June 22, 2008

The rain that falls

The rain that falls, may it fall again. So the saying goes in Rwanda. In Texas it might be: Yall come back now, ya hear? Right now I am sitting on the last airplane I want to even see for a long time. I have been on the go for 27 hours and have another 2 before I get into San Antonio.

As you can imagine, I am more than a little bit tired and raw. You will excuse me if I lose a little grammar and/or flow. To be sure, I am not even certain I have a purpose in composing this post.

I was just looking at my pictures from the trip. Once again, I got far too few. I always regret not having taken more while I was there, but when I am in the moment the last thing I want to do is remove myself from living that second by retreating behind my camera.

This trip was tough. By far, the toughest experience for me yet. Obviously the most disappointing part is not having the rest of the team make it over. That really crushed my spirits. I was so looking forward to having everyone. Because Van & Debbie didn’t make it, I am still without significant ability show you the incredible story of redemption playing out in that small nation. Add to that I got really quite sick for a couple of days. I also was with some good, but human people struggling to be Godly everyday – sometimes succeeding, sometimes not. There were points this year when I wondered if this would be my last trip to Rwanda for a while. I don’t know what the future holds, but God is good and before I flew out of Kigali I knew I would never leave Africa, not really.

After my first trip to Rwanda, I distinctly remember telling people that the nation reminded me of a newborn fawn trying to find her legs. You watch with anticipation knowing that it is equally likely that the newborn will collapse as gain its balance. In just a few short years, Rwanda has found her legs. They are building bridges – not just over rivers, but between their past and their future. This is a country who faces new national challenges every day. Filling one need inevitably reveals two unexpected new ones. Yet, this little nation sits as an example of what is possible to its neighbors: Kenya, Congo, Uganda, Chad, etc. (to say nothing of Zimbabwe).

Real change takes commitment. It takes good people willing to sacrifice themselves for the sake of others. It means expecting Christ and His Church to be leaders in shaping the future of the country. (I don’t mean participating in politics really. I mean actually being the center of community life and everything that entails.) It takes men like Nathan Amooti sharing his laughter when it’s a choice between that and crying. It takes women like Jan organizing widows and leading the way toward reconciliation. It takes saints like Emmanuel Kolini exerting his own personal holiness as a covering for the people. It takes survivors like Harriet seeing the worst the devil can dish out and still choosing to see love people in a way that envelopes your whole being.

I don’t know if I will blog anymore about this trip. I find that once I get home it takes me several months before I can share my experiences. That being said, I will put up some pictures on the blog once I am at a high speed location!

Finally, I ask you to keep praying for the saints in Rwanda: Nathan, the Mango Tree Church congregation, Amy, Tiffany, Harriet, Archbishop, the kids in Hope Village and all the others who love us and are loving their people so well.

June 21, 2008

Coming Home

Today is a sad day. It always happens this way. The end of the journey comes and I find that I am just not ready. I am wheels up on Saturday around 1 p.m. Central Standard Time (8 pm here). I will land in San Antonio on Sunday night at 8 p.m. Yes, that is 31 hours of traveling – assuming no delays! Pray for me and my long legs, kiddos! I love you all and will look forward to being with you soon. Blessings from Kigali. Muramukeho.

Hope Village

Amy, Tiffany, and I went out to the Hope Village in Kabuga today. It is one of the child-headed villages supported by the Church here. It has been such a successful model that now the government is building some of their own to house the orphans of the genocide.

The child headed villages were started by the Anglican Church here in Rwanda following the genocide. The children needed a safe place to be stored away and a place to grow and learn. So, the Church took the surviving members of families and placed the children in their own small homes. The oldest child was in charge of the house, though the title for the house was put in the name of the youngest child (to ensure they would all reach adulthood with a roof over their head!). In addition, they were given a small plot of land next to their house to grow crops. This was as much vocational training as it was sustenance. It would have been a disservice to put these kids in an urban orphanage when their people had always been growers. In fact, 80% of the country is rural/agricultural.

