Confessions. Blast!

So, I’ll just get to it.  Lots of things are a little bit off. For starters, I am having a hard time balancing. It’s (surprise!) difficult to experience, article-write and express my own sentiment all at the same time. I sort of thought this would all be in the bag. For optimal quality, each task requires being fully present, and my brain is evidently only capable of two things at a time. I can experience and internalize, but not fact-gather. I can fact-gather and express, but without much sentiment. I can internalize and reflect, but I can’t, in that moment, be experiencing. We are always experiencing, and I am totally backlogged.

Here’s the kicker: I process through writing. So backlogged means I am currently a jumbled mess of girls’ schools and street kids and TV antennas made of metal padlocks and vocational centers and genocide and escape stories and reconciliation stories and coffee communities and traditional dance and outdoor kitchens and church services and landscapes and moto bikes and rainy season and memorial sites and stretchy green bread and music and orphans and polygamy and widows and ancestral spirits and gorillas and laundry and language and ways in which the ancestors screw up fertility.

Plus, when your job becomes your former hobby, you get kind confused about which content belongs where. I feel safe writing about scarves and Wait, what? moments, but I haven’t even told you the basics like where we’re living, or who we’re with, or the type of work we’re doing, or what we’re eating, or what the weather is like!

To make things even more complicated, the World Wide Web is— as you might have guessed— worldwide. Everyone is on Facebook and WordPress and twitter. Gone are the days when I could see something and throw it on the Internet for all 8 readers to vicariously experience without risk of harm. Today we’re all right here in the same space—you, me, and the person or community I’m writing about. I post a story, WordPress publicizes it to Facebook and twitter, and my host sister is reading it ten seconds later in the next room. This takes a special kind of crafting, understanding, permission and respect. I refuse to be a reckless observer.

And a layer below that? It’s about to get real.

Because I refuse to be a reckless observer, I don’t feel competent. What can I possibly offer that hasn’t already been written or expressed about Rwanda? How can I share these things—the history, issues, people, stories—accurately? I can’t wrap my head around the genocide. And, once I stop trying to put that piece together, I can’t wrap my head around the fact that life continues on the other side. That people are working and eating, walking along these same streets and attending these same churches, that kids play and women do hair and taxis commute and bikers bike and people laugh and sing and purchase data plans and watch 24. All this with an entire ethnic group almost entirely wiped out of the population, resting in mass graves under this very ground.

Everywhere I look I can see the stories I’ve heard playing out in my mind’s eye. In my field, we call this vicarious trauma. A tiny corner of my heart feels bruised every time I walk out of the house and look around me at the land, while the rest of it functions as normal in present day.   I just can’t make sense of it.  The only two thoughts I have, and they’re not fully developed, are this: here is an entire country demonstrating the reality of post-traumatic growth.

If you look at the Disaster Response Phases graph below (provided by my pal Mary, who teaches the Foundations to DMH class at the Red Cross in Indy) you can note the different responses a person or community has pre, mid and post disaster. There is a new term emerging, though, after a post-traumatic event called post-traumatic growth, wherein the person or community, on the very far right of this graph, actually ends up at a higher level of functioning than they were before the event. So, the person reaches a level a growth that would not be possible had that event not occurred. This country is living out that term.  This doesn’t mean things are spectacular.  There are still—and will always be—triggering events and memories generations deep, but I have met people coping and forgiving at a level I am not even able to comprehend. They are not doing this in spite of the event, but because of it.

God restores, is my point.

DMH Graph ARC

My second thought is the truth in this statement, which was originally printed in my NOLA church bulletin on the 5 year anniversary of hurricane Katrina, adapted for Rwanda as we head into memorial month: We will remember [the genocide] and give sacred honor, but in worship we inherit all things anew for this day.

Yeah, you do, Rwanda.  I am so thankful for all things newly inherited by you today.

…And then (you thought I was done?) someone posts this article, which cracks open another forgotten corner of my heart, and I remember where I was and who I was three weeks ago, which seems like at least ten years ago. That familiar ache returns for a minute, and I can’t find the words for the prayer.

