I have hesitated to blog since being here because every day I learn and think about so much and have felt unsure about how to cohesively communicate what I am experiencing. After not even two weeks I understand why people say, “Africa changes you.” How can a place so rich with culture, tradition, and history not? I have come to expect and love that each time I leave our house gate and find myself on the dusty dirt road going into the city a new experience awaits me. For now I will just share a few scattered thoughts about my new home.
All of Kigali, Rwanda is my classroom. From learning basic Kinyarwanda language skills from locals to using bustling public transportation, from eating delicious African foods to discussing approaches to international development work in our “classroom” consisting of chairs and a table under a tin roof, from building relationships with my GoEd peers to feeling daily frustration about the separation that my skin color creates – my world view is expanding. I am thankful for the challenging yet safe atmosphere that that GoEd program creates – it is a gift to live, learn, eat, laugh, worship, relax and struggle through hard conversations with the same group of 15 students this semester while also having plenty of time to explore the city and meet locals.
A crucial part of our GoEd orientation in DC before arriving here was to help us pause and evaluate how we have generally defined poverty in the past. I will readily admit that my first thought is “a lack of basic needs” – food, water, education, sanitation, opportunity ect. While I acknowledged before coming to Rwanda that of course there exists physical, emotional and spiritual poverty, I realize now that this was a statement that rolled of my tongue easier than it sank into my heart. During orientation two weeks ago I was told to keep my eyes open this semester to how God might open my eyes to ways that I am impoverished. Michael Pucchi, the GoEd program leader said, “we should continually be searching for how we are impoverished and let our own poverty be our strongest motivation for learning and pursuing the Lord.” I was amazed to discover last week when exchanging my U.S. dollars to Rwandan francs that the largest bill printed here is a 5000 franc bill – equal to about $10. I have been told that the average Rwandan will likely never hold one of these bills. The Rwandan government has declared that currently over 50% of the Rwandan population lives below the “poverty” line, with over 3/5 of those people living in “extreme poverty.” Although I may carry a 5000 franc bill in my pocket, I walk the streets of Kigali feeling emotionally and spiritually impoverished in comparison to the richness of the forgiveness, grace and healing that the Rwandan people hold.
May we each be humbled and motivated to transform in acknowledging our deepest poverty and need for our Creator.