... Living inspired by the beauty of life, one post at a time.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Early Childhood Conference in Rwanda

Day two of our Early Childhood Conference and we are in the swing of things. Yesterday I gave the keynote address for the opening of our conference setting the scene for the importance of learning in the early years. The nursery teachers have come from far and wide, some travelling for hours on foot. The group varies in age, the young and old alike are here to learn. There is no descrimination. It is a special occasion and every one is smartly dressed. They have brought their best. Mothers are in attendance, their babies strapped to their backs. Old men with worn travelling bags sit quietly to the side. All eager to lean in and glean ideas for their own classrooms.  

Hope Global is providing accommodation and meals for the Rwandan teachers for the three days we are running the conference. Yesterday lunch consisted of rice, beans, fried potatoes, cabbage and a meat stew, the steamy dishes were piled high on everyone's plates, the anticipation evident. The feast was a welcome celebration. 

We are running small group workshops with practical ideas to be implemented in Rwandan classrooms. My workshop is teaching English. I am focusing on letter sounds and blending simple three letter words with short vowel sounds. The Rwandan government changed the second language of Rwanda from French to English three to four years ago. The main language is Kinyarwanda. English is slowly emerging. I have written the letters of the alphabet on smooth stones that I had packed into my luggage. I have tried to think like a Rwandan because their supplies are limited and resources sparse. Yesterday I brought out my stones and showed the teachers how to help children learn the sounds of the English language. They marvelled at the smoothness of my stones and asked, 'Where can we get these?" I realised I am not so good at thinking like a Rwandan after all! 

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Walk of Hope

Today we walked alongside the Rwandan people in solidarity as they celebrated hope and life twenty years after the genocide. Our starting point was the presidential palace where the then president was killed as his plane came in to land in the field behind his house. The plane was shot down and was the signal for the planned genocide to begin. Hit lists had been prepared in advance. The killings began immediately all across Rwanda.

Our walk covers eight kilometres of hilly terrain. It is hot, the Rwandan sun beating down mercilessly. No rain today. As we set out, voices begin singing. More people join in and I am carried along on the sweet rhythm filling the air. We stopped traffic as the progression swelled, police slowed traffic to a standstill. We marched on in the hundreds, kilometre after kilometre towards the stadium. Other groups also walked from significant points around the city where the genocide atrocities began. As we near the stadium each of the progressions merge, shouting and excitement stirring the crowd.

The walk is a sign of comittment to move forward. Progress has been slow in Rwanda over the last twenty years, but momentum is quickly growing, with the last few years showing significant progress in the infrastructure and rebuilding of the country. Rwanda is one of the fastest growing economic systems today. 

A survivor of the genocide is welcomed to the stage to share his story. Edward Kuraranda was born in the Western province. His seven children were killed by his father and brother in laws during the Tutsi genocide. They were all dumped into the river. Somehow he evaded the killers. His wife from a Hutu background was taken by her family and forced to leave her Tutsi husband. He was left with nothing. He tells us that after the genocide and despair he found hope in God. God kept him alive, God was his refuge through the tragedy. Everything is possible with God he tells us. He stands before us today to bear witness that it is possible to move through the darkness. After the genocide his wife was restored to him, she then joined him on stage. The crowd erupts with clapping as his two sons born after the genocide also stand on the stage. Edwards story is full of forgiveness, like many of the people here. I have never seen such widespread tragedy touch so many. Everywhere we turn there is another with a similar story - suffering, restoration and forgiveness. 

Mark Zschech, along with his wife Darlene began Hope Rwanda, now Hope Global ten years ago in 2004. Ten years after the genocide they began a journey of restoration with the people. And now ten years on he reminds the people that the message hasn't changed. He tells us to always choose hope, to walk the road of hope because we are ambassadors of hope. The stadium roars in response.
I  look out at the stadium full of people, there is a common thread weaving all of their stories together. Hope is weaving a beautiful tapestry here in Rwanda, it is colourful, vibrant and full of promise.

Kwibuka' - remember, unite, renew. 