The world spins, I can’t make anything fit into any categories, my brain and heart are totally unorganized, and I am tethered by a poem shared last week by my friend Kim (I’m always snatching content from her, but God uses people, I think):

You can only pray what’s in your heart.

So if your heart is being ripped from your chest
pray the tearing

If your heart is full of bitterness
pray it to the last dreg

If your heart is a river gone wild
pray the torrent

Or a lava flow scorching the mountain
pray the fire

Pray the scream in your heart
the fanning bellows

Pray the rage,
the murder and
the mourning

Pray your heart into the great quiet hands that can hold it
like the small bird it is.

-Elizabeth Cunningham

In Which My Scarf Saves My Life (logistically)

Scarf

Here are all the life-saving uses for my scarf, which I stuffed into my suitcase at the last second:

  • As a head covering when it starts to pour
  • As a light jacket when it turns instantly cold at 6p
  • As a pillow when I ball it up and take a bus nap
  • As sunscreen when I wrap it around my peeling neck
  • As a tie to secure my laundry bag to my messenger bag so I don’t leave my laundry in the taxi (again)
  • As a blanket when I’m cold at night
  • As a seat covering when the chair is wet or muddy
  • To carry my baby. No, wait. That’s not me. But if I had one, I could totally carry it hands-free!
  • As a head wrap when I’m on my 4th day of unwashed hair. What? Bucket bathing and/or ice cold showering  is kind of tricky when your hair is a curly mess.
  • As a purse when I tie it up and carry it over my shoulder
  • As a lens case when I wrap it around an un-cased lens in the fanny pack. Did I just say fanny pack? I meant my rugged Eddie Bauer hip bag.
  • As a microfiber cloth (it’s not) to clean any laptop screen, glasses, sunglass, lens, phone or ipad
  • As a fancy accessory when I’m wearing my blue shirt for the third time.

And so me and my scarf have triumphed over the conservative packer that tried to talk me out of these types of indulgences. Ladies, if you travel, bring your scarf- it’s magical!

Land Laws and Lawyers

Hi! Two posts in two days—how about that? Maybe you’ll applaud when you get an understanding of the internet situation. It’s widely available, but connection speed and signal strength and power outages and monsoons make uploading or downloading a challenge. Here is what I had to do to post yesterday’s video:

Record the video on my iPhone, transfer it to my laptop, and transfer it again from my laptop to the iPad using USB, because my phone doesn’t have 3G and the wifi connection on the laptop is too slow to upload video. I then tethered the iPad to Jeff’s iPhone, which has a 3G connection through a Rwanda carrier, and uploaded the video to the internet. So. There it is: iphone to laptop to ipad, tethered to Jeff’s 3G connection, to internet. Boom! The video uploaded in about 45 minutes, processed for another 35 minutes, and a full 24 hours after the event: posted.

Now for the juicy stuff

Land Law

Imagine this: Your family owns a plot of land in the 50s, but due to instability you are forced to flee. Lets say your family stays out of country, and a new family establishes a home and farm on that plot of land. Pretend that family lives there for 20 years, but is forced to leave in the 70s due to instability. Now a new family establishes a home and farm on that land, lives there until the early 90s.  But, due to mass exodus before the genocide, or due to the direct acts of genocide, the family is no longer on that land.

Now you want to come back. Rwanda law says that landowners, once they return, must take back the land even if others have lived there for 30 years or more.

So, any members of any of these families can return at any time and believe they have rights to this land. The government has only recently begun issuing land certificates because of this problem, so the way these conflicts have traditionally been resolved is by collecting the testimony of the neighbors. But which neighbors? Neighbors from 1959, 1973 or 1994? If neighbors cannot be located for testimony, or the issue cannot be resolved, the government requires the family to share the land. At this point, post-genocide, landowners are like: But how? I think he has killed my family!

As you can see, a large issue right now is land law, which runs very deep.