Once again we were greeted with great joy from the young people. They showed us around their village – pointing out additions and updates. I noted with interest that they are completing another house, have added water catching devises to their homes, have a large cistern for each house, and the head “man” (he’s really still a youth), Claude, now owns his own cow! The kids have big plans for their village too. They would like to build a chapel for worship that can double as a meeting hall and community center for their village. They would like to add a water well so that in the dry season they don’t have to walk 2 miles for clean water. The diocese would like to add a counseling program for them as well to help them begin to unpack and process the events that stripped them of their homes and families.

We were taken to a house that I have mentioned before – so burned into my spirit that I shall never forget it. Inside, the only wall hanging is a beautiful family all dressed in white. Dad, Mom (who is clearly pregnant), and 9 children are all clothed in white. Even the smallest children are standing straight and looking quite smart. A black ball point pen has marred this black and white photograph. Across the chest of Dad, Mom, and 8 of the children is a + (including the infant in Mom’s arms). The second youngest child and the baby in Mom’s belly are the only two without the +. They are the residents of this house. Together, they have pruned their garden into the words, “God is Good.” In the face of such loss, I suppose it is good to remind yourself everyday you walk out of your house.

Anyway, we were out there because Amy and Tiffany came up with such a great idea. Many of the kids are now in secondary school or have completed secondary school, but have no where else to go – no other opportunities to explore. So, they have worked with the Diocese Administration to create a form for the kids to fill out indicating what they would like to do next: finish secondary school, go to a trade school or even to university.

The girls goal is to start with 10 of the kids and have them fill out these sponsorship forms and take each of their pictures. Then, try to find folks who might sponsor these survivors in school. I am very hopeful of their success. Most of the sponsorships will be around $600 U.S. per year. Can you imagine? $6,000 U.S. to send all these kids through vocational school and/or university! Like the girls, I think it can be done. Claude, the village head man, filled out the first form with us and will give instructions to all the others to get them filled out. The girls will go back on Tuesday to collect them and take their pictures. I know you will join me in praying for their success.

Choose to Shine

“Choose to shine.” That is the slogan for the Star School, founded and built by none other than our own favorite son, Nathan Amooti!

One year ago, Nathan walked me up and down a very steep and overgrown hillside. He pointed to bushes and clumps of grass and banana trees. Each was a marker in his mind’s eye for the ideal spot for a classroom, dormitory, or other school building. Nathan is the product of education. He studied hard and worked for all his education. He began life as a simple cattle keeper who now has a master’s degree from an American Seminary. He has built a number of schools for and with the Anglican Church.

Nathan shared his lifelong dream of opening a Rwandan school for excellence. It would be educationally rigorous and open to children of all income levels. He wanted a school that would give poor cattle keepers the same boost through life he received – regardless of their ability to pay. He told me that he wanted to put a rocking chair on the porch of the school building so that when he retired he could be surrounded by children in his old age.

We returned this year to the Star School site. Where only plants grew out of the hillside one year ago, now buildings have sprung from the ground. Nathan has raised funds and built a classroom block (with 5 classrooms) and the attendant bathroom buildings. He has now almost completed separate boys and girls dormitories that will hold 500 children when complete. Let me tell you, I have seen a number of building go up in Rwanda. Never have I seen work happen so quickly! And so much has been built with so little. What makes it more amazing is how much has been done in the face of massive inflation here. For example, when he priced his drawings a bag of concrete was 7,500 frw ($15) and is now 12,000 frw ($25).

Soon Nathan will complete the dorms and be ready to build a cafeteria. His future plans include buying out the land next to him (currently owned by the Muslims – how heartbreaking to consider a possible madras being built next door to the Star School), building a primary school on those lands, and installing soccer and volleyball fields between the two schools. Oh, yeah: and a porch with a rocking chair, but he has a few decades left before that is absolutely necessary!

