31 Days and Counting – Dependent

When we leave on our training trip to Africa in 31 days, we will become highly dependent on others. Pilots. Drivers. Hosts. Translators. Guides. Dependent is not how many of us on our team would describe ourselves.

Image Credit: mzacha at FreeImages.com

In a few weeks, our team will place our trust in many, many people. These trusted individuals will be spread over three continents and an ocean. A good number of them will become close because their lives will not just touch ours, they will intertwine with us and our stories will become one for just a little while.

The peculiar thing about life is that, for the most part, we don’t get to choose who we depend on. For example, I have a few friends who are airline pilots, but I’m fairly certain that not once have I flown in a plane where they were at the controls. When, I eat at a restaurant, I assume that the food will be correctly prepared and the cook and the wait staff will follow the highest standards. (What was that great line from Penny in The Big Bang Theory? “Sheldon, I may only be a lowly waitress, but I have every opportunity to spit on your hamburger.”) Even when I drive down a Texas highway, I have some faith that the drivers around me will stay in their lanes and observe most of the rules of the road.

In a foreign culture, the dependence factor grows dramatically and along with it our willingness to trust.

We should always be cautious, that’s true. Yet, the willingness to trust other people is one of the most exhilarating experiences of our lives. Becoming dependent on someone else brings together two disparate forces — anticipation and relief. And even though these feelings are distinct and very different, you really can’t have one without the other.

Anticipation brings questions about those who have assumed our care. Anticipation can take us down paths of delight, but it can often be shaded with fear and dread. It’s been years, but I can still physically feel those last few moments as the roller coaster edged its way to its highest point. In the course of a few seconds, I felt both nauseated and ecstatic as I anticipated the rapid rush that was ahead. As the cars sped forward, I remember physically holding on tight while mentally letting go to experience the thrill. And what could be better than that triumphant re-entry into the loading area? Or what more questionable than our incredible urge to get in line again?

In the western world, we praise independence as a personal character trait. We nurture and train our children to be independent. We reward independence. We criticize those among us who struggle with independence. Sometimes, we create systems that ensure our independence while making it impossible for others to achieve it.

A certain beauty lies in learning to be responsibly dependent. The truth is we need each other. Perfection in life comes from being dependent and allowing others to depend on me. Independence has its place. But we can never allow it to overshadow our divine calling to help others and to allow them to help us.

In the next few weeks, I will be dependent on so many people. Many of them I will never meet. Others will become life-long friends. Still others, like my teammates and our special guides in far-away places, will likely take a place close to my heart. Perhaps the two phrases we should try to learn in every language are “thank you” and “you’re welcome.” Those words define a holy place where those who are dependent meet.

Countdown days 35 through 30 were written on the right days — but posted late because of a major web server outage. My apologies for the delay in posting and for posting several a day to catch up.

35 Days and Counting – MITS

We’re leaving in 35 days. Even though much of our work in Africa is directed toward adults, our team leader, Dr. Betty Gilmore, worked to ensure that we would also have time with the future of Africa, the children. So, in addition to the children we see along the way and those we will visit in a refugee center in Rwanda, we will be traveling to Kenya to spend time with the kids at the Made in the Streets (MITS) ministry.

On August 3, 1995, Charles and Darlene Coulston began an outreach program on the streets of Eastleigh. That program continues today as 13 and 14 year old children who are looking for a new life free from the streets and its crime and hunger are identified and welcomed into the loving community at Made in the Streets.

About a 45 minute drive from Nairobi, MITS has a campus in Kamulu where the children live and go to school. A loving community, the MITS family provides a place of safety and nurture for these kids. When they reach the age of 16, the children have the opportunity to learn marketable skills and at age 17 they may enter internship programs. Throughout their time at Kamulu, the children are offered spiritual support and guidance.

Our team will be guests at Kamulu where we will be blessed by our time with the children and the staff of MITS. We are also planning to provide conflict management training to the older kids who are preparing to leave MITS and return to find employment.

A little later, I may share more about how the connection to this wonderful place was made. For now, I find it remarkable that I had an earlier connection. One of our life-long friends, Linda, fell in love with Made in the Streets a number of years ago and made a number of trips to Kenya to volunteer and be with the kids. Linda is no longer with us. Cancer took her from this world. Yet, cancer and death can never take from us our memories of her joy from being part of this ministry. She once described it as a place of miracles.

Our team will have a front seat to miracles throughout our time in Africa. I can hardly wait.

Countdown days 35 through 30 were written on the right days — but posted late because of a major web server outage. My apologies for the delay in posting and for posting several a day to catch up.

 

37 Days and Counting – ALARM

In 37 days, our gallant band of adventurers will head to Rwanda — and then later to Kenya — to conduct training in conflict resolution and leadership. Our group is made up of students from Southern Methodist University’s graduate program in Dispute Resolution and Conflict Management and the director of that program, Dr. Betty Gilmore. And then there’s me. The students will be earning academic credit and Betty will be supervising their educational experience. The Rwandan leg of our journey is under the supervision and sponsorship of African Leadership And Reconciliation Ministries (ALARM), a group that is working quietly in 8 African nations to help people understand how their faith should impact their daily lives.

ALARM President, Rev. Célestin Musekura, Ph.D. in action.

