Monday, December 1, 2014

Nothing and Everything Makes Sense

by Isaac Miller

This trip has completely turned my life upside down. Going into this trip I thought I knew what I wanted to do as a profession. I wanted to do something in the music industry. But after working non-stop for two weeks with the amazing people in I-teams, I am back to square one. I don’t know what I want to do. Music and singing specifically are what I love to do but now I’m struggling to find a way to use music to better peoples lives. I want to make a difference in the world. Maybe it’ll be in Rwanda. I don’t know, but I do know that I want to help people in one way or another. My issue is finding a way to do that in a way that I will wake up and be excited to do it each and every day. 

Every kid wants to grow up and be successful in life. The norm in America is you go to college, then find a job to support you and maybe a family but I think the problem with that is, people focus too much on the monetary part of it and never really think about “what do I love to do so much that I can do it for the rest of my life?” Lots of people do find that job and I’m so glad to see it. The people that come to mind are the ones that just hosted our group for two weeks. Jen and Serge Kamari. They aren’t ridiculously wealthy but they are comfortable and the important part is, they love what they do. They help people for a living. They host groups like us and change their lives on a weekly basis. They are my role models in that aspect for now. I want to do something like that with my life, although I know it will be in a completely different way. 


Two people I met this week were Robby and Stephanie. They were interns with the Kamari family for two years and they do exactly what I want to do. They are helping people during the day but in their free time, they are musicians. We heard them perform at a worship service during the week and I have never felt so compelled to sing along to Christian music. It was an amazing atmosphere and we were surrounded by Rwandan people who were equally, if not more into it. So this trip has changed my life completely. It has made clear to me what i want to do with my life but at the same time has completely screwed with every other aspect of my life. What school to go to, what to major in, it just goes on. But overall I’m extremely grateful for everything that happened on this trip and everyone that helped me to be able to have this experience. It has changed my life in so many ways and I hope it will help me change others lives in the future. 

Monday, August 18, 2014

Recap Video

This recap video was shared last night at the shareholder's dinner. It contains sights and sounds captured on the trip.  Enjoy!




Saturday, August 9, 2014

Maybe life would be better...

by Kate Twaddle

When my brother, Ryan, went to Rwanda, one of his life changing moments was figuring out that he wanted to be a dentist. As for me, I knew that I wanted to look into environmental health before the trip, so I did not know whether my life would change or not. If it did, I did not know what could change. 

Throughout my time in Rwanda, I was inspired and had my eyes opened. Seeing a country that was cleaner than our own even though it was torn apart by a genocide only 20 years ago was one of the many beautiful things that struck me about Rwanda. The cleanliness is thanks to Rwanda’s president. He makes it a top priority and he uses it as a way of reuniting the community. 

One task I participated in that affirmed my passion for helping people through helping the environment was the water walk. As many of you know, I am a competitive basketball player that recently had hip surgery; therefore I am not quite back in shape. As a result, I trudged and sweat my way up and down a large hill only to successfully get five liters of water that would make most people sick if they drank it. I used my excuse of “but I just had hip surgery” because it was embarrassing to see kids half my age carrying twice as much water as me, running up and down the hill, laughing while I stopped to take a breather for the 7th time even though I wasn't even half-way up the hill. 

More importantly, it was heart breaking to see children doing such difficult tasks only to find out they do this three or four times a day and that's just enough water for their cow. Even if the water was for themselves to drink they would get sick. Earlier during our trip I asked Serge what was wrong with the water and why we could not drink it. He told me that the pipes that carried the water to where the kids filled their jugs were old and rusty so parts of the pipes flaked off into the water which makes anyone who drinks it sick. This struck a cord with me because I know this is something that can be fixed. These children should not get sick from the only water source they have and they should not have to take multiple pain staking trips just to get water for the dishes and animals. Someday I hope to be a part of the solution to the water problem in Rwanda because it is one of the biggest and also one of the easier ones to fix. 

Lastly, I never truly understood what it meant to be happy and at peace with your life until I came to Rwanda. I have never wanted to have children because I used to feel that the world was slowing going down hill. I did not want to have children just to force them to live through the next great depression. But going to Rwanda has shown me that it does not matter what you have in life, it matters what you do with your life: The relationships you make and the impact you have on other peoples' lives. Materials will become out-dated, old-fashioned, and covered up by the next big thing, but one person's life can make a lasting impact that will forever be part of other peoples lives. 

The people here, especially the children, can have nothing but rocks to play with yet they are the happiest people I have even seen. They do not need iPhones or internet to find joy or purpose in life because they have each other and they have amazing face-to-face communication skills, which is something America is losing because of technology. Now that I think about it maybe life would be better with less material things that keep us from sharing stories and creating relationships the same way the Rwandans do. I am going to stop here because I do not want to share all of my memories with you through a computer screen since I would rather share them with you face to face. See you soon!

 

What lasts?

by Doug Bradbury

The African Refugee Committee (ARC) operates insides the Kiziba Refugee camp we visited last week. They have an office in the camp and numerous projects to their name. They built the basketball courts and the soccer pitch. The also built this playground. 


The video shows the highly anticipated opening of the playground with hundreds of kids swarming it. They all look excited to have a dedicated place to play. The commentary in this video talks about how important learning to play is.

We walked by this playground last week. I only recognized it by the faded and peeling ARC sign that still stands. All that is left are a few tractor tires buried at odd angles in the ground. The monkey bars seem to have long ago been scrapped for firewood. The makeshift slide torn down and repurposed to patch a roof or hold the month’s rations.
The Playground, today


It makes me wonder about the lasting effects of the work we have done in these two weeks. That concrete pad we mixed and poured for J Lynn’s will crack in a few years. The lack of freezing temperatures should let it last longer that it would in Illinois, but the relentless rainy season will eventual undermine it’s integrity. The books we carried to the library will one day be ruined by water or maybe used to a cooking fire. The windows we purchased for the church in Fumbwe will eventually rust out, but probably not before the mud-block structure itself needs to be rebuilt. The water we hauled up the hill has already been used and the families at Love to Help will need health insurance again next year.

