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.


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.


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.

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.

44 Days and Counting – Work

Despite the fact that there are 44 more days before we go to Africa, the temptation is to allow the trip to take control of our lives. Yet, every member of our team has work to do. Betty and Allison must attend to their jobs at SMU. Malcolm and Dan are on patrol as peace officers. Aaron is keeping his business moving forward. Robyn is attending to the last details pending before Betty’s new book is released next month — not to mention countless other projects as managing director of content development at OnMessage.

Me? I’m back at work. As usual, I’ve scheduled more work than I have days on my calendar. I’m behind on a publishing deadline and the stack of phone messages and emails I need to respond to keeps growing. I have a few final projects to grade.

But I keep being drawn to the adventure ahead. I think of details and I divert to cover some of them. I’ve made lists of things I need to do. I just wish I could find all of those lists.

Something about this upcoming trip to Rwanda and Kenya is making

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work more exciting. Perhaps it’s the way that the mission and the potential of our work in Africa seem to frame everything else. Priorities seem to be clearer. Connections with “what I do in real life” are evident. Getting up each morning seems a little easier.

Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life. – Confucius

Sure, we still must address the mundane. But a sense of mission promises to make work something wholly different.


47 Days and Counting – Bounty

Just 47 days until we take our leave of the United States, fly to Amsterdam and then on to Kigali, Rwanda. As we continue to ready ourselves, we are reminded of the bounty that we enjoy. These thoughts were brought home by team member, Dan Russell. Dan and his wife, Allison, are students in the SMU Dispute Resolution and Conflict Management program. Dan is a Dallas police officer and Allison works in international studies at SMU.

One of our experiences in Rwanda will be a visit to a refugee camp. The hearts of our team are warm and we have had frequent discussions about what gifts we might take to these people who have been displaced by violence and hatred.

And one of the answers? Maxipads.

Young women in Rwanda lacking hygiene products are not allowed to attend school during their menstrual periods. With education being a vital key to ending the cycle of oppression and discrimination and a way to open doors, something as basic as a maxipad becomes a valuable commodity — a passport to the classroom.

Dan and Allison have agreed to begin collecting the maxipads and to transport them to Africa. Dan posted this picture today on our team’s private FaceBook group page with the caption

And the stockpiling begins… Now I get to look at maxipads every day as I get ready for work! (That’s a weird sentence.)

It is a weird sentence. But, I bet that Dan had never thought that part of this effort would involve the methodical collection of feminine hygiene products — specifically maxipads. There was some humor in his statement. Let’s face it, with these products readily available, it’s pretty rare that you see a hoarding operation in progress. At least not in your own closet.

But Dan goes on to talk about concepts of privilege and how we who are privileged fail to see the importance of basic needs. Maxipads. Safe drinking water. Personal security. Dan makes the point and that stack of maxipads looks more like treasure.

We are learning through collections of maxipads and medical kits and soccer balls and children’s clothes that we live in a world of bounty. Peacemaking, by its very nature, includes sharing in the bounty. For when a person — or a country — withholds what it has in abundance from those in need, conflict is assured.