Saturday, April 26, 2014

My Compassion visit

Yesterday I had the privilege of meeting my Compassion child. The experience was a mixture of joy and sadness. I was so expectant for the day to unfold and looked forward to the chance of folding this boy into a loving embrace. The moment arrived and he shyly came out of the project office to meet me. I greeted him with a hearty hug. His eyes remained downcast, his demeanour humble. We were welcomed inside and his folder was produced. The Compassion Director poured over the details, informing me of his progress. He explained his health, education and spiritual results.

Eric hopes to be a teacher. The gifts I brought him couldn't have been more perfect, an abc chart, alphabet cards, writing paper and pencils so perfect to nurture this dream. A glimmer of a smile appeared as I handed over the tennis balls and musical book I had brought along. Eric hesitantly tapped on the keyboard as I gently showed him how to read the numbers and touch the keys to follow the musical pattern and words. We then bundled into the van and drove ten minutes to his home. As we drove I thought about how far he had to walk to school. It was hard to believe that children, some very young have to walk on average 18 kilometres in rural areas. 

As we pulled up to Eric's home I looked out at the little mud hut in front of me, it was tiny! The rain had been streaming down for a few minutes and had now turned the red earth to slush. We gingerly made our way inside as the rain continued to fall. It was dark. A streak of light from outside filled the doorway and offered a little illumination as we sat down on smooth wooden chairs. A row of chairs, a reed mat, and a small table filled all of the space. A simple door separated the room beyond. This room had a low bench along the back wall, a tattered mosquito net bunched to one side. At the other end, a bamboo bench leaned across the mud wall, a small window allowing in a shaft of light. 

Before arriving we had stopped at the local markets to purchase rice, sugar, oil, porridge, biscuits, soda, toothpaste and cakes of soap. I wondered how long the food items would feed a family of eight? Eric's father helped our driver unoad the supplies we had brought with us. The gifts were hefted out of the vehicle and quickly hidden inside the second room. Packets of biscuits were then split open and shared, the village children sharing the spoils with us all.

The whimper of the baby drew everyone's attention, her fussing resulting in her being put on the breast. Eric's siblings gathered around their mother, sitting on the mud floor slurping happily on the soda we had brought. We exchanged words with the help of a translator, the pauses in conversation allowing me to reach out to Eric, to run my hands across his razored scalp, pat his shoulder and engage in communication that required no words.

As our time drew to a close, Eric's father offered a few words. "Thank you for looking after Eric and all of us". His words broke me, tears welled up blurring my vision. I took a breath. My heart was breaking. This was messing me up. I expected to feel happy, but a deep sadness was filling every part of me. Their need was so great, their living so rudimentary. I get to leave, to go back to my life, but this, this was their reality. I hugged each of them in turn, trying to covey a message that the language barrier couldn't express. I had to leave this boy in the land of a thousand hills, had to say goodbye after only just meeting. Not enough time to say all the things that needed saying, not enough time!

Friday, April 25, 2014

Gorillas in the mist

Today I had the pleasure of meeting the Umubano family, a group of mountain gorillas from Volcanoes National Park. The experience was really very special, a once in a life time opportunity.

After arriving at the entry to the park we disembarked the jeep and prepared for our hike up the mountain. A heavy mist rested over the mountain obscuring our view of the top, but did not deter us, stirring our excitement and sense of adventure even more. We set off, trudging through open fields passing women planting potatoes in the rich red earth. Once hitting the boder of the jungle we had a briefing before climbing down a steep ravine. The six foot ravine prevents elephants and antelope from traipsing through the local fields. From there, it was all up hill. After a few minutes climbing, our guides pointed out golden monkeys resting in the tree tops. I wondered about the animals present but unseen.

The stinging nettles were fierce, the first few stings shooting painful stings straight through my jeans. The path was hard going and rather slippery. I fell over at one point, not a graceful manoeuvre when you are trying to avoid the stinging nettles! After being carefully pulled to safety by our guides, the rangers directed us forward for about forty minutes before we were informed that we needed to leave our belongings under the vines and trees. We then proceeded to the left as the rangers slashed at the undergrowth to forge a path for us to follow. We heard the gorillas before we saw them. Their movements through the bush announcing that we were close. 

