Friday, May 30, 2008

Man in Motion

Claude has been a man in motion since we landed in Rwanda, and again in Burundi.  (Here he is pictured walking the countryside of Burundi with friends, talking about the current situation in the country, especially as it relates to the Batwa people.)  First his movement surrounded Amahoro Africa’s 2nd annual Gathering in Kigali.  I spotted Claude here and there, conferring with the hotel manager about accommodations or responding to progam inquiries from Amahoro colleagues.  Sometimes he was dashing to town to change money (or get a shave) or else he was hosting an impromptu meeting with friends on the veranda or in a guest suite.  There were a lot of those meetings – times of dreaming together about ways to creatively partner with innovative leaders to bring tangible change for the poor, the marginalized or those otherwise disadvantaged by the harsh and varied realties of Africa.  

The second wave of motion came as we landed in Burundi this week, since he is the local who can set up the household!  So he has been on the phone incessantly - with the nanny, with the new domestic manager, with friends who can assist us with a whole host of necessities.  He has been summoning people and then sending them out to fetch mosquito nets, hangers, baskets and salt!  He has been having drivers take us to places with internet access, and he has taken us to get passport photos for the kids, he has taken us to the airport to collect more friends who will be with us for the summer.  See - perpetual motion, this man!   

This morning we traveled to the outskirts of town with our friend and architect, Simon, to see a rural orphanage he is constructing.  You see, he is dreaming of helping the Batwa people improve their life.  He is investigating how we can construct housing for 70 families, how we can bring the hope of Jesus to these friends who live in extreme poverty.  

He is in motion, with his mind fully engaged and his heart laden with compassion.  His movement is not in vain, he moves to bring goodness, freedom and hope to others.  God recommends that we never tire of doing good, and I see how Claude exemplifies that admonition.  So he moves to serve a multi-national gathering of friends, to set up a household for westerners and to bring hope to the marginalized of Burundi.  Do you see why I love him?  Do you see why God's favor rests on him?

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Celebrating in Bujumbura

I woke up this morning in Burundi.  After months of wondering, then planning and finally flying... I am in Bujumbura for the summer.  How do I know I am waking up in Burundi?  The birds sing loudly here, and that is the song you wake up to in the morning.  So with the chorus of birds to remind me, I began the day in a new place and a new season.  

Just a day prior to our arrival, the final rebel group in Burundi signed a peace agreement with the government.  This was good news for Burundi, first and foremost.  But we were also glad to come to Burundi to share in their celebration of a new season of peace within their borders. We pray the peace will have traction.

Today we are setting up our new home... and what a home it is!  This home has a stunning roof-top patio with a breath-taking view of Lake Tanganika.  Across you can see the mountains of Congo, so close you imagine you can reach out and touch them!  On the roof you can feel a cool breeze, and I would venture to guess that this will be where so many evenings of conversation, reading and resting will take place.  So far, Africa is spoiling us rotten!

The kids met their new nanny this morning.  Nina is a Burundian university student on summer holiday.  She has some English, but I encouraged her to teach the kids kirundi over the summer.  We invited her to teach us, too!  Claude's Aunt Leonie arrived this morning to greet us - and we both embraced one another tightly and with tears.  She looks well - strong and vibrant in her green traditional dress.  She went on some errands for us, getting sundries like mosquito nets, hangers, hampers and even fresh fruit.  Such abundance - she brought back armloads of bananas, avocados and pineapple!  

Now we are sitting at Botanika enjoying a good meal and the free wifi.  All four of us are at a table under a flowered canopy, with our laptops all open and working... connecting with friends back home and abroad!  We are all about connection at Amahoro!  

So I wanted you to know that we made it here safely and we are well.  The photo above is from our first evening in town.  Claude took us to a favorite spot - Belvedre - for an amazing welcome dinner.  We learned later that we had been treated by our friend, Mark Shook.  (Thanks, Mark, we felt welcomed and blessed as we savored the view and the meal together!)  

We are here... sigh.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Quick Note for Monday morning...

Well, we are reunited and it feels so good! (I can hear that song in the background...)  Claude and friends made it back safely from Burundi late last night.  Everyone was brimming with great stories from their extensive travel throughout the Burundian countryside as well as their visit to the capital city of Bujumbura.  God has created some wonderful new friendships and partnerships that will be a blessing for our Burundian brothers and sisters.  More about that later...  But it is wonderful to have all our western friends back on campus and reconnecting.  Now we are each journal writing, allowing for personal reflection,  later we will be in small groups to share with one another, and this afternoon the large group will process together.  It is good to struggle with our experiences together, to celebrate new friendships and dream with one another about what God can do here in Burundi and Rwanda.  How amazing that we get to be a part of His restorative plan for the world!

