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?

Wellaris

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.