We haven’t been here that long. Relatively speaking. Right around a thousand days when we get on that airplane. It wasn’t long enough to have gained fluency. There are parts of the country we never saw; I would have liked to visit Nyungwe. There are still certain western sensibilities that we never quite outgrew, instincts and expectations irrelevant to life here that we never quite shook off.
Then again, a lot can happen in a thousand days. It’s long enough to form friendships that take root in your life and grow beautiful things that you’d rather not leave behind. Long enough to gain a perspective that will wreck you for “going back.” Like one wise hobbit said, “There is no real going back. Though I may come to the Shire, it will not seem the same; for I shall not be the same.” Exactly, Frodo.
I have seen resilience, generosity, and strength in the men and women and children here. It’s not as though I hadn’t seen those things before, but against the backdrop of struggle they have shone in striking, vibrant hues. I think about our neighbors. They already had abana benshi as they say [many children], and yet they still took in a little boy who had been abandoned. They named him Bienvenue. It’s a French word. It means you are welcome. They didn’t have things like consistent employment or indoor plumbing, but they had the love of Christ and the willingness to take an unwanted child into their lives and into their tiny home and declare him “welcome.”
I think about the two ladies who work in our home. During our first few months in Kigali there were some grenade incidents at our local market down the road. My response to it was to tell them I wouldn’t send them to the market for a few days until things quieted down. Their response was a shrug, a smile and a “ntakibazo” [no problem]. Of course they will go to the market, they said. It’s nothing like ’94, they said. It’s going to take a little more than a few random grenades to get those ladies worked up. Meanwhile, let’s be honest, I have low-grade PTSD from an unfortunate incident with a cockroach in the shower a few weeks back. Hmm.
I think about a home we visited early this year. A couple live there with their three young daughters, and for most of the last year they have taken on caring for twins born to one of their neighbors. No one knew the mother was pregnant with twins; the hospital sent her home after delivering one baby. By the time they rushed her back to the hospital the second baby was saved. But not that momma. How does a man lose his wife and sustain newborn twins here? We sat in the tiny, bare living room of his neighbors as he gave joyful thanks for the way they were caring for his babies whom he thought he would have to take home and watch die. He rejoiced over the way others had contributed and met his needs, for how God had answered his prayers and sustained him through such hardship. And I tried to open my heart as wide as I could that I might take in what joy in suffering looks like and not forget.
And we’ve certainly seen the other side of things too- the tragic face of desperation, complicated cycles of destructive choices, injustice covered over and spun as success stories. It’s nothing so very different than may be found everywhere else in this broken world I suppose; and yet some of our experiences here have come with a weight that I will carry for some time I suspect.
A thousand days.
When I look back over their expanse, full of as many highs and lows as the hills that fill up this nation, more than anything I am grateful. The Lord has taught me much through you, Rwanda. Perhaps just as significant are the things He has untaught me. He has humbled me on your ground… holy work that I want to wrap up tightly and hold onto with everything in me as I leave to find my place again in a very different part of the world. And I lift up the words of blessing given to Aaron and pray them over your men and women who have been patiently rebuilding a nation and over your children who run its hills wildly:
Uhoraho aguhe umugisha kandi akurinde, Uhoraho akurebane impuhwe kandi akugirire imbabazi, Uhoraho akwiteho kandi aguhe amahoro.
The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious to you;
the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace.
by Sarah Stehlik