At the guides instruction we all quieted our voices before a male gorilla pulled back the vines to reveal his magnificent face. The clicking of cameras and crunching of bamboo were the only sounds that could be heard in the still mountain air. We stopped in our tracks as the magic began to unfold. A mother and her baby nestled together under tangled vines. They were unperturbed by our presence, lounging happily in the morning sun. For one hour we observed the antics of these amazing creatures, the baby climbing over mother and vines, amusing us the whole time with his antics. 

The silver back finally called an end to our visit by clearing a path for mother and baby to follow as he disappeared into the jungle. The juveniles continued to eat as we departed and made our way back downhill. I would have to say that this experience is right up there with the best of the best, a truly remarkable opportunity.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Fruits of Hope

We arrived early in the morning to 'Fruits of Hope Academy', a thriving school serving the local Rwandan community of Gisozi. Today is hot, the dusty air humid and dry. The bus arrives at our destination but can take us no further. We get off the bus and trek down hill to get to the school which is carved neatly into a hillside. I understand why this country is known as the land of a thousand hills, the land is an undulating expanse of greenery. The red terrain is unforgiving and unsuitable for vehicles, it's gutted surface littered with crevices and boulders. I tread carefully, ensuring each step is well placed. My covered shoes serve me well today.

We head inside to meet the teachers. They are all young, but I am not surprised. Much of The population of Rwanda is young because so many died in the 1994 genocide. At the introduction address the principal reminds us about the effects of the genocide, it is on everyone's lips and a constant reminder of the past. "It is our history" one young teacher tells me, "but my vision is to see a generation rising up to change that history, I am a part of that, I am working hard to see this happen." This young man is twenty seven. His family escaped to Uganda before the 1994 genocide. I asked him what made his father leave Rwanda. He tells me about the killings that happened in the years leading up to 1994. "My family returned after the genocide but there were many family members that had disappeared", he responds. He is not bitter. He believes he has a specific purpose for restoring hope to the youth of Rwanda. This determined young man shares more of his heart with me. His dreams are big, very big. His next statement takes me by surprise, "We are lucky that some of us remained alive so we can start again", he tells me matter of factly. I think on this and marvel at his optimism. 'It is better to be positive than negative', he informs me. I nod my head emphatically, his words are truly humbling. 

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Village of Hope

Thunder rolls across the twilight sky, the heavens have just opened, spilling rain across the hill country of Kasabo. The red earth has turned to slush, our feet are covered in thick oozy mud. Covered-in shoes would have been good today. We follow the rocky ground to the community centre at the widows and orphans village where seventy widows and children have crammed into this small building to listen to a message of hope. Excitement builds as the women and children begin to sing. Their joy spills forth in dancing as drums beat out a soul stirring rhythm. As the offerings of praise and worship subside, the women lean in intently, hearts open, ready for the inpouring of grace. 

There is a sense of serenity at this village, the air is quiet except for the sound of cows lowing and children playing. Our welcome this morning was graciously extended by an elderly woman. Her hunched frame is full of love as she embraces each of us in turn. I cannot guess her age. Her face is weathered, her body bent, her serenity transparent. She found her way to the village a year ago bringing her adult daughters with her. Her youngest is twenty, and born just before the genocide. For twenty years they have struggled to survive. Her story is compelling. Her body bares the marks of a horrendous beating at the hands of the perpetrators of the genocide. She is permanently hunched over from this beating, protecting her baby twenty years ago would leave her permanently disfigured for the rest of her life. I cannot imagine the breaking of a body. This woman is brave, her courage incredible. Refusing to hand her baby over, she covered her baby with her body receiving blow after blow on her tiny frame, time and time again. I cannot imagine how she has suffered. It seems too impossible to believe.

