Sunday, April 23, 2006

Every morning I shut off my alarm about six times, pull my ear plugs out of my ears, untangle myself from my mosquito net, roll over and somewhere in there ask God to give me the people he wants me to help that day. Some of us like to call them “divine appointments.” Beth Moore likes to call them “God stops,” but whatever one calls them it’s a moment when we recognize the gravity of a person entering our life and another layer of meaning behind our simple encounter. That maybe, just maybe God had a purpose in mind we can see partially revealed.

The first week I spent alone in Rwanda I wanted to run away. You look at the immensity of poverty, emotionally, physically and spiritually long enough, square in the face, and it threatens to take your whole soul. But this was what I wanted. I wanted to travel to the world’s darkest places and bring my little lantern of light. Like that children’s song I used to sing in church, “This little light of mine, I’m going to let it shine…” I was determined to make some difference. I think humanitarian work comes in phases. Disillusioned dreams, disappointment, despair, and determination. The alliteration just sort of happened. The world is full of two kinds of people—those who run towards drama and those who run away from it. You can guess which of the two I am.

Dreams are often not the same kind of dreams in reality. One month and I was wondering if I was crazy. At first the aloneness sounded strong and brave. I could see the headlines now, “Young woman travels to Uganda and ends the war.”
I used to daydream of Africa, her sandalwood smell. My dad used to pack us like groceries into the back of his beat-up suburban, drive through dawn until he hit the coast and the pungent smell of sea-salt and fish. We used to get chased by crabs scurrying sideways, running into the sand with screams. I wondered if I got his wanderlust. His pick up and go heart. I wondered if I was a leaver. Maybe I still do.

But sucking away at the rock that will not yield water is exacting. I began to feel as though I didn’t know why I had come at all.

The first time I felt something like myself again, some small bird soar inside me, some shiver sift through me in recognition—as if I had finally found a cause, was when I began to hear the women’s stories and see them appear on the page in words. I felt in my heart, “Yes, this is it.” Like I felt the first time I brought bread to a group of street children. I had passed them by for days, just trying to make it through the barrage of voices, and trailing feet, the same kids always begging, “Mama, please.” They would put their dirty hands to their mouths as if I were some white savior, Mother Teresa coming to save them from their life of open hands. They tugged at me. They broke my heart and yet I’d been told not to give them money for fear of them using it to get high. Glue over food to dull the pain of existence. Eight years old and they already have some tragedy to numb.

One night I couldn’t stand it anymore. I didn’t care if I was overrun by a herd of shoving children. I’d heard the way hunger turns us into animals. Survival of the fittest, but it just didn’t matter. I went to the store and bought a bag of rolls. I distributed them with a friend until the bag was empty and then an amazing thing happened. They ran and got their friends. Even a pack of wolves is a family. They take care of their own. So I bought more bread. Good thing it’s cheap here. I felt that verse rise in my belly, “Suffer the little children to come unto me.” Jesus with a kid on each knee. That’s how I think of him. I felt it then—the great joy God must take in feeding his children. One of the most precious moments I’ve had here was watching them shovel bread into their mouths with rapacious greed. I wanted to remember it when the heaviness of overwhelming need got to me, so I had them pose for a picture. Like a soccer team they gave their thumbs up and laughed when I showed them what they looked like. For the first time in a while, I felt alive again. It made me feel that we start where we can. I gave a bag of bread even though I can’t take them home. And it’s something. I’m not Jesus, but I’m something like it to them. I can’t save the world. But I for damn sure can buy a loaf of bread.

This week I have been writing and listening to survivor’s stories. I have never in my life heard such pain. It is a pain with such texture, with so much grit and severity that you can actually feel it inside your skin. It’s like a broken knee that still throbs sometimes when the rain comes. The pain--it’s so deep. And understandable. Women saw their entire families murdered in front of them. I try to imagine it. I try and I feel sick.

One woman’s story moved me a little more than the rest. And it wasn’t because of what happened, because their stories often sound so much the same, but it was because of where she is now. After managing to live through rape, almost being killed, and the death of her family, with nowhere to go she ended up with a man who beats her. I’ll change her name for safety purposes. Her perpetrators have since been released from prison. But Harriet says in her own words:

Sometimes he comes and he throws 200 Francs to me to buy food,(not even 50 cents) but mostly my friends help me. He wants me to remain in the house. He spits at me and says I’m a rat.

