Chasing Joy

"I am guiding you on the way of wisdom and I am leading you on the right path." Proverbs 4:11

The One Question

Before I get into an update of this past week, i just want to share with you the view. Just as the US has vast variations of climate, foliage, and ecosystems within her, of course Africa does as well.  Rwanda is a beautiful country.

Our team is carrying both a deep sense of awe at the One who is our Hope along with a heavy burden of both darkness and light in stories we have heard and seen.  Jesus beckons us to come to Him, when we are burdened and heavy laden, He promises to give us rest in our souls.  And so we go to Him and we wait on Him.  Those are the stories not meant for the internet – but there still is plenty to share to give a picture of the week, it’s not every detail, but hopefully enough to draw you into the beauty of Rwanda and the work of Arise.

The Pastor’s Conference

During our first 2 days in Boneza, Arise hosted a conference for pastor’s, their wives, and women community leaders. Jeremy and Erik taught with the men and i taught the main sessions with the women, with support from my teammates (the afternoon sessions my teammates lead the women in some type of art activity).  We came somewhat prepared with something to share but also begin by asking what their needs are and pivoted to address those needs, using what we brought as it applied.  You can read all the details about that on our church website (click here).

Artists in Residence

Chelsea and Mary, the artists on our team, have been hard at work.  In addition to leading the women in painting at the conference, they are also painting canvases for the Medical Center.  But the first thing they got to do was visit the Art Club at Kivu Hills Academy and teach the students about watercolor painting.  For those of us who don’t know,
       (I didn’t know before now, and for the record what follows is a layman’s description  – for a more accurate understanding ask Chelsea or Mary :0),
working with watercolor uses a different technique than working with Acrylics.  With acrylics or oil painting, you add layers.  With watercolor, it sounds more similar to a sculptor who chisels away for the form to come through – you have to think ahead and leave the white spaces because you can’t add them.  All that to say, these Art Club students were used to working with acrylics and so Chelsea and Mary provided them with supplies and instruction in a brand new medium. For some it was tempting to just dive into the paint and start painting, but as they waited and listened to the explanation on the proper technique they began to learn and paint as those who have been trained.

See the difference – this boy’s painting on the left is using the art techniques he already knew, the one on the right is after learning watercolor specific techniques. 



Beyond serving in the above mentioned ways, (The ‘mission trip’ portion of our time here) we transitioned into the ‘vision trip’ portion of our time by visiting and observing many of the programs Arise has going here in Boneza.

The Microfinance (Trust Groups)

We visited a trust group (microfinance) of about 30 women (I think, I didn’t actually count).  I did take good notes on how the microfinance program works, but it would take too many words to try to explain it here.  I will say, the microfinance is setup to function specific to how things work in Rwanda and what is available to the women here – it is tailored for accountability, fellowship among the members, and the needs of the women.  We visited 3 shops and heard the stories of each owner and how their life has been impacted by the program. Many of our questions around the details of how it all worked, opened our eyes to how much we just don’t know.  Banks don’t work the same here and a woman in poverty has no access to any type of loan.  By forming these Trust groups, opportunities to build on what they have, with ownership and agency, are being given.

The Medical Center

This medical center will serve the town of Boneza (30,000) the surrounding communities (120,000) along with providing referrals and testing to the surrounding disctricts (~3 milliion, including Gisenyi and even into the Congo.) When the Ministry of Health visits to inspect, they are overwhelmed by the quality and intend to send other builders of hospitals to learn from this one!  Arise has already held 2 medical clinics, before construction was even as far along as it is now, providing the basics (blood pressure, antibiotics, etc.)  The first clinic they served 500, the second about 700 people.  They will be hosting another clinic in a few months with doctors from New York and expect 1000 prople to come.  

I asked John his favorite story related to building this hospital and he shared about a time he was walking up to see the progress and met a man on the road named Wellaris.  Wellaris asked for a tour, so they walked on together. 

This is a rich mans hospital. When will you build a hospital for us, the poor?


It is common for the poor to not expect nice things isn’t it, why wouldn’t it be that way.  When we give to ‘the poor’ we often give our old shoes, our old clothes, etc..  

No, this is for you. This is your hospital.

John Gasangwa

Kivu Hills Academy

This high school serves about 350 students and offers 3 areas of study: construction, networking (computer science) and tourism/hospitality.  They are hoping to add in a nursing program because of the medical center being built nearby.  The school’s vision is not only to teach skills, but transform lives – the lives of the students, the student’s family and beyond into their community.