Jesus told us about these things. He said, "Do not store up for yourself treasures on Earth where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but store up for yourself treasures in heaven where moth and rust do not destroy and thieves cannot break in and steal" (Matthew 6:21)

What are our heaven-stored treasures from this trip? What lasts? We participated in a little bit of physical building, but what we really got to take part in is the building of the Kingdom or God. The concrete, bricks, windows and water of the Kingdom are the relationships we formed. Jen and Serge are our treasure and life-long friends and partners in ministry. The bagel-baking, cake-making women of J Lynn’s are our treasure. Their stories and their lives staying with us forever. Groyda, Natalie, Amie, and our other JCM hosts at Kiziba are our treasures. We will see them again, perhaps as resettled refugees is North America or perhaps again in the camp. Pastor DaSantos in Fumbwe and his wife served us not just a meal made with rice, bananas, peanuts and water but also a filling glass of living water like Jesus talks about in John 4. 

When we enter another person’s life we are, in fact, joining with Christ himself. Together we are the world-wide body of Christ. To meet and welcome another brother or sister is to meet and welcome Jesus. It’s that love to and through us that becomes the "spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

This is what I think Jesus meant when He said we would never thirst again. That lasts forever.

So what?

by Andy Waters

I have spent the last 9 months reading books, getting together with my 16 fellow travelers, talking to people about my trip and now flying home from 12 days in Rwanda. On Monday I will be at work and then quickly falling back into my routine. 

So what? I met nice people, learned about a different culture, and saw challenging situations.

I can tell stories for a while. Next week I can write the President and Senators about my concerns about refugees. I can donate some money so a street child can have a safe place to stay. But so what? Does this long journey just end? I hope not! 

God’s people need and deserve more than that. I have ideas like contribute and raise money so a village has a well, continually advocate for all refugees including the ones in Glen Ellyn and take what I learned to try and stop genocides in the future. (Did you know genocides continue and experts predict they will increase in the future?)

I hope and pray this journey continues for a lifetime. I give thanks for the other 16 travelers and hope and pray we all support these young people as they continue their journeys. I look forward to seeing how God uses them and us to make this world a better place.

I'll Miss Ya




by Connor Harty

Oh Rwanda, beautiful Rwanda. Having not been out of the country before this trip, it isn’t exactly the biggest statement to say that Rwanda is the most beautiful country I’ve ever seen. I felt like this trip was truly full circle, because we flew in at night, and then we left at night on the same flight plan that took us here. But writing this on the way home really showed me how much I’m already missing the wonderful country and truly amazing people. At night in Rwanda, the hills are lit up with thousands of tiny bluish lights, from all the buildings built into the side of the beautiful landscape. What I got caught up with was that out of those lights, at least one of those tiny lights was from someone’s house whom we met. 

I’ll also take a lot back from the 4 leaders we had for those 2 weeks: Robbie, Stephanie, Jen, and Serge. Their message was clear, they made this trip as great as it could be but they also stressed how important it is that we take all that we learned, back with us and make a difference in our own community. See, stories aren’t any good if we don’t share them. This trip has been a crucial realization of a different culture and simply of a different people group. Now, I know the stories of all these different people and I can share them to make sure no one else forgets these really amazing people. 

There’s so much we got to do on this trip, and so much more that we could have done, but I thank God for the opportunity to go on such an amazing experience, It’s eye opening to realize that this group of 13 kids have already gotten to experience something at a young age that many people won’t even get to experience in a life time. Now it’s just moving on to stage 3 of the trip, the after. Like I said, it means nothing if we don’t do anything with this experience. But at the moment, I don’t know how I can help. It’ll have to be a longer process, but I know that God will show me the way for me to continue helping out the Rwandan community and also refugees in general. Thank you so much again to all of the parents for the never ending support, the blog comments were one of the best parts of the day and I speak from all of us when I say that we appreciate everything you all have done and continue to do. 

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

The Others

By Abigail Dibadj

A huge pet peeve of mine is when people complain constantly. So when one of my friends continually complains about something we try to make them stop by creating their complaints into a funny game by one-upping them. So if I'm complaining about my leg feeling sore aft
er a run, my friends may say “well at least you have a leg”. This one-upping can continue for a while but it always ends when someone says “well at least you’re not a starving child in Africa” because no one can one-up that. Nothing is worse than that. 
    
Whenever I thought of Africa I pictured ‘the starving children of Africa’ - faceless, nameless, children. I thought of children who did not have personalities. I thought of children who didn’t hold your hand, play games, and braid your hair. Rwanda has made me realize those children don’t exist. 

Of course there are starving children in Africa, just as there are starving children throughout the world, but these children have faces. They have names. They have lives and families and stories and love. This trip has changed my perspective on Africa, and specifically on Rwanda. I will never think of Rwanda again as the place of starving children. It has so much more than that. Rwanda is full of love, forgiveness, and life. Rwanda has a culture that takes time for people. They cherish relationships, hold their love ones dear, and truly care for each other. Men walk down the streets holding hands because they are friends and a family welcomes 17 strangers into their home and gives them a luxurious meal while daily sending their children to get water. This part of Rwanda's culture is where I learned the most and this is the part of Rwanda’s culture that I will miss the most. 
     
…………...