In my entire lifetime, I will likely never encounter the need to flee, the experience of my land being owned by another family, members of my family being killed or exiled, or being forced to live on the same land as those who murdered or exiled my family member. Here, people are dealing with all four of these things simultaneously!

Rwanda Christian Lawyers Association

Last Monday, we met with the Chairman of the Rwanda Christian Lawyers Association (RCLA), along with two other Family and Land Law attorneys who are members of the Association. RCLA is another initiative of ALARM, which invests in, builds up, and supports local organizations toward leadership and reconciliation.

RCLA

The lawyers describe the RCLA initiative as going something like this: The community was destroyed after the tragedy of 1994, and right about the time Celestin (founder of ALARM) said to the local lawyers, Get up! Organize yourselves! the local lawyers had already gathered to do something, because the problems that led to the destruction involved the law and human rights. The lawyers were asking each other, What must be our contribution to build up our destroyed community?  

And so they formed the Rwanda Christian Lawyer Association—I am right now realizing I don’t know the date, but it was sometime after 1995. There were 6 members when the association was first formed, and now there are about 75 Christian lawyers, judges, prosecutors, legal practitioners and state attorneys from different churches and denominations.

In collaboration with ALARM, the 75 members of this association are equipping churches, grassroots leaders and government leaders to have a clear understanding of the law through teaching, mentoring, and volunteering for those who don’t understand or can’t afford representation.  We have learned in the short time we have been here that the community has confidence in pastors and government leaders as administrators, so RCLA believes if they train pastors and government leaders, people will listen.

Some objectives of RCLA are to:

  • Collaborate with the government, churches and other NGOs to promote a culture peace-building and conflict resolution
  • Facilitate reconciliation and mediation between those in conflict (communities, families, or third parties)
  • Organize and facilitate seminars and legal clinics in churches
  • Defend the rights and interests of vulnerable people, including widows, orphans, women and prisoners
  • Base daily activity on the Bible
  • Sensitization on laws to the population and make proposals against unfavorable laws enacted by the Parliament

Since local leaders at the grassroots level are the first to put into practice the law within the community, RCLA targets these leaders to train on the following: What are human rights? What is the responsibility of the people? RCLA wants these leaders to have a clear explanation of the law and a clear explanation of rights to pass onto the community members.

Right now, women lawyers carry a lot of influence, because the community sees them as intellectual advocates. RCLA also seeks to bring women attorneys together to share about different cases, topics and societal problems. Many times, women lawyers are the only ones able to “get the story of a violated woman” and have free access to the story for the purpose of prosecution.

An interesting connection: Watermark Church in Dallas, where Jeff’s brother and sister-in-law attend (wait, what?!) helped to fund the start-up of this Association. Watermark partnered with ALARM to gather and send lawyers from the US and other countries to Rwanda to discuss Universal Human Rights. Funds were raised through ALARM for costs, and ALARM hosted the group.

Each year, an Annual Conference is held in a different country, and attorneys from all over come to share experiences and present their contributions to promote peace internationally.

In Rwanda we have a saying: If your neighbor’s house is burning and you don’t react, your house can be burnt. It’s important to understand the issues going on in the countries around us. We meet at seminars and conferences, and by sharing our different cases we can come up with solutions that might be applicable to our own countries or other countries. If they are not yet applicable to our own country, they might soon be, and we have already gained new insights.   – Sophonie Sebaziga, Chairman of RCLA

This year’s conference is in Uganda from April 21-25th.

Challenges

RCLA is totally run by volunteers and members. Paola, one of the Family Law attorneys explains the majority of her time is spent trying to balance her job and the amount of pro-bono work she does around the city. Because her church and office are in the same town, she is known by many in the community as the person to call when there is conflict.

Just recently, Paola received calls from both a policeman and a husband in a domestic dispute. A man had kicked his wife out of the house and closed the gate.  The woman came back with a police officer attempting to get back in, because she had nowhere to go and this was her home. When the police officer instructed the man to open the gate for the woman, the man called Paola. The man expected confirmation that his wife didn’t have a legal right to her own home. “Because I am a man,” he said, “I can close the gate. I have paid the dowry to her family. I don’t have to open the gate.”

