Quick Easter Recap

Hey! Happy belated Easter!

J and I spent Easter week in rural Cyimbili, with no real access to anything except coffee and rain. Just kidding.  We also had some great hikes and home visits, and we made some great friends this week: Eriane, V, Anastasi and Nepo- all our ages, except Anasasi who had a decade on or two on the rest of us :)

With these four we shared every meal, most hikes, and all the hours of downtime watching the rain from the front porch:

ErianeNepo
AnastasiV

Easter week was surprisingly quiet. There were no Holy Week events or services or even a Good Friday something-or-other!  Most were celebrating the month-long break from school, which began on Good Friday. Jeff and I were a little sad about the lack of community commemoration, but found ourselves quiety observing things in our own way.

Then, out of nowhere- BAM! Easter Sunday was an explosion of colors and song and dancing!

The Service was 3.5 hours long, and celebrated the gathering of all the surrounding village churches in one giant service. The morning included a singing processional to the beach for 4 baptisms, 14 choirs from surrounding villages, 3 offerings (money, or for those without money, an offering of words or goods- beans and a chicken were offered on Easter morning!), praise and worship, sermon, announcement, strategic plan update, funds update, communion, and benediction. Whew! Below is a link to the Easter photo album, followed by three short video clips of the Kids Choir, some Easter Dancing and the Praise and Worship time after the offering was collected:

Easter Album click here.

Right after the service ended, the thunder rolled, winds picked up and it poured for 12 straight hours! We had a relaxing day on the couches of the front porch sipping hot coffee and tea and visiting with our friends. Not a bad East! (As Nepo kept calling it: Happy East! Happy East!)  Kirisito yazutse! Christ is risen!

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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!

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!

A Letter to My Younger Self

Preface: This was our Scribes assignment last month (writing a letter to our younger self) and it was hard. Like, really hard. You should try it. I took the assignment literally. Others were more creative.

Dear Younger B,

It’s me, Older B. I’ve been commissioned to write you a letter.  You will never believe how hard it is to be in charge of all the secrets in our lives, and to determine which things to tell you and for what purpose.

We live in Carmel now. You are somewhere nearby (back in time) and whenever I run into a person who knew you, I feel compelled to run a way or jump behind a bush.  What I really want to say is: stop hi-jacking my experience here! But if Oldest B were writing me a letter, I would want her to be proud of me, and very kind. So, while reaching for my top-shelf patience, I would like to offer you a little compassion and a hug. Is seems necessary to pick you up and put you in my pocket before anyone else makes a judgment, because, well, you’re me. And we’re both doing the best we can, yes?

With that in mind, I would like to tell you right off the bat: you are already good enough, cool enough, nice enough, honest enough, funny enough, pretty enough, smart enough and competent enough. If you do nothing else, you are already these things.  Also, I have looked at a ton of pictures of you throughout the years. You are always skinner today than you will be tomorrow, so be happy with your body right now.

(You might also find this helpful sooner than later: there is a good face behind those eyebrows.)

I have decided not to share too many secrets, because life will give you lots of stories to tell, and without those, you might become a bore at parties. Also, each thing prompts you toward the next, and life gets exponentially better further up and further in. I don’t want to short-circuit this process. I will, however, give you some tips to ease the journey, throw some metaphorical pillows on the ground to soften your falls, and try to sand down a few sharp edges, okay? That’s what Older Bs do for Younger Bs.

I don’t know if you’re at the phase in life where 5’8″ you is jumping over shin-high bushes in the background of a video of your 3 and 5 year old brothers doing the same in the foreground; I don’t know if you’re at the stage where you can be seen doing karate chops by yourself, again, in the background of a video of your brothers doing real karate in the foreground. I’m not sure if you are a foot taller than your 4th grade class yet in a one-piece jumper made out of firework fabric sewn by your mom, or if you’re being kicked out of gymnastics because you’re too tall and heavy to spot, or if you’ve already soaked your jet-black hair with sun-in, baked it with a blow-dryer and performed an at-home perm kit backward by brushing it straight. Wherever you are in this process, you should know that you grow up to be funnier because of how weird you are right now.

