Day 10 – Creation

I realize that when most of us talk about creation, we are limiting our comments to those things immediately before us or those things fixed in our memories. Sensational sunrises. Majestic mountains. Verdant valleys. Babbling brooks. Kind and caring people. Yet, pieces of creation await discovery by all of us. Our day in Kenya was a time of wonder as we boarded a pop-top van and headed on safari to see wild animals in their native habitat.

IMG_1169Jackson, our African friend and safari guide, picked us up at 5 a.m. The animals begin their day early at the Nairobi National Park and were expecting us when we rolled up to the gate. The lions were roaring not too far from us. And the monkeys, the “common thieves,” were perched warily in the trees just hoping that we would leave items unattended.

IMG_1170After paying our fees, we reboarded our van and Jackson began the painstaking task of stalking the great beasts of the plain. We were not to be disappointed. A few minutes into our journey, we rounded a bend in the road and were met by a solitary giraffe.

Just moments later, we scrambled to view a creature that had scurried across the road and who waited for us to pass — the elusive bunny rabbit of the Serengeti. We laughed a bit over our eagerness to see anything in this new setting, our new view of creation.

IMG_1180Malcolm remained watchful. Constantly on the lookout for lions, he never lost hope. But alas, the lions chose not to reveal themselves on this outing.

Betty remained in place as our vigilant leader. Camera in hand, she held us spellbound with her knowledge of African wildlife . . . or something like that.

IMG_1188Meanwhile we enjoyed the thrill of our open-air, standing tour of the plain and the constant challenge of spotting God’s creatures.

Animals were everywhere! Herds of zebra and antelope, mixed in with a few wildebeest were consistently present. What better way to record one’s visit to Kenya than with a few selfies with these majestic beasts.

IMG_1194Some photos turned out better than others.

Remarkably, most of these wonderful creatures were undisturbed by us and the clicking of our camera shutters and, occasionally, squeals of delight — primarily from Allison and Betty.

A few of the animals weren’t interested in making our acquaintance. This rhinoceros, for example, was a little standoffish. And even at a distance, he looked threatening.

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The variety of animals was amazing and despite the missing lions, we were greatly amazed at our new discoveries of creation.

Jackson had one more surprise for us — baby elephants!

We may be limited in our ability to comprehend all of God’s creation. But what a wonderful gift we receive when we can fully see the creation right in front of us.

 

 

Day 6 – Bigger

After one night away from our homebase at the ALARM Rwanda Center in Kigali, I noticed a strange feeling surfacing. Despite the fact that I was 8,500 miles from actual home and my immediate family, I felt a calming effect as we returned to our rooms and our comfortable routine with the local staff. I couldn’t escape the feeling that my presence on this trip was, indeed, providential and part of something much bigger than I had anticipated.

For one thing, our training with the ALARM staff was scheduled for days 6 and 7. The entire team was looking forward to that event. Working with a small group of 10 who have a focused agenda would be far less stressful than our work with the security forces from the Kinyinya District and our trying time with the refugee camp. We had become well-acquainted with about half of the staff and were eager to be with the whole group. Benjamin Nkusi, the national coordinator for ALARM Rwanda, had also been expressing his anticipation and hopes for our time together.

I was also more aware than ever that our little team of Texans was taking on family characteristics of its own. Each member had a spot and we had come to depend on the strengths — and the humor — of each individual. We also had concerns for each other that were much deeper than we had seen before. From a physical standpoint, we were all mindful that international travel, medications, local food, and possibly unbottled water had taken its toll. Three of our team were moving forward valiantly despite illness. We were to learn that illness in this sort of environment was a rolling curtain — as some revive, others fall victim.

There was this feeling that our alliance of trainers, students, professors, and, now, friends, was taking on a bigger identity. (Indeed, since I’m continuing to write these day-by-day reports following our return, I can see the growing language and connections of our “Africa family.”)

Primarily, though, I believe that our group was beginning to recognize and accept their bigger role — both as individuals and as a team — in a broader picture of peacemaking and peacebuilding. And when that begins to happen, wonderful things fall in place.

It’s a blessing from God to join Him in something bigger.

 

 

Day 5.1 – Anticipation

The Seeds of Peace Conference Center was in a beautiful spot, as we realized in the daylight. Lake Muhazi was literally at our doors and it lie still and quiet. Our anticipation for the events of the day grew.