Paola says she was able to educate the man and the police officer on the rights of the woman—that she has the right to come home and the gate must be opened. The gate was opened, and Paola invited the couple into the office the next morning for mediation.

Men and women like Paola receive calls at all hours of the day and night from people in need of legal assistance, and they advocate and assist for free!  Through ALARM, the Association is able to raise funds to attend and facilitate trainings, seminars and conferences at training center or in local churches.

Do you want more info about RCLA? Check out the June issue of World Next Door magazine or contact Sophonie@alarm-rwanda.org

Over and out!

Who Told You That We Are Cursed?

Cyimbili KidWe are blessed,
We are blessed,
Who told you that we are cursed?

These are lyrics in worship song performed by the Cyimbili Coffee Choir during their pre-work (6:30a!) devotions last week as a gift to the visitors (us!).

In this song I have discovered the secret of this little community in Rwanda: they are blessed! Here is a group of people who saw the absolute depths of humanity on this very land two decades ago, and have found a way to love one another. Joy is here. Hope is here. Laughter, and singing and praise are here. God is here.

God was here, God is here, God will be here.

These ten thousand square miles—about the size of Maryland—are full of a thousand green hills, volcanoes and gorillas, bright colors, big smiles, warm hugs, joy-filled music, dancing, and good coffee.

All this on top of mass graves holding almost a million people.

Rwanda is the intersection of depravity and grace.

Take six minutes and listen to this choir.  Especially from the 3:55 point on, and especially if you want to see some dancing!  Although I am heartbroken as I begin to absorb the history of the ground I walk on, I am also overwhelmed by resilience.


The Cyimbili Coffee Plantation is one of the programs initiated and maintained by ALARM (African Leadership and Reconciliation Ministries) in partnership with Hope for a Thousand Hills and the Association of Baptist Churches Rwanda (ABR) for the purpose of reconciliation and community transformation. It is an intentional community- school, clinic, church, work- completely unaware of the planned community trend happening in the suburbs :)

On the same ground that held a genocide 19 years ago, people are living and working together peacefully, in a way that demonstrates the capacity of God to move within broken communities, and in a way that proves resiliency and hope are stronger than despair.

Cyimbili Pan

The guesthouse we stayed at during our time at the plantation belonged to an ABR missionary who worked within the community to develop primary and secondary schools, a bible school, medical center, church, and the coffee plantation. This is the same missionary who wrote to his church in the 70’s asking for money to support a secondary school student who had been kicked out of his house for converting to Christianity, as the family believed his presence in the home would anger the ancestral spirits. The missionary received $7 per month for the boy from a 69 y/o widow from Ohio who collected trash along the interstate to recycle, earning $7 each month to send to the boy in Cyimbili. The boy grew up to be the founder of ALARM.

Because of the events of the 1994 genocide, the coffee plantation and missionary house were abandoned and left in ruin in the 90’s. There was no clean water, electricity, sanitation or other basic needs, lots of orphans and widows, and a broken church with traumatized leadership and congregants. This concept of church brokenness and the need for pastoral leadership inspired the beginnings of ALARM, which will be another post for another time.

In 2008, Celestin, the founder of ALARM, felt a tug to come back to Cyimbili. ALARM formed a partnership with Association of Baptist Churches Rwanda and Hope for a Thousand Hills to rehabilitate the once productive coffee plantation, restore the local village economy, reconcile relationships, and renovate the missionary house into a guest house, once again hosting missionaries and different ministry groups.

The first rehabilitation phase was a four-year plan that focused on pruning and planting trees, land terracing, staff training and hiring, construction of washing, drying and packing stations, and other community infrastructures like hydroelectric turbines, sewage, and waste stations for the community. During this time, ALARM also facilitated the gathering of local pastors of all denominations from Cyimbili and neighboring communities for the purpose of encouraging each other, conducting pastoral leadership and reconciliation trainings, and exchanging ideas. Phase one was complete in 2012.

