August 1 – Accountability

1 Corinthians 16; 2 Kings 12-13; Micah 3

Jehoiada raised Jehoash to follow the Lord. As part of that love, Jehoash wanted the Temple of the Lord to reflect the Glory of God. It had been a few years since it had been built and things were beginning to look shabby, so Jehoash told the priests to take the money coming in and repair the Temple. When it wasn’t done, Jehoash read the priests, including Jehoida the riot act. “So King Jehoash called Jehoiada the priest and the other priests, and said to them, ‘Why have you not repaired the damages of the temple? Now therefore, do not take more money from your constituency, but deliver it for repairing the damages of the temple.’” (2 Kings 12:7) Jehoiada must have accepted this rebuke with mixed emotions. On the one hand, he was probably ashamed over his inaction. On the other hand, the little boy he had raised and taught was showing that his teaching had been effective. The whole story deals with accountability, though. The priests, who should have been the most excited about the idea of refurbishing the Temple fell down on the job and Jehoash had to hold them accountable for their lack of action. As the work went on in the Temple though it was said of those working that no accounting was required of the workmen for they “dealt faithfully” with God’s money. Accountability is an important process. If we don’t deal faithfully, then accountability has to come from an outside source. At the same time, if our lives reflect integrity, honesty, and faithfulness, then most people are satisfied with our accountability. To paraphrase John Wooden, if you show accountability in your life, then others won’t have to impose accountability on you.

Lord, how easy it is to cut corners and do things my own way. Help me to live in such a way that my integrity is unquestioned. Let me show my accountability to You in all that I do and let others recognize that as I deal with them. Let my reputation be sterling because of my commitment to You.

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July 31 – Treason!

1 Corinthians 15:35-58; 2 Kings 11; Micah 2

Judah was experiencing dark days. Ahaziah, described as a son-in-law of the House of Ahab was king for only a year when Jehu, acting under God’s command, killed him. Ahaziah’s mother Athaliah decided that she would gain power for herself and killed all the other rightful heirs to the throne of David – or so she thought. Ahaziah’s sister protected Joash who was raised by the priests for 6 years. Then the chief priest, Jehoida, decided it was time to bring out the true heir to the throne of David. Athaliah realized something was up. “Now when Athaliah heard the noise of the escorts and the people, she came to the people in the temple of the Lord. When she looked, there was the king standing by a pillar according to custom; and the leaders and the trumpeters were by the king. All the people of the land were rejoicing and blowing trumpets. So Athaliah tore her clothes and cried out, ‘Treason! Treason!’” (2 Kings 11:13-14)What an interesting response from the usurper queen. No, following God’s plan is never treason. Athaliah had committed murder and treason when she killed the heirs. Restoring the rightful order is never treason. As followers of Christ we run into that same situation when we comment on society. We explain God’s plan and we are accused of being judgmental, we are marginalized, we are seen as “not with it.” While times have changed in many ways, the underlying standards of God have never changed. Obviously, we don’t live in a theocracy where we can look to a high priest to cancel the calls of “Treason!” but we can always commit treason in society by staying true to God’s plan. Let’s be honest – the only way for a Christian to commit treason in God’s eyes is to stop speaking the truth and to stop acting towards others with love and mercy.

Oh Lord, our world turns its back on You every day. You still love each and every person. When others call me out for not conforming to society, for committing treason against the ways of the world let me stay true to Your ways while showing them Your love and grace.

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Rwanda – Day 4

Today was an early wake up day becaus we had to get on the road early,. Kageyo is a long way away! Even though we were serving all of the kids lunch today we made our own lunches. They weren’t sure that we could handle the traditional food cooked in those circumstances. (We had eaten pretty much the same thing last night – but I’m getting ahead of myself) I fixed peanut butter and nutella – maybe my first ever nutella sandwich – and tuna.

Our group was about a third of the whole group. There were two other groups with both being involved in a home visit. One group was the men who worked with the DREAM kids. These kids were living on the streets before Africa New Life Ministries started working with them. The reports are that the kids were well behaved and really enjoyedthe time with our men. When things were over, they didn’t just rush out, they stayed to ask questions and talk with the men. A lot of encouragement and positive ministry happened.

The other group was the ladies. They spent time doing home visits in the homes of ladies taking classes in the Dream Center. Two were from the cosmetology classes and two were from the sewing classes. They talked with each lady and spent time with them in their homes. All of the ladies were excited that someone had come to their homes, spent time with them and showed them God’s love. One came to know Christ during this time and her whole countenance and attitude changed. When they gaver her a Bible in her language, she squealed with delight. The other ladies who already follow Jesus were also excited to get their Bibles.

Paul got to visit his daughter and all the reports were amazing. That being said, I don’t want to say a lot about what these other groups experienced because I wasn’t there. I just wanted to let you know all that was happening. Hopefully some of the others involved will share their experiences here sometime!