When we visited, it was exam time.  One construction class was taking an exam in a very hands on way!  On the hill observing are teachers and examiners from other schools and districts and in the ‘class room’ their teacher is also observing.  

The students were each building a brick wall, that they would then plaster on the sides and also install tile on top.
Once their wall is inspected, they will dismantle it before it dries to use the materials again.

Claude, the principle, shared that they take teams from the high school into the villages to do service projects.  They will build houses for the very poor, or do repairs, etc.  I thought to myself, why would we ever send a team to do this type of thing for the people?  How can an american have any idea how to build the Rwandan way, and why would we want to rob these students from the opportunity to serve their own neighbors?  

We also visited the computer lab and the Cultural Village on campus where students are taught ancient Rwandan history. We learned how a Rwandan King would live and how the people were governed.  In the ancient world, the King’s mother was very powerful, and you can see this influencing the government even today – where over 60% of parliament are women.  We closed the day with a performance by the students of a traditional Rwandan dance.

The One Question

The way to show true sympathy is not pity, but to stand by and strengthen the sufferer to do God’s will. In Gethsemane when Christ turned to the three for sympathy, it was with the words; “Watch with Me, Stand by Me.’ He asked for no pity – but for strengthening…with presence and prayer….to do God’s will.

Mary Mozley of Central AFRICA

If you were to come to our mountain land, i would have stories to tell and in the telling I would heal a little more and be reminded myself of all the ways God has been faithful and how He has carried me through the tragedies.

We all have stories to tell, it is a gift to find someone who will listen, with interest, to your stories, seek to understand what your needs are and respect what you say.

As you listen, seek to understand what local people perceive as the needs within their immediate and surrounding communities. What we might see as a need may not be an issue at all for the people. And then build on what they have. They often have more resources than they realize, than we realize.

ITEC – How to have long term impact on a short term trip

The theme woven through everything i’ve seen here is the answer to one question.  John Gasangwa, the president of Arise, has walked the path of the people here. His family was displaced by the genocides of the 50’s and 60’s. He is Rwandan and he understands what it is to be poor in this culture. So he doesn’t begin things just to begin things.  The story of how God brought him to Boneza is a long one but the story of how each program Arise has started began with one simple question; what is the need?

The pastor’s training and outreach started when John met with pastor’s in the area to ask them what they needed.  He thought he had the answer already (church buildings, money) but still asked the question first.  They told him they needed training.  They can build their own buildings, and raise their own money, but there isn’t any type of pastor’s training or seminary any where accessible to them here in Boneza.  So that is the program Arise is building.  

The story of the medical center, the high school, the microfinance, etc…- it all is the same.  What is the need?  And then one step is taken, and the next and the next. What we have witnessed these past few days are the results of those daily small steps. We are excited to see where this days steps lead, as contributions of hope, renewal, and restoration into the stories yet to be written in this beautiful land.


Telling the truth

The killer in me is the killer in you

Smashing Pumpkins

We’ve spent the past few days listening and learning to grow in understanding as only an in person eyes and ears experience can provide.  

Who are our Rwandan brothers and sisters?  What are their unique experiences, challenges, and needs.  What in our shared humanity is our common ground?  What do they have to teach me?  What do i have to teach them?

And most of all, do i have the courage to look at what this particular country has faced, endured, and overcome?

Courage or not, being here on Rwandan soil affords us the privilege of deepening our understanding through the countries Genocide memorials and it was important to me to not miss the chance to visit.

Oof – such difficult and heartbreaking stuff.  

Pool at the ‘Hotel Rwanda’. It has a different name now, but this is the same hotel.

If you knew me and you really knew yourself you would not have killed me.

Felicien Ntagengwa

Death was made a painful, agonizing, frightening and humiliating end.

Though they were few, [the heroes/those who saved lives] show it is possible, even if genocide, to make choices, however difficult, to save life and not destroy it.

The greatest problem we [the survivors] have is the brokenness of our heart because of the Genocide.

Kigali Genocide Memorial

Unless things are honestly acknowledged, it is impossible to move forward.  This is true for an individual, a family, a neighborhood and a nation.

This country has a long, complex, and storied history. it is important to note that the Genocide of 1994 did not occur in a vacuum.  As is true for all the other horrors of the world, years of choices led up to the horror of those hundred days.  

