We were only there to deliver a gift. What we received in return was nothing like I expected.
All three Karisimbi Partner families have always believed in committing the ‘first fruits’ of our labor, which is why it did not seem strange to want to donate a portion of the first company paycheck. It was not a huge amount, but somehow it just felt right to give a tenth of our earnings to an organization that honors those trying to rebuild after the genocide. In particular, we wanted to support an organization that encourages entrepreneurship. We decided on Amani Ava Hejuru, an organization committed to helping marginalized women in Africa find peace with God and one another. They focus on relationship-building while giving the women sewing and marketing skills. Their products represent excellence.
We wanted to buy three beautiful baskets made from fabric scraps. It seemed symbolic –first fruits are gathered in a basket, and our first fruits would support the business of women making baskets.Our donation could buy three baskets with surplus funds for purchasing a quilting machine that would allow them to produce more products. I communicated with Grace, the Managing Director, and was invited to their workplace.Upon arrival, their workshop appeared to be a small garage converted into a space for eleven sewing machines. Greg and Kristen Urquhart came as well (we have all since decided that the next time we present such a gift, we must all be present). We said some brief remarks and went to leave. Beata, who manages the store, asked if she could sing us a song. The drumbeats started. Her beautiful voice rang out. The others joined in. Hands began to raise and bodies began to sway. Three of the women began to dance the traditional Ingonza dance. Translated from Kinyarwanda, the following words filled that small space with such joy it moved me to tears. “Your husband cannot give you peace, your neighbor cannot give you peace, your friends cannot give you peace, your job cannot give you peace….only Jesus can give you peace.” In a way, this is a Christmas message… one that they sing and feel all year long.
These are words sung by women who lost their husbands during the genocide in horrific ways – often at the hands of their neighbors. They know what can and cannot give you peace. Where we thought our gift was small, to them it was another way Jesus was showing his love to them. And they celebrated that recognition through song and dance, completely uninhibited. I felt I was standing on holy ground. My three-year-old daughter, Anna, was hugging my leg as she listened. I said a silent prayer that she would remember this and someday be able to receive the gifts in her life with the joy and peace these women embodied.
We have the privilege of access – access to education, resources, networks. With this privilege comes responsibility. These women have received the gift of life – a second chance. Rwanda has received the gift of a second chance. We have the privilege to serve with what we hold in our hands. We also have the privilege to receive what this country extends to us.