The 'Village of Hope' provides homes and self sustainable practices for widows and orphans affected by the genocide. Lives continue to be transformed.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Resurrection Sunday in Rwanda

Grey skies and a light drizzle greet us on day two in Rwanda. It is Resurrection Sunday and a mist lies low over the earth blanketing the surrounding area in an eerie haze. I think about that day, that day two thousand years ago when a life stirred in the depths of a dark and oppressive tomb and imagine that THAT morning may have been similar to the one I am experiencing today. I imagine the heavens low over earth, pressing into the expanse of humanity, covering a life and calling forth a life. I realise again, the power and victory we have over death, how death can not hold us down, that in the end when the temporal passes away, we find abundant life. We enter a life eternal and a life never ending. 

After a breakfast of sweet pineapple and honey pancakes, Jess our Australian contact from Hope Global, spoke to us about the excitement building for the upcoming 'Walk of Hope' that we will be completing in a few days time. The people of Rwanda will converge on the city and join together in solidarity, walking the same path that once experienced unspeakable heartache and pain. She revealed the mounting excitement of the Rwandan pastors for this new brand of missionaries carrying the same heart and message they share for their country. They are encouraged by the coming alongside, no longer are missionaries changing the culture of a people group, they are embracing and celebrating its culture. A sense of purpose is growing as awareness and support grows for a country focused on honouring the memory of those who died. Rwanda has its eye on the future. 


The following excerpt is from a message by a local Rwandan pastor. It is eye opening to hear the hope and faith uniting and inspiring this nation towards a brighter future.

Message by Pastor Joel - Resurrection Sunday.

The church has a unique message. To focus minds and hearts not on the devastation we went through, not on grieving which was so devastating, today our souls look forward. The beauty of the church is that we focus on things ahead of us.

April 1994, when it was dark, in our dark days, we hid in the dark afraid for our future. There were people who didn't believe in our future, but today we have a different plan. We pray for a better future. Today we wonder when is morning coming because we have business to attend to. Today we celebrate life, we are not living out of devastation. We prefer resilience, let's not get stuck in our past. Look forward for a better future. The night that once covered our country, the darkness which hovered, has been turned around. Walk with our heads high. God we thank you that the night finally came to an end, the darkness came to a stop. On April 24th we will walk in our thousands, we will walk celebrating hope. This is our walk of significance. Our ashes have been turned to beauty, we have been adorned with a crown of joy. Out of death has come life. 

God you have turned our mourning into meaning. Thank you for bringing anarchy to an end. Thank you we can walk rejoicing. Our hearts rejoice. The nation is crossing. We have been given opportunity to create a new beginning. Thank you for the new day dawning. Our hearts say thank you. Protect your children, may hope continue to reign in our hearts. Hope instead of despair. Keep our nation in safety.

Oceans divide us, but faith unites us.

Hello Rwanda

The early morning sounds drift in the window, waking me from the exhausted sleep of many hours travelling. Thirty four long hours, four flights, and an unscheduled stop and an afternoon of planning had pushed my body further than imaginable. My body had collapsed eagerly into the welcoming embrace of a turned back double bed the night before. As I wake in this land of a thousand hills, a rooster crows somewhere in the distance, his incessant pre dawn crowing waking a slumbering world. A dog barks, birds sing an unfamiliar song, causing my mind to focus and my eyes to open. It is pitch black! The expected shards of daylight do not materialise. What time is it? Inky blackness hovers around me. Pushing back the draping mosquito net, I heave my sleep drenched body to an upright position, perching on the edge of the bed my feet hit hard cool concrete, and wakefulness comes rushing in. I check the clock, it is 3:00 am, what .. only 3:00 am! It is my first morning in Rwanda and she has welcomed me with open arms. 

