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

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Three more years

by Jen Bradbury

Natalie with Jen and Doug
When we stepped off the bus in Kiziba Refugee Camp, the first person I saw was Natalie. We first met Natalie when we visited Kiziba with the 2011 team. At the time, Natalie was one of the members of JCM, the Christian youth group in Kiziba who International Teams partners with. She was an innovative entrepreneur, figuring out ways to make extra money in order to supplement her family's meager UN rations. She was eager and hopeful, sure that she and her family would soon be resettled in another country, able to start a new life there.

Three years later, Natalie is still in Kiziba. She's still an active member of (and leader) within JCM. She's still selling beautiful handmade necklaces and clothing in order to supplement her family's meager UN food rations. She's still hopeful that a new life will be found when her family is resettled to another country. She even knows this country will be Canada; She found that out two years ago. And yet, she waits - Stuck in Kiziba as she navigates the incredibly slow process of resettlement, waiting on things she cannot control herself.

In contrast, compare this to my life in the last three years. Since the last time I was in Rwanda, I've traveled... To Canada, the Grand Canyon, and other places. I've continued working in a job that I love, that brings me immense joy and fulfillment. I took several classes and conducted a major research project in order to complete a Master's Degree. I even wrote a book. In the last three years, my life has changed, in big and small ways.

Yet, in three years time, Natalie's life really hasn't.

Such is the plight of a refugee - a person with no place to call home. Like the other 18,000 refugees in Kiziba, as much as she might like to, Natalie can't go home. To do so would risk the safety of her family. Instead, she's stuck in Kiziba, waiting for another country to show her mercy & alllow her to resettle there.

In the midst of this, what continues to amaze me is Natalie's hope. The last thing she said to Doug and I as we climbed into our Coaster bus was "Next time I see you, it will not be in Kiziba!"

What gives a person who is, in every way, stuck such hope?

The answer, I think is best summed up by something another refugee, Grodya, the president of JCM reminded us of yesterday: "Jesus Christ is King everywhere."

Regardless of where Natalie and the scores of other refugees in Kiziba have lived, currently live, or will one day live, they know - absolutely - that Jesus Christ is King everywhere. It is that simple fact that sustains them, even when their actual circumstances lend themselves to despair.

I don't know how life will change for me - or any of those on our team - over the next three years but I do know this: It will change, rapidly.

In the midst of such rapid change, may we, like Natalie and Grodya, remember that Jesus Christ is King everywhere; That Jesus Christ is Lord - yesterday, today, and tomorrow.

So Little but so much Heart

Kyle walks hand in hand with his new refugee friend.
by Kyle Shiring

At the Kiziba refugee camp I met a man named Johnson. He was friendly, smart, and willing to share his life with me. When we first arrived in the refugee camp, he was the man who gave me the tour and told me about how he wants to go to college. Johnson was the librarian in Kiziba and we made a great connection. On the last day in Kiziba I gave him one of my gifts to remember me by. He was very happy about this. He then went inside and he got me a magazine and wrote his name so i could remember him, which was amazing. It amazed me because I had an abundance of the items I brought to give to people, but he gave this to me with nothing to give except for the kindness of his heart. He gave me the only thing that he could give me with the little he had. 

A chance to listen

You've read a lot about the singing we've done in the camp.  I thought you might like a chance to hear it too.  Here is a little snippet of audio.  This is a song we learned today.  It is being sung in Kinyrwandan.  The words are

Urimwiza, Urimwiza
Reka Ndabivuge Urimwiza Yesu

It means:
You are good, You are good
Let me say it, You are good, Jesus.

Listen Now

The chalkboard used to teach us the words

Our two youth groups:  FLY and GCM singing together

Friday, July 25, 2014

Conversations with no words: Kiziba refugee camp day 2

Ellie in the camp
By Ellie Hohulin

These past 24 hours have been some of the most fantastic of my life. Who knew the Kiziba refugee camp could be a place full of so much love, hope and newfound friendships. 