Whatever he does, I just pray to God and God brought me back here. I feel I won’t die though I think of committing suicide. When he beats me I think of my family, my mom and my dad. I don’t know how they died, but I heard they were thrown in a toilet. If I refuse to sleep with him, he beats me. I have nowhere to go. I ask him, doesn’t he like himself? He wants to die and for me to give him AIDS. Every night he has to come demanding sex. He comes home when he’s drunk. He doesn’t give me food and finds me at night when I am so tired.

Even if I could just get somewhere, like a small house, or a toilet. Even if I get a job washing clothes for people. That is my only wish.

I have always felt that if we see someone in need and if it is within our power to meet that need, and we don’t, then we are guilty of a sin that displeases God more than any other. Angela, one of the missionaries who left two weeks ago, said the same thing to me and it really stuck with me.

Today Harriet moved into her own house. She has a mattress, and a wash basin, and some cooking pans. After feeding her lunch, I watched her son, Christian, smile for the first time. I was beginning to think he just didn’t like me. And I was like, this is unreal, kids love me J But he was hungry and wouldn’t smile. This afternoon he kept laughing when I played peek-a-boo with him. And I realized that he was beginning to feel safe and that his tummy was full maybe for the first time. With a little over a hundred dollars I was able to rent her a house for eight months and get her a few things she needed. It blows my mind that such a small amount could make such a big difference. She has two other little girls who won’t have to watch their mom get beaten now. The house is far enough away that her husband won’t find her, but not so far that she can’t still attend her community meetings at Rwanda Women’s Network. It was important to me that she be able to still stay connected to a support network. But I’d ask you to pray for a spiritual family for her and that her children would be able to go to school for free.

I took a step of faith and so did she. She trusted me and I am trusting God to provide the rest of what she and I both need. I don’t know what will happen in these next eight months, but I’m hoping that God is using me for some bigger vision of providing shelter for these women. To build a small house here costs maybe $2,000. In comparison with what we make and what we spend, that is so small. I’m hoping for much bigger.

In each place I go, I see more needs. I know before the end of this, more situations will come up that will ask more than I have. There is an attitude here that “There are so many more like that one. You can’t just help one.” And I don’t imagine it will stop with her, but we have to respond to the one who is in front of us. That is the one we are responsible for. Money just runs through me because every time I think I have nothing to give I realize that even though I have little, I still have more than they do. And it’s really freeing just to let it go.

Pastor Sangwa, who has basically been my family here, helped us so much today. He drove us around and didn’t let me get cheated because I’m white He is a pastor who carries the troubles of so many that I wonder how he even stands. After I leave here, he will be the one to shoulder that burden alone. So please pray for him and that God would give me wisdom on how to help him.

Those of you back home are just as much a part of this. You helped me get here and you believed in my vision. When we leave here, we will have kept one woman safe in a home with her three children, and two other friends (Pendo & Emile) in school. And it’s just the beginning.
(Harriet's two kids--Christian didn't smile at all the first time but now he is smiling)

I have been reading in Nehemiah where he asks God to send him back to his people to rebuild Jerusalem. I think it has significance for Rwanda:

“And they said to me, ‘the remnant there I the province who had survived the exile is in great trouble and shame. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates are destroyed.’ As soon as I heard these words, I sat down and wept and mourned for days, and I continued fasting and praying, before the God of heaven. And I said, ‘O Lord, God of heaven, the great and awesome God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, let your ear be attentive and your eyes open to the prayer of your servant that I now pray before you day and night for the people of Israel, your servants, confessing their sins…They are your servants and your people who you have redeemed by your great power and by your strong hand, give success to your servant today and grant him mercy in the sight of the king…And I said to the king, ‘if it pleases the king, and if your servant has found favor, send me to Judah to the city of my father’s graves, that I may rebuild it.’” Nehemiah 1:3-6, 11, 2:4

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Sorry that this is short - the computer is slow. I'm here in Rwanda, and very busy! My new number (for Rwanda) is 011-250-08406748. I am 5 hours ahead of you (EST.) I'll write more when I get a chance.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

I have been country hopping which is why I have been so silent. I tell you, I may not be that in love with America, but right about now I am missing our high-speed internet :) And showers.
Funny story:

We arrived in Rwanda and are staying at an apartment complex which is fairly nice. I go to take a shower and see 3 HUGE cockroaches on the floor...I screamed and ran out of the bathroom. It took all my woman power hear me roar to go back in there. Needless to say I barricaded the door so they couldn't get out and ran to get this stuff I bought for killing mosquitos, called DOOM. Well that stuff works. I thought I was going to die of inhalation, but those suckers are dead now. The first thing I'm doing when I get home is taking a long hot shower because literally I've only had a trickle the past few days. Ahh, the things we take for granted :)

