their families on God’s foundation.

We have several members whose spouses did not want to attend the group, because they were afraid for people to know that they are affected by HIV.  However, because of what our members have been learning, they have wanted their spouses to come.  We are very thankful that four people have convinced their spouses to join us, so we have 4 couples attending together.  The more people come out to the support group, the more we can reduce the spread of HIV by teaching them not to sleep with multiple partners.  Also, the more we interact with people, the more we know how we can assist them.

There is one lady who has come to the support amiss update1group; her name is Ainna.  She came to the group as a Muslim.  A few months ago, she received Christ into her life.  It impacted me deeply to see the big change in her life.

About 1 year ago, we gave 6 families female goats to help them begin to earn income.  Once each female has 2 babies, they give one back to the support group (which we pass on to someone else), and then they can sell one, as well as future offspring.  They can use the profits to start another business or to buy health insurance.   Another benefit of the goats is that they can use the manure as fertilizer.  Currently, three families have goats they are preparing to give back to the support group, and so the next round will begin.  (Ainna’s family was one family who received a goat.)

amiss-update2.jpgIn January, we started a preschool in Ryabega.  Forty percent of the children are children of support group members.  We are glad that they are going to this school – it is a good school.  They are receiving quality education and care in an environment that focuses on child development and supporting the whole family.  One of the children loves his teacher so much; he tried to put some of his breakfast in his pocket, to take as a gift to share with Teacher Robert.  (He is the boy in the orange shirt.)

As we have been trying to get the proper papers to establish the preschool, it has lead to visits by leaders from various levels.   They were excited to see what we are doing, and are happy to collaborate with us.  We have struggled to make the right connections with leaders who can make the recommendations we need, so that our ministries can have official approval.  The visit to the preschool is a big breakthrough for us.

During the long school holiday from Amissupdate3November to January, we had many students who returned from school to our football team.  It was a good time of discipleship, and some of the students gave their lives to Christ and joined churches.  Some of students also stopped drinking and/or smoking.  As more people from this generation come clean, it brings hope for our nation.

Five of our sponsor kids had national exams this year.  Three passed and will move on to the next grade level at a good school.  The ones that didn’t pass will take their next grade level at a lower quality school.

On a personal note, Nathan is doing physio.  We have good insurance for him, which helps us cover his medical treatments for now.  Friends and family have been standing with us to make sure we can care for Nathan well.  The YWAM leaders in Kigali have helped us by providing daily transportation to and from the hospital for our family.  The doctor we are working with is professional, helpful, and good at answering questions and providing additional information.  We are seeing improvement in Nathan’s condition, and are so encouraged by that.

Finally, we are thankful to welcome our friends Mike and Amanda back to Rwanda.  They have spent time with us in Kigali, and it has been good for us to stay together and share our lives again.

 

 

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Tax Time (or, Why I Love YWAM part II)

For the first time ever, we got an accountant to do our taxes this year.  We are out of the country through most of tax season, and there are a few things I wasn’t sure how to deal with – and for now I am farming out all of the hard things I can.

(Let me say that I am happier than ever to live in a country where our taxes pay for some amazing things, like roads and health care, but this does make me laugh.)

 

An accountant was recommended who was familiar with YWAM.  (Because of the way we raise our own support, we are in a weird income tax category.)    One of the things he said when we met with him really struck me.  I can’t make an exact quote, but it was something like this,

“You YWAMers.  You shouldn’t have to pay much income tax because you give away so  much of your income.  It gets used for your work and donated to people who need it.  You give more than any people I know.”

This wasn’t exactly news to me.  I know how much of our “income” actually goes towards things for work, and I’ve seen statistics on how much the average Canadian (and Canadian church-goers) give to registered charities.  (And known that the dollar amounts we give are way above that, despite the fact that our income is much, much lower.)

This isn’t to pat myself on the back – generosity is woven into the DNA of YWAM as an organization, and certainly we are far from exceptional among our colleagues.  But I have been thinking a lot about this accountant’s words, and pondering  some of the “why” of this, and have a few thoughts.

One factor is that we are often in positions where we see the value of the work.  I’ve seen some of my colleagues having tremendous impact over the years.  Sometimes the best way I can lend support is through my skills or encouragement.  Sometimes the best way I can lend support is through sharing our finances.

Another factor is that we are often rubbing shoulders with people in real need.  We are in positions where our hearts (and wallets) are moved by compassion.  If the hospital is going to stop caring for my friends’ baby because they can’t pay an $800 deposit (and then the baby will probably die)?   No, I don’t have $800, but I can get $800, and figure out how to adjust our budget to accommodate later.  (Because what’s the value of $800 compared with the life of my friends’ baby?)