Our trip to Kageyo not only was long, the last part of the trip was on unpaved road. Speed was not so important as making sure that axels didn’t break. The scenery was amazing and I saw lots of beautiful birds. (I love bird pics as you may have noted from the cover photo of the blog. Yes, I took that!) As we passed through towns we got quite a few stares from those a little bit older and the younger ones cried out, “Muzungu! Muzungu!” Some asked for money, some asked for empty bottles, some just called out and waved. I wondered as they called out how many realized how much the Muzungu let them downduring the 1994 genocide. Many people say that if the UN Troops had worked to put down the attacks with force, things might have stopped. Instead, they betrayed the Rwandan people often giving help, equipping, and training the guerillas. Still, they seemed excited and kept waving and running after the bus.

Let’s fast forward to Kageyo, because that was the main plan of the day. We rolled into the Kageyo New Life Church. I thought I saw Jesca sitting outside, but my American daughter ran inside because she saw some of the kids there in the church. Her plan was to greet Jesca since she had been with her before and then let Jesca know that she had brought her American parents to meet her. Jesca wasn’t in the church and Liz was disappointed. Lucy and I told her to look outside by the tree. Liz started walking and ran when she saw Jesca. Jesca made a beeline for Liz and didn’t notice us. When she did though, she ran to Lucy. I thought Jesca would squeeze Lucy hard enough to break ribs. Then, after about an hour, or so it seemed, Jesca saw me and hugged me as well. The ribs should heal soon. From that time on Jesca was either holding on to Liz, Lucy or me as much as possible. We had an amazing visit and she is a wonderful young lady. She is graceful. I saw her caring for some of the smaller children during the time that kids were playing outside after lunch.

But before lunch we were able to make a home visit. In addition to a supply of food for the family we gave her a couple of dresses, sandals, a necklace and a compact mirror. She is such a beautiful young lady and we think it’s important for her to feel as beautiful on the outside as she is on the inside. We made other home visits as well, and while none was personally as important as the one with Jesca, there were some amazing visits. On one visit they discovered that the children didn’t have mattresses – at the end of the day we delivered mattresses. While we are at the homes, children from the neighborhood gather around to see what’s happening. Their parents would come along sometimes and we had the opportunity to hand out Bibles and bags of rice. One of the men who walked up saw that the ladies were getting Bibles and asked if he could have one also. It took all of two seconds for us to find one and give it to him. We had what is called a hope visit. When a family waiting for a sponsor for their child Africa New Life makes a special visit called a hope visit. They bring the family some kind of food and pray for their needs. Tina had another friend who gave money for someone here to get a goat. This hope visit was where we brought the goat along with some food. As we prayed, another lady in the group offered to sponsor one of her children. So, this hope visit saw some of the hope fulfilled.

After that we headed for lunch. The children had typical Rwandan food. We had the lunches that we packed. We sat with Jesca and found out that she had never eaten apples. So, after Lucy gave her a small taste of an apple we convinced Liz to get her apple, which she had said she didn’t want, so she could give it to Jesca. After lunch the kids went outside to play and Lucy spent some time talking with some of the staff. One of the things we found out that Jesca helps lead music in the church. We are so proud of her and her love for Jesus. She also thanked Lucy for all of the gifts we had given her by name. One of the exciting things was that she told Lucy that she had written “from my American momma and poppa” in the Bible we had given her. We asked her what she needed or wanted that we could help her with. All she asked us for was a light so that she could study at night when it was dark. Did I tell you that most of the houses don’t have electricty…or running water? She is studying for her national exams that will be given in October. If she passes, as every single one of the staff members assured us she will, she will head to secondary school which is a boarding school.

When it was time to go, we prayed as a family in the church before we left. Then we reluctantly made our way to the bus. Then, they decided that we would give a few of the kids a ride home on the bus and that included Jesca. While we were waiting, she held our hands and told us that she wanted to pray for us. She prayed in Kinyirwandan and while we didn’t understand what she said, we could feel her spirit. Lucy did an amazingly ood job of not crying during departure until after Jesca left. She asked us repeatedly during the visit to come back again. When we explained the cost in her own cultural perspective – 10 cows – she just put her head down as she realized how important she is to us.

We left the first Kageyo location – Kageyo is comprised of Rwandans who had been refugees in Tanzania during some of the persecutions who had been kicked out of Tanzania with nothing but the clothes on their backs. The Rwandan government has provided help to get them resettled but they have had to restart their lives. – and went to a second Kageyo location. We thought we were just supposed to drop off some gifts for a few kids. It turns outwe had another hope visit here. The husband had left the family, married another woman, and had contracted HIV. He returned a while ago and ended up infecting his wife. The family had one child registered for sponsorship and another who needed to be. Both children were sponsored by members of our team. One of the members of our team asked the father if he knew Jesus. He said he did. At that point our interpreter took over and noted in no uncertain terms that she had seen mother, wife and children in church but had never seen him at church. After a while he admitted that he needed Jesus in his life and turned to him. We stressed his responsibility as a father and encouraged and admonished him. This visit truly was a “hope fulfilled” visit.

