14 Days and Counting – Fortnight

Fourteen days or, as they would say in days of old (or perhaps “olde”) —  a fortnight. That’s how long until Aaron, Betty, Dan, Allison, Robyn, Malcolm, and I leave for Rwanda. Despite all of our hard work, it doesn’t seem real that the trip is that close.

The Persistence of Memory by Salvador Dali

In fact, it’s almost surreal. Surrealism is a genre of art where things take on dream-like qualities and often appear out of order and beyond their natural element. We have a little of that going on with this peace mission.

For months, all of us have been dealing with the concept of going to Africa . . . some day. At some point in the future, this will happen. And now, that some day, that point of time, is just 2 weeks away.

A lot will happen over the next 2 weeks. The other part of our lives will continue. We will go to work. We will do household chores. We will shop for groceries. We will go to the gym and exercise. Okay, some of us will go to the gym and exercise. Despite the fact that this really important journey lies just ahead of us, we will keep living our lives.

In talking with my teammates, I know that most have wished that life could just be put on hold. For 14 days, could the phone stop ringing, could the grass quit growing, could the world quit spinning? The focus of the last six months is looming. It’s more than looming, It’s leaning over and crowding out almost everything else.

Except it can’t. And we won’t allow it.

In a fortnight we will be on our way. But between now and then we’ll meet our obligations. We’ll relish every moment with family and friends. We will live the lives we already have. Why? Because this trip, this peace mission to Rwanda and Kenya, is now a part of us. Our adventure doesn’t start in 14 days. It began the moment God placed on our hearts the desire to share peace with others. Our experience in Africa will live on with us and shape us forever.

 

15 Days and Counting – Mascot

All great teams have a mascot. A mascot inspires. A mascot invigorates. Occasionally, a mascot just kind of lies there.

Meet Mazzie Star, mascot of the SMU Rwanda Peace Mission 2014.

When we see photographs of glamorous celebrities, we often wonder what life in the spotlight is like. Well, you won’t learn much about that from Mazzie Star. Sure, she’s the glue of our team and some say that we owe what we are today to her. But Mazzie just moonlights as a mascot.

In real life, she has important duties. During the day, she covers not just one, but two windows in her best friend’s house. From those vantage points, she has a clear view of two streets and a working knowledge of every neighbor and every other dog living within a half mile. But just because she knows them, she doesn’t let them off with the silent treatment. Mazzie Star barks.

You see, that’s her main job — warning Robyn of anything moving outside the house. Or, when the team is there, anything moving inside the house. And nothing can be said or done to dissuade her from her sworn task. Nothing. Except maybe a snack. Or a belly rub. But sometimes not even then.

Mascots are believed to bring good luck. And certainly Mazzie Star outshines any rabbit’s foot or four leaf clover. But dear Mazzie captures an even deeper meaning for us.

Mazzie1Finding common ground is a unique experience in teams with deep ties. When tension is a little high, a little time with Mazzie brings a measure of calm. When she’s not barking, she is the epitome of the non-anxious presence.

As a team, our tasks aren’t much different from Mazzie Star’s. Be vigilant. Speak up. Reassure. And, if appropriate, eat snacks.

Mazzie won’t be making the trip. Yet she’ll be in our thoughts. As we travel, we will follow her lead. We will be vigilant for each other. We will speak up when a strong voice is needed. We will reassure and comfort.

Undoubtedly, we’ll eat snacks. And we’ll stand together.

 

 

16 Days and Counting – Opportunities

Our team has been richly blessed by the generosity of family, friends, and strangers who have given unselfishly in an effort to share a little love and hope with the children, women, and men we will meet in just 16 days. These opportunities are incredible. Yet, there are so many opportunities in the world to give and to participate. We thought you might want to know about three such opportunities that are impacting our mission on our trip to Africa.

African Leadership And Reconciliation Ministries, Inc. (ALARM) has been featured on this blog before. ALARM is an African-led ministry that focuses on equipping leaders with the skills and knowledge needed to truly transform their communities.

With the help of friends and partners ALARM has trained close to 9 thousand leaders across east and central Africa in biblical theology, conflict resolution, forgiveness, mediation, leadership skills, and reconciliation. ALARM’s programs are designed for grass roots church and community leaders, women, youth, government officials, teachers, military professionals and Christian professionals (lawyers, police and chaplains).

Many of the countries we serve in have had years of war, tribal conflict, genocide and political turmoil. ALARM believes that the transformation and development of Africa rests in the hands of Africans who have been effectively equipped to lead, bring about peace and maintain stability. ALARM therefore focuses on equipping Africans through training, to transform communities through servant leadership and the Christian message of forgiveness and reconciliation.

ALARM is our primary host for our peace mission. On September 4, ALARM will celebrate its Big Day of Giving. With an opportunity to have gifts matched up to $50,000, ALARM is seeking new partners for their efforts. If you are interested in the great work of this ministry, we would encourage you to go to their website.

