No room at the inn

I’m angry today, and I think Jesus is angry too. I spent the last two days with Jeanne.* Jeanne is 17 years old, and back in March, she was raped. But her rapist wasn’t the first man to victimize her. Jeanne’s father abandoned her mother and his four children long ago. The reality is that generations of men who have gone before her have harmed the women in her life. Her rapist was one of many.

Jeanne is now pregnant. And the violence imposed by the men in her life continues without skipping a beat. The man who married her mother (in full knowledge of her four children) doesn’t want an unwed pregnant child in his house. And apparently the other men in his community don’t feel it’s their place to challenge him on that. She’s forced to live an hour bus ride away from her mother with her auntie, whose husband begrudgingly will accept her. But he refuses to let her go to school after the baby is born.

I wish these men were an exception. I wish it were true that the world is full of strong, compassionate, caring, gentle men. But alas, it seems that those of us who grew up with caring fathers and come home to loving husbands should thank our lucky stars.

The irony of driving an 8 month pregnant teenager around on December 15 and begging people to take her in is not lost on me. Two thousand years later, women are still treated as trash. The burdens on this young girl are ignored. The men in her life are happy to cast the burdens onto her. She is expected to carry this child, birth it, and care for it alone (and God forbid she raise her voice in complaint!).

And lest we think that poor treatment of women is only found in the developing world, let’s look at our American homes and communities. According to a 2001 study, the leading cause of death among pregnant women in America was homicide by the baby’s father. Rape culture permeates marketing, media, music, and books. Our churches preach that women should submit to men and that men need to be respected. Sexual violence is ignored and covered-up. We teach modest dress as the solution to rape. My son watches The Little Mermaid and learns to sing about how women talk too much and are much more attractive when they are silent. And on and on and on.

Jeanne is having a baby girl. What can we expect for her life given all of these men she’s surrounded by? More victimization? O Church Arise. We must speak against the cowardice that treats women as property at best and as an inconvenience at worst. Where are all the good men? I know they exist. Why are the women who care for her (myself included) not surrounded by men doing the same? Why are we women cleaning up messes made by men, hiding in shame, and fearing the next mess? Where are the NGOs and churches that teach men that women are human beings desiring of love and respect? Jeanne’s daughter needs the cycle broken. There are countless women advocating for Jeanne and her daughter. Where are the men?

 

*Jeanne is a pseudonym

Groaning

I’ve been thinking a lot about the way the earth and its people groan for the Lord. The last few years I’ve taken to reading the Bible cover to cover (instead of picking books at random) because my mom says that you can’t get the full story unless you read the full story. And my mom is always right.

I’m at the point that I always want to quit – about three books from the end of the Old Testament. So soon I will be to those first words of Matthew, but I can’t will myself to endure any more of these harsh words from the Lord. I’m tired of reading about how evil we are, and I’m scared that God doesn’t actually love me but wants to smite me for my unbelief.

But if I can make it a few more pages, there He will be. My Hope.

“Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us.” Romans 5:5

This isn’t random – this feeling of groaning, wandering through the wilderness, this endless waiting for redemption. It’s the theme of the Bible, and it’s played out in all our lives, isn’t it?

I think of Martine*, an IJM client who’s deep in the thick of the wilderness.

Instead of attending school and playing with friends like other fourteen-year old girls, Martine suffered terror and abuse from a man in her neighborhood. He regularly beat her and raped her, and she eventually became pregnant. When her pregnancy became apparent, she came to IJM looking for help.

IJM came alongside the authorities and eventually, the perpetrator was arrested, tried, convicted and sentenced. Martine successfully completed trauma counseling and gave birth to a healthy baby boy. IJM helped her go to school.  She lived with her mother, who is HIV positive, and her young siblings. Case closed, right?

If only life were that easy. I recently listened to a sermon from Christine Caine. She talked about the Israelites in the desert – they were delivered into the wilderness, away from their captivity, but they weren’t yet free in the promised land. Many of us are living delivered but not free, like Martine.

Martine began to have conflict with her mother. It started as typical issues between a mother and a teenager, but due to the trauma suffered by Martine and the challenges of being a young mother, it quickly escalated, and she ran away from home, leaving the baby with her mother. Three months later, Martine’s brother found her and brought her home.

Eventually Martine made a plan to kill herself and her baby, believing it to be the only way to find relief from her pain.  Thanks be to God, she was unsuccessful, but the demons remained.

IJM helped her to be admitted to a mental health hospital and receive additional counseling and continued to help Martine’s mother to care for the baby. Martine agreed to enter a boarding school and vocational training program to try and better her circumstances, but after two weeks in the program she disappeared, telling the school authorities that she was pregnant again.

She disappeared last fall. Just a few weeks ago, Martine reappeared when someone saw her at a local Kigali hospital scheduling the birth of her new baby. Martine is scheduled for a surgery to deliver the baby on March 25, 2014.