Tomorrow is the first of two days of chess for a small group and spa days for the women and some of the men. They will treat students at the New Life schools to a facial and massage, manicure and fingernail painting, pedicure and foot washing. In the past, the spa days have been extremely moving. The chess days will be something new. I’m concerned about integrating all the people who will be there into a ministry aspect.

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July 30 – Decision Point

1 Corinthians 15:1-34; 2 Kings 10; Micah 1

Sometimes it seems like the future hinges on one decision. “Do I say ‘yes,’ or do I say ‘no?’” Paul put that type of decision in front of the Corinthians when he talked about the resurrection of Jesus. The resurrection is the turning point in our faith. After listing those people who had seen the risen Christ he then brought up the logical counter-argument that apparently some at Corinth were using: Christ hadn’t risen from the dead. The ramifications of that being true are staggering. Paul put it bluntly. “And if Christ is not risen, then our preaching is empty and your faith is also empty.” (I Corinthians 15:14) To put it in more modern terms, if Christ didn’t rise from the dead, there’s no reason to keep up the charade. He would close down the church and go back to his old Pharisaic ways. The rest of us could go back to our old pagan ways because it wouldn’t make a difference. Today there are some who claim to be followers of Christ but discount the resurrection. They would appear to follow the moral teachings of Jesus, but would deny even the possibility of the resurrection because things don’t happen that way. They may be nice people. You could trust them with anything. They might even be great friends – but by denying the resurrection their message and life rings empty and there is no reason for faith. Again, without the resurrection there is no reason for faith. It is the resurrection of Jesus – the power over death – that changes our relationship with God. If the resurrection didn’t exist, life truly would be utterly meaningless, and without hope. With the resurrection, though we have the joy of a relationship with God. With the truth of the resurrection we have the promise of an eternal home with God. And so the question that must be acted upon: do you believe the resurrection of Jesus or not? Your response will make all the difference.

Lord, remind me of the meaning and power of Your resurrection each and every day. Let me live in the joy of a relationship with You. May my words and my deeds show others the hope that I have in You.

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Rwanda – Day 3

I woke up early and couldn’t go back to sleep so I went into the eating area to work on yesterday’s post about the trip. I’m running a day behind on my writing and was hoping to get caught up. It was so early the coffee wasn’t even made yet. I met Fred as he helped get things ready, though. I had heard the name as someone who was an important part of Africa New Life – and I met him as he was carrying heavy urns of coffee and water for us.

Lucy led the devotional. She did an amazing job of taking the story of Mephibosheth eeting David after his exile due to Absalom and reminding us that just as Mephibosheth had no rights in regard to David, but was treated with grace, we are in the same position with God. Still, He invites us to the King’s table and gives us the privilege of inviting others to the King’s table. Just an aside here, but I am so amazed at the ability and work of my wife. She knows her limits. She’s willing to stretch them and she does everything with high quality and grace.

After that, Lucy, Liz and I went down to the shop at the Africa New Life Ministries center. One of the things the organization does is teach women to sew so that they can make a living. As part of that, they have a shop that makes custom clothes as well as other items – purses, souveneirs, dolls, etc. We each got measured for something, picked out the fabric and then headed for the Daycare. Their website is http://www.newlifethreads.org do check out out!

The Dream Daycare Center began as a dream of one of our teammates, Tina. Tina is Suzette’s sister and realized that either ladies were bringing their infant children in with them during their sewing classes or leaving them at home while they walked to and from their classes. Tina had experience in Daycare work and set out a plan. The plan has been fulfilled and now the Dream Daycare Center cares for 25 kids while their mothers take classes in Sewing or Cosmetology. Reports are that these kids, when they graduate from daycare and go to school are leaders in their school. They sing songs at home about Jesus. They are taught by an amazing group of women that truly deserve the name “Dream Team.”

Then came the trip to Bugusera. While heading there we went over the Akagera river. The  river winds all the way to Lake Victoria. During the time of the 1994 Genocide the river was a dumping area for bodies. The bodies floated ask the way to Lake Victoria. Remember Fred? He lived in Uganda at the time and his job was retrieving bodies that floated all the way to Lake Victoria. Fred is the brother of the founding pastor, Charles. He is an amazing man with a beautiful spirit. He is humble with a servants heart. I could only hope that I have the same gentle spirit if I ever had to feel with anything remotely as horrendous.