And whatever your opinion is of smashing pumpkins (the band or the squash)

The killer in me is in fact the killer in you.  None of us is immune to being led down the path that ends with the brutal killing of one’s neighbor. 

Each of us has a choice, when we find ourselves in dark places, to seek to emit Light.  To sacrifice ourselves for the sake of another.  To acknowledge the Creator’s Image in each individual and refuse to take a life.

After the Kigali Genocide Memorial, we visited the Nyamata Memorial.  This one is located in the actual site where the killing took place.  When you enter, you stand in witness of the means of individual deaths as you take in the bullet holes in clothing, pockmarks in the roof from the grenades, bludgeoned indentations in the skulls from clubs and deep gashes in them from machete.  Placed among the coffins packed full of bones from many many bodies are notes written by survivors.  This is a needed and important place for survivors to come and grieve, and process, and heal.  When you exit the building to tour the outdoor graves, the sounds of children playing at the school adjacent are a hope filled contrast.  Life exists next to death.  The country lives on, united as one.  The stories of forgiveness are beyond comprehension.  

Rwanda was a failed country.  After the Genocide the UN determined that, and they decided the next step was to divide it up, forming 2 countries, one for the Tutsi and another for the Hutu.  But that is not what the RPF fought for and that is not what the people wanted.  Today they are Rwandan, united, healing, and I would say thriving.  

It is campaign season over here, and on our drive from Kigali to Boneza we were stuck for a number of hours.  First we waited on a side road for President Paul Kagame (and the entourage that accompanies a president) to drive through.  Once he did, the road re-opened and we continued on our way only to find ourselves in a ‘traffic’ jam like nothing i’ve ever seen before.  We guess there were 300,000 people that we ‘drove’ through, some on busses and some in cars, but the majority walking.  

I don’t know how to describe the joy.  There really are no words.  And also, that many people. It was quite a sight to see and i am thankful we timed our drive as we did, even with the multi-hour delay.

A country divided to a country united.  A country destroyed from within to a country restored from within.  

Rwanda is halfway around the world, a country the size of Maryland.  What difference does their story make to me?  To us?

I guess, i only hope that we Americans don’t have to reach the level of destruction and depravity they did, as divided as we are.  But if we do come to that.

May i be among the few who choose to emit Light.

And may the Lord have mercy on us all.

We could be heroes, just for one day.

David Bowie

Learning new dance steps.

Photo by Ardian Lumi on Unsplash

When i was in Uganda ten+years ago, i remember being perplexed by the very distinct dance moves the children had. One evening as we were gathered in the common area for music and fun, i asked my friend and host about some harsh treatment i’d witnessed earlier in the preschool from one of the teachers towards a couple of students. She shared with me that those students were from a different tribe than the teacher, that they were working on the issues of prejudice but still had a ways to go. “How does she know what tribe those students are from?” I asked, “They came here as infants.” ”

“Look at them dancing – see how some move their shoulders more, others their feet or hips?” she replied, “each tribe has distinct moves among other distinctions. they can tell.”

My daughter shared with me recently something her pastor had mentioned regarding marriage, the joining of two people from two different families.

“it’s like each family has their own dance moves. now that you are together, you are developing your own unique set from the combo of both. when you go back to visit – you remember the moves you were raised with, and can fall in step at times. At other times you find you stick with your new moves cultivated with the new rhythms of your marriage.”

Pastoral Outreach is one of the programs at Arise Rwanda Ministries. While there, jeremy and i may be called upon to help with a training happening at the time for the Pastor’s and their wives. So we are preparing just in case. The trick is, that we don’t know what their needs are. We don’t know what their questions might be, what unique challenges they face. Most of all, we don’t know the dance of a Rwandan.

In our preparation meetings we have spent a bit of time learning about cultural intelligence along with the differences between Individualism and Collectivism societies. if you hadn’t guessed, we come from an Individualistic society. Rwanda functions as a Collectivism society. Like the dance analogy, it’s not that one is better than the other, just that they are different. Each has good and bad components to them.

This adds another layer to the stretching this preparation has been. There is so much we just don’t know – and so we must depend on the One Whose Understanding is vast, and Whose Wisdom transcends cultures and countries. We will be trusting the Holy Spirit within us in a different way than we are used to.