I don't have much time I have so many stories to tell. There aren't even words for some of the stuff I have experienced. Rwanda is in a period of grieving right now because it is the week of remembrance of the genocide that happened in April of 1994. I have learned so much about the history and it is truly shocking--there was no ethnic difference between Hutus and Tutsis, but the Belgian gov't came in and divided the people based upon what kind of class they were (jobs they had) and upon what they looked like. They elevated the Tutsi people above the Hutus because they were a majestic people, tall, and regal. And that is the reason over a million people, were murdered in 100 days. Because the Hutus resented them for being put in positions of authority. The history of imperialism is dark and treacherous.

We visited a Holocaust museum here and I was shocked because literally the skeltons were lying out on tables, rooms and rooms full of baby skeletons, and the impressions of fear and agony frozen on their faces. It smelled so bad because of the preservation techniques and I thought I might be sick. I have never seen anything like it and we would never have anything like that in the US. At first I felt like what could I offer these people who have seen their wives raped in front of them, their children's heads bashed against walls, who have been forced to eat the flesh of loved ones. I cannot even begin to understand that kind of pain.

But strangely, pain is pain. And while we might think we have nothing to give, we come as bringers of hope and purpose. These people are frozen in time. They cannot move forward and we are here to give them hope and help them do that. God has brought us here at an pivotal moment to bridge the gap, to bring together each tribe and tongue, to give them purpose and help them forgive the oppressors and themselves for surviving so they can be released from the burden they carry. It is no accident that we are here now during this time of remembrance. I had a vision of our team holding out our arms between two granite walls and at first I thought like two children, we were keeping them from fighting, but then I realized, we were interceding, standing in that space to connect those two people groups--the victims and the murderers, and God and his children.

Pray that their ears would be unstopped because pain has deafened them. Pray that they could move forward in hope because they survived for a purpose. Pray for revival in this land of open wounds. It is beyond our work and ability as humans. They have a saying here that is, "Never again" and they believe the remembering will keep it from happening, but their history has the blood of 3 genocides on their hands. Unless we intervene, unless God does a new thing and heals this land, it is very very possible that it will happen again. I am also reminded that while the US and the UN stood by and watched this people being exterminated, we have an opportunity now in Northern Uganda and in Sudan to raise up and say, "never again," in any place, in any time, in any country.

I am reminded of that quote, "the only thing needed for evil to conquer is for good people to do nothing." That is what happened here. And I have come to say, "I'm sorry, I'm sorry we did not help you as your entire families were obliterated, because you were not white and because we had no political interest in your country." I am here to say, "God brought me here to this country because he heard your cries as your bodies were thrown into ditches." And I am here to say to you, "Stand. Stand for what is right. Let no one tell you that you can't, or that you do not know the difference between good and evil. We all know. Stand and say you will never let it happen again, not because you have that kind of control, but because you will be God's arm in reaching out to the nations." They are repenting here for the blood spilled on the land, for the hatred in their hearts, for their bitterness and unforgiveness and I would even say to America--repent for our sin of indifference.

There is a young girl named Pendo and she is our cook. She serves us with such humility and with such a broad smile that my heart expands a little bit every time I see her. She is an orphan. But in her face is hope. Hope because she walks with God and God walks with her and she reminds me in the middle of darkness, there is always light.

My phone number has changed again :) 08406748 (you have to dial 011 country code for Rwanda 250 and my number. Try with and without the 0 b/c I'm not sure :)

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

The ability that children have to touch our hearts is truly astounding. The way they carry the face of God to us in their embraces, and in their innocence is why Jesus said let the children come to me...because I think he could see His father in them. That he had so much to learn just through their stories and their voices. One of the team members told me today how her grandson who is only two years old said "hallebuyah" his version of "hallelujiah" on the phone with her because he has absorbed the language of church and the language she speaks around the home.