So we are running a bit today... but I wanted to let you know we are well and we are all together!


How to process...

Sometimes it is difficult to process these emotions I have surging in me, as I hear stories from those who have survived the genocide in Rwanda.  One element that really provokes a stunning sadness in me is that neighbors killed neighbors, those daily interconnected to each other failed one another during the days of genocide.  Here is just a personal attempt...a stream poem:


We were neighbors
Neighbors who shared water
Water that is now filled with bodies
Bodies of other neighbors
Neighbors should share sugar
Sugar, sweetness and stories
Stories now come with salty tears
Tears because we were once neighbors.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Temporarily Apart

Claude boarded a bus at 6:30am this morning, leading a field trip to Burundi.  I have not heard from him since... we are temporarily apart.  The kids and I are enjoying a more relaxed day, with no hectic schedule.  We did have a heavy-handed down pour this morning, it is the rainy season in Rwanda, afterall.  But the day has been pleasant.  

I visited with many friends before they left for flights home, like Tekle & Nunu from Ethiopia.  I encouraged them to keep the conversation going in their country, to bring more friends to the gathering next year!  I finally shared a quiet conversation with Jane Kanange, a woman I have admired from afar.  We shared our stories - my adoption of Emma and Justin, her work loving prostitutes and transforming her community. We mused on what it means to care for others, to make space for them to be themselves in our presence, and how we often encounter God there in those moments.  I will be with her on Sunday at her church gathering, and I cannot wait to see those she loves and cares for in the red-light district of Kigali.  Then there was time sitting and laughing with Richard Twiss, Tim Keel, Beth Mercer, Ruthie, Phil, Ashley, Laura... savoring friendship in this lush landscape without any hurry.  What a blessing!  The kids and I shared lunch with Ron and Sarah, as we will for many days to come this summer.  Then we were off to the city for coffee, shopping and more visits!

Emma took her first photo on a digital camera today - all by herself!  She was so proud to aim, focus, click the button and then see the photo.  Justin did not want lunch today - another first! He was content with a bottle of water.  I think he will be hungry for dinner, however!  

So we will have to make due without Claude around here for a few days!  Tomorrow the kids and I will spend the entire day with Justine, Bosco and their kids.  Finally we can be together in her home!  Sunday will be with Jane at her church.  Sunday evening Claude returns, as well as friends who visited Burundi and the Rwandan countryside.  So pray that God will hold us together until we can actually be together again!

Hope you are all well.  I hope you know that you are in my heart, as I am in the heart of Africa!

Where were you?

Sometimes it is hard to download, decompress and disclose all that you have experienced in a span of a few significant days.  That is certainly the case for me as I reflect on the past few days of the Amahoro Conversation in Rwanda.  We have heard stories from the Hutu, Tutsi and Batwa people who inhabit this region of Africa.  We have heard from our South African friends - Afrikaans, English, Colored and Black.  And, to the surprise of some, we have also heard from Australians, Latin American friends, a Lakota brother from North America, another of Japanese decent and a few muzungus (white people!).  Each contributed something meaningful to our conversation about the complex dynamics of reconciliation in Africa and beyond.  Genocide and oppression have happened in Africa, but also in North America, Australia, Latin American countries and more.  We have to grapple with this element of human nature - we have all sinned and dehumanized others.  We did it, or our ancestors did it, or we are in the midst of letting it happen as we are too apathetic to address the reality.  So each culture, each country, each person is in need of reconciling, restoring, forgiving.  This is how we reclaim our true humanity and, in a spirit of restitution, offer that back to others.  This conversation is for all of us.

One question remains with many of us in the wake of the time in Rwanda:  Where were you in 1994?  This is when the Rwandese experienced the tragic genocide that robbed them of nearly one million people within one hundred days.  Where were you - not a literal location, but where was your attention?  Did you know this was happening?  Did you care?  Did you just turn the channel after learning of yet another blood-letting somewhere in Africa?  It is a penetrating question.  For myself, I was not aware in the least.  It would only be years later, after meeting Claude, that I would learn of the deep loss for the people of Rwanda.

So... Where are you now?  As there is genocide afoot in Sudan, xenophobia unfolding in South Africa, deep unrest rumbling in Kenya, even Mexicans being maligned in America.  Are you standing with the voiceless?  Are you standing for justice with your voice, your vote, your very energy?  Are you paying attention to those suffering injustice in the world and aligning yourself with them?  

