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.

43 Days and Counting – Interruptions

Hundreds of details. Office work. Chores at home. Social events. Big things. Little things. Some urgent. All important . . . to someone. That was what was going through my mind yesterday — that and the reminder that  it is just 43 days until our team makes its way to Africa on a peacemaking mission — when I opened the email asking if I would attend a gathering at church. I already had a meeting that evening, but I thought I could probably squeeze them both in. “These interruptions,” I thought. “Why is it that interruptions come at the most inopportune times?”

I don’t know if you’re like me, but I tend to organize and dramatize my life around big, upcoming events.

“If I can just get past this publishing deadline . . .” Or, “If you can just hold off until after I go to Africa . . .” Or, “Yes, I do love you, but let me finish this phone call . . .”

Most of us hate interruptions.

We plan to do things. Good things. We set priorities. We schedule our to-do tasks. We check our calendars. We get plenty of rest. We eat fiber. We exercise. We prepare. We smile benevolently at others.

All with the hope that life leaves us alone to do what we have planned. But then we are interrupted.

For some of my friends, interruptions have come with sinister name tags. Cancer. Death. Addiction. Divorce. When we think of interruptions, our natural reaction is to draw in a quick breath and do whatever we can to avoid the delay and the inconvenience. Sometimes we utter a soft prayer, “God, if you’ll just make these people leave me alone for a little while . . .”

But interruptions are what they are. And they come at us without hesitation and sometimes without mercy.

That extra gathering last night: It’s the reason that I’m a day late on this blog entry. It’s the reason that I missed the other meeting I was supposed to attend. The things that happened at that gathering and just after are the reason I couldn’t get to sleep and I didn’t feel like going to the gym this morning. That extra gathering — it was the first domino to fall as my world momentarily cascaded out of control.

With a little different perspective, I can now see some things.  The experience I had at that gathering and a couple of conversations after it did send my schedule into the ditch.Yet, I wouldn’t trade the time. I needed to hear the things I heard. I needed to pray the prayers that were offered. I needed to have those conversations.

I’ve heard interruptions called “divine appointments.” I don’t know who came up with that. But Mr. Webster should put it in his dictionary.

In 43 days, Betty, Robyn, Allison, Dan, Malcolm, Aaron, and I have big plans. We are finalizing the schedule. We are hoping that all goes the way that we have engineered it. Yet, I think we are all hoping for interruptions. Those divine appointments are what makes our lives interesting. Our prayers are that those interruptions come as people we need to know and meet, things we need to do — whether we know it or not.

Truth be told, the stories we tell about this trip will be about the interruptions, not the flawlessly-executed plans.

48 Days and Counting – Gifts

It is only 48 days until we gather a few things together and fly to Africa. But 48-days-out wasn’t a day of rest. Instead, our team of 7 gathered in Dallas in yet another day of preparation. The more we get together, the more visible the gifts of each and every team member become.

I’ll be sharing more about the amazing group of individuals who I’ll join on this trip to Rwanda and Kenya. But for now, let me introduce the team. From left to right, that’s me, Robyn Short, Malcolm McGuire, Betty Gilmore, Aaron Horn, Dan Russell, and Allison Russell. The group was hand-picked by Betty, the director of the Dispute Resolution and Conflict Management program at Southern Methodist University. Each time I have contact with any one of these folks, I become more impressed with how well Betty chose.

We were able to get a lot accomplished as we talked through training concepts and began committing our lessons to paper. A deadline looms on Monday. Our material must get there long before we do so that it can be translated into Kinyarwanda, the official language of Rwanda. Robyn, who works in publishing, agreed to take all of our lessons and put them together in the “training booklet” that will be distributed. (And yes, Robyn, I am in receipt of your emails reminding me that I owe you a couple of lessons for that booklet.  This afternoon, I promise.)

It seems like I’m always running a little bit behind these days. The training material deadline isn’t the only due date I’m facing this week. In fact, when I returned home last night, I was so scattered I even forgot to post this — Saturday’s entry. So not only will I be working for Robyn this afternoon, I’ll also be coming back to post today’s blog entry.

As we sat around Robyn’s living room, I couldn’t help but listen into the conversations. Groups of 2 or 3 of us were discussing our topics and brainstorming ideas for group exercises. Others were searching for the “right words” to teach important things to people in a far different culture.  I was impressed with how much I was going to learn from the people in that room. In fact, I was too busy absorbing the ideas and opinions of the team to make headway on my own work.

We don’t agree on all things. Yet, the team has that specially-dispensed grace that you don’t always find until a group has been together for years. One of the most wonderful gifts present is a shared one — the gift of community. We already have it. I know that ten days in Africa will make that bond even stronger. In the years to come, as interests and physical miles separate us, we will always be a team.

As you follow our journey, I hope that you will become one of our partners in this. Each and every one of us could use your encouragement and support. And if you are so inclined, your prayers. We ask that, above all things, our gifts be used to benefit those people we are yet to meet.