Yesterday we had crammed all assortment of bodies and bags into the coaster that would take us to our guest house. Eighteen people tightly wedged together, luggage stacked high, one on top of the other, just high enough to afford the driver his rear view. No seat belts and we were off, on the wrong side of the road, whizzing past colourful outposts, bright signs and an abundance of people. The contrasts commanded my attention, Coca cola signs and western familiarities stood out against a backdrop of carefully balanced baskets atop the heads of graceful Rwandan women. Faces stared back at us, curious looks and questions in their eyes. The wind whipped around us as we sped along main roads teaming with moped taxis and walkers everywhere, passing bullet pitted government buildings, reminding us of Rwanda's suffering and unforgotten past. Banners of hope hung from strategically placed vantage points, a single word - Kwibuka (remember, unite, renew) announcing the resilient spirit of these people. 

The road to the guest house is narrow, dipping to reveal a winding stretch of bare earth falling away to a fiercely gouged red earth. The road leads our coaster down hill. We pass clay baked brick walls littered with shards of broken glass, jagged edges upright and fiercely alert. Carefully embedded along the top of the walls, the broken pieces of glass alarmingly stand to attention, a warning that to breach these walls would be costly! Double iron gates quickly swing open at our arrival and close just as quickly behind us as bolts are lodged in place. The outside world shuts behind us, and we are welcomed to the surroundings of carefully attended gardens and quaint green arbours for quiet contemplation and steamy cups of tea. A flurry of greetings and unpacking followed before we wearily trudged a flight of stairs, heaving over stuffed bags of belongings and resource behind us. We had finally arrived and despite the weariness of travel there were smiles on all our faces. 

The guest house sits nestled between an assortment of closely huddled buildings. My room is simple, whitewashed walls, patterned curtains, a wooden desk and two beds adorned with embroidered quilts, a mosquito net swings happily above the bed. My two story view stretches to an undulating view of small singular dwellings as far as the eye can see. Yesterday, I stood at the window straining to absorb every sight and sound, soaking in the newness of a different country, allowing all the months of planning to swell inside of me with recognition and understanding. I was here, breathing in what had taken months of deliberations. Lingering fears melted away as rising expectation filled every ounce of my being. 

The land of a thousand hills awaits.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

The journey of a thousand miles

If there is anything that I have learnt from this heart and soul journey it is that the journey can take longer than expected, is often confronting and always stretches you beyond the borders of your expectations. 

The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step. 

Four years ago, falling into the world of blogging was that first faltering step. I didn't really know what I was doing then. Driven along by some deep need to liberate the incessant deliberations of my soul, I began to tap out a story that has evolved slowly over time. Writing is good like that, kind to your emerging self. Life pushes on, but writing, writing waits for you, allows you to go back, make changes and if necessary begin again. A fresh page, waiting for you, allowing soul stirrings to be crafted into radiant beams of hope. 

Writing hasn't always been a clear cut process. There are times I have sat in front of the keyboard with stirrings so deep, and no words forthcoming, no words to appropriately clothe the pressings against my soul. In those moments, I would wait. I learnt to be still, to close my eyes to the world and listen to heart whispers from within. Embracing the Selah moment allowed small miracles to occur, wondrous moments of contemplation rose slowly from the vortex of feelings and emotions bubbling inside, releasing itself in a string of beautiful delightful words. And oh how I love words! 

Writing has been a therapeutic process, both healing and purifying. It has been health to my heart and soul. When Life is measured by deadlines, it has been a soft place to fall. It has consented to the fierce scribblings of hope across my existence, permitted the deep etching of purpose upon barren terrain and opened up a whole new world of possibilities. It has carefully carved out a space between now and then, between that which is not yet and that which is to come. Writing has given permission to a faltering voice. Hopeless life fragments have been wound in glorious threads of grace, and into a wholly intentional, holy purposeful plan. 

The unfolding of that plan came slowly. Sometimes there are seasons of waiting, sometimes the seasons are drawn out and it seems that little growth occurs, the faith seed taking longer than anticipated. 

After my first trip to Africa momentum suddenly stalled, direction evaporated and for three and a half long years it all went quiet. I wasn't sure what the next step was or how to take it. There was so much in my heart that I longed to do. I went back to life, to my quiet unassuming mother-teacher life and I thought that was it. I had done my African soiree and had my fill of adventure. In those three and a half years I waited for some sort of epiphany. Direction was not forthcoming.