Most of the needs are smaller, less dramatic, and more regular than this.  Our friend’s dad is in the hospital, and she wants to travel to him to take some food.  A missionary friend is trying to raise the cost of books, so that her kids can have a decent education.  Another friend has health insurance, and so will be cared for at the hospital, but needs money to pay for the trip to the hospital.    You get the idea.

Sure, there are other ways I would like to spend that money – other things I had planned to spend it on (often things we “need”).  But I find I don’t miss it.

Our Team (Or, the People Who Have Saved My Sanity, Part III)

This has always been the planned third post in this series. (The first and second posts are  here and here.)  It has taken on a bit of a different slant, now.  (Not only because my sanity might be in question.)

 

We have met and worked with some really incredible people in Rwanda.  We moved out to the village Ryabega over 4 years ago with 3 other families we hardly knew to pioneer this project.   We have wildly different backgrounds (including 6 nationalities), experiences, education, skills, theology, and personalities.

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Cooking with Amiss & Marieth, when we lived with them in their house.

Professionally, it has often been difficult to work through issues of direction and how to get there – but we have consistently come up with better solutions together than we would have alone.  The variety of skills and passions across our team has allowed us to have impact and insight into various areas.  It has been a privilege and an honour to serve alongside such excellent individuals.

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cleaning the tanks

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Personally, these people are my dear friends.  We have walked together through more than our share of tragic and dramatic.

I would far rather be the one helping than the one needing help – but in these last months especially, these people have generally been there for me before I have even asked.  And on the occasions when I have asked, they have responded without hesitation.

There have also been all of the

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Our Aussie team member, making sure we celebrate Canadian Thanksgiving. (She also took many of these pictures).

ordinary, daily experiences: coffee and cake (CAKE!!  you have no idea how good cake can be when you rarely get treats); parenting advice, support, and encouragement; and practical help (once we had invited everyone over for a meal, and I went outside to find two of the guys replacing the broken backflow valve on our watertank).

 

 

 

 

And they loved my child.  They played with her, valued her, and helped us be better parents.  Their kids played with Beatrix, and she adored them.  (They are great kids.)

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After swimming.

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All 3 siblings trying to help Beatrix ride the bike.

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The picture just before this shows mama and friend distressed, as Beatrix was trying to crawl onto the baby – but they patiently helped her figure it out – Beatrix just wanted to give her a hug.

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There are more pictures, and so many more memories, but I think this is a good selection.  When we were thinking of moving to the village to work on this project, we knew that we couldn’t do it alone, and that we would only go if others came to work here, too.  But we had no idea we would meet, live and work with such incredible people.

 

Odd & Awed

We are spending some time in Europe on our way back to Canada.  We are debriefing, visiting, and resting.

I have a strange life.

I have many moments where I catch myself, stand back, and think, “My life is really weird.”

Sometimes it is because I am totally bewildered, and have no idea how I ended up in this moment or how to move forward.  Sometimes, it is because some very strange set of circumstances has collided so that I find myself in the midst of an awesome experience, and I stop to be grateful for the privilege.

In the last months, we have been in some beautiful places.  I have had those moments, where I have nearly stopped and thought, “My life is really weird.  This is awesome”  Each time, my brain has stopped itself before the thought has been entirely completed, interrupting itself with a second thought, “But I wouldn’t be here if my daughter hadn’t died, so really, there is nothing awesome about this situation.”

 

On Easter Sunday I was walking through the woods, and my brain started this same thought.  (I was walking through the woods, in Denmark, near the ocean.  Where we were staying with friends at a seaside cabin for the Easter weekend.  I’m sure you can see how the thought was sparked.)  This time, though, as my brain started arguing with itself that I don’t really appreciate the amazing set of circumstances that has brought me here, there was another argument – that even so, even given the pain that we have been through, it is still awesome that I get to heal with such good friends – in such a beautiful place.  I never would have imagined myself wandering through the woods near the Danish coastline – but here I am, and it is awesome.

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Not suffering alone

Recently I was staying at friend’s house in Kigali.  It was 10 pm, we were just about to start turning in, when she got a phone call.

Baby Nathan was having trouble breathing.

So I jumped in her car with her, and we picked up Amiss, Marieth, and baby Nathan.  As they got in, I could hear that he was still sucking some air in, but it was laboured, and it  obviously wasn’t anything like enough.

Nathan has trouble getting air sometimes, especially when he becomes stressed, but the addition of a cold made it so much worse.

So we sped off to the hospital, where they put him on oxygen.  As the doctor were talking with his parents, he started to get upset and cry again.  Even though his mama had her hands on him so he would know he isn’t alone, he likes to have someone close to his face, talking to him.  So I went around and did that, while his parents talked with the doctor.  He calmed right down.