I guess I am soul-searching in Africa.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008


Today we began our sessions in Rwanda, with everyone finally through immigration, checked in the hotel and gathered together.  Today we considered, with concrete dimension, what forgiveness looks like in Africa.  We heard from Frieda, a young woman who survived the genocide, but lost most of her family in a most gruesome and inhumane series of killings during the 1994 one hundred days of killing.  She shared how she suffered, but how she was confronted with the charge to forgive if she ever wanted to embrace life again.  It was not easy to forgive, but she found it necessary.  And then she found it freeing.  Then Maria shared her story.  She is a Hutu, she is related to those who killed.  She shared the deep angst of watching the genocide, but walking through the city freely because she was Hutu.  She shared how many of her family members are in exile or imprisoned for their part in the genocide killings.  She feels such guilt for being part of this tribe, so heart broken over family members who became killers, and now she calls fellow Hutu's to repent for their crimes, to confess their complicity and seek forgiveness.

These two stories together, from a survivor and a beneficiary, point out something striking about real life reconciliation in places like Rwanda.  Our practice of reconciliation has to be large enough to allow for survivors and victims; perpetrators and beneficiaries.  Both shared of deep personal loss, hardship and broken families.  It is easy to feel compassion toward the victim.  But we must not forget those on the wrong side of justice, for they too need to be reconciled.  There must be grace and compassion for all involved if these nations are to be restored.  This is a monumental challenge.  Reconciliation is not easy, but it is not an option in Africa.

While the contemplation is deep, the connection with friends is rich!  There are new friends already found and so many reunions!  I am loving the lavish time together under the Rwandan sun.

Blessings to your friends.  More later!

Monday, May 19, 2008


Friends!  So sorry to make you wait for word - but this is the first time I have sat down since arriving in Rwanda.  YES, we arrived!  We made it with our children, all our luggage and everything we carried on us.  God is good!  We were greeted at the Kigali Airport in true African fashion - a delegation of friends waiting to offer words of welcome, warm embraces and help with all our clothes and comforts we brought from home.  The hotel is actually 5 minutes away from the airport, so in no time we were able to settle into our room.

The kids traveled so well - no outbursts, no melt-downs, no worries!  They slept on the longer flights, they enjoyed the airplane food (go figure!), and they kept count of how many planes it took to get to Africa (four, in case you were wondering!).  They did get antsy from time to time.  They wanted to know why Africa was not closer, when they would see Ron and Sarah, and if they would have friends in Africa.  Emma kept repeating 'I'm ready!" to let s know she was ready to board the plane, ready for the plane to move, ready to eat...just READY for the adventure!  I love her enthusiasm!  Justin always asked about the next meal or snack - some things are that same even as you are in transit!  But on one flight he did comment 'there are a lot of brown people on this plane, mama.'  I had to laugh.  Then he added, 'you are still white, mama,'  Indeed, I am still white!  Justin and Emma met their new friend (nanny) last night, and are enjoying their first day with her.  Right now they are enjoying their nap.  (Oh, they finally saw Ron and Sarah, so they are at peace!)

Claude has been in constant motion since we hit the tarmac in Kigali - no surprise!  He has already managed to go out for a fresh shave, get cell phones and buy a soccer ball for the kids!  He is surrounded by great friends who are offering great assistance.  I cannot imagine how he did this last year without the likes of Moses, Sean, Sarah and others!  For those of you who have never witnessed it - there is nothing quite as amazing as Claude in Africa!  I am a blessed women, indeed, to be with him.  

Today we have been greeting friends all day, as they fly in from the US, Australia, England, Kenya, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Ethiopia, etc.  It has been a deep joy to meet them at the airport, to welcome to La Palisse for the gathering and to see them connect with one another.  There is a spirit of sweet reunion as you watch people find each other again, and it is beautiful to be a part of so many encounters!  As Kent Hotaling says, it never gets old!  

And me?  I am tired, but also energized.  I am a bit torn between the greeting of old friends, meeting new friends and helping the nanny get acclimated with the kids!  I think I've only seen Claude in passing all day - but this is to be expected on day one of our gathering!  I am surrounded by amazing friends, how could I not be humbled by their willingness to travel to be with us here?  How could I not be brimming with joy when I am in such company?  My spirit is soaking in these moments, even as my body is longing for another nap!  I have moved from Diet Coke (drinking as much as I could on each flight) to Citron (a lightly carbonated citrus drink), so I am absolutely in Africa now!