I waited expectantly and then despondently. I kept writing, gleaning and growing. I sifted my heart and evaluated my soul. I waited for the faith seed to take root. I worked hard at being a loving mother and dedicated teacher. I wondered about the threads of the story, my story, and couldn't see them coming together. I endured the hanging threads and persevered as they continued to dangle tauntingly. 

Then, as abruptly as it stopped, the faith seed sprang to life wrapping those dangling threads securely around the hold on my heart. I cannot really explain what it was that got the ball rolling again, only that it did. They say timing is everything, perhaps they are right! It took just one image to begin the next step, one picture posted on Instagram that made me search out a website. When the right opportunity presented itself there was a quickening that couldn't be stuffed down by the voice of reason. That voice, the faith voice, knows things you can never work out in this lifetime. When you learn to trust it, it takes you places you could never imagine on your own. 

I looked at the image on the screen and googled the website.
 Hope Global was looking for volunteers, their mission - to restore hope and justice to countries affected by war, genocide and poverty. 2014 would mark twenty years after the Rwandan genocide and they were taking a team in to mark the occasion. I sat there with expectation rising, the application form before me ... and began typing.

My bags are packed, the ticket is perched patiently on my suitcase. 
Today I take the next step in the journey of a thousand miles.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Wholly intentional, holy purposeful!

The bearer of a faith seed begins a journey that seems too impossible! 

It is hard to live by faith and not by sight! Our senses define our humanness, we learn everything through these experiences, are nothing without them. Then faith tells us to lay aside all that we know to be humanly possible. It requires us to embrace the invisible and intangible, a realm outside of our earthly parameters and understanding. 

And then faith demands that we leap.

It seems impossible, seems beyond us, seems unattainable! Faith requires us to step into unknowns, after all - nothing ventured, nothing gained. An open ear and closed eyes keep me present, aware and alert. It is easier to hear the voice of wisdom when we are still, closed eyes stop distractions. Closing our eyes lowers the lid on what seems impossible. We close the window of our temporal world and stop seeing impossibilities. Instead we are transported across time and space, we begin to see possibilities. We imagine, dream and see differently. We begin to see what has been imprinted in us from the dawn of time. We see ourselves as we have been created, as heaven breathed, wholly intentional, holy purposeful beings. 

When we have seen ourselves stretch across that yawning chasm of unbelief and fully know that we can breach the walls of doubt, we cross the divide with the substance and evidence of things hoped for. We look back and wonder why on earth we ever let those fireballs of fear stand in our way.

In retrospect, I have tried to negotiate this tug on my heart and soul with intellectual reasoning and foresight when in reality I know that is futile. Futile because the intellect and the heart operate on different plains, they do not see eye to eye and that is the conundrum. How do you live with that duplicity inside of you, the head saying one thing and the heart another? 

Futile because divine purpose has nothing to do with our physical and limited realities. The natural and supernatural operate on different levels, are poles apart. Yet, when meshed with an open heart and a yielded life, blend seamlessly. A heaven seed full of omniscient purpose, when planted in frail humanity takes root in supernatural soul soil beyond all earthly comprehension. When this tiny seed of faith finds its open vessel, It begins tugging the heart in another direction. The heart must hear and the mind MUST align for faith to grow. The faith seed now begins its journey.

I know that ... faith is activated through hearing, but have learnt that, it is only useful when applied through a surrendered heart and a willing life. It is the journey I am still on, the journey of a thousand miles!

Come back tomorrow for 'The journey of a thousand miles'

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Now that you know

 There's a saying I heard as a child, 'A rolling stone gathers no moss', I used to think about that, how once the ball is rolling it is rather hard to stop. Was that a good thing, or a bad thing?

Life feels like that sometimes, it gathers momentum and some things go well and other things fall flat. Originally the saying was meant to encourage desirable stability. Now a-days it refers to objectionable stagnation. Which is the better choice? 