Meanwhile, Martine’s mother continues to care for her first baby, Henri*, who is now almost two years old. Mama Martine is quite ill due to her HIV status and weak from caring for the young child and her other children without any other family support. Worried that she may need to care for another baby in the near future, she may seek to have Henri adopted by a Rwandan family. Despite her weakness, Mama Martine continues to fight for her family. With IJM’s help, she is determined to start a business to help support her family.

What do we do with all this? How can we endure reading anymore pages of despair and yearning? Surely God has forgotten this family.

“But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save him people from their sins.” Matthew 1:20-21

Jesus. Emmanuel. God with us.

Keep reading. The story isn’t over yet.

Would you pray for Martine with us? As the day of her child’s birth draws near, we pray that God will show her his love for her through us. We trust that God is using her to bring him glory.

*pseudonym

Lake Kivu

In case you aren’t tired of BB anecdotes, this weekend at Lake Kivu, BB said the weather was “perfect swimming weather.”  It was about 65 degrees and raining.  I think there was thunder in the distance.  Seriously, give that man a lemon, and he will make a gourmet lemon custard.

Here he is…swimming to Congo.

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Despite the rain, we had a lovely weekend.  In fact, the rain was welcome after the hot, dry summer.  We stayed at a lovely resort right on the water and enjoyed good food, a king size bed (for sleeping! Get your head out of the gutter!), hot water with strong pressure, and TV!  We watched about 5 hours of Al Jezeera and another 3 hours of soccer.  It was glorious!

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Freddy enjoyed his first dip in the fresh water of a lake and even though he’s never actually seen a television remote control before this weekend, he knew that it was all the toy he ever wanted.  BB swam, ran and drove through the mountains like a champ.  I read books, sang every song I could think of for over an hour of the car ride to keep Freddy from screaming, and ate a lot of crepes.  We even took a boat ride!  Everyone was happy.

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Boat ride!  Don’t you love his leggings?

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We had a bit of an audience when we stopped so I could nurse Fred.IMG_3157

Yesterday morning I attended my first court hearing.  Unlike Cook County, everyone was wearing shoes, and the lawyers didn’t call each other names (from what I could tell).

In Rwanda, prisoners wear pink one-piece capri-style jumpsuits and slip-on shoes with no socks.  As Westerns, we think the pink is particularly humiliating because it’s a “girl” color, but that doesn’t actually translate culturally.  For instance, every single time I meet a Rwandan with Fred, they ask if he’s a boy or girl.  The clothes he’s wearing do not indicate his sex.  I love things like that.

I’ve been thinking a lot about cultural context lately and the ways we try to translate things like life philosophies and Christian living.  A few weeks ago, I heard a story about a presentation at an urban church where presenters indicated that a mother working outside the home was in direct disobedience to God’s word.  Putting aside the 100,000 reasons why that idea is utterly ludicrous, I thought about all the mothers I come in contact with here who have no choice but to work outside the home – most doing back-breaking labor for pennies.

I think of Mama Rebecca (here, we refer to mothers as “Mama [First-born child’s name]”, so I am often called Mama Fred).  When she’s not working part-time at our house cleaning outside, watching our house, and gardening, she can be found working as a street sweeper.

I think of the single moms of kids in Chicago, who work as teachers, nurses, receptionists, lawyers.

I think of the women at my office at IJM who work as social workers, helping children who’ve been abused.

I think of the powerful women who worked their whole lives to make the world a better place – running orphanages, caring for the sick, protecting wildlife, discovering cures for disease, holding political office.

Part of what I love about living in Rwanda is that my eyes are slowly opening to the world around me. This process began when we started the adoption, and I continue to learn more each day.  The world is so much bigger than Chicago, America, my life.

The challenge is that I have to stretch my understanding of who this God is that I love.  He has to be big enough for this whole world.  His provision has to be wide enough to encompass the deepest needs, his redemption great enough to rescue the most oppressed.  I must resist the temptation to limit him. If something I believe about him isn’t true for every one of his children, then I must take the time to discern whether it’s really true.  He is the God of the President of the USA, the farmer in Germany, the schoolteacher in Rwanda, the executive in Japan, the street child in Brazil, and the sex slave in India.  He is the same yesterday, today and forever.

 

A Day in the Life

Last night we hired a yoga teacher (Rwandan) to come over and lead a practice for us and another couple.  In BB’s words, “something I’ve dreamt about doing for years.”  Makes me wonder what else he’s dreaming up. I think yoga’s going to be a weekly thing for us – the only extracurricular we’ve been willing to commit to so far. It was a much better experience than BB’s $3 massage of last weekend.

We also had our first official dinner guests this week.  I even cooked dinner myself (with our housekeeper occupying Fred).  L & E (nosygirl.net) helped us pick an avocado from our tree (by pick, I mean hook it with a giant bamboo pole and catch it before it splatters on the ground) and brought us delicious strawberry tarts.

6 weeks!  We’ve been here 6 weeks.  Still has a temporary feeling in some ways, but each day it feels more like home.  We are really itching to get out of town and see more of the country, but our rental car for the weekend fell through so we may have another weekend in Kigali. Another weekend of logging many miles walking.  BB can’t wait for all my complaining, I’m sure!