The Cyimbili Plantation has just moved into the second phase, which is production.  Today, the coffee plantation employs about 170 workers, seasonally and full-time, many of them widows and primary breadwinners in their families. The work allows the men & women to pay school fees for their children, purchase health insurance at the community medical center, and provide basic needs like food and clothing.  The plantation has about 40,000 coffee trees, each tree producing about 4.5 pounds of dry premium coffee beans annually. ALARM is currently working with a group in the US to ship, roast and market the beans internationally.

PlantationBerriesEach morning, all hundred-and-something staff meet at 6:30a for devotions before work, and the coffee choir sings and celebrates life, relationship, provision, and joy through worship and dance.  This is how I imagine heaven.

Here’s one last thing I want to mention. Do you know how coffee plant pruning works? A coffee plant is fruitful for about 30 years, and then it stops producing fruit. In order to rehabilitate the coffee plant, the tree is chopped at the base, and over time, new growth shoots out of the stump. Can you think of a more beautiful symbol of growth and restoration of this community than this little coffee plant?

Even now in death you open doors for life to enter…
N. Nordeman

A little bit extra, also known as lagniappe in NOLA:

  • For pictures of the Plantation and our time at Cyimbili, click here.
  • We will be returning Cyimbili to spend time being in the community: living and working with the coffee staff, picking and shelling and cleaning and drying our way through the coffee process. Those interviews and stories will be in the World Next Door magazine, June issue, along with ways you can get involved with Cyimbili Coffee Plantation and ALARM.
  • Also, we’re starting an advice column for World Next Door Magazine. It’ll be part funny, part interesting, part serious. Right now we’re looking for questions from you about anything the WND team knows well:
    -Interacting cross culturally
    -Eating weird stuff
    -Talking with friends about social justice issues
    -Using photography in a non-exploitative way
    -Packing for international trips
    -Getting involved with local organizations
    -Living simply in the suburbs
    -Anything else travel/justice/writing/photography related…
  • What questions do you have for us? We might just answer them in the next issue!

Wait, What?

Things that are weird:

1. Waking up on March 6th, traveling all day, going to sleep at our destination, and waking up on March 8th. Wait, what? What happened to poor March 7th?!

2. Traveling halfway across the world to be greeted at the Kigali airport by long-time friends from Wisconsin. Wait, what? Our friend works for UNICEF? And her family is in the middle of a two-year assignment in Kigali?  Such an unexpected and provisional coincidence!

3. Catching myself trying to absorb everything with that Oh-I-wish-we-didn’t-have-to-go-home-soon feeling, then realizing WE DON’T! Wait, what? We are here for two whole months? And this is our job for an entire year? Score.

4. Sleeping like a princess. Wait, what? The mosquito nets. They look like giant white flowing canopies.  Barry’s even has lace, which makes me wonder if he feels like a *special* princess.

Mosquito NetNet light

5. Waking up to Princess Barry doing Insanity in our little shared 10×12 foot space every morning and then sweating profusely through breakfast. Wait, what? Exercise? Early morning? Tiny space? No breeze? He may soon relocate to the gazebo as soon as he’s comfortable spotlighting his Insanity skills.

*I am a week late posting this. In fact, he HAS relocated to the gazebo, and the maintenance dudes sweep and stare, sweep and stare, sweep and stare.

6. Attending a National League Basketball game (Army Patriot Rwanda vs. the oldest team in Rwanda) with tens of Rwandans in the stands. Wait, what? Yes, tens of Rwandans.  Across the parking lot was the entire country at the football stadium.

IMG_3038

7. Taking a walk downtown and passing by the Tulane University office. Wait, what? That’s my graduate school! What are those guys doing here? Guess I’ll go find out.

8. In Rwanda, they interchange “r” and “l” at random. Also “k” and “ch”. For example, Cyimbili is pronounced Chimbili or Chimbiri, and Kigali can be pronounced Chigali. ALARM is sometimes pronounced ARARM. So, you know, there has been lots of talk lately about the Kenyan erections. Wait, what?!