We began the day with the same beautiful drive up to the camp. Rwanda is graced with the most beautiful land. We arrived at Kiziba again, this time on the students' last day of school. The camp was a sea of blue, for the kids blue school uniforms, sometimes one of the only outfits they had. The hardest part of arriving in the camp was to see the kids first reaction to seeing us- waving their hands to say hi and then immediately holding their hands out wanting money or gifts. As soon as we exited the bus, we were swarmed with children. Touching us, holding our hands and trying to test their hand at english. Besides the usual “What is your name?” and “What is your age?” many kids said “Give me money” or “Give me bottle.” Thinking about this puts a pit in my stomach. Out of the few words and phrases in English that the kids learn, a plea for money and water is among those. We met back in the library and played games with a beginner english class filled mostly with adults. We taught them Go Fish and Uno and one man taught us a French card game that I, of course, lost. 

The FLY girl's team huddles
We then went up to the basketball courts to play some games. They really wanted us to play some female youth from the camp in basketball to encourage them to play. Due to the gender stereotypes still very present and seen in the camp, girls were hesitant to play, but we took them on and with the three shortest people on the trip a part of the starting line up, we obviously lost badly. Seeing the girls of the camp feel empowered to break down the gender barrier (and our team breaking the height barriers) and play a game of basketball was awesome and running up and down the court gave me a feeling of joy even if I did miss every single shot I took.

The boys then took a turn playing some basketball and I sat down to get some water. While sitting down, a young boy came over and took a particular interest in me. He was probably 4 or 5 and unfortunately his English was weak, and I don’t remember his name. He sat right next to me and his big smile was not one of oppression, but of pure happiness and joy. He just sat there and stared at me and began to imitate all my actions. We high-fived thousands of times, fist bumped and after a while, I was getting him to do the Macarena with me. His smile and big eyes are ones that will be imprinted in my heart forever. It was great just being silly with this young boy who now meant so much to me even without a shared word. And whenever we wouldn’t be making funny faces or barking like a dog, he would just be staring at me smiling with his hopeful eyes. He seemed so happy to meet new people and just spend time with someone new. I then broke out my photo album and while looking at pictures of me he would point to me, smile and say “you.” I realized that this young boy was very special and I wanted to give him something to remember me by so he would know the joy he brought to me. I had a small plastic snow globe of Chicago that I gave to him while most of the other kids were distracted. He gave me a big hug, put his hand in mine and walked away. 

Ellie and the team teach the Macarena
We walked back down to the library at this point with an entourage of children following us. I turned back and I saw my young friend walking alone with a very sad look on his face. I walked up to him and with tears in his eyes he showed me his empty hands. Someone had taken the snow globe I had given to him just minutes before. I was very upset that something that could have been important to him and a way to remember me was now gone from him, taken by the many children wanting gifts. We walked hand in hand back to the library and I gave him a bracelet, hopefully one he will keep and will help him remember his newfound friend. 

At the library we sang songs in multiple languages, clapping and dancing along and after a great speech by Andy, comparing Jesus to the library in Kiziba, Kyle and I sang our duet from youth sunday. It was a perfect way to end our exchange in the refugee camp. And as a lover of music, it was amazing to see so many people from so many different backgrounds coming together to sing one song. Music truly is a universal language, one to connect, unite and bring hope to people from all walks of life. 

Our last stop in Kiziba was a little shop ran by Natalie, one of the women we had spent most of the past few days with. Beautiful beads, bags and statues decorated the shop. Most people bought little gifts but one thing shocked me when walking into the room of  statues. I am very passionate about art history, specifically African art, and I recently took AP Art History at school. One of the Congolese statues in the shop was the same as a piece we had studied in class. It was a moment of epiphany. An object studied in my favorite class was real and sitting right in front of me. It wasn’t in a museum or on a screen on a powerpoint, but right in front of me straight from the culture of origin. Such a special experience. 

