21 Days and Counting – Kigali

In 21 days, we will board our flight to Amsterdam. After a few hours, our second flight will deliver us to our first work destination — Kigali, Rwanda.

Kigali has been the capital since 1962 when Rwanda declared its independence. With a population of almost 1 million people, it is the largest city in the country and is the center for education, transportation, and commerce. Kigali’s central geographic location, in fact, was the reason the city was chosen as the capital.

In addition to housing the nation’s government ministries, Kigali is the home of Rwanda President Paul Kagame. The city is a pr0vince-level city led by a city council that delegates day to day operations to an executive committee comprised of the mayor and two deputy mayors.

International attention was centered on Kigali in April 1994 as the scene of the Rwandan Genocide. Approximately one million Tutsi were killed by Hutu militias (known as the Interhamwe) and some members of the Rwandan army. The backdrop for the uprising developed over a number of years and was intensified by outside influences. Incredibly, the killings continued over a 100 day period while the international community sat idly by.

Despite its history of violence, Rwanda has gone about the important work of rebuilding and is seeing progress as reconciliation is being claimed by more and more of its people. Yet, there is so much more work to be done. In many ways, Kigali is the center of that great work.

In just three weeks, our team will be walking among the people of Kigali, sharing our lives, and sharing in theirs. Undoubtedly, Kigali will be a place we will never forget.

22 Days and Counting – Missed

In 22 days, our team will take to the skies to travel first to Amsterdam and then to Kigali, Rwanda. As we fly, we will undoubtedly have thoughts about the adventure ahead. It is our hope that we never have any regrets about what we might have missed along the way. This is a somewhat peculiar post. First, even though it is being posted 22 days before the trip, it’s a little out of order since I am lagging 4-5 days behind on posting due to technical glitches– glitches that I now hope have been resolved. Those delayed posts are still coming, by the way. Second, because of the server outage and then the website feed issues, many of my email readers have missed all of the posts since August 15. So, at the bottom of this post, I am providing links to each of those posts. Finally, this post is a little peculiar because I want to assert a point of personal privilege to write just a few thoughts about someone I’ve missed.

Jack Lawrence Agnew was an extraordinary man who, if he were still with us, would be 100 years old today. Born in 1914, Jack was a native of Rising Star, Texas and a member of one of the founding families of that little community. His father, E.F. Agnew, operated the local grocery store and both Jack and his older brother, Ray, worked in that store for years. Jack married Ileta McWhirter and, when the economic necessity arose, moved his family to Lubbock, Texas where he continued in the grocery business.

If you had known Jack, you would have loved him. He was one of the kindest individuals I have ever met. And, even if he wasn’t lovable and kind, he would have been special to me because he was the father of my lovely wife, Nancy.

I didn’t always know what to think of Jack. In my early days of dating Nancy, he worked late hours, often coming home long after I had said my goodbyes. I recall vividly the time that Nancy accompanied my family on our vacation to the lake. On our return, I helped carry her bags to the front door. Jack answered the doorbell and, on seeing Nancy, grabbed her, hugged her and said, “I had no idea that you were going to be gone this long!” He whisked her away to see her mom and promptly closed the door in my face. I waited a few minutes and, when it became evident that it might be a while, I opened the door, placed the bags in the entry hall, and walked slowly back to the car. “I’m pretty sure her dad will never let me see her again,” I told my parents.

That, of course, did not prove to be the case. Nancy and I have been together ever since. And our families have been a huge part of our lives. Because I worked for Jack for a couple of years in the grocery business while I was in college and then spent hours with him at the farm in Rising Star after he retired, I have some powerful memories of him. Jack didn’t waste time on politics or celebrities or anything that might be negative about other people. Jack was, in a word, pleasant.

Jack could be a handful. He was stubborn about some things. When many husbands would have sought help caring for sick family members, Jack cheerfully and dutifully cared for Ileta during her last difficult years. No matter what, Jack’s love for her was evident in all that he did or said. He was also determined to keep working on the farm, even though he could hardly walk. Jack had reluctantly agreed to move to town and leave the farm. We moved his things to Abilene to a retirement center nearby and took delivery on one of those scooters. Jack only asked to stay for one more weekend so that he could oversee the workers coming to harvest his last pecan crop. On a Saturday morning, before the crew arrived, Jack was out in the orchard and fell, breaking his hip. Complications from that fall and the surgery eventually claimed his life on Christmas Eve of that year.