Desirable stability has been important to me in my single parenting life, it has been an anchor through heartache and pain. The same job for 15 years has helped me focus, and well ... feel safe. I like feeling safe! And the truth is it has been a safe haven. I've evolved in that time, grown and changed in the safety of a loving community of kind and compassionate human beings. My heart has gone deeper, my mind expanded more fully, and my soul has grasped further reach. Teaching is one of the rare opportunities to purposely engage with the nurturing of life on a daily basis. You can't help but be changed by that. I can't imagine doing anything else. But, sometimes that very anchor can now feel restrictive, limiting to purpose and potential. What once felt safe, can now feel contained. How do I stop the stagnation of my soul? 

How do I keep living this blessed life but continue to lift the lid on possibilities and keep thinking outside of the box? What do you do with that restlessness in your soul that stirs purpose and passion on a regular basis, especially when you now know that the world so desperately needs you to do something? Is my living safe, or living small minded stopping me from moving forward? Am I living in objectionable stagnation?

I have thought at times, that the opening of my eyes and the inclination of my ears might be enough, that my just being aware of human suffering might leave me somehow a more open and compassionate human being. I have wondered if that is it, the thing I need to learn for the life I need to live, here on my side of the world ... to live more open-hearted and a more willing life right where I am ... Is that enough

I struggle with this notion of living sensibly and safe or throwing caution to the wind and chasing ambitious pursuits, but how can I when responsibility weighs heavy and answers do not come rushing in? The niggling in my soul nudges me daily, pressing hard on the inside of my ribcage. 

Where would it take me if I let it roam free?

As I near the end of Dellaire's book, his words hit their mark 236 pages in, 'now that you know of the terrible reality in which these children exist, you can never un-know it. You are involved now, and once you are involved it is impossible for you to remain aloof, impassive, detached or uninterested'. 

Aahh!! ... so much to say, please come back tomorrow. x

Monday, April 14, 2014

Ambushing Rebel Armies

Every once in a while there are moments that call out to us, moments that dare us to walk a wild and unknown way. There are moments that mobilize us in unexpected ways. We can listen or turn away. 

For me that day was the day I heard Marilyn Skinner speak about the child soldiers of Northern Uganda. It completely changed me. I listened with a growing sense of disbelief as she revealed the heartbreaking extent of the child soldier dilemma. Children, some only 8 - 10 years of age were being herded up in the dead of night from their villages and forcefully abducted. It was the first time I heard the name Joseph Kony, rebel leader and abductor of children. At that time hundreds of children from villages in remote parts of Uganda were walking for hours each morning and evening to the safety of small outposts to sleep safely and thus avoid being taken. They would leave their villages for the night to return the next day, and then repeat the exercise day after day. 

Marilyn's heart reached out and grabbed mine. I sat there with a mixture of emotions welling up, horror, anger, heartbreak and helplessness mixed together into a concoction of inexplicable sorrow. It was a moment that I allowed to fully take hold of me, to feel the horror and pain of a mother torn from her child, the devastation of not knowing where her heart and soul had gone. Her baby running scared, messed with me. It was completely unfathomable that this happened to not just one mother, but hundreds! I felt the whole weight of it, heavy in my soul. 

There is a hauntingly beautiful song by Brooke Fraser called 'Albertine', it is filled with aching feeling and was written after her visit to Rwanda. The first time I heard it, the words ricocheted imploringly across my soul, echoing some desperate finality that lodged deep. The passion in the song spoke to me, the words nudging my heart, 'Now that I have seen, I am responsible, faith without deeds is dead'. 

As I listened I felt kind of ensnared by this proclamation, responsible for something just because I was alive. Responsible because we ARE called to something bigger than ourselves. Yet, so often we see ourselves small in the scheme of things. I see MYSELF small. How do I appropriate my faith so that it holds substance or moves mountains? How do I make my deeds line up with that kind of faith? If my faith is lacking or flawed, what good are my actions then? Can I be sure of what I hope for or certain of what I cannot see? Why does faith need to be tested and how do I endure and persevere? Who am I to think that I might have a role to play? In the words of Marianne Williamson we ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, handsome, talented and fabulous? 