As we drive home through the same hills and valleys gracing the beautiful countryside, we all reminisce to the great trip we have had so far and the beautiful experiences we had today. I think and pray for my new friend, that he keeps smiling forever. We all think of Kiziba and the hope and joy the people there have, but the love they need. And as the sun sets as we pull into Kigali, the lights are just turning on, the streets are crowded and we are all perfectly content, smiling, singing, laughing, and ready to take on our next adventure tomorrow.   

Another Day in Kiziba

Ryan dances in the library

by Ryan Coleman 

This was one of the best days I’ve had so I desired deeply to blog about it and, that wish has been fulfilled. This day started off with a fantastic breakfast and delicious coffee (there’s a first for everything). We then went on our way to the Kiziba refugee camp which was an interesting experience to say in the least. As soon as we first stepped foot out of the bus, we were bombarded with children of all ages. 

When I say bombarded, I mean totally engulfed by kids in every direction. They asked every question they could think of which wasn’t a lot because all they knew was “What is your name?”. They were intrigued by our presence and most of them followed us throughout the camp wherever we went. Our group then continued to the library and got started. Since they gave us an experience of a lifetime yesterday with their music, today we decided to return the favor, or try at least. The entire group sang “Mighty to Save” accompanied by Doug on the guitar. It wasn’t nearly as good as what we heard yesterday from them but I believe that the refugees in the camp thoroughly enjoyed it. 

Ryan teaches some dance moves
The day continued on with the females playing basketball. It was fun to watch even though the girls of our group didn’t play so well. But then us guys got to play against a team of refugee youth boys and we were able to show them how basketball is really played. Totally kidding, I’ve never been so amazed about how incredible people can play basketball and the FLY boys were not successful in getting the W - Not even close. However it was a spectacular experience playing with them. 

To complete our day we went back to the library and listened to even more incredible worship music, bringing emotions to many and even some tears. After worship music we listened to the “party” music as we all stood up and pulled out some sick dance moves to go along with the riveting beat. Kyle and Ellie then had a great duet and then we were able to buy a couple items from a store in the camp. We are now on the bus, making our way back to our guest house in Kigali. It’s too bad we can’t stay longer because I have absolutely loved my time here. 

Ryan hauls in a rebound during the boy's game

Ball is life

Jen, with her game face on

Jen presenting a basketball to the winning team
by Jen Warner 

  The other day when Jen first told us all of the girls would be playing basketball at the refugee camp I was extremely excited. The idea was to help get the girls active and to show them that sports are not only for boys. Having 10 years of basketball under my belt I figured I would be able to show the girls in the refugee camp a thing or two. Well I was very wrong about that.

     The teams were 5 girls from our group against 5 girls who lived in the refugee camp. We got completely demolished, the final score was about 2-30 (with our 1 basket being scored by yours truly). Trust me we are not that bad (well a couple of us aren’t). It didn’t help that the only girl from our group who actually plays on a basketball team was unable to play in the game due to a recent injury. Playing basketball in a long skirt and sandals was definitely a new experience and it is not easy. For the record, it is also not possible to dribble a basketball between your legs when you are wearing a long skirt. Unfortunately, I did not realize this and ended up embarrassing myself in front of everyone. I think the moment that we realized we were about to get whopped was when we decided it would be a good idea to have me, the second shortest player on our team, do the jump ball. 

     All of our disadvantages and lack of skill aside, I have to give lots of credit to these girls. They were SO good at basketball and made us look silly. Looking back on the game it makes sense why they are so good. Being stuck in the refugee camp, these girls probably spend a lot of their time playing basketball. There are not many job opportunities and teenagers cannot go to school after grade 9 unless they have enough money to pay school fees, which is expensive and out of reach for many families. I’m glad to see that these girls have the opportunity to play basketball in the camp because many kids their age who live in refugee camps turn to drugs, prostituition, and alcohol abuse to fill their time. 

     One of the coolest things about the game was the fact that our 2 teams did not speak the same language, but we were still able to have fun and bond together through  a game of basketball. This game helped me realize you do not have to use words in order to connect with someone. Everyone had lots of fun just being on the court and playing against the girls from the camp even if we were not very good. 