Thank you for your prayers and patience.  So far it appears God has been answering all your prayers - as we have been blessed with favor at every turn.  (Right now there is a gentle breeze blowing across the veranda, as I look out to the green hills of Rwanda.)  

Well, I am going to enjoy this quiet time, as friends rest or on tour in Rwanda.  For tonight... The Gathering begins!


Friday, May 9, 2008

Pre-departure Delights

One week from today we will check our bags, carry-on our luggage and board our series of flights.  We will, at last, be on our way to Africa.  This week has been peppered with quick stops and here and there to get almost-forgotten items.  There have been new lists complied about securing domestic affairs while we are away.  It seems some details do not descend on you till the last minute.  Sigh.

This week I have enjoyed meals with friends that I will miss during my months abroad.  I sit with them and soak in their smiles, savor the sound of their laughter and take pleasure in sharing a few more stories together.  These are pre-departure delights!  I will miss your proximity, no doubt.  However, I believe that distance does not have to diminish a friendship; it has the potential to highlight new contours and textures.  Our friendship will grow richer if we tend it well even as we have miles between us.  So please stay in touch, and I commit to do the same.  Maybe we will discover new things about each other this summer – things that will make us laugh deeply when we reunite in the fall! 

A few of you have refused to say ‘Good Bye.’  Those can be hard words in juxtaposition to the tenderness of friendship.  I understand your refusal.  And, after all, this is not farewell to our relationship, just recognition that we have a new season upon us.  During your triple-digit heat I will be in double-digit humidity… feeling as hot, I assure you!  But goodness can be found in our continued connection, regardless of continent and time zone.  So to you I simply say:  See you soon!

You have given me good gifts to take with me, memories that will sustain me when I feel pangs of homesickness!  How I cherish you... 

Monday, May 5, 2008

Ten Days

Ten days till departure, but who is counting?  Okay, I confess, I am counting the days!  I find myself to ready to zip up the suitcases, which now line our bedroom wall, and get moving.  At this point we either have it or we don’t.  So let’s get this party started…

Actually, there are still local logistics to tend to before we drive away for the summer.  I still have to get keys into the hands of friends who will care for our home and other domestic matters.  I have a few more friends to see before I can leave with my heart at peace.  Emma still has a few days of school left, and a hair appointment to clean up her dreads for the trip.  But Justin, he has his passport and is totally ready to go!  Ron and Sarah still need to move in the rest of their belongings and set up their rooms.  And Claude, well his focus is firmly forward!  He is securing international insurance for the family, our lodging in Burundi, etc.  So maybe we all (save Justin) have some more to do before we board our flights!

But my spirit is ready to go.  I am eager to embrace this summer of African Days (thanks to Kym for that wonderful image).  I know there will be hardships, moments of frustration and pangs of homesickness.  But I am also anticipating fresh adventure, deepening relationships and the joy that comes from participating in God’s restoration project in Burundi, Rwanda, Uganda and South Africa!

As I shared with our friends at Fellowship Church yesterday morning, it feels like I am stepping out of the comfort of my boat onto the lake.  Anyone familiar with walking on water?  Water is a strange surface to walk on, but I am getting my sea-legs and learning to walk in faith, eyes fixed on Jesus.

Ten days and counting!

Books, books, and more books!

Books nourish me, and so it should come as no surprise that I am packing many to keep my mind active, challenged and flooded with fresh language and images for this summer of African Days. After all the winnowing, this is the final cut (I think).

No Future Without Forgiveness by Desmond Tutu

God has a Dream by Desmond Tutu

Prayers for a Privileged People by Walter Brueggemann

Mandate to Make a Difference by Walter Brueggemann

The Jesus Way by Eugene Peterson

Eat This Book by Eugene Peterson

The Coming of the Son of Man by Andrew Perriman

Exclusion & Embrace by Miroslav Volf

The Great Transformation by Karen Armstrong

The Forgotten Ways by Alan Hirsch

This was not an easy list to come to, as you can imagine!  Some of the other potential titles (Surprise by Hope by N.T.Wright, Jesus for President by Shane Claiborne, The Country of My Skull by Antjie Krog and A Long Walk to Freedom by Nelson Mandela) I ended up reading in the run-up to our departure.  Basically, I just could not wait!  You can see my reflection on N.T. Wright's text in a previous post, for those planning to read for yourself be warned - it is a bit of a spoiler!  

I did try to shrink this list to bare bones.  I even called in a few favors, asking friends to help me choose between one or the other.  But even they agreed - take them both!  So I am dedicating a good amount of my suitcase space to books for my nightstand in Bujumbura this summer. Ideas are fuel for me, so these are essentials for me.  I am grateful to those who offered recommendations (Marius Brand, Tim Keel, Ron Martoia, Brian McLaren) and look forward to seeing the goodness they unearthed in these texts.  