In some cases the swamplands around the rivers of Rwanda became hiding places for those the perpetrators of the genocide were seeking. As we traveled we learned that the Hutu majority had shown a pattern of oppression and murder since 1959. In the Bugusera area the persecution had been intense. In one instance a group of Tutsis has been placed in an area where tsetse flies were located. They were left to die slow painful deaths.

Then we arrived at Nyamata. The Nyamata Genocide Memorial is a raw remembrance of man’s inhumanity. The memorial is a church building where people had run to for shelter. Thousands of people crowded into the area seeking shelter. The militia broke through doors with hand grenades and shoot, sliced and killed everyone in the building. Bullet holes and shrapnel holes peppered the building and the roof. Blood stains were still evident, especially in the area where the infants and children had been gathered and thrown against the wall. The major reminder of the genocide was that all of the benches of the church and areas of the floor other than walkways were covered with clothes from the victims. They were piled about a foot high.

Outside we visited one of the mass graves. Skulls and bones were neatly arranged on shelves that stretched so far that ten people could stand in the aisles. There were about three layers of the shelves. It was one of the mass graves that was the final resting place for the 45,000+ people in the area who were killed. As we left the grave a lady who was cleaning the other mass grave there was pinned out. She was a survivor of the genocide. One of our members went to hug her and pray for her. He husband joined them. When they came back they reported that she tried to encourage them and that she prayed for them. The recovery and the forgiveness of the people of Rwanda amazes me!

Then we went to the hope of the future of Rwanda; the school at Bugusera and the children attending that school. While home visits were not on the schedule today we learned about the school. It had originally been built by the U.N. but the local authorities weren’t able to staff it. Africa New Life had developed such a reputation that the government asked them to run the school. ANLM reminded then that they would teach about Jesus which was ok with the government as long as they taught the state curriculum. So ANLM now runs the school. They have more kids than the school can handle already and they are working on getting another one in the area. They have many more kids who need to be sponsored in that area because the need is so great.

The kids are smart, too! We not only had some good conversations, the kids asked to use my camera. Before long, they were using it like pros! One benefit is that I have a lot of pictures of me for this trip. At first, I couldn’t get the kids to get in the picture with me but eventually they got in the pictures. Meanwhile my wife saw some kids that were hanging out in the background. She went over and talked with them. They wanted to find out about her country do they started asking questions: “In your country do you….” was the stem they used. Perhaps the most challenging question was when they asked if in our country did we love God. Lucy could only talk about herself and her love for God and her desire for people to love God in our country. We often think that because of our financial well being that we are poor-eminent in spiritual things also. The spiritual atmosphere in this country is something we could learn from. The spirit of forgiveness and restoration is also something we could learn from. We come to help meet physical needs and impart spiritual wisdom, but the wisdom we gain is far more than err impart.

When I came up Lucy was explaining that we didn’t have any mountain goats where we live. That was another one of those “do you have…” questions. It was difficult to describe flat coastal plains to people who live in Rwanda. It was an amusing part of the visit.

We brought the sponsored kids to lunch at a new hotel in the area. It was an experience that they would never have without our presence. It is an inspiration to these kids letting them see that they don’t always have to live in poverty. Again, the staff treated the kids with courtesy and respect and we had a fun time. The sad part of these trips is when we leave the kids knowing that in most cases we won’t have a chance to see them again for at least a year. I’ve said it before, but this short time with the kids in some cases is more love than they will be shown in a year.

It was a short day so we went out for coffee and then shopping. One of the fun things on the bus is interacting with great team members, getting to know them and laugh with them. Some of the younger team members were trying to learn some Kinyirwandan phrases and we had a great time laughing and trying to pronounce the words.

Shopping is a tricky process for Mzungu here in Rwanda…At last four me. On the one hand, err don’t want to pay Mzungu prices. On the other hand if we negotiate then down so much that they don’t make a profit are we helping them our hurting them. Obviously, they don’t go down in so far in price that they will hurt themselves, but it also won’t hurt us to pay a few dollars more for our trinkets.

As we met for our team debriefing tonight we heard an interesting story. Tina told us about a person in her home church who said that God had laid it on their heart to give them some money to help a family. She asked what she should do with the money and the friend told her something like, “I don’t know. Maybe you can buy a goat or something.” So, she bought a goat and had to lead it into town. She had a family in mind to bring the goat to. When she brought the goat the father was extremely grateful. As Tina looked around she saw that the family had no food. The father told her that he had prayed that morning that the kids would die in their sleep that night do they wouldn’t suffer from lack of food any more. Tina went to the school office, got enough food for the family for about a month and brought it to them. She discovered that two of the kids were looking for sponsors. She did a short video with each of the kids going to post it and find sponsors for the kids. She talked to her team about the situation and one of her team members volunteered to sponsor them on the spot. The father went from Praying for his children to die so they wouldn’t suffer to having a month’s worth of food, a goat that they later became pregnant with twins, and assurance of help for the family. What a difference in the life of that family. What a difference in the life of that new sponsor as her carrying followed her giving.