     My favorite part of the basketball game actually took place off the court when the game was over. As the captain of our team I had the privilege to be able to stand up in front of everyone one and present the game ball to the captain of the refugee team. It was such an amazing experience to be able to pass the ball over from our team to their’s because basketball was clearly something that was very meaningful and enjoyable to both of us. I’m excited because I know that the basketballs that we left for them will all go to good use. It was so much more meaningful to be able to actually play basketball with these girls instead of just giving them a bunch of basketballs. I hope those girls are ready because I will be back for a rematch! 

Love is an Open Door

Lizzie and GCM member, Henry

by Lizzie Fleming 

It’s so odd to be referencing the movie Frozen in a land that sees no snow.

Kiziba refugee camp has many problems. I can’t deny that, especially after being approached by children asking for everything from water to a bike. But the love present in the camp and shown towards us throughout our time there was so incredibly strong, I don’t have anything else to compare it to. If I had to describe it, I would say it was without boundaries.

We started our day playing the board games we brought with the refugees who participated in a small beginner English class. Kate and I took out one of the Scrabble boards, and I was incredibly nervous to play a game centered around language with a group of people who were just learning English for the first time. While the whole concept of connecting the words seemed a little lost on those we played with, they formed words with relative ease and seemed incredibly eager to participate. When we’d occasionally correct their spelling, they thanked us profusely and seemed happy to know rather than embarrassed by their mistake. One man spelled out the names of countries ranging from Europe to Africa to Asia, and he named countries I couldn’t even point to on a map. We even did a round that was food specific, and it was fun to teach each other foods local to our continent that the other had never even heard of. When the time for games was over, all of them grasped my hands and thanked me for my patience with them. I felt as if they truly appreciated the help I’d given, even if we only sat for about a half hour. 

Lizzie and Kate play scrabble in the library
While the boys played their game of basketball, Gail and I sat surrounded by kids, showing them our photo albums and doing our best to explain the American normalities that were so foreign to them. One girl, a little older than the rest, sat quietly behind us. Her English was phenomenal, and she read words in our pictures quite easily. When the younger and much more grabby younger children took my photo album from my hands, she delicately took it from them and gave it back to me. When Gail passed out silly bands (and by passed out, I mean she passed out one before they were yanked from her hands by waves of children), this girl made the younger kids who took about seven share with those who came up empty-handed. Her quiet love for everyone around her, both me and all the other kids, surprised me in a place filled with the constant sound and chaos.

Walking back to the library where we’d meet with the youth, I had two kids grab my hands to accompany me down the hill. They didn’t say anything, which was typical of the kids there that spoke little English, but the simple gesture of grabbing my hands said enough. I tried to coax conversation out of them as best as I could. However, most of our walk passed in silence. Now this may just seem like kids looking for a little attention, but when they left after their mother called them, two young women even older than me that I played basketball with picked up where the kids left off and helped me down to the bottom of the hill.

I hope it’s not hard to see why I felt such love overflowing from the people of Kiziba. And the message of this blog isn’t that the people of Kiziba are happy despite their troubles. Because people aren’t happy - there are problems that no one’s working to solve, and not everyone has hope for a future outside the camp. But that doesn’t mean these people can’t teach us a thing or two about loving through the usual walls that separate us.

Actions overcome Words

by Connor Harty 
Kiziba, from the overlook

Connor surrounded by children in the camp
Waking up after our first night in our Kibuye guest house, we were all ready for one of the longest days of the trip (but what ended up being the best day). We had an early 7:30 am breakfast before we embarked on the 30 minute bus ride up to the Kiziba Refugee Camp. I thought we had seen all of the Rwandan countryside, but I was certainly mistaken. As we drove up the winding, dusty roads, the beautiful hills with the addition of the glimmering Lake Kivu created an outstanding view. We were continually greeted by Rwandans waving at us as we trekked up, finally reaching the top of a hill, looking down on the refugee camp. We exited the bus to just observe the whole camp from above, a truly marvelous spectacle of white roofs, home to the nearly 18,000 people living in this camp. 