MITS logo

MADE IN THE STREETS

We also shared information about the Made in the Streets Ministry (MITS) in an earlier blog post. This unique place will be our host for the second leg of our journey. At MITS, children living on the streets in Nairobi are given the opportunity to break away from their lives of poverty and decline in order to go to school, learn skills, and prepare themselves as engaged citizens for the future. We will have the opportunity to be with these children and the wonderful staff of MITS for four days. If you are interested in helping this extraordinary ministry, please visit their website.

logo_global_samaritan

GLOBAL SAMARITAN RESOURCES

Global Samaritan Resources in a non-profit organization in Abilene, Texas that collects surplus goods of all kinds: medical and school supplies, tools and equipment, household goods, furniture and more. Global Samaritan provides the logistics for storage, staging and shipment of the goods it collects and goods collected by other partners. In addition to charitable distributions of supplies, Global Samaritan supplies water purification solutions all over the world. AND, importantly, Global Samaritan has assisted our team by assembling medical kits for distribution to refugees in Rwanda. If you are interested in helping Global Samaritan in their great work, please visit their website.

(You’ll notice at the Global Samaritan donation website that our project to Africa is not listed since it is a relative small and short-lived effort. Donations to cover the medical kits for Africa are being accepted by Abilene Christian University through its Duncum Center for Conflict Resolution. If you would like to specifically help in this way, please visit the Duncum Center’s website.)

MOST IMPORTANTLY, our team wants to thank you for your support, your prayers, and your encouragement. We still have a lot of work to do. We know that we are part of a much larger team of peacemakers. THANK YOU!

17 Days and Counting – Collection

With 17 days to go, our Africa team has gathered quite a collection. From sunglass readers to coloring books to drawing paper to crayons to soccer balls to maxipads to medical supplies, all items are stockpiled in Dallas, Plano, and Abilene.

And most of the collection is not only gathered, but it’s been packed, as well. So far, 5 large duffel bags have been loaded, indexed, and weighed and thus comprise a good part of our checked baggage. If things go as planned, the collection will grow by several more bags.

Our chief organizer, Allison, and her chief assistant, Dan, have meticulously arranged each item and have the bags stacked and ready for transport to the airport.

Collection 1

A collection is a gathering of objects — individual items, some packaged goods. Most of these were donated by friends and family who wanted to have a part in our mission to Rwanda and Kenya.

Most of this collection is going to a refugee camp in the eastern part of Rwanda. It is our hope that these items will be a welcome gift for the children and the adults who, once displaced, are on the path to finding a new place in life.

As I watched team members load some of the items in Allison’s and Dan’s car this weekend, I wished that there was a way to connect each person who donated an item to the person who would receive it. That connection would create a new network and a new collection — a collection of individuals who are coming together even though they are half a world apart.

In a way, that “people collection,” some in the United States and some in Africa, is the entire reason for our trip. The only way to build peace in a world like ours is to find the right connections and to bring people together.

Our teCollection 2am — Aaron, Dan, Allison, Malcolm, Robyn, Betty, and me — has the privilege of being a connection. We hope to form, along with the wonderful people we meet, a collection of humanity who will expand the possibilities of peace.

Thank you for your generosity. We’ll be sharing other ways you can help as our departure grows closer.

18 Days and Counting – Nairobi

Our first leg of our journey will take us into Rwanda in just 18 days. Then, one week later, we will board a Rwandair jet for Nairobi and our work with the Made in the Streets Ministry. Although our original plans only included Rwanda, we were excited to have the opportunity to visit another East Africa country and to meet some additional African friends.

For many of us, our most memorable view of Africa — and Kenya — comes from the book and movie, Out of Africa, written by Karen Blixen. The film won 28 awards, including seven Academy Awards.

Nairobi is the largest city and the capital of Kenya. The country is located on the equator in the African Great Lakes region. Kenya is known for its expansive countryside and the opportunities to observe animals in their native habitat. Bounded by Uganda on the west, Tanzania on the south, Somalia on the east (as well as the Indian Ocean [more southeast], and South Sudan and Ethiopia on the north, Kenya sits in a unique location and has been relatively stable politically for some time.

Kenya became an independent nation in 1963 when it elected its first president, Jomo Kenyatta. Previous to that it was a colony of Great Britain. It continues as a presidentially-led entity today. Despite the fact that Kenya is one of the most prosperous nations of East and Central Africa, it remains a very poor country. Almost 38% of Kenyans live in absolute poverty. Over 70% of the population is under the age of 30.

Nairobi boasts the largest population of any city in East Africa with approximately 3 million residents. Tourism is an important industry and thousands of visitors come each year to visit its national park and to view the 400 species of animals that live there.

In the last year, increased terrorism by Somalian rebels has made life more difficult and makes it obvious that despite the size of the continent of Africa, these countries are tied together in an intimate way. Most of these attacks have centered in Nairobi and along the coast of Kenya. We count ourselves fortunate that the targets of these attacks are far from where we will be.

Nairobi is a city of great contrast. We will learn much from our hosts and from the children we will serve. We’re already looking forward to our time with the children of the Made in the Streets Ministry. Each one will be a precious gift to us. It is our prayer that our time be a blessing for them, as well.