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

Opportunity

First, some adorable kid photos. Fred is now “two and a half” as he is prone to tell anyone who asks. He talks extremely well, nonstop. I don’t know how he understands as much as he does, but I do know that it’s going to come back and bite me soon. DSC01230DSC01244

Paul is five months old, fat and happy. He’s rolling now, and his favorite thing to do is to watch Fred do anything. Fred is happy to oblige.

We just returned to officially begin our third year in Rwanda after a nice 4 week vacation in the States with our families. It was everything a vacation in America should be with the extra bonus of Maine lobster.

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I’ve been back in Rwanda a week and while much of it has been either positive or neutral, I can’t help but be overcome by the negative. It’s just plain hard here. (It’s hard everywhere, but I’m particularly focused on the hardness of cross-cultural life). Jet lag is torture, especially with kids. It’s exhausting to get back into the routine of managing a house full of staff. While we are so very blessed to have awesome people working with and for us, it’s hard to be a boss – especially cross-culturally and with language issues. There are endless questions and mistakes. I find the challenge of directing particularly hard with all of my White American privileged guilt about the whole thing. Some days I just want to curl up.

And then I lose my temper. A lot. I lose it with BB, with Fred, with the staff, with other drivers. Today was one of those days where I have had multiple beautiful opportunities to ask for forgiveness. I will not get it all right. I will not cease to make mistakes (even big ones). I am warring with my flesh, but I will be grateful for the times that the Spirit leads me to repentance. I am convicted today that my mistakes might not be permanently scarring (all the time), but that my repentance might lead to permanent healing.

Onward we go into year 3.

 

Cars in Rwanda

Last year we didn’t have a car. Cars are very expensive here, and there aren’t exactly car loans. A combination of too many Starbucks, law school and friends who won’t stop running races for clean water, means we don’t have an extra $10K sitting around to buy a beat up 1995 automatic Toyota Corolla. Last year we stretched ourselves with relying on public transportation, friends and taxis. It was freeing in some ways but also quite burdensome.

This year, we decided we needed a car to use more often so we’ve been renting one from a friend here. It’s been wonderful and, dare I say, life-changing. The freedom to move about without relying on others has lifted my spirits.

Of course, with cars come car trouble. To some, car trouble feels stressful and overwhelming, but I actually kind of enjoy car trouble in Rwanda. Rwanda is the very best place to have car trouble – everyone is an amateur mechanic, and everyone is eager to make a few bucks to help you out. It’s one of my favorite cultural experiences.

Today was no different. I drove BB to work, and he noticed the steering wheel shaking a bit. He mentioned that we should check the air pressure in the tires, and I promptly ignored him because I’m an egalitarian feminist in every way except that men are 100% in charge of car issues, killing insects and rodents, and taking out the trash. In all those areas, I submit.

Of course, an hour later, I could tell that my tire was flat. I was almost downtown so I pressed to a quieter street to pull over. The crowds coming by to tell me “sorry sorry,” and “you have a problem,” notwithstanding, I had quick help. Our guard (houseworker who watches the property, does yard work and opens the gate) came to rescue me after about 30 minutes. Once he arrived, and I was out of my car, we had a crowd of moto drivers and passers-by excited to help (and make a few bucks in doing so).

They all spoke for a while about the best course of action (repair or replace), and within a few minutes, they had a plan of action. My new friend John took off on a moto to investigate the cost of a new (used) tire. Another guy whose name I didn’t catch, was off on another moto to get the tools needed. The whole operation took about an hour, and I was on my way.

My one regret is that I don’t have many photos. My phone battery was dying, and I made the prudent choice to save battery in case I needed to call BB instead of videotaping the whole experience for social media.

 

Life

I went back to work (temporarily) so that’s my excuse for never publishing anything – that and the fact that my internet is so bad that I haven’t been able to log into the site for over a week. Nothing too exciting to share here but a few glimpses into life in Rwanda.

We live in Rwanda. Like, we seriously live here. And I hope that someday we have something to show for it other than sun damage to my skin.

But really, that’s part of why we are here, right? We want this to change us. It’s not that something was wrong before, but something was missing.

A friend once said that if we don’t set spiritual goals for our lives (like financial, physical, career goals), then we wake up each year the same.  As a Christian, I believe we are on an eternal journey toward holiness – becoming more Christ-like. It’s not attainable in this life of course, but it’s where God seems to be calling us.

So Rwanda is a piece of that, for us. Every part of our lives should be a piece of that.

I’ve been humbled in awe at some of the memories we are creating as of late. Last Friday night, we had about 25 kids and a teacher in our driveway teaching a Bible class. Freddy crawled in the middle, poking their faces, saying “hi,” clapping along with the songs.