Upon arrival, we already had many Rwandan children chasing our bus, and added another group of refugees from the camp, pecking at our windows as we waited to be allowed in. As we stepped off the bus, we were lead down to the library where we joined a group of the youth group in the camp. As we stood up to introduce ourselves, the refugees had a laugh at our age, as we quickly realized we were the youngest people in the room. 

After we were told about the camp from the president of the youth group, we transitioned into a very powerful song, sung in 5 different languages, Lingala, Swahili, Kinyarwanda, English, and French. It was extraordinarily moving, hearing the 4 different languages sung out at the top of their lungs. We also realized that not only in this camp, but also in Rwanda in general, it is a commonality to speak at LEAST 3 languages. To me, this made me realize how jealous I am, in a way, that these people have such a wide knowledge of languages and definitely something I wish I could do. 

Speaking of languages, following the song, we broke up into small groups to help connect with certain people in the camp. I met up with an 18 year old man (who looked older than 18) whose name translated to “January” in English, because of the month he was born in. We immediately went into conversation. Since his English was rather good for someone learning it as his 4th language, a conversation was not a burden, but more of a joy. Little did I know, I would be spending the next 5 hours with him. After we had been talking for a while, we began talking about the fact that I take German in school and he immediately wanted me to teach him some German. This was the best moment of my day as I was able to play teacher as I described simple German phrases to him that we continued to say until he had perfected it. I am extraordinarily excited to return tomorrow to keep working with him on it. It also was great because he later helped me in phrases in both French and Kinyarwanda, so that was very meaningful to me. 

After talking for about a half hour, we were able to take a tour of the camp, and I ended up being directed around by January so we were able to continue our talk about life and language, one of the best hours of this trip. By the end of the time we had at the camp, I decided to give him the bracelet I brought with me, to give him something to remember me for, materializing the talks we had with each other. It was finally time for us to leave, so we hopped on the bus and rode it out to the top of the hill. Since we were walking back from the camp to our guest house, Robbie (the International Team Intern) did not want us to have to climb up the large hill leading out of the camp. As we reached the decline, we got out and walked the rest of the 6 miles in about 2 hours. We covered the real Rwandan hills with just a few slips in the middle. We saw the flat but we also saw the steep. 

The most meaningful part of the walk was just listening to the surroundings, which is hard to do on a large bus, and just watching the village children stop what they were doing and fall into line with us as we walked. It was surreal how long they walked with us, to the point where we hoped they would be able to make it back home. Finally, we reached our guest house and immediately went to our rooms to change into our swimsuits for a soothing post-walk dip into Lake Kivu, a lake that was surprisingly clear - exactly what we needed after a long day already. 

But what’s most important is what we all learned. Today I saw, first hand, that actions are greater than words because there is certainly a language barrier with the Congolese people, and even the Rwandans, but it’s what you do that can be the most important. For example, teaching someone a new language can be more beneficial than attempting to speak through a broken language and spending a day together is more important than struggling over how to put it in to words. Even on the walk home, a simple wave says so much that words cannot. It was extremely special to experience that first hand. 

The Land of 18,000 Hearts

by Melanie Rohla
Melanie (center) inside a home in the camp
Lake Kivu, as seen from our guest house

Today was my favorite day so far! However, since both Kyle and Connor are also blogging and going into great detail, I am just going to share my most memorable experiences. So, when we drove to the Kiziba Refugee Camp, I loved waving at the people we passed. I loved how their faces would light up whenever we waved at them. As we drove up to the entrance of the camp, the little kids would run after our bus, smiling and laughing. It was adorable! My favorite part of the whole day, though, was when we were gathered with some of the refugees in the camp’s new library and we started singing a song in multiple languages. It was incredible how we all united through the music. It was truly many languages and cultures coming together. So surreal! Some of us, especially myself, got very emotional. It was so funny because everyone was staring at me and watching me cry. Later, multiple people asked me why I was weeping. 