I always pictured my future as going to college, majoring in political science, going to law school, becoming a lawyer, getting married before I was 27, having or adopting a few kids before I was 30, living in the suburbs, and doing some work with refugees on the side because although I loved it, working with refugees can’t be a job. I could never picture myself working with refugees because that’s what other people do. Other people become missionaries. Other people change the world and expand their horizons. Other people are courageous and take risks while clinging to God’s promise that He will lead them and sustain them. I never imagined that I could be like the others until now.

After the first day at the refugee camp I found myself in Kibuye sitting  on the edge of a cliff having a mental breakdown. As I stared out onto beautiful Lake Kivu I thought about the people I had just met in the camp. I thought about the living conditions in the camp, the lack of food, education, jobs, and how their future would look much different then mine. 

But when I started to think about my future I couldn’t picture the perfect little family in the perfect little suburb anymore. I couldn’t picture the order and the fluidity. My future now looked messy and passionate. When I look ahead I can't picture my future as simple and orderly while in full knowledge of  what happens in a refugee camp. While in full knowledge of the lack of food and education, how can I sit back and do nothing? Now I know I can’t. 

Now I know that I can be like the others. I know I can trust God to lead me and sustain me in my future.

Opened Eyes, Changed Hearts, Scrambled Minds

by Melanie Rohla

My time in Rwanda has been the best two weeks of my life! I’m so glad and thankful that I got the opportunity to come! I have truly fallen in love with this magnificent country! I am constantly amazed by the beautiful hills, incredible animals, and loving people! As Doug put it, I feel as though I am leaving part of myself here, hidden in the hills.

This trip has truly changed and inspired me in so many ways! When I return home, one of the things I hope to do is learn more about the world’s current events. I don’t want to be sheltered from the rest of the world anymore. I want to be more aware of what’s happening in other nations. 

In addition, after witnessing the poverty in Rwanda, I’m definitely going to try to be grateful for everything I have, and trying not to dwell on what I don’t have. The Water Walk in particular made me think twice about the amount of water I use at home. It’s insane how much I use on a daily basis compared to how much a Rwandan uses, so I hope to be more conscious about that.

These experiences have also inspired me to change my future vocation. Before, I wanted to become an environmental scientist. Now, I’m thinking of something along the lines of a missionary, or possibly working for the UN. What’s interesting to me, though, is that I thought this trip would give me clarity as to what I want to do with my life. But instead, it has given me more questions. There are SO many things we did and learned about during these past two weeks that have fascinated me and that I have developed passions for! With all of these incredible options, I’m extremely excited to see which path God will lead me down.

Again, thank you SO much for all of your love, prayers, and support! 

Monday, August 4, 2014

An electric feeling

by Abigail Dibadj

Rwanda is a beautiful country. Just outside of Kigali you are surrounded by the gorgeous rolling hills, the houses built into the landscape, and a large amount of vegetation. 

Nothing in Rwanda compares to its National Park. On Thursday we went to Akagera National Park to go on a safari with street kids that we previously met on Tuesday. The safari was absolutely amazing. We saw plenty of impala and water bucks, a few topi, a surprisingly large amount of enormous hippos, many beautiful birds, herds of zebras and giraffes, one elephant in the distance, and a very special Nile crocodile. 

The crocodile wasn’t just special because of its amazing strength and beauty, but because of the effect it had on one kid named Amistad. Amistad is twelve year old boy who was one of the street kids accompanying us on the safari. At the beginning of the safari I asked him his favorite animal and he quickly stated the Nile crocodile. When we finally saw it the shy boy was jumping out of his seat. Amistad began yelling and pointing because this was the first time he had ever seen his favorite animal. For many of the street kids the safari that we journeyed on was their first. The first time they had seen the immense wildlife of their country. 

It is hard to see a range of wildlife in Rwanda because the breathtaking National Park is surrounded by a threatening electric fence. I understand why it is necessary. The surrounding villages previously had a problem with the animals terrorizing their neighborhoods and this fence prevents that. But then I think about the animals. In the national park they live in their natural habitat, but to me it is still a cage. They can’t roam freely because they might run into an electric fence. When God created the earth he intended for humans and animals to live in harmony. It is hard for me to believe that an electric fence was ever part of that picture.

Wa-ter you going to do?



by Ellie Houhlin

Living next to one of the largest sources of freshwater in the world makes us view water as something we will never run out of, that will be superfluous and will flow out of our faucets, showers and hoses for days. Being someone very passionate about the environment, I know this will not be true. We as Americans are lucky and have water at the touch of button, but that is not the case for everyone in the world. With the pollution, and overuse of water we face globally today, the end of water will come at some time. What we do about it today will determine if it will happen in a hundred years or a million. 

After our water walk, our view on water has changed. We realized the value of it as a giver of life. Our walk began at the top of a large hill. We did not know how far the walk down would be. It was indeed steep, something that is physically demanding and continued to be felt the rest of the day. While leaving the top, many children started to follow us, but Serge yelled out, “If you want to walk with the mazungu’s (white people), you need to be carrying a jerry can of your own.” As we walked down the children walked with us. But it was not a path unfamiliar to them. This route had been traveled by many children 2 or 3 times a day just to get the water necessary for the drinking and cooking of the day. 

This trek was completed once by us. We could in no way know how it really felt to have to get up every morning and carry water up a hill, multiple times a day. We made it to the bottom in 15 minutes, happy to see the water dripping out of the tapped source. We talked to the kids, took pictures and even went off the explore the cave they led us to. After filling up our cans we were off on our way. The first stretch was straight up hill and very rocky. Carrying a 10 liter can did not make that any easier than the already physically demanding hike we embarked on. We tried our best to put ourselves in their shoes but in a very literal way we could not. We had our nike shoes, our REI hiking boots perfect for gripping rough surfaces. Most of the kids were barefoot or had small rubber sandals, easy to be broken or ripped by the harshness of the trail. Even children half the size of me were carrying jugs similar to mine, easing their way up the hill. 