We are praying that any materials we do prepare are in tune with the right Rhythm, and if not, that we have the wisdom to throw it out and adjust to the need of the moment. How comforting it is to know that as God’s children, we do not go alone. He is with us, He knows the dance. He is a good good teacher. He’ll help us learn.

Preparation and Perspective

Life keeps plugging along while in the margins we do what preparation we can.

On the Resources page is listed books and videos we’ve watched/read in gaining an understanding of both Rwanda and serving others well.

We are walking into the unknown on many levels, but throughout this past month our God who keeps track of the stars has been reminding us of His presence, His attention, His kindness, and His care. We don’t fully know what to expect when our feet touch the red soil of Africa (or even if Rwanda’s soil is red like Uganda’s was when i was there in 2010). These reminders help sustain our Joy through the natural stress and fears that come from the unknown and un navigated before. We know the character of the God of the universe, we know He is near. He is our centre – and the centre will hold.

Our team recently met with Kaylee Gasangwa to learn from her and gained insight into how our perspectives impact our approaches and to hold them loosely, being willing to learn. This was illustrated that evening as we inquired about what types of things we could bring from the US that are difficult to get in country and are needed. Disposable sanitary napkins were requested for the high school. A number of us asked about bringing cloth instead. Wouldn’t that be better? Kaylee graciously explained that they had tried cloth, but found that without the resource of soap and ease of washing, cloth was not beneficial and disposable is actually better for their situation. We thought we knew what would be best, and taking the time to ask and then listen to the answer helped us to see details we didn’t realize.

Pray with us that the supplies we bring will be beneficial, and the things we plan to purchase in country are available as expected….or if not that we have the wisdom we need to pivot appropriately!

Thanks for following along with us on this adventure!

Heading to Rwanda!

Dear Friends and Family,

Sometimes in life, you are trucking along, head down, hand to the plow, when out of the corner of your eye, you catch a glimpse that causes you to pause. To lift your head, take a look around and be drawn into curiosity for what lies outside your field of vision. 

Jeremy and I have been trucking along at life, going to work, fixing the cars, doing our best to support our now adult kids as they endeavor to launch out into the world.  Recently an invitation came along that caused us both to pause and draw into curiosity for what the Lord might be asking us to see.  After weeks of prayer and late night discussion, many questions, many doubts, and tender assurances from our Good Shepherd, we are saying yes to an invitation to travel with a team from our church to Rwanda to serve with Arise Rwanda Ministries

Rwanda is a small country in East Africa. It received national attention in 1994 when the country erupted into a civil war. This conflict between the Hutu and Tutsi tribes left close to a million people dead over the course of three months. This terrible genocide did untold damage to the people of Rwanda. Out of this tragedy came beautiful stories of forgiveness and reconciliation that are hard to fully understand. The country of Rwanda has taken great strides to heal and move forward after the genocide. Now it stands as a strong and beautiful country that has vowed to never allow this level of violence to happen again.

Our team will be working in the town of Boneza. This town of over 24,000 people is located in the western border of Rwanda right next to Lake Kivu. Boneza is one of the most disadvantaged places in Rwanda. We will be working with a Rwandan organization called Arise Rwanda. Arise Rwanda works to bring the love of Jesus Christ to the people of Boneza through education, clean water, and community development. You can see the amazing things that this ministry does on their website

In Jeremy’s and my experience over the years of walking with the Lord, He typically leads us one step at a time, allowing His plan to unfold gradually rather than give us all the details and clear indications of where we are going, what we are doing, and how He is working.  That is how we are being lead still. Knowing that the Lord is working in Rwanda and that He has invited us to join Him in that work for a couple of weeks in June.  We would love to invite you along for the journey – beginning with praying for us now as we seek the Lord in all the details, work on the practicals like shots and travel arrangements, and prepare ourselves for what He will be asking us to do while there. 

If you would like to pray for us, please pray that God would use our team to encourage our brothers and sisters in Rwanda, bring honor to Jesus’ name, and grow in us hearts that reflect our Creator’s. Pray for the people of Boneza and for the Gospel work God has for us to do.

If you would like to partner with us further, you can find all the details about the trip, specific prayer requests and opportunities to give towards our team at the button below:

*My hope is to post updates here on the blog with what we are learning as we prepare and then as I am able in country during our trip. If I have time to re-learn how to have posts e-mailed to you I will add that feature back in :0)

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