Mary, the littlest one I am holding, captured my heart. These orphans are 3 of 7 children Jonathan watches after when he is not at work. They live across from him and have a cook, but they were all abandoned. A woman in the states has adopted them, but because of visa difficulties, cannot take the children with she comes back and forth. Even though they need so much love, guidance, and material things, I realized that they are the lucky ones out of so many child-run homes in Africa. Though they don't have parents near, they have people who look after them, and that is more than some children in Northern Uganda or in Rakai (sp?)(southern Uganda, hit most hard by AIDS) have. At first the girls were shy and wouldn't talk so I had to win them over...which proved relatively easy when you have a camera. As soon as I started taking their pictures and talking and showing them the videos I had made of them on my camera, they just lit up to see themselves. By the end of the day, Mary and I were singing songs and I was teaching her to salsa :) One thing Africans and I have in common is that we love to dance :) My heart's desire is to go back to them, because Jonathan says the girls need so much guidance and someone to talk to.
When God shows us a need and he shows us His heart we cannot turn away. It's like a fire shut up in our bones.
We cannot turn away.

I've been writing this blog over several days because getting to a computer has been so hard because of business. The rest of the team is here and we have started intense training for our trauma counseling training in Rwanda. Last night I watched a beautiful film with the team entitled Sometimes in April which is a story of a man who lost his entire family in the Rwandan genocide. We say words like "genocide" and yet it doesn't mean anything to us, really. Until maybe we see a story that we can empathize with--and it changed my entire perspective about going to Rwanda. Last night I felt like, what can I offer these people? How would I feel if my entire family were murdered and how would I forgive those murderers. How would I move on without feeling incredibly guilty about surviving. How do you start a new life when everything is wiped away from you? I can't even begin to know how to help them. But I was so moved by this film and so disturbed by how the international community stood by and watched it unfold because we really had no interests in Rwanda. Even Hotel Rwanda was still a bit Americanized, but this movie was truly from the perspective of a Rwandan man. Please pray for us--we are going to Rwanda during the anniversary of the genocide and there is obviously still so much hurt and so much healing left to do. The situation could still erupt again because the wounds are still raw and the Hutu/Tutsi divide still exists. Imagine trying to coexist with your family's killers. And because so many professionals and doctors and teachers were brutally murdered, Rwanda suffers from the loss of many of its needed workers.

Tonight I went back to visit my sweet orphans and brought them a bunch of girly things I bought at the market...soaps and lotions, pens and journals...things that our children in America take for granted, but which their eyes get wide over. Sarah, one of the girls said her face was so wide from smiling. I wanted to just cry and cry over how excited they were. But more than that, as I was leaving Mary looked sad and ran after the van waving as we were pulling out. God just broke my heart for them. I know I have to do something for those sweet girls. The hard part is I know I am going to meet so many more like them. I am going to come up with a project proposal of some sort to raise funds for girls like these who live in child-run homes. Our social workers in the states (linds:) would be so appalled to see how they bring up themselves. And at the same time, I can think of no other place I would rather be. Mary quoted me her favorite bible verse and it was John 3:16. I remember that being mine as a little girl. They need so much love. When you find them you know its up to you to love them.

Monday, April 03, 2006

I saw this gorgeous baby with her mother who was selling pears by the road and had to take a picture...of course she closed her eyes at that excact moment :)

It is night now, the curtains half-parted and the screen open to African evening air, which is cool and smoke-filled. On the wind is the singing of a prayer in Arabic. The high and low-pitched murmurings of a sing-song prayer. It is the most beautiful sound and I take it in for that, still knowing that Arabic in this country is a language of force. A bridle used for conversion. Perhaps the most distasteful part of imperialism in all histories is the language of the oppressor that the oppressed must learn. I recognize that English too, in its own way, has been that despised tongue, and I hope to redeem that in some way by letting my words be kind and my speech have grace. And hope. And some belief that we can transcend our histories.

“Webale Nyo” (I think that’s how it’s spelled) means “thank you very much” in Luganda. I’ve been practicing
I’m not very good, I’ll be honest…even though Pst. Mike says I speak very well…I think it’s the Puerto Rican background. Yeah, I can roll my rr’s. I feel fairly African now with my long skirts and eating their food. If only I were black!

Seriously though I’m not so hot on no electricity…I don’t know how they survive in so much darkness. Lantern-light is romantic and all for a little while and I feel very Little House on the Prairie-ish but it loses it’s appeal when you go into the bathroom and see some crawly-thing on the floor. I’m pretty tough but I screamed when I saw this lizard looking animal on the wall…I almost set myself on fire. He wasn’t as cute or as friendly as the little gecko in the geico commercials…yeah you know what I’m talking about.

But there have been some truly amazing things happening. Jonathan, one of the staff here, had a dream in which he could see a people walking who were lame, and pregnant and he could hear my voice prophesying peace and rescue for them. I think it was because of our conversation about my heart for the Acholi people, and the child mothers. And then he read Jeremiah 31 in which God made some crazy links between Jonathan’s dream and God’s promise to the North.