And on that note, goodnight! We’ve had non-stop, jam-packed 5 days of people, programs and info to absorb, process, and synthesize. We tired.  Mole fol you rater.

(I was doing the “l” and “r” thing)

Musical Chairs. Sort of.

This morning we attended church at Kigali Institute of Education (KIE), where about 11 simultaneous church services of various denominations were occurring in each of the classrooms surrounding the courtyard. So cool. University students from different parts of the country studying at KIE worship together with their associations on this campus each Sunday, and once a month all the denominations worship together. We happened to be worshiping with the Free Methodists, which I think is funny, because the free Methodist Church World Ministries Center is in Indianapolis. Wait, what?

We were not the only visitors this morning. Our preacher, Jean Paul, was a visiting minister from a local church and also a pastoral staff for World Vision. Several former students, including the PR/Communications guy for the Ministry of Disaster Management who also happens to be a photojournalist (THAT was fun), along with the Finance Director of ALARM who just moved from Kenya in January, plus a gospel singer and her guitarist husband were all visiting the student congregation today from their own local churches. Our host, the Country Director of ALARM, travels all over to these university congregations, because he is in charge of the University Youth Associations for the Free Methodist denomination in Kigali City. He brought us along for the English speaking service, which happens once a month.

About 20 students attended, including an 8-person choir. We asked to take some pics after the reason for our being in-country was explained, and below is a clip of the choir. Some songs were in English & some in Kinyarwanda, but most of the preaching was in English. Here is an example of a Kinyarwanda word: Mwaramutse (good morning) or Murakoze (Thank you). Now imagine seeing words like this for the first time in a hymnal and trying to sing them :)

Before the actual service was an interactive Bible study, and after the service was a Q&A time between our team and the students (pic below). We learned about the ways in which ALARM has impacted their lives, faith, and education by asking two questions: What is it really like to live here? and What is God doing in Rwanda through ALARM? We will continue to ask these questions for the next 7 weeks throughout different projects of ALARM and other ministries.

After church, we hopped a public transport bus for lunch, which reminds me: Anytime I’m transported anywhere, I just stare out the window in amazement at the beauty of Kigali city and countryside. The thing about this bus ride, though, is that the middle aisle is actually just one fold-down seat in the middle of each row, so if you are lucky enough to get a middle seat, you are actually sitting in the aisle. Poor you.

Each time someone behind you has to get off the bus, you must get up, lift up your seat and move back to the person’s empty seat behind you. The person in front of you then takes your seat, and the person in front of them takes theirs, and so on. It’s like musical chairs without the music and with no prize. Being the last five people on the bus, Jeff, Barry and I got the last three aisle seats, so who do you think ended up in the very back row after several rounds of musical chairs? The three of us, plus Peter, the finance guy, one row ahead. Winners! (Right?)

We then enjoyed a fantastic buffet and loads of conversation with ALARM staff, a breezy walk downtown past the Tulane office (Wait, what?) and a quick taxi home. So, to recap: We left for church this morning at 8a, and arrived home at 4p. That’s eight hours of church, eating and transport!

The 36-hour Update

First things first. Contact info:

My number is +25 0789000545 and Jeff’s number is +25 789000543.

You can call us on your dime, and we’ll answer, but we can’t call you! So, basically the opposite of Don’t call us, we’ll call you.

The 36-hour Update

So far, we’ve met the ALARM staff in Kigali, interviewed two girls who graduated from ALARM’S Institute of Women for Excellence and who are now being sponsored as they attend University (photo below), ate delicious carrot ginger soup, drank out of a filter straw desperate for water on our first night, realizing we forgot to buy some in town or obtain some from ALARM before everyone went to bed- whoops; Met up with good friends from Wisconsin (what?!) for the first ever organized orchestra: Injyana Orchestra Rwanda put on by students from the International School and Christ’s Church Rwanda. Oh, and then we ate some pizza!

20130309-122944.jpg

We are heading out to explore downtown Kigali, and this evening between the three of us, we plan to a) photograph a Rwandan wedding reception and b) attend a professional basketball game at the stadium.