Here are the punch lines to those stories: your hair turns bright orange, and the perm kit doesn’t work. You will be gray when you’re 19. You’ll quit gymnastics and play basketball through college. Although you’ll go to a college so tiny the volleyball team doubles as the basketball team, you will get a scholarship and you’ll break the scoring record during a tournament your freshman year—the only win that season. Today your grown-up self doesn’t even care about gymnastics.

**Side note, you’ll be tempted to order a little bacon and pepperoni pizza at midnight after basketball practices several times per week in college. Don’t do it. This is a dangerous habit. One day your metabolism will stop, and you’ll be frantically canning salads on Sunday nights to eat throughout the week because you can’t drop 15 pounds and your pants don’t fit. You are not currently playing basketball as an adult. You’ve spent a decade trying to break the pizza-cookie habit.

Maybe you’re in 7th grade, wearing a black turtleneck and multi-colored cow boxers, same as your BFF, with a notebook that you carry around every second containing the lifelong secrets between the two of you, and also some lyrics to Lion King. Everyone thinks you are a lesbian right now. You probably don’t even know what this means yet. No matter. Don’t change one single thing. This BFF will get you through High School in one piece, and you’ll both marry fantastic men.  The kids who make fun of you feel left out. The adults who think you’re a lesbian are out of touch with what BFF looks like at 13.

Younger B, if a safe-looking place opens its doors and a group of people attempt to love you unconditionally—assuming it’s not a gang—hang out there. You will have access to a pretty amazing youth group. Don’t take this for granted, because it’s the only reason you have turned out semi-normal at an earlier age, as compared to those other dudes in the foreground of all those cute videos. They will never really engage in this youth group. Their support network will expose them to several different drugs and county lock-ups. Yours will expose you to cross-cultural missions trips to Central America and, like, Chicago. That said, you act kind of weird, and if “youth group” were writing the story, it would not begin with a sentence like: “I have a pretty amazing Brooke.”  This dynamic is what makes the place so great. They know you and they still let you in. There you will find enough hugs and friends and snacks. Attend as often as you can. Go on every winter overnight and fall-break trip and summer mission. This experience is widening your lens and building a strong social and moral network, although it won’t present as such for several more years. Grown-up me wants to tell all the adults in your life thanks for keeping you safe and loved, and for not rolling their eyes to your face.  **Note to future self: stop rolling eyes at crazy teenagers.

Younger B, here is an important thing to note: life will seem completely out of control sometimes. That’s because it is.

Life is hard, but there is always a pressure valve somewhere. Kids will make fun of you.  They’ll call you Boring Brooke at cross-country camp and throw candy wrappers in your hair during choir.  Adults will manipulate you. Coworkers will bully you.  Family will disappoint you. Friends will hurt your feelings. People will say mean things behind your back, and sometimes even to your face. You’ll be misunderstood and misrepresented a thousand million times. You’ll be judged and dismissed and ignored. Lots of things will be unfair.  You will not be the best or the brightest. You will not be the funniest or the prettiest.  Good things will happen to bad people in your life. Bad things will happen to good people in your life.  Plans will not unfold according to your expectations. Even your own body will let you down.

But somewhere nearby will be a crawfish-type guy. Make it your mission to find the crawfish in your misery, give a quick thanks, force yourself to smile and keep moving forward. I tell you this one truth: someone nearby has it worse than you. Get tough, lady!

(Also, quick! Join volleyball. This will keep you from having to go to Cross Country camp in the first place. If you get stuck going anyway, just don’t tell the coach your family can’t afford it to get out of it- your coach will call your confused parents and offer them a scholarship. Ugh.)

Okay. Tone shift.

Little B, this is most important: Before high school is finished you will get confused about your value.  You will do all kinds of silly (desperate) things to figure it out, and in the end you will feel worse. These are the types of things that make adult you want to jump behind bushes when I see someone we know here in Carmel. I don’t care what people tell you—high school years are not the best years of your life. Whoever said this must have died at 19.  In whatever way you’re able to push through it (and I promise to set aside all judgment, because I believe you are doing the best you can with the resources you have), push through it. On the other side of high school is a spectacular green meadow with birds and rainbows and soft-serve machines in your college cafeteria and unlimited access to pop-tarts and friends and total freedom. You will think this is the best best and you’ll try to live forever at 19, but after college is an even bigger, greener meadow with meaningful relationships, sound judgment and insight, spectacular job opportunities, financial independence, other cities and countries, passions, competencies, etc. Just trust me on this. Your adult life is currently amazing.