There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.
 - Marianne Williamson

So, I planned a trip to Watoto and visited Marilyn's beloved babies and children's homes, and the Living Hope project in Uganda. I saw the incredible things being done at Watoto, saw how a little bit of hope can light an unquenchable fire. I saw lives healed, restored and hope filled. I left inspired and also a little overcome. I wondered where this hold was taking me, wondered what I had to bring? I saw amazing things, but still felt like a bystander on the sidelines. 

I came home and devoured Sam Childers book 'Another Mans War', the true story of one mans battle to save the children in Northern Uganda and Southern Sudan. I met this 'Machine Gun Preacher' and heard his story. Sat in awe of a mission to take back what the enemy stole. Felt goose bumps prickle my skin as he retold stories of ambushing rebel armies to snatch back abducted children.  I had one question ... How the heck could I ever do anything remotely helpful? 

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Child Soldier - They fight like soldiers, they die like children.

Is a child still a child when pressing the barrel of a gun to your chest? 

These words stand out in the first few pages of Romeo Dallaire's book 'They fight like soldiers, they die like children'. I am currently reading this book and it is hard to imagine this distressing reality.

Dallaire was commissioned with the task of bringing peace to the Rwandan conflict in 1994 as commander of a UN operation. What he found there was beyond comprehension. Confronted by child soldiers intent upon a deadly mission, he takes the reader on a horrifying journey through a ghastly civil conflict in the pages of this eye opening book. Transported to the land of a thousand hills, we learn how he heroically faces the devastating and heartbreaking dilemma of the child soldier catastrophe and the far reaching global consequences of this particular mission. In 2004 he appeared at the 'International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda' to testify against the atrocities witnessed in the Rwandan genocide. The movie 'Hotel Rwanda' was based on the role of a Canadian Forces colonel, the role he was commissioned for as Major-General of UNAMIR. This book outlines his personal response as a campaigner of human rights to stop the use of child soldiers in armed conflict. It is both gut wrenching and heartbreaking, yet is a completely passionate and enlightening read. 

I first became aware of the use of 'child soldiers' in armed conflict in 2008 while listening to Marilyn Skinner speak on the 'Watoto' project in Sydney as she explained how they rescue, raise and rebuild the lives of the orphaned, abandoned and rejected children of a rebel war. I remember being completely shocked, mostly because this unbelievable scenario was an ongoing and real crisis in our day and age. How was this possible? Cocooned in my first world complexities, I had never considered the harrowing reality of child soldiers in other parts of the globe, really? It seemed inconceivable that this could happen in far flung countries of the world. I listened to this woman pour out her heart and soul as mine began to tilt in response. I listened intently as she passionately implored us to take note and not turn away. Here was a woman fighting the injustices of the world deep in the heart of Uganda. Her story was riveting. I felt a fissure open up within me, some unexplainable crack of deep compassion cut across my soul. As a mother of two young children on my own, I connected with this story wholeheartedly. I suddenly went there in my mind and couldn't imagine the loss to mother and child as I heard her retell the scenario again and again of children being taken in the dead of night, forced from families, forced to live a life of unimaginable proportions. I felt the welling up of horror, the over spilling of tears. There are moments in life that are defining, this was one of them. 

Right now Rwanda is remembering the pain of the past. This country torn apart by hate, impacted tragically and unbelievably by one of the worst genocidal massacres we have ever known, is today continuing to rebuild itself twenty years on. Forgiveness in the face of overwhelming devastation is changing the face of Rwanda. This past week Rwanda has embraced the annual memorial of that story, and because of it, a celebration of the breathtaking triumph of the human spirit over the most deplorable and tragic of circumstances. Rwanda has risen from the ashes.

Dallaire's book, 'Shake hands with the devil' became an international best seller, outlining the heartbreaking atrocities of the Rwandan genocide and exposing the unbelievable carnage of genocidal mania - the horror of over 800 000 Rwandans being slaughtered in a mere one hundred days. I have yet to read this book.

Linking up with Casey Leigh
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