”O Lord save your people, the remnant of Israel. Behold I will bring them from the north country and gather them from the farthest parts of the earth, among them the blind and the lame, and the pregnant women and her who is in labor, together…for the Lord has ransomed Jacob and has redeemed him from hands too strong for him.”

It was so incredible to see how that connected with a word the Lord had given me while I was praying in the night about God laying siege on Jerusalem first in admonishment and then in Isaiah 29,30 and in Ezekial 4:

“But the multitude of your foreign foes shall be like a small dust and the multitude of the ruthless like a passing chaff. And in an instant, suddenly, you will be visited by the Lord of hosts with thunder and with earthquake and noise, with whirlwind and tempest, and the flame of a devouring fire. And the multitude of the nations that fight against Ariel (lion of God, hero) all that fight against her and her stronghold and distress her shall be like a dream, a vision of the night.” (Is. 29:5-7)

“Therefore the Lord waits to be gracious to you…for the Lord is a God of justice; blessed are all who wait for him. For a people shall dwell in Zion; in Jerusalem; you shall weep no more. He will surely be gracious to you at the sound of your cry.” (Is. 30:18,19)

Some of what God is saying is still hidden from me, but I am seeing how actively involved God is here in Africa as he is raising up people not only to minister and bring rescue, but also the African people themselves through missionaries who are pouring into leaders and then telling them to go forward, not as a victim any longer, but as an ambassador for their country.

Today was a really encouraging day. Some missionaries who were ministering to Sudanese pastors through offering them a retreat, came to have lunch with us. We had an amazing meal made by the wonderful Harrietand Sara (who I wish I could take home with me; no, not just to cook) and then we prayed together and they gave us some amazing prophecies. (I just read that last paragraph and I feel like I'm starting to speak like an African sort of proper and slow ahh!

They believe that God has imparted to them a vision of his father and mother heart for all of us and that weneed spiritual mother's and father's (mentors in ourlives) in order to really connect that broken link weneed in order to feel God's love. Because some of us come from broken backgrounds and abusive families, or even if we came from loving homes, there is adisconnect in the family and through that many of usfeel separated from feeling that God truly loves us,or truly has our best interests at heart. They believe that we are here to be spiritual mothers to the girlsand women of Africa so that they can begin tounderstand the deep love God has for them. One of thewomen, Lisa Hartell, has written a great book whichI've just started entitled The Mom Ministry, which is all about the powerful calling women have as mothersin what she calls, "the last days.!" She is truly an amazing woman with such presence, and I felt embracedby her as she prayed for us to receive our place as God's daughters but also as mothers in the spiritual realm to a nation of orphans.

It seems so simple, and yet is such truth and ground breaking here in Africa where sometimes the physical mothers and fathers are not present. Even in the church in America, I have often times felt alone, or not sure of my place, andhow wonderful it would be if the body of Christ caught this call to be spiritual mothers and fathers to thosewho are seeking for their purpose. My dear Nicole has imparted much of this to me, but it is so confirming to see others who are doing what is obviously God's work because they are not just doing another seminar,but really ushering people into a face to face encounter with God.I feel like God is revealing so much about myself here. The team said I have a spiritual authority and yet because I am gentle (some of you are thinking, sarita? Gentle? But I guess here I am) that I often don't recognize the authority I have.
But they said I have a comforting presence and that they saw me with as warm of women around me wanting to touch thatpresence and that I would tell them it was the HolySpirit. They also said that God would give me wisdom beyond my years and revelations of scripture wouldjump off the page in lights towards me that I would be able to give others. It was crazy really how right they were about so many things and so encouraging to believe that God really has purpose for me here. Really, the thing I covet most, is time with God to have Him speak direction to me. (and a glass of wine on this beautiful porch!) Time with God has been sweet, but I know I need thosetimes to continue on.

Apparently I've gotten really long-winded here -Maybe its just all this creative energy and not beingable to talk to anyone really. The phone keeps going in and out so my conversations are pretty much like
this: "hi!¨ "I can't hear you!¨
"I just said hi!¨ "Oh hi¨
"It's sort of lonely¨
"You want a pony?¨
"No, I said it is sort of lonely!¨
And so on! And Dr. Lynn does most of the talking here (pray for me) It is a Saturday night and I'm sitting at a computer. How boring! I am definitely now missing my boyfriend and my friends and family. We take for granted how fortunate we are to be able to connect. Last night I was talking to a tape recorder. So love each other and enjoy each other and save a place for me.