Also, I debated whether or not to disclose this, but you do so much better when you’re prepared for these types of things.  Asking for a little help from the right people would have saved us a ton of heartache, so if I could offer you a redo on anything, it would be this—and I disclose it with my tightest hug and my warmest blanket: Aunt C is going to die. It will happen in a car accident 2 weeks before you go to college, right at the beginning of your parent’s decade-feeling-long divorce, and it will screw up the first half of your college experience.  You will understand that life is unpredictable—that any awful thing could happen at any safe-feeling time; that a person could be here this morning and gone by dinner, with no warning. You will feel so sad and alone in your grief, and so chaotic in your brain.  You will not know how to express this to anyone. You will smoke and drink and lie and steal and get straight Fs and get kicked out and move off campus, and you won’t understand why. You will make friends with people 10 years older and try to fit them into gaping holes inside. You will begin to absorb a piece of everyone around you and lose your entire identity. This will be so hard,

To save you from this, I am dying to give you a bright neon list with lights and arrows identifying people to stay away from, because they are bad for you. They’re not bad people; but they’re not whole people either, and their needs will feed on your vulnerabilities.  But these people and experiences will bring you to the very edge of yourself, and finding that edge will provide you with insight and a never-again determination toward assertiveness, balance and truth-finding.  This is what 18-22 year-olds do: solidify self and develop insight.  Don’t beat yourself up over it.

Also, you’ll find that because God cares about you and intervenes in when you are flailing, there will be a professor—a psychology guy—who provides a list detailing the non-negotiable truth about who you are. This is what God says about you. It’s right here in the Bible, totally independent of what’s going on in your life right now. Just choose to believe it.  (You will want to believe this so hard.)

Once you choose to believe this, you will never be able to separate yourself from these truths from that moment on. If you could somehow know this at 8, and 17 and 19; at 5’8″ jumping bushes with curly black hair; at the gymnastics studio when you’re a foot taller and too heavy; right before you do all those silly (desperate) things to find value and absorb an identity. If you could internalize this immediately, your life would be better faster. If you just can’t get it right yet, don’t worry. This will be waiting for you at 24.  Life gets infinitely better after 24, trust me.

Now for the good stuff.

You could never imagine this, but somewhere in Wisconsin or Evansville or Belize or Sierra Leone or Nepal or Ecuador or Bloomington or South Carolina or Maine (depending how old you are right now and where he is right now) a dude is living and growing and stepping into tiny footsteps laid out for him to someday cross your path. Unless you’ve met this guy yet, you think you don’t want to get married. I will not try to convince you otherwise, but as your older, wiser self, I can’t wait for you to meet him! He’ll marry you. Love will spill over, and you will be the kind of happy there aren’t words for. He will hold you in esteem as though you are the exact kind of person God says you are. And he’s so funny.

There are a bunch of other things I would like to save you from: a car accident, piles of rejection letters, natural disasters, acts of terrorism, family dissolution, aimless relationships, etc. But many of those things will prompt you toward other, better things your lil’ heart can’t even imagine.

The thing to know is this: Adult you is safe and happy and warm and successful and loved. You are married to a handsome, funny, compassionate man. Your job is meaningful and important. You have three beautiful nieces, and your brothers are amazing dads. You are so proud of them in that way. Your parents remarry via the internets to people you love, and everyone sort of ends up happy.  God has always been present in your life, and your life is proof of his grace.  Translation: you do some crazy things, but are undeservedly cared for.  I want you to remember that God does not cause bad things to happen, Younger B. He sits right next to you in your grief, even the kind caused by your own self.  He’ll redeem anything and everything if you trust him, and he’ll make something bright out of darkness.

You will be tempted to think you know exactly what you want out of life at any given moment. But he writes a much better story than we do, so don’t try to hijack the plot and deposit yourself somewhere else. You are exactly where you’re supposed to be.

Love & Hugs-
Older B

PostScript: It turns out I talk to myself more frequently than I realized. These may also help- here and here.