After that, we got together in groups, with a couple of us and some of the refugees, and talked about the camp and our lives. During this time, I met and talked to a 22-year old guy named Audace. He told me about his life and the Congo, and asked me questions about America. It was amazingly easy to talk to him (he spoke English quite well) and a friendship quickly developed as he gave us a tour around the camp. During the tour, I was amazed at the size of the houses. A “small house” included a living room and a bedroom, and could probably fit into my own bedroom in America. We also got to see the bathrooms, which were all outside and consisted of two metal footprints and a drain on the floor - Definitely a change from the indoor plumbing we have, and it was quite an interesting experience to use them later. Another thing that was peculiar was how some of the kids kept asking for water, food, or money. I felt so bad when I had to tell them that I couldn’t give them any of those things! It just broke my heart! 

Anyways, we got the opportunity to walk back to Kibuye from the camp (which is a walk that some of the refugees do often). We got to see more of the gorgeous landscape, smiling children, and friendly people. We also learned some Kinyarwandan by conversing with people from the villages we passed, which was so helpful! After we arrived at the guest house, we were able to swim in Lake Kivu. Let me just tell you something about Lake Kivu: It is INCREDIBLY BEAUTIFUL - Lake Michigan has got nothing on Lake Kivu! The water was so clear, cool, and refreshing. The islands, shores, and waters are absolutely breathtaking. This “Land of a Thousand Hills” has definitely had an impact on me!!

Little Kids with Little Hugs

 by Kyle Shiring 
Kyle performs "I'm Yours" in the GCM Library
This morning, we drove to Kiziba waving our hands and everyone waved back. The view of Lake Kivu is beautiful which made the drive a very incredible journey. When we arrived, there was a crowd of kids surrounding the bus and we said “Bite” (Bee-tay), which means “Hello" for little kids. When we got out we were swarmed and stared at, which was interesting. I taught people how to fist  bump and later that day adults were even fist bumping. We were taken down a hill/mountain to the library where the youth group, which was a group of adults from 18-34 years old,  welcomed us. Initially, they laughed when we spoke because we were so young (In their culture, we’re still considered children), but we quickly formed good relationships with them. 

They gave us a tour of the camp, which was more like conversation with a man who told me about his life one-on-one. He talked about the difficulty to go to university and to pay for school to get an education. He continued talking about how he wants to go back to the Congo and how he was 4 years old when he came here. I gave him my facebook and I hope to keep in contact with him. While we were walking around the camp, the little kids grabbed our hands. I had 5 kids on one hand, and 3 on the other.  

The highlights of the day were when the youth starting to sing in english, french, Kinyarwandan, lingala, and Swahili. I finally learned what it means to have music unite nations. I don’t think I have ever learned so much in one day. 

Later, we walked back from the camp and the pure beauty of the country amazed me, whether it was through the hills, the people, the lake. I felt like I was in a postcard and it is magical. The culture amazes me everyday  and that is where the true beauty is, not just in the country but in the culture and people. At the end of the day, we were walking and this little girl saw me. Without even saying “hi" she gave me a hug in one of the neighborhoods of Kibuye. I think this was the moment of the trip that may have changed who I am and what I want to do with my life.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Food to Keep Us Full & Focused

by Claire Morawski

Today was a very long day. After another work period at J Lynn’s, we returned back home to Moucecore. We freshened up and collected our bags  then waited for a Coaster Bus to bring us to lunch. It was our first lunch eating out in Kigali! We celebrated Serge’s birthday (Today, 7/23) by going to a Chinese restaurant…in Africa. Everyone ordered their favorite meal from the large menu. After receiving our food, the most popular meal we all shared was sweet & sour chicken. Let me tell you, it tasted just like it does in the United States. The only difference was that the meal did not end with any fortune cookies. It was okay because just like the breakfast food, Frosted Mini-Wheats, it kept us all full and focused. Following singing to Serge for his birthday and eating mango tarts and chocolate peanut butter cupcakes (which Jen K made at the bakery), we loaded into the van and began our 3 hour journey to Kiziba.