After 45 minutes and multiple breaks, we arrived at the top. In that moment, I set my 10 liter jerry can down, but for some reason, I was so incredibly happy. I had just accomplished a walk that would have been difficult on its own while carrying a jug of water. Happy was not even a word to describe it, I was ecstatic. I had lost so much energy and used up almost all of my strength in the difficult trek, but I was perfectly content. We had made a difference in the community by giving all the water we had brought up to people in the community. It was hard, but it was worth it and I will always remember the happy pain I was in when I reached the top. 

I hope that through sharing our story of the water walk the community will listen. That is one of the most important messages we can share out to the rest of the world, the need for water and to conserve it. It is my call to everyone, even to myself to conserve water and use it wisely. It is a precious resource we so easily take for granted. So take shorter showers, don’t run the water when you brush your teeth, don’t use the sprinklers when it has just rained, purchase a rain barrel to collect water for your garden. So many simple, easy things can be done to save water and save the planet. 

It was astounding to see that the amount of water we brought up could help multiple Rwandan families but would not even be close to sufficient for one average american in one day. But a change can be made. Let’s equal the playing field. If we continue to use less water and Rwanda continues to improve its water resources and availability, the whole world will be happy, hydrated and abundant with clean water, available for many generations to come.  

My name is Jean Claude...

by Claire Morawski

Shortly after we finished tie-dying and playing games with the children this morning, we sat down where we had church on Sunday. Serge began to ask the children if any of them would like to share their testimony with the group. Many of the older children raised their hands to share. Most of their names were Jean Claude since the actor Jean Claude  Van Damme is loved by many Rwandans. One Jean Claude in particular, age 18, shared with us the hardships of his family. His mother passed away after his last sibling was born. He and his four other siblings did not know their father since he was a drunk and was never home. Luckily Jean Claude took it upon himself to keep himself and his siblings alive as well as provide for them: stealing, collecting, and bartering for whatever food he could find for them. 

While Jean Claude was sharing his testimony, I realized how different we were. Jean Claude protected his siblings by stealing food for survival. I have and hopefully never will have to protect my siblings to survive. I will also never drop out of school like Jean Claude has for my siblings. My parents love and care for me endlessly, as they have said to me before “I love you way more than you could ever imagine”. 

After the testimonies, Jen B asked the children what their thoughts are of education as most of us take our free 12 years of education in the United States for granted and complain endlessly about it. The children’s main thoughts on education was that it is valuable to everyone. Not only does it set you up for success and a good job but it also gives you skills to succeed and become successful. The reinforcement of these ideals of education reminded me of how lucky students in the United States are. Sadly it also reminded me that  many other prospective students around the world - including many we met in Rwanda - are not always guaranteed an education but

Dreams of the street children were also expressed after thoughts were shared about education. Many of the children dreamed of becoming soldiers for Rwanda, teachers, and scientists. One even dreamed of becoming a Air Force pilot for the United States.


This new perspective and realization has been humbling. Though it was something I imagined I would receive out of this trip- a new perspective on life, one much more different and larger than the ‘suburban bubble’ I live in - it was incredible how it actually occurred. Children of Rwanda, off of the street, voluntarily and willingly sharing their testimonies, dreams, thoughts, and desires to random strangers they only had met a few hours before. The generosity of the Rwandans, not only children that I encountered will stick with me for a long time. 

Friday, August 1, 2014

Sue's sweet sixteen

Jen, with sisters
Okay so my mom isn't actually turning sixteen, but yesterday was her birthday! So happy birthday mom!!! I hope you had a wonderful day. I apologize that I was not able to share your birthday with you, but at the same time I am so grateful to be here in Rwanda, an amazing experience that would not be possible without my awesome mother. Thank you for the support and I hope you have a great golden birthday! (It's not actually her golden birthday either). See you soon, please enjoy this picture of me and my sisters taken on our safari yesterday! Love you!!!!

Tested

The team, crammed into
Mama Deborah's courtyard

by Lizzie Fleming

As we sat among a group of women living with HIV/AIDS, Serge asked us the million dollar question:
“Have you been tested?”

The thought had honestly never crossed my mind. Even after hearing the testimonies of five women and men whose lives have been forever changed by this disease, the thought still never crossed my mind. And why would it? I’m a seventeen year old American high schooler. And with that, I’m a total nerd, who’s friends include the band students. I’m not dumb and I hang with a good crowd. So why should I get tested?

Because you never know. No one who told their story got tested because they noticed a change in their health. They just got tested, whether at risk or not. Mama Deborah, who leads the group, said that many were tested when they first decided to meet, and that saved their lives. HIV/AIDS isn’t something that announces its presence, and people can live several years without knowing they have it. 

And America doesn’t seem to care. Because apparently it isn’t a big problem. It’s a problem for Africa. And it is. It is a major problem here that needs solving. But that doesn’t mean people in our own community aren’t affected. Sure, I don’t personally know anyone afflicted with HIV/AIDS. Or maybe I do and just don’t know it. Another thing we talked about was the stigma associated with HIV/AIDS. One boy at the meeting has to take his medications in secret because his grandmother has said she would kick them out if they had the disease. They then asked us what it was like in America. And the stigma here isn’t nearly as severe, but there’s no doubt that there is a certain degree of judgement.

Because of this, I’d like to get tested. Not sure how that will go over with my parents, but I’d really like to. And not because I’m at risk, not because there’s a chance I may have been exposed to it. But because I sat among fifteen or so women and men who would have never thought they’d have it either.