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Now that I am back at work, Freddy spends his days with our three Rwandan staff members – Phoebe (“BeeBee”), Mugenzi  (“Mu”) and Adrian (“Abada”). I watched him running in the yard with them laughing and cheering him on.  He dances when they arrive and yells “bye bye” from the window when they leave.

BB spends his days learning how to become a manager and then how to be a manager in Rwanda. I’m not sure how he will ever be able to capture his education from this time period into a resume (not that he would ever consider actually working for someone!), but the lessons he is learning are priceless. And his employees are being challenged and encouraged in ways that I am positive couldn’t have happened without him taking a chance on them.

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And me. Well, today I’m a high school English teacher preparing to give a test on Beowulf. This most certainly could not have happened anywhere else in the world.

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God continues to confound and amaze us. We’ve struggled a bit financially with starting the business. In America, it would not have been different, but feeling so separated from all that is familiar makes normal struggles seem scarier. And yet at every turn, God has provided for us (and so so much more!). He provides not in just the financial way, but he provides friends who listen, family who encourages, and neighbors who have us over for dinner when we are tired.

This experience has both shaken and deepened my faith in Jesus as Lord. My faith is being refined. I’m learning to discern the true Jesus from the false, the fundamentals from the false fundamentals. I’m letting old beliefs about the world fall away and fade into gray.

At the same time, I’ve never been more convinced that God is real and that he loves me. I think being far away from most of the people who love me makes me crave his love more.  I see his person in the beauty of his creation and his people. I see the way he provides for the broken-hearted and the broken in body and spirit by sending his people out as missionaries.

So we are accumulating things in our backpack that we will take with us on the next journey, wherever that might be.

We are here in Rwanda until January. Lord willing, we will return to Chicago for a mild winter and be adding one more little joy to our family sometime in late February or early March. Our plan is to return as a family of four in May.  Whether these are God’s plans, I cannot say. But we will keep walking through the open doors and are happy to share the journey with all of you.

Our house

Welcome to our house. This year we moved a few street down into a new (to us) house. The set up is largely the same, with a few exciting additions.

Front of the house

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View from the porch

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Living Room/Play Room/Dining Room

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A much bigger kitchen! Rat free!

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Fred’s room that he has not slept in once.

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Our room.

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The Office. It was supposed to be BB’s, but I have already taken it over.

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But the main attraction is the urban farm.

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ChickensP1050436

BunniesP1050438 P1050440

DucksP1050437Mama Lucille and Baby BusterP1050439

Cats and Dogs living together. P1050434

Come visit us! You won’t be disappointed, and we won’t make you clean up any animal poop.

I was there

Closing the gate on her weeping face, I had to run inside, weep and take a shower – wash away the guilt. There’s a woman at the gate, begging for help. But I can’t help her. Won’t help her. It’s not altogether clear.

We are on the porch singing hymns, preparing for Good Friday. Meanwhile, they are crucifying Jesus while we ignore it.

Can’t stop thinking. What if it was me? If that was Fred on her back? Begging the one person she knows can help – a Christian woman sitting in her big house shopping online while her baby gets sicker and starves. But I can’t help. She’s a liar, they say. I know who’s the liar here.

Try and forget her face. There are millions more like her. You can’t help them all. But only one at the gate. I can’t understand her language, but I know what she’s asking.

Let’s get back to church, hymns, spiritual books, talking about Jesus. Woe to you scribes and Pharisees.

I’m a fraud and a liar, professing love of Jesus while ignoring his banging on the gate. It has to be grace. Radical, undeserved grace by which we are saved. I will cling to that grace with all that’s in me.

 

Gisenyi

First I have to thank everyone who sent me such lovely birthday greetings! I was quite overwhelmed by the texts, calls, emails, and FB posts. I felt very loved. I celebrated by going to the bank, changing money, grocery shopping, and buying internet credit. Just kidding…sort of. I did do all that, but BB also took me out a lovely dinner where the wait staff sang me a rousing rendition of Happy Birthday.

We also had a fabulous weekend in Gisenyi with a few other families. It was probably our best family vacation yet! Freddy is at the perfect age to enjoy the sand and the baby pool.P1040690 P1040703

Gisenyi is on Lake Kivu in the north west part of Rwanda, on the DRC border. Across the border is Goma and North Kivu, DRC, which are notoriously dangerous places due to many different warring groups, but it’s (relatively) stable right now and Gisenyi is quite safe. It’s beautiful to look across the lake into DRC and look north and see the volcanoes.

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We feel incredibly blessed to be able to live life in such a beautiful place. While we slept, we heard the waves crashing into the shore. It was a lovely end to my 31st year, and I think I’m ready for what the next year has in store.