Our journey to Kiziba was absolutely beautiful. The roads wound around the mountains and we saw goats, cows and chickens. Today we could officially see why Rwanda is called the land of a thousand hills, they are everywhere! I loved leaving Kigali and driving around seeing more of the country, especially in a whole different setting like the countryside. Although at times I wished for the roads to lead right through the hills, I quickly realized we would miss the beauty of the country. The roads winding around the lush, lush hills and valleys is a sight one can only see in the land of a thousand hills. Life explodes in the plants, animals, and people living in and around the hills and valleys. Plants dominated the hills and only were defeated by the humans who have tamed them before us- creating paths for farming and transportation and where the plants have been domesticated for crops. Animals either roamed free or were led by humans for meat or products- milk or eggs. People milled around, waved to us in our passing bus, and children even stopped to visit with us while we took a bathroom/picture break at a waterfall. It was a wonderful ride and the beautiful scenery kept us more occupied than a little sleep or any electronic device would have (the ride went by very fast). 

Although summer is in full swing, I could connect our three hour journey to my human geography class I took this past year in school. I was able to see the subsistence farming throughout the countryside. I also could see the terrace type of farming that we learned about in class. Another connection I could make was the different economic sectors of Rwanda. In Human Geo, we were taught to identify that African countries are based upon a three tier system- the colonial and traditional Central business districts, the countryside and the market zone, Kigali. The biggest difference from the United States is that there are no suburbs. While driving through the valleys and around the hills, I could easily identify what I learned and how cool was that?! It made me very excited to see something I learned be applied in real life. Another application I made from Rwanda to my class is the different sectors of the economy. In Kigali, the main jobs are of the territory and secondary sectors  like education and retail and manufacturing jobs. But in the countryside, the primary sector can be found with jobs like agriculture/farming. Also, shoutout to Mrs. Brandt for leading such an interesting class! Once we reached Lake Kivu, where we are staying overlooks, I quickly realized why it is considered one of the cleanest lakes in Africa. You can see right to the bottom of the lake, even when you are looking at it from the top of the hills. 

After singing songs, observing connections and differences between both Kigali and the countryside as well as the United States and Rwanda, we settled down in the Catholic house we will be residing in the next few days by Serge giving us more insight to the refugee camp as well as sharing with us the story of his life. We all tried delicious tree tomatoes, which we decided are a cross between kiwi and tomato, debriefed and headed off to bed. It was an full, focused, beautiful, and exciting day! 

Claire "bravely" holds a Gecko

No Words Or Title Can Accurately Describe This

By Isaac Miller 

Isaac contemplates his next move while the truck is loaded.
Today we worked at the bakery until about eleven, went home to change, then went out to lunch for Serge’s birthday. But the best part of the day was the four hours that followed, as we drove in a very tightly packed coaster bus (a bus capable of holding 23 people rather than our normal 17) to a refugee camp near Lake Kivu. 

At first on the drive we saw all the things we’ve seen this week when we’ve driven around Kigali. The very square, colorful, concrete shops and homes, the people walking place to place on the sidewalks and the moto-taxi’s that dart in and out of traffic. The scenery that came after all of that was what took the cake today. The rolling hills, the nature, the perfectly randomly placed houses on the edges of cliffs - they all just really encompassed the beauty that you can find in Rwanda.  And let me just say that there is a reason Rwanda is called the Land of a Thousand Hills. 

The day was cloudy and slightly foggy so the hills upon hills in the distance looked like any painting of a Chinese landscape you see an elementary school child bring home. Each hill getting smaller and a darker bluish grey as they go further back. 

About half way through the ride, we stopped so that the people who needed it could have their necessary nature pee’s, while the rest of us walked onto a two way bridge about thirty or forty feet above a river. It was a great opportunity for photos that you could actually take while standing still (instead of nested of on a bus driving down bumpy winding roads). 

