Day 4.1 – Serious

As indicated in the previous post, the training of the district security forces, along with a number of other leaders in law enforcement and government agencies, was a tremendous success on Monday and only got better on Tuesday. One thing for certain, the men and women gathered for the training were geared up and ready to receive all they possibly could from the time together with our team. While kind and gracious, our crowd was downright serious about getting as much as they possibly could from this event.

The national coordinator for ALARM Rwanda, Ben, and ALARM’s Director of Peacebuilding and Reconciliation, Cecile, served as our interpreters. I can’t imagine how incredibly difficult that was — and tiring. But they were serious about helping us communicate our message.

During the late morning and early afternoon on Tuesday, a special committee of participants convened during our training to evaluate the sessions and to make recommendations to leaders of the community at the closing session. Their evaluation was amazingly thorough and their primary recommendation was to expand the program to security forces outside the district and across the entire nation. Serious recommendations.

The African people are also serious about ceremony. Our training session ended with an official closing with the major of the district, the executive secretary of the district, and the director of security forces for the district all in attendance to hear the committee’s recommendations, to congratulate the members of the security forces for their excellent participation, and to thank us for coming to share.

And the entire occasion was capped off with a serious photo session and times for goodbyes.

What is apparent is that we have a serious, top-flight training team with Betty, Malcolm, Allison, Robyn, Aaron, and Dan. Seriously.

 

 

Day 2.2 – Genocide

After attending church and sharing a relaxed lunch back at the ALARM Training Center, our team loaded up and headed to the Kigali Genocide Memorial Center. From the time Dr. Betty Gilmore envisioned this trip for us, this was the moment that we had the most questions about. How do we come to understand one hundred days of history in this small country where ordinary citizens were persuaded to join military forces in the brutal murders of their neighbors and friends?

The Kigali Center, one of several genocide memorials in Rwanda, is a somber place. Our team slowly made its way through turn after turn of narrow halls packed with photographs and the stories of that dark time in history.  Cold, calculating individuals manufactured this slaughter set within the context of a Rwandan civil war. Slowly at first, propaganda achieved its inevitable purpose as a tribe of people, the Tutsis, were targeted as undesirable and labeled as insignificant. The consistent cry was heard across the nation — “Kill the cockroaches!” When the genocide finally ended, close to 1 million Rwandans were dead.

Burial Place SignToward the end of the exhibits were three rooms that cut deep into our souls. In the first were displayed countless human skulls, bones, and some of the weapons that were used to maim, torture, and kill. In the second were thousands of pictures of individuals who died. No stories. Just family photos clipped to string after string after string. Each picture a story and a sharp pain in our consciousness.

The last of the three exhibits was most likely the most chilling. Through several rooms, large photograph enlargements were accompanied by simple plaques that provided the name, the favorite foods and activities of the little children who were killed alongside their parents or hunted down like animals. Oh, and one other item on those plaques — the method by which each child had been executed.

The Kigali Center is built on the side of a hill looking back toward the downtown area. Outside the center, on its grounds, are buried some of the victims of the genocide. Two hundred fifty thousand is what we’re told. As Dan pointed out, in the space provided, it would be difficult to have 250,000 people standing close together, much less buried. Yet, that small piece of land that we trudged over in less than an hour, is the final resting place of a quarter million people. We left that area dazed and wished the story was make believe — a horror story.

Hotel RwandaWe were uplifted a few minutes later when we visited the Hôtel des Mille Collines. This Belgian luxury hotel was where hundreds of Tutsis and moderate Hutus were sheltered by a caring hotelier, a Hutu who was married to a Tutsi. Known popularly as “Hotel Rwanda” because of the movie by that name, we were reminded of the fact that, even in horrible times, the goodness and the resolve of individuals stands as a testament to the greater good that God has placed in all of us.

In the days to come, we know that we will see the great effort being made by the Rwandan people to claim that greater good.