 Dr. Musekura was studying outside his home country when the holocaust raged through Rwanda and hundreds of thousands of his countrymen were killed over the period of 100 days. That very year, 1994, Dr. Musekura founded ALARM and begin initiating his vision to positively influence the thinking and actions of the people of east and central Africa. ALARM has now expanded into 8 countries — Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya, Rwanda, South Sudan, Sudan, Tanzania, and Uganda. All of its offices are staffed with well-trained, professional African men and women who serve as missionaries to their people.

Our group will be hosted by the staff in Kigali, Rwanda. For months, they have been working with Betty Gilmore to coordinate our efforts. Our team is eager to meet and work with these extraordinary people.

ALARM has a three-part vision. By concentrating on developing leaders, reconciling relationships, and transforming communities, the ministry has become a trusted partner with many churches, communities, and government officials in east and central Africa.

Our team will benefit in many ways from our work with ALARM. Its expertise in the African culture, coupled with its local contacts and reputation have opened the door to opportunities that would have never been possible. The key to ALARM’s success is its unwavering commitment to serve the people of these countries by showing God’s love.

Click over to ALARM’s website and spend a little time getting to know its incredible story and its committed staff. If you sometimes wonder if much good is happening in the world, this is your chance to see good in action. In coming posts, I’ll be sharing more about ALARM and about our team’s unique mission in Rwanda.

39 Days and Counting – Stories

Tonight was to be a team gathering time. Just 39 days before our trip, our plan was to meet and continue to plan our trainings and to work on all of those little details that trips like this require. I was especially looking forward to the time because I was wanting to hear some of the stories from Aaron, Allison, Betty, Dan, Malcolm, and Robyn that are forming as we make these preparations. Stories, not cotton, are the fabric of our lives. Facts and feelings and joy and sadness and victory and suffering weave themselves into tales. Our stories define us.

From the viewpoint of efficiency, we canceled tonight’s meeting. We weren’t going to have a lot of time together and we have some full-day work sessions ahead. Still, I will miss those stories.

Every single person has a central theme that shapes her or his life and invites others to blend-in their stories. Some of those stories feature tragedy and sadness. Others share happy times and wonderfully funny episodes. A constant feature of ongoing stories is the way that our characters continue to seek a path to stability and saneness. We seem to know that living in the extremes of happiness or sadness isn’t a rational expectation.

In just 39 days we will be stepping into a world where people’s stories are far different from ours. A different culture, a different continent, a different set of values and evaluations. We will meet people who have been happy or sad — just like us. Our days will be packed full of individuals who have stories to tell — just like us.

When we make our way back home after our journey, our personal stories will take on a new flavor. We will be forever changed. And, hopefully, our own stories will positively change the lives of our new African friends.

Stories matter because they define where we’ve been and point us to the place we’re going. Occasionally, our stories emerge from our dreams and we are left to the important task of molding something better.

As I think about the stories being shaped in the coming weeks, I know one thing for certain. Every one on our team has been dreaming of peace. We’re looking forward to the way our stories will merge to bring that theme to life — not only for our new friends, but for each one of us.

42 Days and Counting – Tribes

“Education is inoculation,” we are frequently reminded by Dr. Betty Gilmore, our team leader and the director of the Dispute Resolution and Conflict Management program at Southern Methodist University. With that in mind, our team has been seeking and absorbing material about Africa and, specifically, Rwanda. As I’ve gone about my daily reading, I’ve been a little discouraged. Just 42 days and the unread stories of this small, beautiful country seem to stretch out to infinity. One of the surface features of the Rwandan story is that of tribes.

This region of Africa has been inhabited by three primary tribes: the Hutu, Tutsis, and the Twa. The Twa is a very small part of the Rwandan population — about 1%. A Pygmy people, the Twa are hunter-gatherers and skilled in the craft of pottery. The Hutus have always been the largest of the tribes with over 80% of the population. Even though a minority, the Tutsis gained power and ruled over the region for over a hundred years with relative peace. When the Belgians discovered the riches of Rwanda and began their colonization and control of the country, they immediately begin to show favor to the Tutsis, providing better education and financial incentives. The discrimination fostered by the Belgians served to increase the ethnic divide of the country. Finally, when the Tutsis began to tire of outside influence and begin to push back, the Belgians incited the Hutus against the Tutsis. Violence between the tribes was present long before the holocaust of 1994 and tens of thousands of Tutsis were slaughtered over several decades.

In 1994, a long-engineered killing spree was initiated against the Tutsis. Over the period of 100 days, close to a million people — men, women, and children — were slaughtered in the name of ethnic cleansing. The world community was slow to respond. To those on the ground in Rwanda, I’m certain that it felt like the world was simply choosing to look the other way.

This little bit of history doesn’t tell the full story. Nor does it inform us of all that has happened in the last 20 years. But it does give us a frame of reference for our mission come September.

While tribes have been an integral part of the fabric of this country and most of East Africa, we are going to share about the potential for reconciliation that springs from the hope of a larger view. What we hope to share is a simple truth.  Some concepts have far more potential than those associated with caste and ethnicity. We are going to reinforce what these wonderful people long to believe — by valuing every human being and through acts of forgiveness, true peace can come. And, we can’t help but touch on the even more gigantic truth. We are all God’s children. And that means more than tribe, the deepness of the pigment in our skins, the shape of our nose, the accent in our speech, or our earthly family tree.

We are His. And because of that, we must act differently from the world. We’re still part of a tribe. But the tribe is not set apart as Tutsi or Hutu or Twa — or African or Asian or European or American.  Our tribe is one.