Water Ain't Light

Melanie, still smiling (pre-walk)
In the pastor's home
by Melanie Rohla

This morning was definitely exhausting! We drove out to Fumbwe and did the Water Walk. First, we picked our jerry cans (we had to choose between 3, 5, and 10 liter cans). Then we started the short, but steep trek down the hill. At times, I was practically running down the hill it was so steep! As we walked, we were joined by kids of all ages, who were carrying their own jerry cans. 

We learned that many of these kids walk this path multiple times every day to get water for their families and farm animals. When we arrived at the spring (about a 15-minute walk), we waited as our cans were filled. During this time, we took lots of pictures with the kids (who LOVED looking at the photos), and explored a nearby cave called “The King’s Cage”. 

After our cans were filled with water, we trekked back up the hill. I’m a slow walker, so I stayed at the back of the line. It was nice how whenever I stopped and took a break, the kids around me stopped as well. I think they were laughing at me most of the time because of how slow I was, but it was still fun to walk with them! Eventually, we reached the top! 

While waiting for the rest of the group, we played with some of the kids. One girl taught me how to play a game with 5 stones that was similar to Jacks. You would throw the pebble in your hand into the air, grab a rock off of the ground, and then try to catch the flying rock. You would continue that until you acquired all 5 rocks. She was an expert at it, and loved showing off to us. It was so cute.

Later, our group was welcomed into the pastor’s house. We were seated in the living room, and the pastor’s wife brought out delicious chai tea and a large meal consisting of bananas and rice in peanut oil. We ate and drank until we were stuffed. After such a tiring walk and the scrumptious meal, we were all ready to go to sleep. Alas, we hopped on the bus, stopped at a church to talk and say goodbye, and went home. 

The Fountain for the Youth

by Connor Harty
The story goes, that many centuries ago, pirates sailed the oceans in search of the coveted “Fountain of Youth”. Rumor was that this fountain had the power to turn back time and sizably reduce your age. Whether or not this fountain was ever discovered and/or if it worked is history, but today we discovered it’s antagonist.

Today’s water walk opened our eyes to the fountain for the youth, a tiny well at the bottom of a 70 degree hill, where children hike 2 to 4 times A DAY to provide water for their families. This walk has turned children into adults, as they carry the responsibility to obtain the water their family needs for the simplest things like cooking and drinking. As our group embarked on our journey down to the filling station, the 17 of us were accompanied by a few other adults, at least 2 dozen village kids who were partaking in the same adventure that we were, (but they really needed this water). We, in turn, were getting this water for other people in the village, a simple act from us that I’m sure means a ton to them. 

So we started our walk downwards, carrying our empty jerry cans, a variation between 3 Liters, 5 Liters, and 10 Liters. Safe to say that this was the easiest part of our walk. As we got to the bottom, we saw where we would be filling it up. It’s a little stone structure with about 3 holes with water pouring out. We came closer and saw the competition for the water source, kids slapping each other away so that they could get first dibs of water that is not what we'd consider “sanitary”. 

One of the biggest lessons I learned today was how important water is and how much we actually take it for granted. The average American, we learned, uses around 400 Liters of water per DAY. As a group, we carried up 113 Liters total, but for an average Rwandan, 15 Liters is all they use per day. What we think of as an endless supply back home is extremely limited in this country, and in a lot of others as well. So in the end, use what you need, not what you have. For some people what they need is much more than what they have. 

Jerry cans being filled at the spring

I'll See You

Darby and Judith
As I left the church to go to the airport last week, my mom hugged me and said “When you see Judith, give her a huge hug for me”.   

In 2011, we met Judith, a woman living with HIV/AIDS. She was part of  Mama Deborah’s group, Love to Help, (a support group / entrepreneurship for women with HIV+). She smiled and laughed and taught us to roll paper beads. To this day, my mom still loves telling the story of Judith.

Because Judith has HIV, I left the gathering place at Faith Lutheran worried. What if in these past three years Judith got sick?  What if she was no longer a part of Love to Help? What if she’d died? 

I started to expect the worst - especially since in 2011, we also met a woman named Denise. We visited her and heard about how her mother didn’t know she had HIV.  

A week later, Denise passed away. She had five children, four of which who also had HIV.

Yesterday, the day finally arrived. We went to Love to Help. While walking into their meeting space, we were greeted by a line of people waiting to shake our hands and hug us.  As I looked to my right, I saw a small woman sitting by some friends.  Trying not to stare, I saw she was shining. You could see her joy was contagious. I knew exactly who she was but I thought running up to her and hugging her was a little extreme, so I just walked by. Not knowing if she remembered me at all, I felt really uncomfortable. Luckily, Doug is the king of reconnecting with people. I told him Judith was here, and he encouraged me to talk with her.  

Still not knowing exactly how to do this, Doug asked Mama Deborah if she could “introduce” us to Judith.  Because of Judith’s excitement for life in general, she jumped up and hugged us as we walked over.  With Serge translating, we explained that we had met before and that my mom remembers their time together.  I’m not sure if she remembered us.  But by the way she had her arm around me, I knew this wasn’t just an ordinary interaction.  God was holding both of us as we were reconnecting.  I tried my hardest to keep from crying, because I think Judith already thought the situation was a little weird.

After that, we sat down and heard the story of Love to Help. A man named Patrick helped translate.  Already overwhelmed with seeing Judith, I was not expecting what happened next.  Patrick shared his story.  His mother passed away in 2011, and he now lives with his grandmother. His mother was Denise - the woman we visited in 2011, a week before her death. His grandmother still doesn't know he has HIV.

All week, I’ve been telling people we meet “See you” instead of goodbye. I know such a meeting may seem unlikely but my experience in 2011 taught me it’s possible. Our God is, after all, one who does the seemingly impossible. 