2 Days and Counting – Balance

So, our heads are filled with visions of what we will see and tones of what we will hear. In 2 days we will wait for our boarding groups to be called and we’ll make our way down the jet bridge to our plane and find our seats. As we settle in for the first of two 10-hour flights, we will wonder about what directions our first exposure to Africa will take. We’ve prepared well and we know that the things we will experience will range from sobering to exhilarating. We pray for balance.

Back in Abilene, on the campus of Abilene Christian University, one of the favorite fitness hotspots is the Lunsford Trail. A two-mile ribbon of pavement wrapped around the home of the ACU Wildcats, the loop is known for the special messages and symbolism portrayed on inset stones and on monuments of various stature.

At the head of the trail, Mile Marker 0, a large stone pillar is set to the side and bordered by shrubbery. It’s a favorite spot of mine because of the scripture etched in that stone.

“He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” Micah 6:8

2014-09-17 18.53.03In our studies of conflict and peaceful resolution, we rely on concepts of men to determine our best practices. One of the cornerstones of our teaching is the Dual Concern Model. From it we derive some sense of the ways that each of us deals with conflict. I’ll save you the long lectures and more tedious explanations. But basically, the “dual concerns” are that of self concern and concern for others.  Most theorists also 2014-09-17 18.53.06equate self concern with a sense of justice and concern for others with a predisposition toward mercy. And while  much can be said for either the pursuit of justice or the pursuit of mercy, those who seek lasting peace have learned that it’s the balance of justice and mercy that brings us peace.

In keeping with the teachings from the Old Testament book of Micah, we see that God provides what is good. And for us to claim what is good, He asks us to act justly 2014-09-17 18.53.12AND love mercy — to balance those two forces. That balance, plus a humble spirit, will bring us God’s good — His perfect peace.

As an overarching prayer, then, we ask for that balance and that humility as we meet and serve the good people of Rwanda and Kenya. “He has shown us, O mortals, what is good.”

God, bless Robyn and Malcolm and Dan and Allison and Aaron and Betty and Joey with peace that comes from acting justly, loving mercy, and walking humbly with You.  Amen

13 Days and Counting – Credentials

When we start boarding the plane in just 13 days, airline personnel and government officials will be paying a lot of attention to our credentials. Boarding passes and passports will be the key items of the moment. And, even though a lost boarding pass or a defective passport has caused many a problem at the gate, those things aren’t nearly as terrifying as a lack of credentials in some other key areas.

Team4When Dr. Betty Gilmore selected her Africa team, she was looking for some specific characteristics. Fortunately, she had the advantage of having the SMU students in her classes. She had talked with each one, seen them interact with large groups, and read their assignments. Yet as well as she had come to know each and every one, there was something else she was hoping for — a dedication and commitment that’s a little hard to foresee.

An experienced hand at assembling student teams to travel to other countries, Betty knew, perhaps better than any of us, how much time and work would be required in preparing for this trip. Just as a passenger’s credentials are carefully scrutinized, Betty had to look carefully at each one of us.

Team3While the best case scenario would be a perfect fit, we all know it’s rare for that to happen when assembling a team. For a team to come together, it must experience struggle. People have to learn to deal with the blemishes. For in seeing the good and the bad in our mission partners, we begin to develop a real sense of the strength of the team. And, fittingly, we come to love and respect each other in a very special way.

In the day-to-day world, credentials are things that are earned. A degree, a license, an honor. We love people with credentials. And once credentialed, it does feel rather nice to have someone take notice.

On this trip, the hope of each and every one of us is that our special credentials are noticed by everyone we meet. Our special credentials will be well earned. We’ve worked hard. Yet, the magic ingredient is our willingness to stick together.

Team5When Betty, Robyn, Aaron, Malcolm, Allison, Dan, and I set foot in Africa, we want to be seen as a peace movement. Holding each other up, carrying each other’s burdens, looking out for one another, respecting each other. These are the credentials that will speak most loudly as we move together to train others and model peace.

 

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!

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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