Tomorrow is our big day as we will get to meet or Rwandan daughter. It will be a long trip because there will come a point where there will be no roads where we are going. We’re learned a lot about how we can do a better job as sponsors from this trip and so we’re especially excited to get to meet Jesca, too get to know her, and to get to know her physical needs do that we can provide real hope. We also expect God to use Jesca and her family to teach us and make us grow spiritually.

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July 29 – God’s Horrible Mercy

1 Corinthians 14:26-40; 2 Kings 9; Jonah 4

There are some people. You know the kind. These are the people that are so terrible that we know for certain that God will ultimately punish them. We look forward to seeing God wreak His vengeance on them. Before God called him, Jonah was sure the  kingdom of Ninevah was made up of people like that. Then, God spoke. He called Jonah to prophesy against the evil nature of the people in the city. You would think that Jonah would enjoy telling all those people that God’s vengeance was just around the corner. He ran away instead. He ran away because he knew God. This didn’t stop God, He found a unique way to get Jonah back on task. So Jonah preached. Ninevah repented and God showed His “horrible mercy.” Jonah sulked on a nearby mountain. “So he prayed to the Lord, and said, ‘Ah, Lord, was not this what I said when I was still in my country? Therefore I fled previously to Tarshish; for I know that You are a gracious and merciful God, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, One who relents from doing harm. Therefore now, O Lord, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live!'” (Jonah 4:2-3) God has this “horrible” sense of mercy that causes him to seek ways to bring all people back to Him. The Ninevites didn’t deserve God’s mercy. They deserved His wrath. It makes us mad when people like the Ninevites receive God’s grace. They have rebelled against God. They have done things their own way contrary to the ways of God. And as we think about that seriously, slowly and reluctantly we admit that we are the same as the Ninevites. We have rebelled against God. We have gone our own way. And only when we realize that do we realize that we are where we are and who we are because of God’s “horrible” mercy and we can only get down on our knees in thanksgiving.

I come to You, Lord, knowing that I can only call on Your “horrible” mercy. I have rebelled. I have gone my own way with no consideration of You, Your way or others. Remind me of Your love and grace. While I have done nothing to earn it, You continue to shower me with Your grace and mercy. Let me show that love to others – especially since they don’t deserve it either.

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Rwanda – Day 2

Today was a day for home visits. One of the things that Africa New Life Ministries does that’s unique is encourage people to visit children that they have sponsored. I’ve been told that many organizations don’t encourage that. That is one of the things that I already see as a strength. When we write to our children and they write back we develop a relationship. It becomes a high touch ministry and from what I have seen so far, the kids we deal with need touching.

Dave, Suzette’s husband and my daughter’s boss, led the team in a devotional that reminded us that we needed to be filled with the Spirit in all that we do. He also challenged us and reminded us to realize that what we’re doing here can be done at home as well. As we shared during the devotional time it was great to gain insights into the other members of the team.

We took off on our trip to Kayonza. Africa New Life does a lot of work through education. The children we sponsor are able to go to school because of our support. The school at Kayonza is fairly new. It began by taking kids in poverty; kids who were orphaned, kids who had lost a parent and were in poverty or other street kids. Very quickly, these outcasts of society formed the school that was #1 in the country. It now has an interesting situation where the elite of society want their children to go. They pay full price tuition so that their children can go to school along with these kids whom they would never pay attention to on the streets. One student who is supported by Suzette didn’t know English three years ago and now he is the 15th student in the country for his age. (He’s 17 or 18)

As we took off, we realized that we had left three of our teammates back at the guest house. This was not good. They were going to meet their child in Kayonza. This was especially not good. Lucy and I felt bad because we had eaten breakfast with them that morning and we didn’t realize they weren’t with us. Fortunately, we had only been gone a few minutes so we didn’t lose much time as we went back to pick them up.

The countryside was beautiful as we drove and it was cool after a torrential thunderstorm the night before. I should note that this is the dry season here. The rain was not expected. One of the interesting things along the road is the way people share the road. Vehicles, motorcycles – especially motorcycle taxis, bicycles and pedestrians all share the road. Yes, men and women carry some of the loads on their heads. Some bicycles were loaded with water cans, or bananas, or leaves, or even building materials. Bikes are usually pushed up the hills instead of ridden the roads are so steep. Turnoffs from the main roads tend to be on hills of about 70 degree grade or higher. The road markings – things like lanes – are only suggestions. Passing zones are not marked and cars and trucks will pull out almost at any time to pass a slower moving vehicle. A car might share a lane with a motorcycle taxi carrying a passenger. It’s a miracle that there are not more accidents on these roads.

