To Know Him is to Know Peace

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.

-Jennifer Jukanovich

Address Common Needs – Hold Things in Common

As we have begun to find more opportunities to venture further outside Kigali and into rural Rwanda, our appreciation for the beauty of this place and its people has grown immensely.Apart from the heart of Africa, it is hard to imagine where in the world you might see so many tall green hills covered with cultivated crops and smiling people.

Today in Rwanda you can see a collective sense that “we are all in this together”. Despite the tragedies in this country’s past, and the struggles it currently faces, I am continually struck by what I see as simple indications of mutual affection and solidarity toward a brighter future. These indicators are probably poignant to me since the California culture I moved from was rarely characterized by: a) needs that were so commonly shared or desperately practical, b) willingness to share things I can rightfully claim as “mine”.

 

I regret I never get my camera out in time to show you these pictures, but some of the most colorful illustrations of what I’m talking about include:

– A community soccer ball (pictured here), one of five I brought from the states, that the children in my neighborhood use about 4 hours every day on the dirt road in front of my house.Children collect it from the guard when they wish to use it and return it when they are done.

– A group of seven school children running, laughing and attempting to share one umbrella during a sudden afternoon downpour on the way home from school

– A family of four sharing one moped

– Two boys speeding down a paved road… each with a roller blade on one foot (one right, one left, as they apparently only had one set to share)

The other day, a new Rwandan friend of mine named Shami was driving downtown and called for the attention of what seemed a random passer-by.A short, scruffy-looking man immediately came to the moving car, and Shami smiled, said a few words, and handed him money as we continued on our way.I had to ask what had just happened.Shami told me that the man was a thief he knew… and while he doesn’t condone the man’s occupation (thievery), he pities the man’s condition and makes a habit to pay him now and then so he is able to buy a bit of food.Apparently, on more than one occasion, Shami has been grateful for this man’s friendship.Shami’s car has never been broken into when parked in this part of the city, and when Shami has needed to get information on certain matters (e.g. when friend’s belongings have gone missing), this man has been a valuable informant.

It never before dawned on me that I should make a habit of paying a thief…but then, I’m still new here, and I’m not accustomed to relying so heavily on my neighbors as they do so well in Rwanda.

Onward & Upward,
-Carter