The food is great, everyone is healthy, days are hot and nights are cool. We are looking forward to church tomorrow, meeting up with the Grace team on Monday and visiting ALARM’s IWE school and coffee plantation later this week.

Below is our view of downtown Kigali from the courtyard outside our room at ALARM center.

20130309-123544.jpg

Hugs to all, and thanks for your support!

In Wonder, Love, and Praise

We are safe and warm and well-fed in Kigali. Before I surrender to jet lag, I want to share a prayer I read somewhere over the Atlantic from Walter Brueggemann’s Prayers For A Privileged People:

…We pray for good departures,
In the way our ancestors left Egypt,
That we may leave the grind of productivity, and the hunger of ambition, that we may leave for a place of wondrous promise,
Visited en route by
bread from heaven
and water from rocks.

We pray for big departures,
Like those of our ancient parents,
That we may leave where we have been and
How we have been and
Who we have been.
To follow your better lead for us,
You who gives new place,
New mode,
New self.

We pray, each of us to travel in mercy,
That we be on our way rejoicing, arriving in wonder, love, and praise.

Over and Out!

Several people mentioned wanting to follow along throughout the year, so I wanted to offer several ways to stay in touch:

1. We will be writing for a free online magazine called “World Next Door, Inc.”  You can find this magazine by going to the app store on your smart device (iphone, ipad, kindle fire, android, etc.) and searching for “World Next Door” in the app store. When you find it, click “install” and it will automatically download into your news stand once per month as the issues are released. Once the magazine is in your newsstand, you’ll download it to the device to read it by clicking “download” next to the icon. You only have to do this once, and once it downloads you can read it anytime you want. Our first full-length issue is released today! It is about the Romaniv Orphanage in the Ukraine, and the organization working with them called Mission to Ukraine. As far as we know, April’s issue will be on Urban Poverty, and May’s will be on India. Jeff and I will be writing the June issue from Rwanda and July or August from Cambodia. Here is a link to explain more about how to download the magazine and what will be in each issue:  http://www.worldnextdoor.org/magazine/

2. If you don’t have a smart device, all of the articles are available within the archives of the blog on the organization’s website. We will also be keeping real-time blogs on this website about different cultural experiences and incidental stories, like eating tarantula legs (never in my life) or articles that for whatever reason we will not put into the magazine. The link to the website is: http://www.worldnextdoor.com.  The website has a ton of info, so the easiest way to find our articles (or others that interest you) is to click “browse” along the top, and then click “browse by author” or “browse by country”.  If you would like to receive email updates any time a blog is posted, you can subscribe by clicking “subscribe” on the right hand side of the screen once you’re on the browse page and type in your email address.

3. I will also be keeping a personal blog as I have always done, and the things I post will be on behalf of Jeff and I in real-time regarding our experiences as we work and travel. The things on this blog will not necessarily reflect the thoughts or views of  World Next Door, and I frequently make fun of myself here. The link to that blog is: https://brkwilson.wordpress.com/  On the right side of the page is a column of categories. For things written exclusively about World Next Door, you can scroll down and click the category “World Next Door”.  If you would like to receive email updates whenever a new blog posts, you can click “sign me up” in the upper right corner of the page and type in your email address.

4. We will have access to internet and will be keeping in touch via email and social media (Facebook) for ourselves and for World Next Door, as we will have wifi connections but not cellular connections. We will check our emails as frequently as we have internet :)

Into the Beautiful

We leave for Rwanda in four days, and still up to this very second I am scratching my head at how it all came to be. The entire arrangement was one grace-filled miraculous event after another, and I haven’t had the time or emotional clarity to lay it all out for anyone. In fact, this confusing thing kept happening in December whenever I tried to talk about it: I would start crying. It was non-consensual. My writing group can attest to this, also the entire board of CFI, and a co-worker or two. So embarrassing.