And if not here, then later. I strongly believe that I will see my Rwandan friends one day in heaven. There, I’ll see Denise, Patrick, and Mama Deborah. I know that I’ll also see Judith. My mom and I will sit down and catch up with her and maybe even roll a few paper beads together.  

Know your children well

by Andy Waters

This group of 13 young people from Faith Lutheran Church are wonderful people. I can tell from the replies you think these kids are wonderful too. We love hearing Doug read the responses from the blogs after meals and debriefings. Please spread the news; we love hearing the responses.

Each night we have a “debriefing”. We talk about the days events and respond to well thought out questions. These oftentimes generate great conversations. Here is a sample:

After being in the refugee camp we talked about why people had to live temporarily for 18 years in mud huts. It wasn’t right. This flowed into a discussion about our own border with Mexico. 

The president of JCM, which operates the library at the Kiziba refugee camp talked about the library being Christ's light into the camp where there is no hope and no life. He described the bible as something that can give one knowledge but living out your faith creates a paradise like the library. Rich words for rich conversations. 

We heard Serge’s story of joining the RPF to become a solder. He asked those who were 17 years old to raise their hand. He was 17 when he joined. We heard more about young solders training for war and it became very real.

We see poverty like nothing before. There are kids who have no place to live and have to steal to get food. I learned a security guard budgets 42 cents a day for food. We see lots of people walking with heavy loads normally carried by a vehicle or truck. We talk about these things and the equitable distribution of wealth. 

The memorial visits were very hard. Debriefing brought out a lot like; Where was God? What bothered us the most? Why are the memorials not sanitized? What can we do to try and stop this? 

There is good - Jen and Serge Kamari serve these people so well. Kids have homes, food and an education. People have jobs. AID victims receive support. Refugees get support from the library. This leads us to talk about what we can do when we get home.

There are many other things you don’t read about like the van rides filled with conversations, fun and  music from the 1,600 pound teenage jukebox. I get to listen to Queen, Les Mis and Mighty to Save. 

This trip has changed us. You can expect to see 13 charged teenagers ready to make this a better world. You can expect to see them in a closer relationship with Jesus  living out their faith. What a great group to make that happen.

Did I mention they like hearing the responses to their blogs?

Duck...Duck...Cheese...

Kyle, playing with street kids

Claire in an intense game of 'Cat and Mouse'
By Kyle Shiring
 
This morning, we went over to the holiday camp at the International team office. I was put with the older kids ranging for the ages of 16-22 years old. We started with a friendly game of sharks and minnows, which became very intense because we were in a space about double the size of my bedroom. They got really into it very quickly, which was great. 

Next we played cat and mouse; which they liked more because it was like tag. Everyone was falling and crashing into each other during cat and mouse, which also included small cuts and ripped pants. After that we played a game of 3 on 3 fĂștbol.This was exhausting but it was so much fun because they loved it and we bonded with each other. Then we played duck, duck, goose but they thought we said duck, duck, cheese” which made it a very interesting and funny game. 

Finally, we went into the I-teams building, I talked to a kid named Jean Lucky. He was left on the street to defend himself which amazed me. Despite this, he changed his name from Jean Claude to Jean Lucky because of how “lucky” he’s been in his life. Through International Teams, he’s been given a place to live, food to eat, and the money for school. Now he dreams of being a dancer and a singer.

Internet trouble

Just a quick note. We are doing great and there are lots of posts ready to go. The internet had been out at our guest house so I haven't been able to get then up. Hold tight everyone!

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Where Do You See Yourself in Four Years

The team recovers after another afternoon
of mixing and pouting concrete
by Darby Janss 

Going through orientations and starting new clubs as a freshman, most people are asked “Where do you see yourself in four years?  How do you think your life will be different?  What will stay the same?”.  It’s really hard to predict changes in your life because most times they come from unexpected events.  

Four years ago, I would’ve said that I wanted to make new friends, find out what I want to do after high school and for the rest of my life, and try new things.  Don’t get me wrong, I did all of those…Just not how I would’ve planned them.

As I started to prepare for Rwanda in 2011, Jen constantly told our team that this trip would change our lives. Honestly, whenever she said that I would just think “Yeah, okay, Jen. But I’ll probably never explain this experience to my children, or even think about it when I’m graduating.” 

Boy, was I wrong.  

Rwanda in 2011 changed me in ways that I can hardly explain. To this day, I seek justice. I am aware of how much water I use, and I try my hardest to reduce the amount. I am more involved in the refugee communities, so much so that I’m planning on focusing on refugees as a social worker.  I am more globally aware.  I get frustrated when people don’t understand the parts of the world around them. I get frustrated when I don’t understand. 

In short, Rwanda 2011 changed my life.

I am struggling with even putting into words what it did to me, but my life was flipped upside down.  Everything I do today is a result of me going on that trip.  

Now, I’m seeing everything in Rwanda a second time. And it’s different.  

Because of my first experience, I’m noticing things I missed in 2011. Today, for example, as we visited the church memorials, I felt like I was going to vomit. Not because of the skulls or bones, but because of how I pictured the churches before the genocide in 1994. As I walked in to the first church, I could hear our team singing “Mighty to Save” in the back of my mind. I imagined groups of people worshiping and praising God on Sunday mornings. As we walked through, I saw the bombed out and shattered stained glass. All I could think of was our church and how beautiful this one must’ve been before. 

Having Rwanda be my first mission trip ever definitely forced me to jump right in, head first, onto concrete.  My life was in pieces.  I had so many questions about faith and forgiveness and just the world in general.  I still don’t have answers, but I am slowly being bandaged back up into who I am going to be.  It was like God needed me to change, and fast.  He needed me to have this burning passion in me so I could be who I am TODAY, and not later.  He has great things planned for me and all because of who I am.