You can anticipate occasional Reading Reflections in the months to come as part of my blog.  This is my way of processing new ideas and connecting with others who are also exploring similar concepts and experiences.  

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Body Matters: A Personal Reflection on N.T. Wright’s Surprised by Hope

Reading Surprise by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church unearthed my latent belief about bodies. I had come to believe that life after death was not about angels, harps and clouds. I had come to believe that the afterlife would be an active enterprise, working on Kingdom oriented projects, that our eternal existence would be about redemptive work in God’s presence and among His true community (now fully visible to us).

My sense about eternal living came from as season of hope rising, as best I can trace it. Influenced by Brian McLaren and Ron Martoia, I began a process of recovering from an abridged soteriology which limited salvific movement to discussions about having a personal relationship with Jesus, going to Heaven after you die and being evacuated from this tragically deteriorating world before its destruction. This truncated view of salvation routinely ignored injustice, like extreme poverty, neglected the care of creation and held little hope for the future beyond the rapture. This understanding offered an anemic view of the afterlife that only involved inactive bliss for eternity. But I have been recovering, as I said, a sense of hope for the true salvation God has in mind for the cosmos (and us in it). I believe that our story begins with creation, which moves toward restoration of all things in Christ. He is not tossing earth into the rubbish bin, as some eschatological schemes describe. I believe that He is restoring creation and inviting us into this enterprise. I sense the lift, the spiral upward!

But reading N.T. Wright challenged me with the fundamentals, basic truths the early Christians believed and built their faith around. Resurrection, okay, I believed it. Bodily ascension, really? While I had doubts about rapture as illustrated by Hal Lindsey and a recent string of apocalyptic novels, I had never seriously thought of the alternative. I had not seriously considered the true consequence of believing the resurrection, ascension and the second coming of Jesus. These bodily actions have solid ramifications.

While I believed in God’s restoration project, I still had hidden in me residue from Western fallacies, that Heaven and the afterlife would be spiritual, a disembodied sort of life. While I rejected the notion of a continued state of uneventful glee forever, opting for active engagement in Kingdom work on the other side of eternity, it never occurred to me that I would, once again, have a body. An actual material body. I had been lulled into believing that bodies were for earth and spirit was suited to the high altitudes of Heaven. I guess I envisioned (in an unconscious way) doing the new works for the new world as a spiritual being. It did not enter my imagination that I’d be engaged in an embodied spiritual life when the New Jerusalem married the New Earth. While I have come to believe that I will be part of God’s resurrection, I had a latent belief that even I would be radically changed. But again, it never occurred to me that a body would be involved!

So why does this matter? What difference does it make if I am embodied in an incorruptible physicality or not? How does this realization alter my self-understanding? So I’ll have a body again – so what?

I don’t quite know why this thought has captivated me. Maybe, in part, I am a bit in shock about how far adrift I’ve been from the bedrock understanding of early believers. They utterly believed in future bodily resurrection after Heaven, once the new creation was at last manifest.

They thought that upon death they would go to Paradise (or call it Heaven, if you wish) to be with Christ in a sort of temporary lodging (the many mansions Jesus spoke of). But they firmly believed when the New Heaven and Earth appeared, they would have new bodies. I was never taught this two-step understanding of the afterlife, yet it is the clear witness of the biblical text and the early church. How is it that I, a life-long Christian and seminary graduate, never really knew this? I don’t know if I ought to be angered, astonished or ashamed. So somehow these thoughts about being embodied again feel new to me.

But I think I am also captivated by the utter completeness of God’s restoration of all creation, down to a person. Down to every person, really! We will be embodied as Jesus is embodied, we will walk in His resurrection footsteps. We will be like Him in ways I’ve not ever imagined. He took on our body in the loving move of Incarnation, but then we are invited to take on His body in the Resurrection. Amazing, indeed. But this also means that restoration will be complete. We will again, as in the Garden, have incorruptible bodies as He originally intended. Incorruptible bodies died in the Eden, but we will finally inhabit the Garden as He designed; and so God’s dream for His world comes true. Nothing will be lost, so comprehensive is His restoration and new creation.

And one day I will be personally, physically and incorruptibly in the presence of Jesus. We will dwell in a new world together. When I meet my Maker, I will actually be able to shake His hand, to embrace Him and say Amahoro!

P.S. I don’t really know why this matters, but I step into the mythos and say that, somehow, it does!