The proximity of the lake also explained the exponentially higher number of insects we had encountered through the night and the carpet of dead bug carcasses stretched out at our front door the next morning. photoAlthough I had evaded the mosquitos, I had a couple of unexplained bites on my arm, likely spider — including one that had created a large bruise from the anti-coagulant injected.

2014-09-23 23.55.20Several members of our group had been excited about the opportunity to visit Seeds of Peace because it held out the possibility of a hot shower with plenty of water pressure. I’m not sure about anyone else, but Malcolm and I had hot water galore. I vaguely remember some noises about plenty of pressure but no heat. Since I was happily clean and accompanied by Malcolm, who had experienced the same success in his respective room and bath, the sad stories of Robyn and Betty about their showers didn’t hold my attention very long.

When we reached the little dining room that had been reserved for our breakfast, we learned that Dan and Allison had become ill during the night. Dan had managed to make it down to the breakfast in search of sustenance for himself and fluids for Allison. Our spirits were dampened as we worried about them. And then we considered the news that Robyn’s congestion had worsened during the night and that she was battling a significant upper respiratory infection. Anticipation, coupled with anxiety, began to fuel our thoughts.

Our breakfast proceeded in this suppressed mode and, as we finished, we one by one gathered outside to await news about Allison. When the decision was made that we would leave her at Seeds of Peace to rest while we went on to the refugee camp, we were torn. We were pleased that she would have a place to recover. We anticipated unknown stresses ahead from the journey and from the events to unfold at the refugee camp. But we were disappointed as we contemplated the fact that Allison, perhaps more than any of the rest of us, had looked forward to this visit with such passion. Indeed, the majority of the military duffel bags filled with items for distribution in the back of the bus had been thoughtfully packed by her. And, there was just a little something disturbing about leaving one of our team behind and alone without any reliable means of communication.

With spirits dampened, we boarded our bus and again began winding our way through the hills of Rwanda, stopping several times along the way to ask for directions. At a wide spot in the road, we turned left, circled a number of locals waiting for transportation, and headed up a washed-out, but dusty road. Passing through several villages, we slowly made our way up to the refugee camp. Anticipation grew.

We had been told that the camp had about 500 souls — with about 150 children.

Photo Credit: Betty Gilmore

Photo Credit: Betty Gilmore

As we closed in on the headquarters for the camp, we saw more and more of the Congolese refugees. We would later learn that more than 6,000 children resided there and 3,000 women. We never heard an estimate of the number of men. But they were definitely in the minority.

The further we moved up into the camp, the larger the hordes of children and adults grew. Our anticipation gave way to excitement, coupled with just an edge of anxiety.

(Note: With the exception of a few pictures of our training sanctioned by the refugees camp administrators, we were not allowed to take photos inside the camp.)

5 Days and Counting – Sundays

The next two Sundays will be special ones for our team. While in Rwanda and Kenya, we will have the opportunity to join our new African friends in worship. Spirituality comes in many different flavors. We can’t wait to share in this time of faith stories and common belief.

Well, “can’t wait” may be a little overly exuberant for some of our group. A few have expressed a little anxiety over what shape we’ll be in after flying halfway around the world, arriving on Saturday evening, and attempting to adjust our sleep cycles to the time. I have a feeling that the exhilaration of that experience will far outweigh any latent anxiety.

We are eager to share in yet another bit of tradition and culture that involves our spiritual nature. Communion among new friends, acquaintances, and strangers gives us insight to the essence of God and of his far-reaching love for every creature and, especially, all individuals.

This Sunday — today — is a little different for me. In one of my teaching roles, I find myself in Little Rock, Arkansas conducting a weekend class. Not my favorite arrangement because I lose the opportunity to attend a house of worship, but it’s still a Sunday and special.

For almost 5 years — 4 times a year, I’ve made this trek north to teach this course. And, almost every Sunday my church has been the downtown Starbucks where I find myself now, writing this post. Although there is no liturgy or order of worship, no singing or preaching, no designated deacons or elders, there is community — and thus a form of communion.