We arrived at Kayonza and began the process of meeting kids. My wife and my daughter will tell you that I’m very emotional and cry a lot at happy endings. Today I was crying for happy beginnings and happy continuations as I saw sponsors and kids meet for the first time, or continue a relationship that had begun in years past. Watching Travis, a 17 year old young man traveling with his mother, met his brothers and sisters for the first time. Ted and Allana met their son whom they had been sponsoring for many years. Suzette meeting with all of her kids. Alyssa acting as a stand in for a sponsor who couldn’t be there. She explained to the young man that she wasn’t his sponsor. His response is the reason why we’re here: “No, but you are someone and you care.” We met at the school and learned some of the history. Many of the children live on the premises in children’s homes. Those who have family leave during the holidays. Those without families stay in the homes. Africa New Life seeks to get kids united with families so that they have someone to be with. Often, the families are distant relatives and while they recognize their duty to take care of their family, they don’t always treat the kids with love. Their sponsors may be the only people who show them affectionate love. These kids live for these short visits and the letters and contacts that follow. They feel the love and acceptance of God because we are here loving them.

We left the school and began making home visits. When we do home visits we bring gifts of food for the family and personal gifts for the sponsored child. The gifts and the visit truly elevate the child in the eyes of the family and the community. When we give the gifts we pray with the family members who are there. As we travel in the bus, we attract many stares. At one village, we heard the children cry out “Muzunga!” And they began running after the bus. We drove all the way through with kids running after and beside the bus. We were afraid that one of the kids might stumble and fall under the wheels of the bus. Thanks be to God everyone was safe. When we arrived at the home, a party broke out among all the children as we played football and kids fought over the plastic bottle that one of our workers put out for the kids to play with. Two empty plastic water bottles were quickly snatched up as toys, as prizes for the kids to play with. They may also have been gathered for kids to hold water for themselves.

In this house we visited the young man who had been raised by his grandfather. We were disappointed and alarmed when we arrived because the grandfather was not there. It was especially concerning because we were told that the grandfather was in the hospital with malaria. We were amazed and honored as he walked in on crutches. He was dressed in his finest suit to honor his visitors. The crutches were far too big for the man, but he came home from the hospital just to be there. We were extremely honored. Ted and Allana gave their son a picture of the family. The grandfather took it from him and prayed for the family. When given a Bible he held it high and told his grandson to hold God’s word in his heart.

After home visits we brought all the kids to an amusement park fit lunch and a chance to go on some rides. One of the things that our group does is seek to give kids opportunities they would never have otherwise. Although one of the kids talking to his mom at one of the Hotel lunches told his sponsor, “one day I’ll bring my wife and kids here and pay the bill myself.” One of the fears I’ve had about child sponsorship in the past was that it would breed dependency. What I’m seeing here is that the work that Is done with the money that is given is designed to lead to independence.

The kids enjoyed the food and the park. Driving in and out was amusement park like enough for the the adults. Alas, I it was time to say good bye to the kids. One van took the kids back to Kayonza, after finally prying sponsors from the kids they had come to love even before they meet them. When they actually met them face to face, though, the love just poured out.

One of the benefits we experienced was rain. Last night we experienced a major thunderstorm. It cooled off the land. We had rain during the day that cooled off the land as well. In fact, we were almost cold at times. It did warm up enough so that we were a little hot on the way home. We were comfortable though. So of you were worried about us being too hot, the weather has been good.

We were tired and quiet on the way home. No one really wanted to leave the kids, but we knew that we needed to. The important part, though, isn’t that we left them, it’s what we left them with. We left them with gifts, sure, but we left them with a sense of being loved by us and by God. We left them with hope for the future. We let them know that they had a future.

There is so much more that could have been said. God has moved in exciting ways. I’ll continue to share some of these thoughts after I return. We continue to receive ministry from God who uses some beautiful people from Rwanda to minister to us. May we be able to continue in ministry when we return to the States.

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Rwanda – Day 1

Sunday – Day 1 of our trip to Rwanda. Today would be a day of worship. One of the things that I have been looking forward to was worshiping with brothers and sisters in Christ in a different culture. We had the opportunity to be there for the singing in English, the preaching in English, and the singing in English. I tried to do a short video of an English song. I wanted to give you about a minute of the experience that was so exciting, uplifting and inspirational. When I listened to the audio part of the video, though, I heard too much of my own voice, and I wouldn’t want to subject you to that. But, I should point out, many of the songs were familiar. One of the great things worshiping with another culture is that there is usually so much that we share. Music is one of those things that we have in common.

