i heard the bells.


With my parents and sister here for a blazingly short week around christmas, we had the opportunity to visit again kiziba refugee camp. i am there at least once a month meeting with the jcm team, planning, dreaming, chatting, laughing, singing, sighing at the world in which we live, hoping. i find myself bringing many people out to visit kiziba, meet our friends there, hear about life and see it, and dream a little with us. these trips have infected the participants. some have already been excitedly sharing about the experience back in the states. one trip triggered a fund raising effort in australia that is soon to support students through secondary school and supply the textbooks they will need. we have had people visit kiziba and walk away amazed at the potential and the passion in the people there, inspired themselves in what is possible in dark places. these refugees were once professors and educators, engineers, sports players, anything and everything. and we are walking alongside those who are actively trying to revolutionize their world. there is a brewing energy that can and is bursting into something new and awesome every time we visit. and as henry said, ‘development has to start in friendship.’ and in the words of one visitor, ‘we thought we’d just meet refugees.’ but instead they met real people with vision and passion and hope.

the week before my family arrived i was in kiziba discussing the end of the year and the beginning of a new one. we assessed the good and the bad of 2014. grodya, henry, oscar, mupenzi, jeanine, johnson, and i shared chairs and crammed into the tiny jcm office. i asked questions, they talked, and my pen was a blur, scribbling copious notes. they shared frustrations and hopes.

all in all it was a good year. the library was officially opened and is being used; english classes are ever-expanding; tournaments were held, keeping kids active during school holidays; seven different groups of visitors opened possibilities for advocacy and wider knowledge of refugee issues; a new member was added to jcm to help develop music teaching/ministry. i heard about a boy named israel who spends a lot of time now reading at the library, which his parents love as they no longer worry about his whereabouts and who he is with. the assistant librarians smiled when telling of the line of kids waiting everyday for morning english classes to finish so they can read. they told me about the joy of parents whose children participate in the sports activities and for prizes receive shoes they could not normally afford. one young man told of coming to the library nearly everyday; in little bits and pieces he has read the entire chronicles of narnia and many other books. we discussed the reason behind visitors and how the visits open the minds of both the refugees and those visiting.

these are all great things, but it is not enough. in grodya’s words, ‘i can’t say i’m satisfied.’ girls in the library are few, the one english teacher is overworked, the sports tournaments can be causes of divisive bickering, we are trying to sensitize the culture to the idea of girls learning as well as boys, and it is simply difficult to reach and educate so many people.  the next phase of the meeting was planning and examining how we can improve and bring more people to the library, to learning, to Christ. grodya estimates a good five years before the library is fully utilized. i jotted down as many direct quotes as i could from he and henry.

‘i will be satisfied when i see…people realizing the value of this library in the camp.’

‘we are here to fight against the darkness.’

‘we cannot give up.’

‘[by bringing western visitors to the camp] kiziba can be a laboratory or experiment that can discredit discrimination around the world.’

‘without God’s power, God’s Spirit, we can’t achieve any goals in this camp. we need God.’

this last quote is true for anything we do through international teams or anywhere else.

‘and in despair I bowed my head. ‘there is no peace on earth,’ i said. for hate is strong and mocks the song of peace on earth, good will towards men. then pealed the bells more loud and deep: ‘God is not dead nor does he sleep. The wrong will fail and the right prevail with peace on earth, good will to men.’

the above is a line from my new favorite christmas song. i go regularly from despair to feeling all the stronger a swelling hope. i see examples of all the destruction and promise of mankind all around me. but i am continually encouraged in my worst moments by these refugee friends of mine. when hope feels hard to come by they speak as if hope is something that grows on trees abundant. their old lives have been shattered and they know despair and yet they look ever forward to a better future. as henry says, ‘tomorrow is good for us.’ it is another day to live and hope. and on this note we begin 2015.

as to the rest of what happened in 2014, here’s the recap:

at j.lynn’s we continued employing over twenty economically vulnerable women, planned for expanded financial and business training, and hosting cooking classes. there were praise and prayer meetings several times a week, and this year we’re planning for the women to begin leading them. we had a very busy holiday season, making many cakes and holiday treats, and enjoyed a little holiday party at the end of the year with fanta and cake.

the playground project is moving along, despite the demanding bustle of a dozen other pressing projects. the lot has been cleared and flattened – completed changed from the contoured mini-jungle it was – and grass is growing. we are all set to buy materials and we to kicked off construction with our illinoisan friends last week.

convenient and welcoming seating at j.lynn’s is expanding with one gazebo completed and another fully functional, but just waiting for the finishing touches. we expanded the patio along the side of the building to accommodate excellent new furniture.

i have been helping lead worship at two different churches. one is a project of itrw and one is the english service at an anglican church. i am teaching a leader of the former church how to play guitar and i imagine in a few good months of practicing he could be ready to lead the services.

and as always, international teams rwanda is committed to supporting youth who formerly lived on the streets through their secondary education, with money for food and necessities, while providing opportunities for spiritual and community growth.

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