Going through four years of high school definitely changes everyone.  I wonder if I would’ve changed in the same ways if I hadn’t been to Rwanda in 2011?  How would I be different? I have no idea, but I thank God everyday for who I am. Today, as I am in Rwanda in 2014, I feel myself changing again.  I see the whole team changing. It may be in different ways, but all of us are being challenged everyday. I’m not sure what this means, but I hope that in another four years, we’ll be able to say we’re overjoyed with where God has taken us because of this trip.

Blogging is better than calling these places memorials


A note from Jen: This morning, we went to two church memorials (from the genocide) located outside of Kigali. In 1994, when the Rwandan genocide began, Tutsis sought safety in churches. Instead, of finding refuge there, thousands of people were killed there. Though we visited the Genocide Memorial in Kigali last week, in many ways, it’s sanitized. The church memorials are not. They are graphic and, in the words of our teens during tonight’s debriefing, “They made it real.” Despite their graphic nature, they are important - for the questions they raise and the understanding they give us. The posts from today are raw - written before our debriefing with our team. They reflect emotions and questions - good questions - that our teens are actively wrestling with as they seek to grow closer to Christ and better understand forgiveness, something we believe the people of Rwanda can help teach us. 

by Kate Twaddle 


The Nyamata Genocide Graves and Memorial
Most writings need an attention getter, but hopefully the sentences that follow this one will be thought provoking and interesting enough that I do not need one. This morning we attended two church “memorials” that were “preserved” with the purpose of being a reminder to people. 

The first church was brick and had a covering over the top to protect it. There were holes in the walls where grenades were thrown in, blood stains on the walls, and bones stacked on shelves according to their type and NOT their owner. The people’s clothing who died there were also draped over the cross beams. 

The second church was even more crushing than the first. It contained what was left of it’s original doors, which had a hole blown through it by a grenade. The grenade also chipped large chunks out of the cement side walk that leads up to the churches entrance and put holes in the roof that covers the doors. As you walked through the doors you saw more clothing from the deceased draped over the benches where people would have sat during church. At the front of the church the altar was still intact but covered with people’s belongings including: weapons, identification cards, and jewelry. I couldn’t believe these weapons were organized on top of a place where at our church, we would have come together to break bread. 

An addition was added under the church to “display” skulls that clearly showed how that person died - something that in my opinion ripped away people’s dignity. This is when I walked back up the stairs and left the tour. I could not fathom the fact that specific bones were taken from people’s bodies to make a “memorial”. Through what we call “preserving” buildings, it seems like lives and stories were destroyed. Given this, are these churches “memorials” or are they really just depressing tourist attractions? 

Just like Us

A note from Jen: This morning, we went to two church memorials (from the genocide) located outside of Kigali. In 1994, when the Rwandan genocide began, Tutsis sought safety in churches. Instead, of finding refuge there, thousands of people were killed there. Though we visited the Genocide Memorial in Kigali last week, in many ways, it’s sanitized. The church memorials are not. They are graphic and, in the words of our teens during tonight’s debriefing, “They made it real.” Despite their graphic nature, they are important - for the questions they raise and the understanding they give us. The posts from today are raw - written before our debriefing with our team. They reflect emotions and questions - good questions - that our teens are actively wrestling with as they seek to grow closer to Christ and better understand forgiveness, something we believe the people of Rwanda can help teach us. 

By Kyle Shiring
This morning we went to the memorials for the church from the Genocide. They were heart-wrenching to go to. They brought me to tears. The hardest thing about going to the first one was when we walked in the Sunday School rooms for kids and saw the blood stains on the walls from where they were killed. I just don’t understand why anyone would want to murder a child - an innocent child - because of his family's “people” or race. 

Also in the first church there were grenade and bullet holes, which was terrifying because the Hutus did not even know who or what they were killing. 

The second memorial was much worse. It was a larger room with more people, bullet holes in the ceiling, and skulls with holes and slices from clubs and machetes. The worst thing I've ever seen was when we went into the mass grave and saw all the bones around us. This made me think about how these people were normal people who were living their lives - JUST LIKE US - and then they were gone. They were robbed of life by people willing to kill everyone - including their family, friends, and even their loved ones.

Grenade holes in the church wall at the first memorial we visited 

Monday, July 28, 2014

Sabbath Day

God rested on the 7th day and so did we.  The team enjoyed a bit of downtime at a swimming pool and a goat roast at an I-Team's staff member's house.  Enjoy the photos!

Isaac shows Beni how to jump from the diving board

Dinner. An entire roasted goat!

Kyle holds a pipe while new-found friends jump over it into the pool

Abigail is already ahead in this race which she won easily

Beni leaps into Isaac's waiting arms

The Color of Jesus

By Abigail Dibadj

Pastor Doug from Canada preaches while Serge translates
This morning we headed out to participate in a church service. Here is what stood out to me.

Throughout this entire week one thing that has continued to impress me about the Rwandan people is their ability to know many languages. A twenty-one year old worship leader I met after church told me he knew five languages fluently and was also learning Portugese on the side. As soon as he told me this I was embarrassed of myself. I have taken spanish for four years in school and I am far from fluent. What was also embarrassing was my country. How ignorant are we as Americans to consider our language English so above other languages that we dare to not learn another. 

Well, rant aside, the service also included the mixing of languages. While someone was talking in English, another leader of the church would talk in Kinyrwandan and vice versa. The mixing of languages is beautiful in how people who do not understand each other in words can worship the same God together. As the leader of the church stated “It does not matter what language we praise in. This is worship.”