I don’t know when my friend will be able to finish building his dream, but I believe in him and his ability to raise the funds necessary to continue. I met the children of the Star School and their teachers. I have spoken with the headmistress. Most importantly, I have prayed on those lands with the school’s founder. I have no doubt God will bring all His good works to completion for his servant.

June 19, 2008


I will be working on a few more posts, but I am not sure when they will be posted. Shannon and Emily left tonight to head home (please pray for their travel), so I am moving out of the hotel in the morning to save some money! I am moving into the Guest House at the diocese compound where Amy and Tiffany (our awesome diocese interns) have been staying for the last month.

In other news, I am feeling much better so thank you for your prayers. Also, Harriet is home where we visited her today. She is feeling better. Shannon is bringing her CT scan home for our stateside doc friends to take a look at. Harriet will be in San Antonio soon as she has been given a student visa and will start classes at SAC this fall!

Hook em Horns

We spent Monday with a group of folks from the University of Texas at Austin. As you know, UT has one of (if not THE finest) library systems in the world. All burnt orange pride aside; it really is an internationally recognized system.

A foundation has selected them to get a grant to help create a national archive here in Rwanda, especially documenting and recording the events of 1994. They are working with the group that founded and runs the various memorials here in Rwanda.

After a quick lunch with their group, we headed out to show them some of the country. We took them to two different memorials, both of which were once churches. The first church we visited was the site of 5000 deaths. The second saw between 10-25,000. Inside both churches are bone shelves where thousands of bodies are stored. All you want to do is look away. It is difficult to allow your eyes to run over each skull and see the fractures that were caused by violent and angry men. In the second church we were shown the still blood stained walls where infants were killed by beating them against the wall. All you want to do is look away.

All you want to do is look away. But if we do, if we look away, did it happen? If we look away, can it happen again?

I think this project the Longhorns are doing is very important. Maybe it will help the world not look away so often.

he sang into the grave

A few days ago, we were honored to spend an afternoon with Archbishop Kolini. He is the head of the Rwandan Anglican Church (along with some Episcopal Churches in America who left U.S. control following their ordination of a homosexual bishop). Archbishop (or “Arch” as we affectionately call him!) is an extraordinary man. I have written and spoken of him before.

Arch drove us out to Bugesera to check in on a couple of really wonderful projects. Bugesera is now about a 25 minute drive from Kigali. The first time I went to Bugesera (2006) it was a 2 ½ hour drive. The government has really been investing in building good roads to connect the country, I tell you. They even have a new bridge that goes over the “Nile” that separates the Kigali and Bugesera provinces. (It’s not really the Nile, though it may be a tributary of the Nile. Like most central African countries, Rwanda claims to be the source of the Nile. Even the Arch calls it the Nile, saying: “It takes a lot of Rwandan soil to feed the Egyptians.”) I was really happy to see the new bridge because the old one may have been more dangerous than going to see the gorillas! As we were crossing the bridge, Arch said to me, “Ryan, during the genocide many of our people hid there in the swamps for several months. Eight of our children were born there.”

One of the real success stories in Bugesera is the Mother’s Union. It was formed by a woman in the diocese who lost her husband in the genocide. Like many women, she needed a way to find a way forward with life. This included a need for income, opportunity for children, emotional support, spiritual nurturing, and forgiveness in her heart.

The first Mother’s Union was formed there in Bugesera as women came together to meet and pray. They got a small grant and expanded their fellowship to include making soap. The business took off and they then opened a commissary. They expanded that by carrying trays amongst the people after weddings and church. They got a grant to buy a car to carry their soap to further areas. This time, we arrived to see their massive hall they are building. Really, it is quite something to see. They have build it to hold almost 1000 people. They will host weddings and big groups. The hall is having the floor installed now and with a little more money and work, it will be done. Bugesera is the site of a new international airport (which will be built when the government finds a way to fund it!). Because of the new road and new airport, these women are well situated.