The bookshelves in our rental home are stocked with classic literature.  BB just finished Catcher in the Rye and has been psyched to find some Annie Dillard (apparently his favorite author).  If you know BB in real life, you will be as shocked as I am.  When we were dating, it took him 6 months to read the first Harry Potter book.  In his words, “I don’t read, and I can’t spell.”

We are anxiously waiting for the coming rainy season.  Supposedly by Sept. 15, we should be enjoying a period of rain every day.  Rain is welcome after this long dryness.  At this time of year, the water is rationed more and more, and when the dust settles, we can see the beauty of the city more clearly.

I’m settling into work.  I can’t tell too much because of that attorney-client privilege stuff, but I am really enjoying my time at IJM.  It’s amazingly well-run.  The staff is delightful and hard-working.  The work is challenging – intellectually, mentally and spiritually.

As I’ve mentioned previously, in Rwanda, IJM works on cases of child sexual assault. It’s quite tough to read these cases and meet the clients, but it’s also amazing to see the redemption that IJM gets to be a part of for these girls.  Just today, our counseling staff led the weekly support group meeting for teen clients.  While I worked, I could hear them singing and laughing.

I was privileged to travel to the field last week and meet a client and her family. She was such a sweet child, holding my hand, touching my hair.  Her mother lovingly invited us into her humble home, and her little brother laughed at the muzungu in his home.  Even though we couldn’t communicate with language, I felt so welcome, and I could sense how much they appreciate IJM’s work.

Since we aren’t traveling this weekend, I imagine we will have a full weekend of donut-eating, marketing, worshipping, and watching Freddy try to crawl. It’s a different life, but we are learning to love it.

 

 

 

 

This city

I’ve read a lot about the red dirt of Africa.  I think my feet will be forever stained.  I hope they are.  It’s moments like these when I can’t imagine ever going back.  And I can’t.  I can’t un-know.  I can’t un-see.  I don’t want to either.

Many ex-pats call Rwanda, “Africa-lite” or “Africa for beginners,” and in many ways it is.  It’s clean, safe and well-run.  But there’s darkness here unlike any I’ve experienced.  There’s an oppressive weight on the shoulders of everyone who walks these red dusty roads.

This past weekend we visited two genocide memorial sites – two churches where thousands of Rwandans sought sanctuary while their families and friends were brutally slaughtered.  Tragically, there was no sanctuary to be found.  In one church, 10,000 people were murdered, thousands more in the other.  Over 50,000 people killed in this one small neighborhood outside of Kigali.

The churches remain virtually untouched.  When you enter, you see piles of decaying clothes – the clothes of the victims.  When you enter the crypts, there lie more skulls, pelvic bones, femurs than you can count.  A pile of necklaces, watches and wallets sits on the altars.

What struck me is that to the naked eye, a skull is just a human skull.  It’s not African, it’s not White, not Tutsi, not rich; it’s just simply, obviously human.  If my skull was split by a machete, it would look the same even though my upbringing and skin color are so different.

The tour guides are all survivors, open to telling you about their experience hiding in the bushes while their parents and siblings were hunted.   They speak the words with a haunting look in their eyes.  But they light up when they speak of their children.  The hope of new life bursting through the darkness.

This morning at our morning worship at IJM, we sang “God of this City.”

You’re the God of this city.  You’re the God of these people.  You’re the God                     of this nation.

Greater things have yet to come, and greater things are still to be done in this                   city.

It has to be true.  There’s no other option.

 

 

International Justice Mission

I’ve spoken a bit about how we are heading to Rwanda in a few weeks, but I haven’t yet explained why. I will be a legal fellow with International Justice Mission (“IJM”) (www.ijm.org). I am so excited about this opportunity to work with an organization I’ve followed for a number of years.

IJM seeks to protect poor people from oppressive violence in four ways – victim relief, perpetrator accountability, victim aftercare, and structural transformation. The investigators, lawyers and aftercare workers work across 18 field offices on seven different types of cases – bonded labor, sex trafficking, illegal detention, land grabbing, police brutality, hill tribe citizenship, and child sexual assault. In Rwanda, IJM focuses on cases of child sexual assault.

I have prayed for at least a year for guidance on my career. I have wanted to focus my skills on serving the poor, but I could not quite figure out how. After I left the law firm last fall, I applied to IJM – not thinking it would happen – but telling God that if he wanted to send us abroad, we would go.

I originally learned of IJM from my sister-in-law in Cincinnati. She heard Gary Haugen (IJM’s President and Founder) speak at Crossroads Church in Cincinnati and because I was in law school, she thought of me. From that time forward, IJM stayed on my radar.

So when we came home from Congo last summer after all our big plans fell apart, I decided to take the plunge and apply. After a few interviews, I received the offer just two weeks before Freddy was born.

I fully admit that it is with trepidation and humility that I embark on this job. It’s tough work, and it will likely bring me to my breaking point. I don’t have naïve idealism that I will change the world, but I have full confidence that I will return changed.

More to come!