As I scan the busy coffee store, I see two people who have been here almost every Sunday I’ve visited. Two other “old friends” were here a little earlier. The rest of the customers passing through seem to represent a wide spectrum of backgrounds and pursuits. Some will linger for a while, talk with friends, read their papers, or browse the internet. Others will place their orders, grab their brews and head back into life just a bit better prepared — or at least caffeinated.

Not my typical Sunday experience, but in many ways, a routine that brings comfort and helps me reset my life.

Sundays hold special meaning for most of us. A good number have the memories around attending local churches. Others have not participated in that way, but our Sundays have been special days of rest and recreation. Sundays have been that quiet place to reflect and restore and prepare for the coming week.

On this Sunday, just before our trip to Africa, I hope that each and every one of our team have that opportunity to reflect and restore and prepare. All Sundays are filled with promise. But the next two are going to be awesome!

We will be far away soon. But we will be close to all of you. Enjoy your Sundays!

7 Days and Counting – Pieces

On occasion, random pieces come together to form a more substantial whole. I’ve been watching a number of pieces of our lives float around and then slowly combine in a grand mosaic. And all of this happens as the calendar moves past us. Just 7 days before our team leaves for Africa, the pieces are slowly beginning to weave themselves into a landscape, with many details in the foreground drifting into the vanishing horizon.

So many pieces.

darkesthour-e1360037094799For example, the work of Robyn Short, Betty Gilmore, and Nanon Williams that culminated just Wednesday night in the release of Betty and Nanon’s new book, The Darkest Hour, and Robyn’s documentary film by the same name — all exposing the tragedy of our national experiment in mass incarceration and the inhumane use of solitary confinement. As I sat with team members, Dan and Allison, hearing and seeing the results of the investment made by Robyn and Betty, I had to think that this was part of something much larger. Just one piece.

That led me to think of the diversity of our team and how we have all been blessed by the gifts and even the idiosyncrasies we find in each other.

Betty’s work as director of Southern Methodist University’s Dispute Resolution and Conflict Management program brings an additional depth to all that we do as a team. Her care and concern for students is reflected in the way our team members respond to her. More about Betty in a later post. Betty’s love for each and every one of us and her daily attention to the team and the larger mission of peacebuilding are . . . just one piece.

Robyn is a woman with a cause — actually, several. As she has slowly revealed her story to us over the last few months, we have come to see an individual who is determined to make progress on a number of fronts. Despite her determination, Robyn works hard to wrap everything in a spirit of love. Robyn and her dedication to her well-chosen causes are . . . just one piece.

Allison displays her love for people in every single one of her facial expressions. She loves peace. She loves to help others. Allison is uniquely suited for her work with students in SMU’s Study Abroad program. We’ve come to know that Allison has many great works ahead of her and she and all those works are . . . just one piece.

Aaron brings a quiet assuredness to the group. His talents are apparent and his comments are given particular consideration by other members of the team. Aaron’s professional career is evidence of his ability to observe, discern, plan, and execute in order to get things done. Yet, we also see his caring side, both through his attention to detail within the group and his expression of love and respect for his family. Aaron and his humble confidence are . . . just one piece.

Team5Malcolm plays a pivotal role in our team. While all team members have revealed an active sense of humor, Malcolm’s dry wit and observations of life and of our team are always welcome and enjoyed. Knowing that Malcolm is actively engaging people each night in his work as a peace officer brings a smile to our faces. With the ability to play numerous roles — friend, protector, family man — almost simultaneously, Malcolm and his warm presence are . . . just one piece.

Dan marshals a great deal of intensity as he pursues what I see as his passion to bring stability to any situation. His passion is not driven by his desire to control, but rather to make the world around him a better place. I know that the people of Dallas are better off because Dan sees his work as a peace officer as a calling to serve. Dan’s desire to understand what is going on around him is contagious and makes us all more curious and, thus, more human. Dan’s openness and his willingness to serve are . . . just one piece.

Obviously, in this moment in our lives, our training mission to Africa is the largest piece. Ten days in Rwanda and Kenya concentrating on sharing conflict resolution skills and motivating others to seek a peaceful path at every opportunity will capture the majority of our imaginations and energy. But even though it’s a big one, our peace mission is . . . just one piece.

However, as I sit and I think about the incredible richness of our team and the unfathomable deepness of our opportunity on this peace mission, I know that all of these things are mere pieces of the greater story of our untold futures.

Just one piece . . . just one peace.