Perhaps the greatest success has been in the area of reconciliation. Women are working, living, and praying side by side with one another. This includes women who lost their husband in the genocide and those women whose husbands are in prison for participating in the genocide. It has taken time, but God has worked among them. They are now focused on replicating the groups in Bugesera and around the country. They have over 750 groups now operating!

As we were walking past the church in the diocese compound next to the new women's hall, Arch turned and addressed me. During the genocide, the interhamwe came here because the pastor had been reported to be a "cockroach." They demanded that our pastor call his people to the church so that they could be killed. The pastor refused so they decided to drown him in the Nile. When they got to the riverside, the pastor asked for a moment to pray. His captors stopped and listened as the pastor prayed his prayers and concluded by asking for God to forgive his murderers. With that, they led the pastor into the water as he sang hymns to God. He sang into his grave.

June 18, 2008


Sorry for the delay in posting. To be honest, I was very sick yesterday. I spent the whole day cocooned under my blankets. I didn't want to post until I felt better so that my folks wouldn't worry quite so much!

I managed to get out of bed today some and get out just a bit. I am back on solid food - and so far, so good! I have a couple other posts that I am working on, but am going to have to wait as I am pretty beat and headed back to bed. Tomorrow we are headed out to a school and I am really excited to see it. I was at the sight where Nathan has built his school last year and it was just an overgrown field. Now over 70 students are learning in brand new facilities!

Also, pray for our friend Harriet. She had to go to the hospital today. She is just getting out tonight. She is going to be fine, but I know she will appreciate all of your prayers.

June 16, 2008


I woke up this morning at 1:30 a.m. I was really surprised because I had been sleeping really well – almost too well! Once up, I tossed and turned for about an hour and a half. My mind was heavy Van, Debbie, Mary, Walt, and Melendy. They were en route to us. I was just really troubled.

I thought it must just be my spirit being disturbed by the places we visited today. I fell into one of those very fitful sleeps around 3:00, I think. At 3:30 a.m. the phone rang. I sat up in bed and I was covered in sweat. It was my friend, Van calling from New York. Because of delays they had missed their connections to make it to us in Rwanda. (I said, “Well, that explains it” over the phone confusing Van, I think, but meaning why I was bathed in sweat and having trouble sleeping).

The best the airlines could do was get them here on Thursday night. We are scheduled to leave on Saturday. It just didn’t make any sense for them to travel Monday – Thursday, then be here a day and half and travel for two more days heading home. So, I sent them back to San Antonio. We will have to try for them again later in the year. I still need to talk this over with Shannon and Emily when they get up in the morning, but I am pretty sure I made the right call.

Needless to say, I am devastated. I just feel like crying. All the people coming are such good friends of mine. We have all been looking forward to this time together so much. Plus, the Williams were going to be recording a number of our projects here so that we could really tell the story of God’s work through the church to all of you at home.

Will you all please join me in prayer? Pray for those who are traveling with heavy hearts back to San Antonio tonight. Pray for us here in Rwanda. Pray that the Lord will work ultimate good from the mess the Enemy creates.

It’s now 4 a.m., all is not well, but the Lord promises that joy cometh in the morning, so I am off to bed again.

Church of the Blessed Mango Trees

Sunday morning I was invited to preach at the Mango Tree Church. It was named that by my friend, Nathan who is the pastor of the church. It is actually a church plant of Nathan’s other church in Gikundo. As the head man, it was Nathan’s responsibility to start the new parish.

When I first visited there, Nathan showed me three mango trees that grew near one another and cast shade onto the ground. There was a small patch of bare dirt where, “The choir stood.” Before my sermon began, I told the congregation that I could tell they were doing a good job because last year, only a small patch of dirt showed through the grass where people were standing and dancing. Now, the whole hillside is stripped of grass because of the great number of people worship God there.

