On September 21st, I went to Africa with a team of 6 other women, through Africa New Life Ministries, a non-profit organization. Africa New Life is an organization created by Rwandans to help the Rwandan people empower themselves through education and employment.
An overview of ANLM taken from their website:
“Since 2001, Africa New Life has shared the Gospel using two hands: the hand of compassion and the hand of evangelism. Our goal is to see lives transformed through meeting basic needs, to give hope for the future for those living in poverty in Rwanda, and to share the freedom and hope found in Christ. At the heart of our model for breaking cycles of poverty is educational sponsorship. With a high school education, or a vocational equivalent, children in Rwanda have hope for the future.”
AFNLM believes in caring for the “whole child”. While educational sponsorship is at the core of their work, they believe children need other key factors to succeed such as a growing faith, community development, and a healthy body.
Their mission statement, powerful and simple, drew me in immediately:
“Africa New Life exists to transform lives and communities through preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ and acts of compassion.”
Our days in Kigali were filled with activity. Being a team of women, ANLM asked if we would consider focusing our trip around spending time in relationship with women and children, offering encouragement and support. We were thrilled to have that opportunity, so on our trip we completed 15 home visits. Eleven of these visits included meeting children that are sponsored through monthly donations by various team members. The sponsorship program provides education and medical assistance. Sponsored children also attend a monthly Christian day camp and a four-day bible camp each fall. We were able to touch the sweet faces of children that we had only known on paper previously. A powerful experience that I will write about another day. The other four home visits were to women enrolled in a sewing program through ANLM’s Women’s Vocational Center. In between visits, our days were packed with a full on Rwanda experience. We attended a Christian women’s conference. We lived a day in the life of a local woman, right down to cultivating land and gathering water. We gave presentations on business skills, and health and wellness to women in sewing and cosmetology programs. We walked through a genocide memorial museum. And we spent even more time connecting with our sponsored children outside of their homes.
There is so much I want to express about my time in Africa. It will forever be one of the most important and joyful times of my life. I cannot wait to share my thoughts on education, local culture, short-term mission trips, the genocide, post genocide healing and reconciliation, worship, values, and sponsorship.
But for today, I want to discuss re-entry. Sunday we returned from Rwanda, and we are elated to be home. But coming home brings a big bag of mixed emotions. And as someone who has always been a deep feeler, re-entering the life I left less than 2 weeks ago has been plain hard. Previous service experiences and mission trips have left me well versed on the internal struggle that occurs when you leave a life changing experience, so during the trip I began bracing myself for impact. Processing the emotions involved in re-entry is important and is an essential and necessary step for personal growth, but it is hard work.
Africa New Life Ministries scheduled a debriefing session with Pastor Fred, their executive director, for the day we left. During it, he addressed re-emersion. Looking straight at us, laughing knowingly, he said gently, “Now, when you go home…PLEASE…do not sit around your home feeling bad about what you have. Enjoy your life! Just don’t forget about us. Don’t forget what you learned. Go home and be an ambassador for Africa New Life.” This was a gift. By addressing the internal struggle he knew was imminent he normalized our feelings in advance. It made me tear up. Pastor Fred genuinely hoped we would heed his advice.
I have had a hard time heeding.
I feel disoriented. It is as if someone put a mask over my eyes, spun me around, then took the mask off and told me to walk.
Last Tuesday, while getting ready to start my day and chaperone a field trip, I noticed I was still washing off the red stain of the soil we walked on while visiting homes in Kigali. A few days ago I was delivering food to starving families and talking to people with HIV. Now I was preparing to shepherd first graders through a fire station to learn about safety. This felt bewildering. I went to the field trip in a fog.
I want to be able to share meaningful things when asked about Rwanda, but I am overwhelmed by trying to find words that properly capture joy, sadness, hope and despair all at once. Instead, out come words like “good” and “amazing”, which feel lame and weak.
I want to accurately express to my husband how my heart broke at the exact same time that my soul was lifted. But words fall short, so I find myself staying silent…nothing depicts the whole picture, so I just don’t.
I want to hide in my house, as if I am experiencing some sort of grief, instead of rejoining the world.
When I open my stocked pantry, I feel shame and guilt. Every family we visited received a bag of maize flour, sugar, rice, beans, peanuts and salt. Enough food for a month, and they will likely attempt to stretch it much further. We have a full pantry and will probably still run to the store this week.
I want to be a different, better person. And I find myself thinking about it while staring blankly in a Starbucks line, the irony hitting me like a ton of bricks.
I wish that my children could grasp the sweet hand they were dealt.
Then I think about how my children are just like me. I slept on a bed in a mosquito net, while the families I visited that day slept on dirt.
Before we left, I wrote this on our team Facebook page:
“God has always been at work in Rwanda, and the Rwandan people are making incredible things happen for themselves, as it should be…Pray we remain humble, remembering that God has been at work in Rwanda for a very long time, using Rwandans…We will get to see His work and participate in their journey, but they have got this.”
Why is maintaining this perspective so difficult?
Why do I put this burden on myself when they have God?
I believe that God’s plan involved equipping me to help. So I will straighten myself out and mobilize. Rather than wringing my hands, I will listen to Pastor Fred’s advice and here is what I will do:
I will not focus on what I cannot fix, instead I will encourage and support the ongoing efforts of Rwanda and Africa New Life Ministries.
Instead of standing at the sink obsessing over why I get to have water, I will smile thinking back to the day we waited for our turn at the water pump. The time spent waiting for water provided women a rare pause from constant manual labor and multitasking. If it has not rained the spout only trickles, so people wait. We witnessed how this small pause made space for community. The ladies chatted and laughed. No doubt they laughed about us… I hope they did. It was one of my favorite moments of the trip. Lamenting that we have easily accessible water while they do not is useless. So, I will put my resources and time towards providing accessible clean water for others. (Pssst…Living Water International)
Instead of hiding, I will rejoin my community. Rwandans value community. Rwanda’s emphasis on relational living has no doubt played a large role in their ability to move forward post genocide. My team and I will honor that by returning to our own communities. These are people who supported our dream to travel to Africa, made it possible, and then cared for our families while we were gone. These same people will be there to help us process our experience and to encourage us to apply what we have learned here.
I will appreciate my families access to education and medical care. If I mope and spin my wheels about why I get to have those things, it takes from the energy I could use to make those things accessible through sponsorship and sharing the mission of ANLM.
But all of that is a work in progress.
My heart is still grieving the imbalance in this world. And my soul is also filled with gratitude over experiencing a beautiful new culture and country. But I know I will find a new normal. And that knowledge is in part why I am holding on tight to the tension of feeling shaken and hopeful. I want the part of me that broke to stay broken, but I know that it will heal.
I’m praying for a solid scar.