I have missed Jack, just as I have missed Nancy’s mom and my dad. When I see pictures of Jack I can almost hear his voice and I wish that we could sit and talk again. He would talk about baby calves and the need for rain and how he needed to get into Brownwood to pick up this or that. But, it was the things that he didn’t say that made those conversations so appealing. I never heard him talk about anyone else in anger. Occasionally he might express disappointment, but that was the extent of it. He spent his time pointing out the good and beautiful things of life. He loved his wife, his daughters, and his son. And his grandkids. And baby calves, of course.

As I think about things I have missed, I have become increasingly aware that I have missed meaningful times with genuinely beautiful people. Growing older, I am also more aware that most people are genuinely beautiful when you give them a chance. Jack knew that. And that’s why so many people would drive miles out of their way to spend time with him.

This trip to Africa is presenting unbelievable opportunities for our team to spend time with people and to give them a chance to be beautiful. None of us can afford to miss that. You don’t have to go to Africa to make that happen.

I miss you, Jack. Happy Birthday! Thanks for seeing the beautiful!

 §§§§§§

So, if you missed a few posts, here are the ones that didn’t make it out to my email subscribers. Just click on the links and you’ll be magically taken to each and every one.

36 Days and Counting – Songs (This one was emailed out but the video links didn’t work. So here it is again.)

35 Days and Counting – MITS

34 Days and Counting – Difficulties

33 Days and Counting – Excitement

32 Days and Counting – Anxiety

31 Days and Counting – Dependent

30 Days and Counting – Shots

29 Days and Counting – Compassion

28 Days and Counting – Recognition

 

23 Days and Counting – Pounds

In just 23 days, our team will be lining up at the Delta ticket counter in DFW International Airport. And for a moment, we’ll all be conscious of extra pounds.

No, we’re not trying to make this about Weight Watchers International. The pounds we’ll be watching are with our checked luggage.

Each of us will be allowed to check two bags with a weight limit of 50 pounds per bag. In those bags — duffel bags — will be our gifts for the refugee camp we will visit in Rwanda. Other posts have shown you the wide variety of art supplies, soccer balls, and sunglass readers we’ll be taking.

My project for the trip was medical kits. Working with an Abilene non-profit, Global Samaritan Resources, I was charged with pulling together a few items that might be useful to medical personnel in the camp. Well, the good folks at Global Samaritan, came up with a little something.

I think it is remarkable that when Betty, Robyn, Allison, Dan, Malcolm, Aaron, and I let it be known that we wanted to take some things to Africa that the outpouring was so great that our biggest problem is having too much to take.

It’s a wonderful, absolutely glorious, problem to have! Thank you!

24 Days and Counting – Dan

The first time I met Dan was over dinner at Mi Cocina. The meal was the team introduction meeting where Betty pulled us all together. Since this is an SMU trip and these were SMU graduate students, I assumed that I would be the only one who needed an introduction. But, it just so happened that most of the students had no prior connection. So, we quickly bonded over Mexican food.

Dan was at the other end of the long table. Toward the end of the meal, I watched as a majority of the female members of our team quietly passed their plates down to Dan. After the second or third one made its way that direction, I heard Dan’s wife, Allison, explain that it takes a lot of food to keep Dan going.

Dan Thumbs-UpIf you could meet him in person, you would understand why. Dan is a big guy. And I’m not just saying that because I’m a little guy. Dan works hard at staying in shape and physically ready for the demands of his job as a Senior Corporal with the Dallas Police Department. Although his size is imposing, Dan works hard at being a reachable presence when he’s working the streets of Dallas.

Daniel Russell is a native of Snohomish, Washington, where he developed his love for the outdoors. A graduate of Central Washington University, he earned two bachelor degrees with honors — Psychology and Law & Justice with a specialization in Law Enforcement.

While still in Washington, Dan served as a Reserve Sheriff’s Deputy for the Kittitas County Sheriff’s Office and completed the police academy while in school full time and working part time. He later served as a patrol deputy and as a part-time School Resource Officer at a middle school and high school.