If you looked down next to the river you saw a field where a group of maybe ten Rwandan kids were sprinting bare footed up the hill to come meet us at the end of the bridge. Me, Doug, Serge, Ryan, and Kyle were the first ones over and they immediately waved but were very shy. Serge translated for us but the only english they seemed to know was how to tell us their ages. We said goodbye and left. After a little more driving we saw the first finger of Lake Kivu. We drove up to our guest house which looks over the lake on all three sides. No matter where you look it’s just a breathtaking view. I’m looking forward to the next few days here at the house and the time we spend at the refugee camp will be just as amazing. 

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Happy Birthday!

Special message to Mama Janss:

HAPPY BIRTHDAY MOM!!!! I love you and hope you are enjoying your 28th birthday!  Thanks for everything you do to support our team as we are here in Rwanda. 


P.S. Today is also Serge's birthday!  I was thinking of you when we were singing. I told him you shared birthdays and he asked how you are doing.

P.P.S. The rest of the team loves you and wishes you a happy birthday too, of course. 

Editor's Note

Today we head off to Kibuye and to the Kiziba refugee camp. We will continue to write posts, but may not have immediate access to the internet to post them. We will return to Kigali late Friday night. We will do our best, but the earliest you hear from us may be Saturday.

To prepare yourself, consider reading some old posts:

Stained glass in the Kigali Genocide Museum

Another Day to Remember

by Ryan Coleman
This morning was a great one as I woke up refreshed and ready to start the day. I had a hearty breakfast and then had a pretty fantastic devotion about starting something new, as I was planning on beginning to work in the refugee camp today. This was not actually the case as all were doing is driving there and not actually working but it was still a pretty good devo. We then took a trip back to J Lynn’s for the third straight day as we are doing more work in clearing land for a playground.  Yes, we did continue to use machetes but don’t worry, we used them safely. 

Part of our work consisted of removing the stumps of the banana trees, and picking up trash. Most of the day however was put into removing the giant pile of chopped down trees, sticks, and an incredible amount of leaves and other brush that had piled up from yesterday. We placed all of this into one pickup truck and I was truly amazed on how much the truck can hold. It was really a sight to behold the amount that was in there even though I thought about half of it would suffice. Once we concluded our work at J Lynn’s we came back to the guest house and now are currently getting ready for our 3-4 hour drive to the Kiziba refugee camp. This was an incredible day and I can’t wait for what is in store for tomorrow. 

Train Your Children Well

Andy helps the team clear banana trees
by Andy Waters

In Poverbs 22.6 we are told to Train our children the right way and when old they will not stray. Also in Proverbs it tells us To do righteousness and justice is more acceptable to the Lord than sacrifice. Poverbs is filled with so many instructions that tell us the direct way to live our lives; a kind of user manual. As a parent I wondered if I was teaching my children the right way. I wondered if they would carry out, in a loving, humble way, God’s justice of fairness to all people. Not the justice that puts people down or imprisons them in oppression, poverty or loneliness. I worried what impact other adults had on my child. Did they have good friends? Would they stray? You way be wondering too as a parent, relative or friend of a young person on this trip.

You have read some wonderful stories of what these 13 young people have experienced and their inner thoughts. There will be many more stories shared on this blog but even more to be told when they return. These stories will be bring joy, questions, desire for change and tears. We are experiencing things we could never imagine. We are listening to people share their history, acts of forgiveness, fears and hopes. We are  being shaped by these experiences. 

I am humbled, enriched and honored to be with all 13 young people. I give thanks to all you parents, teachers, youth directors, uncles, aunts, pastors, grand parents, neighbors, friends and others who have guided these 13 kids. I give thanks for the prayers from the people in the pews, South Africa, Vermont, Wisconsin, New Jersey, Indiana and every corner of this world. I give thanks for every dollar given, every note written,  every car ride made, and every football provided. (You know they call it football here.) I sleep well tonight knowing God has 13 wonderful kids in Rwanda. You need not wonder any more. These are wonderful people who have been trained so well!

Well done good and faithful servants.