One of the most inspirational parts of service was when Robina spoke. Robina’s husband, Gerald, who was the head of the African College of Theology, died tragically about a month ago. Sunday would have been her 12th anniversary. Only God could have given her the strength to speak like she did. She began by sharing the promise from Philippians 1:6 – “…He who began a good work in you will be faithful to complete it until the day of Christ Jesus.” She spoke about the strength that God gives and has given her. She finished reading to the end of the first chapter of Philippians. Her strength and courage was amazing to me.

The sermon was about God giving strength and began with one of my favorite Old Testament verses: Zechariah 4:6 “Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit says the Lord.” It was a message talking about how and when God gives us strength. It was a powerful message that was directed to his people in their culture, but the timeless truths he spoke were encouraging and powerful. The Pastor, Pastor Charles, is the man who had the dream and the vision to begin Africa New Life Ministries. One of the exciting things to me about this ministry is that it is run by Rwandans for Rwandans. They keep finding ways to expand their work to meet the needs of the people in the area.

We were privileged to see  different kind of presentation after the sermon. The pastor called down another pastor of the church. He walked down the aisle, across the front, up the other aisle, across the back and down the original aisle until he came to a young woman. It was then I was informed that this pastor was announcing his engagement and they were doing this in front of the church. I thought it was an amazing way to announce the engagement and begin a life together showing their commitment to God. We could learn a lot from that type of commitment.

We stayed for the KinyiRwanda music service. During the break between the services and the music service, sponsored kids started coming in. It was exciting to see the faces on the kids and the sponsors as they saw each other. It was exciting to see on first time visitor to Rwanda connect with his brothers and sisters as they crawled all  over him and clung to him throughout the service. As the music began, even though I didn’t know the songs I knew the Spirit that was inspiring them. When the words were posted, and they were simple enough for me to pronounce, I enjoyed singing with them.

We left when the music was finished to go to lunch with the sponsored kids. We had our lunch at the Hotel Des Mille Collines. This was the hotel featured in the movie Hotel Rwanda. The sense of history, the sense of strength was amazing as I walked through the lobby. It was here that greatness was shown during the worst that man could do. We had lunch on a covered pavillion that was quite an elegant setting. It was wonderful to see the staff show such respect to these kids. They got a chance to have a dining experience that was completely out of the ordinary. For that moment in time, they feel recognized and accepted. It’s a feeling that has a lasting effect on their lives. That special time also is an inspiration that causes kids to see a future that’s greater than they might otherwise have imagined. One of our teammates shared a story of taking her child out to eat. He looked at her and told her that n the past he had eaten out of that establishment’s garbage cans in the past, and that now he was eating off of their plates.

While some of the sponsors stayed with their kids, the rest of us went to the Kigali Genocide Memorial. One of the things I learned is that the genocide that we recognize happening in 1994 began a long time before that. Hatred and division began because of outside influences and problems were happening long before 1994. Hatred doesn’t grow overnight, it usually festers over a long period of time. In this case, the colonial settlers imposed some differences that ultimately led to the genocide. The buildup to the hatred finally boiled over in 1994. When it boiled over the perpetrators of the genocide killed men women and children. Reading all the information was sad and moving. It didn’t get to me emotionally, though, until we went to a memorial section where family members provided pictures of loved ones who died. Picture after picture of someone who had been murdered in the genocidal attacks lined the walls. The tears started flowing. Then, we went to a room where they had skulls and bones recovered from the countryside. Seeing skulls with crushed bones after reading about people killing others with clubs drove the message home even more. Then, the next hall was a memorial that contained pictures only of children who had been killed. One of the more moving comments was the memorial that included a child’s last words which were something like, “Don’t worry. The UN soldiers will come to protect us.” We also so some of the mass graves from Kigali. The guide told us that there were 250,000 bodies buried in that small area. She also reminded us that as hopeless as the situation seemed then, it was put there to remind people and bring them hope for the future. I am wondering if the people of Rwanda might be able to help bring healing to other parts of the world when they go through similar problems.

Debriefing that night was quite interesting as we talked about all that we had seen and experienced. Interestingly enough Suzette, who is our leader and the royal cockroach killer, actually opened a doorway to the past of my wife and my relationship. When we laughed, our daughter noticed and corralled us afterward. She now knows one of our deep dark relationship secrets. Ok, so it’s not so dark. I’m only a day behind, but I may catch up….

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July 28 – Prophesy!