For church this morning a guest from Canada, pastor Doug, delivered his sermon. During his sermon he held his white arm up against Serge’s and asked the congregation “Was Jesus black or white?” The way he presented this question shocked me. Why would he point out their obvious differences in color when the church leader had just said earlier how we are all children of Christ? Aren’t we supposed to overlook our differences in the church or is this just our American culture? I don’t know. 

So although the presentation was shocking, the question was one that made me think. Jesus’s color of skin really is meaningless to me. In my eyes, Christ is never pictured as black or white, the color of his skin does not matter or define him. Jesus’s color resembles his attributes. To me Jesus is red for the love he shares, white for his forgiveness, purple for his overwhelming grace, and yellow for his humility. Jesus is my rainbow of colors. Jesus is both black and white. 
The team sings "Mighty to Save" to close the church service

Don't take it for granted




Team members during fellowship time
Isaac talk with one of the Church's pastors
by Kyle Vondrak
Today after attending church, I had the opportunity to have a conversation with Theogene. I never thought I would have learned so much from someone, but it was really eyeopening to realize how much you can learn in a short amount of time.

Our conversation began when Andy pulled me over to talk to someone. It was interesting to hear all he had to say about his life and faith.

We started off by talking about the worship service. He had said that this was his first time attending worship there, and it was definitely something he wanted to continue.

The conversation then switched over to me. I told him that next year I would be attending university. He then told me that he is currently in grade 9, and is 21 years old. It was also surprising to hear that he plans to attend university and finish his schooling in the next 10 years. By the time he will be 31. This really piqued my interest. After this, he said how it is normal for people in Rwanda to wait until they finish with school to get married and start a family. This can be a very long time. It made me realize how much we don’t think about how important our schooling is in America.

Going off the topic of family, Theogene took sometime to talk about his family. Both his parents had died before he had turned 5, and he had to move to the city in order to work to help pay for his sister’s school. He said that his sister is more important than him, and this made me realize how important family is in Rwanda, that you would give up your life to help out your family.

Overall, this was a great learning experience for me, in really understanding the culture, education system and faith of Rwandans. They don’t go about things exactly like we do in America. It’s truly inspiring, and I hope to remember Theogene’s story as I go off to university next year, and realize that I have a great opportunity to study, that most people in the world do not have.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

The Power of Music

Kyle in Kiziba
by Kyle Vondrak 
Robbie leads the crowd in singing "How He Love Us"
Stephanie leads us with her amazing voice
I consider myself someone who is very knowledgeable about music and concerts, and the impact that can have on someone, but the worship event that we attended tonight totally changed my view on the power of music. 

As I previously said, tonight we attended a worship event at a local church. The night started out with us sitting in the back as someone up front, presumably the leader of the event, was up front speaking Kinyarwandan. Upon noticing our arrival, we were immediately invited to sit up front, which we refused because we would be leaving early to go to dinner. Also upon noting our arrival, he invited someone else up onto the stage to translate to English. 

Soon after, the band came out on stage, and we jumped right into some songs in Kinyarwandan. Although they had the words up on a projector up front, it almost seemed as if I already knew the words of the song, even though it was a language I knew nothing about. I couldn’t help but sway to the beat, and hum or attempt to sing the words. It felt so natural, and seeing everyone else doing the same thing made me realize that the power of God and music transcends all languages and cultures.

After singing a couple of Kinyarwandan songs, they invited Robbie and Steph (the I-Teams interns) up onto the stage to sing some songs in English. What moved me was that they referred to them as their brother and sister, even though they were obviously not. By the time Robbie and Steph got on stage, the church was almost full, so when they started their songs, there was a buzz and intensity to the crowd, which was something you could not deny. Not long after Steph sang the first notes of her song, a woman next to us exclaimed, “Wow”. By the time Robbie and Steph were onto the last song, the whole crowd was singing, raising their hands in the air, or sitting down and praying. This is the power of God - He inspires us all in different ways and how we express that is up to us. Like a man said to some of us before the service: This is a time of prayer, and that means we can be free. 

After finishing up with the songs, they invited the pastor up on stage, who then invited his sister up on stage to translate for him. He went on talking in Kinyarwandan, then in English, and even some French. But his main point was that we are all followers of God, and towards the end, he invited anyone who had just discovered God to come on stage and profess their faith. No one did, so he continued on and finished up with his talk. By this time, we were leaving, so we were not able to see the next band that was coming on stage.

Overall, it was a great experience for me. People, including myself, buy the big bucks to go see their favorite artists or bands perform, but after attending the event tonight, it made me realize it’s not about the music, but it’s about how it makes you feel, and the connections that it can make to yourself and your faith. Music should’t be something that you listen to when you’re bored or having nothing to do. It is something that should make deep connections, and arouse in us the things that would otherwise be impossible to find.

Blogging is even worse than devotions

Kate (with Lizzie and Mel) after a successful barter
 by Kate Twaddle

I do not enjoy writing, but today I found out how much I love bartering. This morning we went to a market in Kigali. We had to barter because a huge part of Rwanda culture is building relationships and relationships are built through conversations. 

In general, I would never start a conversation with a stranger, but when I saw a shirt that said Muzungu, I had to buy it. For those of you who do not know what a Muzungu is, it is what all the children yell at you when you walk by. It means white person or foreigner. Since this might be the one and only time I visit Rwanda, I jumped at the opportunity and asked the woman selling the shirt how much it cost. Jen K told us to immediately cut the given price in half and I did so until the person selling the product and I agreed on a price. 

My favorite quote form this morning was from Mel R. The woman selling her a pair of earrings asked for 1,000 Franks and Mel hastily replied with, “How bout 5,000?” when she meant to say 500. Overall, today was the first time I realized it was ok to question people whether it be because you want to better understand someones culture or just because you did not understand what they were saying. 
The market