Nathan explained who I was and that I was the man he had visited in the U.S. He told them about all of you, my church and how you gave a collection for the people of the Mango Tree Church. They were so very excited. Later Nathan told me that his people were all very surprised because when he had told them about our church, they assumed that I must be an old bald man to have such a fine congregation!On your behalf, I received their thanks which included a song, a dance, and a great shout to the Lord! They were very encouraged – the mango trees have served them well, but it is time to put up a proper roof!

They will use the funds you gave them to build what is essentially a pavilion. They will put in a concrete floor under it. This will serve them until money can be raised to put up proper walls.

Nathan said, “our weekly collection is about 1,590 frw (which is $3 U.S.), so you can imagine how long it would have taken us to build the church if it wasn’t for your people.”

And what a church he is building. The congregation I addressed was about 100 people strong and 70 of them were children! We heard from three different choirs. The first were the pros. They had come over from the mother church. The next was a group of brand new Christians – they had just been baptized. The third choir was a newly formed youth choir – also of new Christians.

I only made one mistake (I think!) and that is I forgot my camera. I was so focused on the preaching I just didn’t think about it. It really is unfortunate, because I would have liked to have shown you pictures of the people you have partnered with in planting a new church! Perhaps some of you will just have to come over here for worship and see for yourselves!

June 15, 2008

never say never to a praying man

So, Shannon and I are sitting on the airplane in Dallas. If you are playing along, you will remember that this is the flight that was massively delayed. We weren’t really sure that we would have enough time to get on the plane and make it up to Chicago to make our European connection.

We are watching the clock turn as the people are loaded aboard. The pilot makes the announcement that always makes me laugh. He says, “If you all will help us get underway by quickly storing all your bags and stepping out of the aisle, that would be great. We are in a bit of a hurry to get going.” He says this to a group of people who have been waiting over 2 hours to get on the plane! It seems like I hear that on every plane these days. We are running late, so if you could just rush aboard . . .

Everyone was finally loaded up, but the door still wasn’t closing. Shannon pulled the steward over and asked how much longer we might be here. He looked around in a conspiratorial way and said that he shouldn’t be telling us, but . . .

There is a mechanical problem with the plane that will probably take at least an hour to sort out and get clearance to depart. When we told him that we were tight on time and would miss our connection to Rwanda, he consulted with the captain for us. We were advised to get off the plane and head back to San Antonio and try again on Monday (The next time our itinerary would be available into Kigali). Shan and I were not sure what to do, so we prayed. Just as we were trying to figure out what to do, the plane door slammed shut and the pilot announced the problem was solved and we were taking off. Moreover, flight conditions were very favorable and we would make excellent time in the air!

Well, let me tell you, we prayed ourselves (and our bags!) right on into Rwanda. I really do think that the Lord is on our side and is listening to the saints plead on our behalf! Keep it up sweet church.

Happy Father's Day

Before blogging any further, I need to pause to say, “Happy Father’s Day.” For some reason, my email isn’t functioning and I have never learned how to make an international call. So, this public forum will have to do!

Happy Father’s Day Mike! I love you very much and it was good to be with you last week at my ordination. Pastor Nathan sends you his best! See you soon.

Jet lagged, but here

Well, we made it out of Dallas and from there it was close all the way into Rwanda. But, we made it by the grace of God and the effectiveness of your prayers. Even more remarkable – all our bags made it with us!

So, we got into the hotel last night, had a nice dinner with some friends and got off to bed. I woke up a little late this morning (oh, my, gosh), but made it to the Mango Tree Church in time with my brother, Pastor Nathan. We enjoyed our worship under those Mango trees.

They raised up quite a shout of thanksgiving to God and to you my sweet church when they discovered you had contributed all the money they needed to put up a roof for their church! They sang and danced all the while rejoicing for God's provision delivered through you.