1 Corinthians 14:1-25; 2 Kings 8; Jonah 3

There is this weird idea that those who “prophesy” are telling the future. Paul debunks that thought in his letter to the Corinthian Church. The discussion of spiritual gifts was apparently an ongoing debate at the church. Many focused on the “miraculous” gifts as being the most important. The ability to speak in other languages or tongues appeared to be a point of pride. They may not have known what they were saying, but it must have been good because their spirit sure felt stronger. After finishing the “love chapter” Paul continued his teaching by noting the need to teach, or prophesy. “But he who prophecies speaks edification and exhortation and comfort to men. He who speaks in a tongue edifies himself, but he who prophesies edifies the church.”(1 Corinthians 14:3-4) Paul reminded the Corinthians that it’s “not all about you.” Which is better for the work of the church – somebody strengthening themselves or somone strengthening each and every member of the church? That should be an obvious answer. While using the spiritual gifts God gave us should strengthen us, if it doesn’t also strengthen the church at the same time it really has no to minimal value. Often, those self-involved spiritual gifts lead to people being puffed up and arrogant; an attitude of “I must be pretty special if God gave this gift to me (and you didn’t get it.)” While we, especially in the United States, tend to value personal growth and independence, perhaps we need to remember our dependence on God and our dependence on each other in the church. God works in us to build up the church and we are responsible for listening to God.

Oh Lord, remind me again that it’s not all about me. Work in me so that I may be a fit vessel to build up Your church. Help me to teach and guide others to walk in the path that You have set in front of them. Begin by making me obedient to Your will and help me recognize it when I see it.

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Rwanda – The Journey

The journey to Rwanda began long before we left the house. Our trip this year began a few years ago when we sponsored a child through Africa New Life Ministries. Africa New Life was formed after the genocide in 2001 by Rwandans to minister to the children who had been left orphaned and homeless. To be honest, I hadn’t thought much of these programs, but my daughter had started sponsoring a child in part because her work had folks who had beeen involved in Africa New Life for awhile and we began sponsoring at her insistence. Then, she traveled to Rwanda and met her “son” and our “daughter.” She came back and started talking about all that went on – raving actually. And we began to think that it would be nice to make the trip. We had other plans and ministries that we had been involved in that prevented the trip. Then, she went again last year. And she raved about it again. We began seeking God’s will because this was something we wanted to do. We made plans to make it here and continue our other ministry. Then, the plans for the other group we work with didn’t happen and God opened the door for us to be here.

With that background, let’s get back to the mundane and discuss the trip over here. We left the house Friday morning at about 8:00 to pick up our daughter. I think part of the excitement for both of us was traveling as a family for this trip. We got to San Antonio and picked her up for our relatively uneventful trip to Houston. Houston, of course, was a mess, but we left early enough that we got to the airport with plenty of time to spare. My daughter raised a bit of a ruckus among her friends and mine by posting that her parents had been robbed….Then she added that it was because we paid airport prices for food.

I haven’t taken many international flights, but I thought it strange that I was at the same departure gate as at least two of them from previous years. One interesting thing was the presence of police and the dogs sniffing around. I didn’t think much at the time, but Corpus Christi airport had some kind of security alert that same day.

We flew Turkish Airlines which has a very good reputation. I had a difficult time on the flight because the person in front of me reclined his seat as far back as he could the moment the flight began and he only set it up once while we were eating the first meal. I really hate transatlantic flights… I don’t sleep well on planes. I was just about to fall sleep this time, though, when three adults began talking after they turned out the lights. Not quietly, but loudly. The two kids behind me that I worried about were great, the adults kept me awake. I only got a couple of hours of sleep before we arrived in Istanbul.

When we got to Istanbul the first thing we did was wave at our friend Robin. I know she didn’t see our feel it, but we did think about her and pray for her there. While we were there the cutest little black girl started talking to me. After a couple of confused attempts to communicate her mother turned to me and said, “She only speaks Italian.” That surprised me! We had fun trying to communicate. Later when I tried to talk with my wife and other teammates, she was upset that I wasn’t paying attention to her and she made a mad face at me. She made the same face at me when we lined up to board. That was a fun part of the trip.

The trip from Istanbul to Kigali, still on Turkish Airlines, was more pleasant for me. The seat was a little wider and the person in front of me didn’t recline all the way back either. I thought the food was actually better on this flight too. The last few hours I worked hard to avoid falling asleep so that I could sleep at or my soon to be home away from home.

The biggest surprise of the trip was the Kigali airport. Having traveled to international airports before, I didn’t expect it to be so sleek and modern. Suzette met us at the airport. Even though I had never met her before, she immediately made me feel like family. We traveled to the guest house and the beauty of the lights in the city was amazing. I called them ground stars. The picture you see was taken from the balcony in our room, but we saw that all the way from the airport.
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One of the biggest differences in the room was the mosquito netting. I’ve never had to sleep under one before. The room itself was much nicer than expected. Here’s a pic of my wife sleeping under the net.
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Thus passed the journey to Rwanda. The only thing I didn’t mention was the smell of burn in the air. They burn their trash here…and they burn farmland areas and the smell of smoke hangs on the air.

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