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Later, they were taking some blood.  So I went around and talked to him again, but it didn’t calm him down.  I almost stopped then, but then I realized – even if its not stopping his distress, it might help somehow for him to know he isn’t alone.

I was thankful to be able to be there with them at this moment.  I was so thankful that Nathan was able to get a treatment that helped.

After a few tests, they sent us home, and over a week or so he recovered from his cold.

I realized that I could empathize with this baby:  I have been in so much pain – and all the things that go with it – loneliness, bewilderment, confusion, trying desperately to just do basic things to survive.   But knowing that I haven’t been alone has made all the difference.

 

Occasional Sinkage Too

(Exciting Guest Post from long time listener, first time caller….. Mike)

I don’t post often but when I do…..

Being back in Rwanda has, as Amanda has well conveyed, been so good but often so painful. In the midst of this we have had to make more internal efforts to remain on top of the wave… to use a surfing metaphor (just wait, it’ll make sense…maybe).  To this end, I have returned to a practise I had stored all the way in the back closet of my ever busy life and drew it out again particularly since our return to Rwanda. Whether you would call it praying, meditating, centering, contemplation, a long, deep breath of consideration to slow the heart and calm the soul… it is that.

As I come from a Catholic church background, I have often been drawn to images and icons of God and the saints. Paintings, pictures, sculptures, architecture have all held my interest in how they communicate something of the internal workings of ourselves.  And towards this end I was going through images and icons I recognized from my younger days when one stood out quite significantly. It is a painting I found in the internet-o-sphere (the link to the page is on the image), referencing a well known story in the Bible of Jesus (successfully) and Peter (not-so-successfully) walking on water. Here it is:

jesus reaching for peter

It became my laptop’s desktop background so that every time I turned on my computer I would see it even if only briefly. Amanda came over to talk to me afternoon as I was at my computer, saw the image and asked me why I liked it. I began by describing my appreciation for the detail in the water ripples, Jesus’ countenance, the feet that stand firmly on water and waves, the hand that is reaching down and reaching out, the form of it, not an aggressive fist or weak wristed stretch but with the surety of a carpenter’s strong handshake grip. But most of all what stood out to me was the perspective. This is where the inside joke comes from. As I began to explain this to Amanda, that it was Peter under the water seeing Jesus reach for him and more it felt like it was me in Peter’s place.  I paused for a moment to consider why this perspective was important to me, and we both said at the same time: “I’m drowning!.”

We burst out laughing at both coming to this conclusion at the same time.  And then laughed a little harder because that’s pretty dark, but here we are laughing.

But if I am in the dark, laughing at the darkness is a pretty good position to take.

 

Cultural Experiences

Trying to evaluate whether or not we will stay in Rwanda has made me look at some things through a bit of a different lens.  I can see some of the ways in which I have adapted to the culture (I’m a lot less punctual, for example).  I also continue to wrestle with trying to relate our experiences here to people in Canada, and vice versa.

Something happened the other day which makes me laugh every time I think about it.  I was meeting Amiss, and another friend was next to him as I walked up.  The other friend (a middle-aged man) looked at me appreciatively and said, “You look good.”  Now, I know enough to know he meant, “You look fat.”  Then, as we left, Amiss said, ” I told him not to say that to you.” So obviously, he commented on it even before I walked up.

First, I can be honest with myself that several months of comfort eating in a land of readily available unhealthy food certainly shows.  But I am laughing, because even though this would be totally inappropriate and offensive where I come from, here, gaining weight means you have enough to eat, and so being large is a sign of wealth and health.  And I am laughing because my friend knows enough about our culture to try to protect me.  And I am laughing at the difficulty of trying to explain this to people in Canada.

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Something we are talking about is the accumulation of small difficulties.  Most of them are really not a big deal in themselves, but as you add them up, life becomes quite the struggle.  To an observer (many times, me), it appears that the simple solution to many of the problems is to generally try to be a bit more organized.  But so many things fight against that.

To illustrate, I wanted to tell you a story one of my friends told me, about when she accompanied another friend to the hospital to give birth.  But I got bored writing it, and so decided surely you would be bored reading it.

Not because its a boring story – its not, it is full of suspense, humour, and insight into how things can be here.  But I have to do so much explanation in order to try to relate it to someone who hasn’t been here, that the story gets lost.

And this is my struggle: in so many ways, it is impossible to relate our experiences from one culture to another.

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A local perspective on North America:  We bought this globe at a market, and then laughed later when we looked more closely at which places got labeled.

 

It makes it difficult to process; to seek insight and advice from others.  But we are working on it – trying our best to find ways to relate and to evaluate our options that make sense.  And we are looking at what we have learned and experienced through a lens of gratefulness.