I will write more soon, but we are on our way back out. I did at least want you to know that we have arrived, are safe, and are truly blessed.

Church, you are in my prayers as you get ready for Sunday worship!

June 13, 2008

Pray, pray

Ok, blog fans. We need your prayers already! Weather and heavy traffic in Chicago have delayed our flight from Dallas to Chi-town. It is going to be close to make it to our Brussels flight. We need two very important things. 1) That we make our Chicago-Brussels connection. 2) That our bags make it with us! (I will be embarrassed to have to preach to Nathans church in what I am wearing for my 35+ hours of travel!)

So, pray, pray. From DFW, signing out!

June 12, 2008

Rwanda 2008

Tomorrow morning I will once again get on a plane to make the incredible (and incredibly long!) journey to central Africa. Specifically, I will leave San Antonio on Friday morning and arrive in Kigali late Saturday night. My flight plans will take me from S.A. to Dallas to Chicago to Brussels to Kigali International Airport. I know when we arrive a number of our dear friends will be there at the airport waiting to greet us and whisk us off to our hotel.

Shannon and our friend Emily will be going a few days early so that we can sit down and speak at length with our friends and touch base on how things are going for them. I cannot stress how eager we are to share in all the good work these saints are doing for Christ.

On Tuesday the rest of our team will arrive. Van, Debbie, Mary, Melendy, and Walt will join Shan, Em, and I (along with Amy and Tiffany who are already in Rwanda where they are in the middle of their 6 week internship in the Kigali diocese).

It is my intent to post a blog or two each day we are there, but remember it is an 8 hour time difference. Also, no one (read: “mom”) should panic if for some reason there are no posts. It is still a developing nation and you are never guaranteed the instant internet access I have become accustomed to!

I encourage you all to pray for us each day as we seek the Lord’s face and favor.

June 1, 2008

live better

It seems like every time I am away somewhere, I find myself thinking about what it would be like to live there.

So, here I am on Oahu thinking about buying a little restaurant, living in a shack, marrying a hula-girl (you should have seen them dancing at the luau!!!), laying about in the sun, and soaking up the islands for the next 40 years. This fantasy typically starts with me growing a church, but quickly changes to a non-ministry vocation. After all, it is my fantasy and dreaming about doing more of the same isn’t much of an escape. In my imagination, I am able to be perfectly content sitting on a porch all day whiling away the hours. And I have no doubt that I would be content – for about 3 months, maybe less.

The attractive part of all this certainly has something to do with the location. Oahu is gorgeous, Rwanda is breathtaking, Salida is a gas, but even these places where I have dreamed of living would lose their allure if I lived there the way I live at home. In the end, it isn’t the location or the vocation – it is the approach to life that makes the grass appear greener.

If I am honest, the very happiest I have been in my entire life was a summer spent preaching camp after camp. I got up every morning to share devotional thoughts with the campers. I worked out, ran until I dropped, laid in the sun, swam for an hour, took a nap, and finally worked on my sermon a little before dinner. Each night I would preach for an hour or so. By the end of summer, I was fit, tan, in the Word, and had played a part in making an eternal difference in the lives of the young people who journeyed with us.

I also know that the last four years have brought me more satisfaction and joy than any other period in my life. God made me to preach and lead a church – this much I have discovered and that discovery has brought me a kind of contentment that trumps happiness.

In the end, I don’t want to live somewhere else – even if it is paradise. But I do want to live better at home. I want to live better. I want to slow myself down, to find contentment in conversation, to find the time to just lie in the sun for an hour. I’m really not sure if even these simple goals are actually achievable. It seems that there is always so much to do and so many people expecting so much. Ultimately though, I know I am responsible for living on the ragged edge of brownout and I am equally responsible for finding a way to live better.

I will tell you one thing, I am supremely grateful for my friends Sam and Shan who gave me a gift of this time away with them and to take a deep breath and inhale some much needed rest and the perspective that comes with it.