Dan & AllisonLove brought Dan to Texas. He met his wife, Allison, in the summer of 2005 and, upon graduation from university, he moved to Texas to be closer to her. The couple married in 2012. Upon arrival in Texas in 2008, Dan joined the Dallas Police Department and is now assigned to the Central Patrol Crime Response Team, a pro-active crime reduction unit. In addition, he is a Field Training Officer. As a result of his passion for his job and a great deal of hard work, Dan has received the Certificate of Merit on four occasions and has been awarded a number of commendations recognizing his dedication and skills.

Dan is currently a graduate student in the Southern Methodist University program in Dispute Resolution and Conflict Management.

He and his wife, Allison, are both members of the Africa team. They live in Dallas with their two-year old golden retriever, Brisbane. The couple will celebrate their second anniversary while in Africa with the team!

Dan’s interests outside of work include weight training, physical fitness, hiking, reading, traveling, and what he calls “nerdy science fiction trivia.” A fan of Star Wars, Star Trek, Battlestar Galactica, and Harry Potter, he would make an awesome partner in Trivial Pursuits.

Dan & PitbullAs I have come to know Dan, I’ve come to appreciate his intentional way of dealing with conflict. He brings a balance to his work and to his life. Dealing with everyone and everything with respect seems to be his goal. This snapshot is symbolic of that emphasis. Answering a call to deal with a “threatening pit bull,” Dan encountered this guy — complete with spiked collar and a “Beware of the Dog” sign. Approaching the dog in a reassuring manner led to the friendly encounter you see here. In all likelihood, it also saved the dog’s life.

In our last team meeting, Dan was talking about how hard it is to shift back and forth from police officer to peacemaker. Then he explained that he was able to reconcile the two by viewing himself as a full-time peace officer. Still, there remains a tension.

Dan said, “I try very hard to take my ‘cop’ persona off when I get home, and struggle with that at times. Brisbane keeps me balanced, and reminds me that there are still pure things in this world, like the unadulterated  love of a dog. Allison is who makes me want to be a better person, and not allow myself to dwell too long on all the injustice that is hidden in the shadows that must be dealt with.”

Personally, I can’t think of a better person to deal with that injustice nor a better man of peace to partner with on this mission to Africa. Just another example of our awesome team members!

25 Days and Counting – Hashtags

In preparing for Africa, we have been grateful for the many technological tools we have at our disposal. We have smartphones, tablets, laptops, digital cameras. We have blogs, FaceBook, Twitter. We’re learning about data roaming, Viber, FaceTime, special international calling plans. We’re loading books on eReaders and we’re writing journals in the cloud. And hashtags. We’re doing hashtags.

I’ve known about hashtags for some time now. Basically, hashtags are the speed dial of social media. If you tap the right hashtag about the right subject, you can pick up on news feeds and trending topics. You can be informed.

At some point, the topic came up and a decision was made that our team needed a hashtag.

To be honest, I didn’t really pay attention to that conversation because I am really not all that good at social media and thought that I would simply opt out of the hashtaggery. Before I knew it. We had a hashtag.

#SMURwandaPeaceMission2014

As a person who prefers 4-digit passwords, I was pretty sure that I would never be able to remember this one. Twenty-six characters counting the #. That’s like an alphabet. And it didn’t even have the name of my first dog embedded in it. Too much, I thought. Too much. I’ll never learn it.

But then, seeing other team members put it to use — and noticing when they would take my postings and dutifully repost with the hashtag — I decided to give it a try.

# – That part was easy.

SMU – Important. Tells people the origin of our group. This is a sponsored trip organized by the Dispute Resolution and Conflict Resolution Program at Southern Methodist University.

Rwanda – Where we’re going.

PeaceMission – What we’re doing.

2014 – When we’re going.

Painstakingly adding “#SMURwandaPeaceMission2014” to my post, I realized that basically I was achieving the equivalent of my first presentation in Speech 101. The hashtag attracted attention, told who we were, where we were going, what we were going to do, and when we were going to do it. As I prepared to click the “Tweet” button, I tried to remember what we were trained to do to overcome speech anxiety. So I imagined everybody on the Internet was naked.

Turns out, many are. But that’s beside the point.

We are not just taking a trip. We are telling a story. And whether we do it in 26 characters or a picture or a thousand words, it’s a story that will change many lives.

#SMURwandaPeaceMission2014