But here’s why: Jeff was listening to an online sermon from Grace in October on parenting right about the time I began to lose it. You may remember this post from May, which was a beautiful snapshot of God catching a person mid-fall. Unfortunately growth is not linear, and if I had seen in May what our life would look like in October after thousands of dollars of infertility treatments and irritating stories about Women of The Bible who were miraculously healed when God had compassion on them, I don’t know that I would have been up for such a claim of contentment long-term. Evidently my limit for faith-in-adversity is about 17 months, because in October I remember thinking that if someone were writing a book about me, the next chapter would begin: And in their 18th month of infertility, she lost her faith.

I would never have lasted as an Israelite.

Because I believed in God’s goodness and sovereignty and ability to heal, and because I had not experienced a miraculous healing or heart change, I began to doubt his compassion and concern for my life personally, which spread tiny little roots of resentfulness and bitterness. I said to J in November, right about the time he recalled that sermon and looked up the organization mentioned (World Next Door), that I didn’t think my faith could withstand any more months of failure. We could continue as was, each unsuccessful month widening the gap between me and God due to my limited knowledge and inability to separate emotions from truth, or we could stop treatment and preserve my faith, trusting God would sustain us even through the loss.

I phoned my good friend and the pastor who married us for some clarity and truth-telling, and J and I decided mid-November to discontinue medical intervention. The exact moment the decision was made, optimism and joy and the general ability to breathe deeply and peacefully returned. I’m not exaggerating. It was that quick. (Although we still have a fridge full of hormone injections, right next to the milk and mayo, which has made for some awkward dinner parties.)

J, in the meantime, sent me the link to the World Next Door Fellowship, and we agreed this would be a pretty spectacular opportunity if our most recent round of treatment was unsuccessful. We crossed our fingers, prayed for whichever option was best for us, and waited. We applied for the Fellowship and visualized all the details, each day wavering between the two possibilities. One day, we’d pick names for kids. The next day, we’d discuss countries and social issues that would be cool to write about. We stood on the cusp of two entirely different lives.

As you might have gathered, World Next Door won, and we were so pumped! This is why I was confused by all the involuntary crying. I found that as I explained our new purpose and direction for the coming year to others, I was actively closing the door to traditional and evidence-based fertility treatments, because we’d be losing our health insurance and incomes, and so, for the foreseeable future, losing our ability to have biological kids. Additionally, I understood over time that it was hard for me to grasp this opportunity with both hands, because I thought God might be offering this as a consolation prize for not fulfilling our initial desires, which He himself placed in us. Why would he do that? (Yes, I realize I am giving God totally limited human qualities, which is silly. But I have a totally limited human mind doing all my computing, here.)

So here God was, opening a literal door to the world through writing and photography, the only things in time and space that could generate as much excitement as passing down our gene pool, and I was half saying, Thanks God! with one hand, and half saying, You know this doesn’t make up for the other thing, pal with the other hand. Here’s the face-palm moment: I was questioning God’s ability to know our hearts and care about our desires while He was actively fulfilling them in better ways than we could’ve imagined.

Miraculous things followed. For starters, we had to raise $40,000 in two months. Forty. Thousand. Dollars. Can you even conceive of that? We never believed it would be possible, but then it was- in excess, with no stress! God used 62 people as instruments to move a giant mountain necessary to implement His plan to ease the suffering of hungry widows and disabled orphans and trafficked kids. Do you know what this means?

Not only is God compassionate, but he hears the cries of people suffering right now, today, just like he did thousands of years ago, and he is sending help via 62 of you, and me and J, and World Next Door, and tons of other people and organizations, to restore hope!

…Which led to a total paradigm shift. Instead of the resentful thoughts about bartering my opportunities in life with God, another thought crept in: I can’t believe we get to do this. How could God pick us to do something so special? Which ultimately led to, in the words of Moses: Who am I?

Seriously, who are we that we would get to do this?

To quote Barry, the Founder and Director of World Next Door, who preached at church last Sunday on this very topic (get your little coffee or hot tea and your snuggly blanket and watch this, it’s good: http://vimeo.com/60488892) We- the people of God, the church- we are God’s plan A for the restoration of this world. So. Now. Go.

And so, now, we go. Into the Beautiful: