Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Hit The Ground Running...

They have known him his entire life.  Peggy met Matthew's mom when she was pregnant with Matthew.  Peggy and her husband, Mark, also did a premarital counseling weekend with us, taking us to a cabin in the mountains to counsel us in preparation to spend our lives together.  We have also spent many evenings at their place sipping Rwandan tea by the fire, listening captivated as they described their experiences in Rwanda.

Their hearts are intertwined with the Rwandans.  Not only is the country beautiful (called 'The Land of A Thousand Hills'), the people are beautiful.  Their story of reconciliation is beautiful.  When a country has a population of 7 million people and of that 1 million are slain in genocide, no one escapes untouched, unchanged.  As I met people my own age, I thought about how old I was in 1994 and what it would have been like to have my world crash down around me like they did - many watching their friends, neighbors, and even parents and siblings lives being taken.  I cannot imagine that kind of devastation.  Yet this realization did not fully sink in until we visited the Genocide Memorial toward the end of our stay in Rwanda.

Again I am struck by the power of relationship, of reconciliation, of forgiveness.  Had I not known the history, heard the stories, and visited the Memorial, I wonder whether I would even sense that such a tragedy had occurred in such recent history.  The country is thriving.  Not only is the government set on having absolutely no hint of corruption, there is a huge focus on reconciliation.  There are reconciliation villages where perpetrators in the genocide live alongside victims who survived when their families did not.  This is even often coupled with the knowledge that that particular person killed their mother or husband or daughter.

Besides the unbelievably powerful impact of reconciliation, there are also many other things that show that the country is thriving - it is clean, green, and lush with every inch of landscape pruned by hand, there is underground fiber optic wiring happening all over the country, and you just get a sense that the country is fighting to move past the devastation in their history to become the pearl that emerges at the end.

This is where Mark & Peggy come in.  They have established relationships with people all across the country and are working to help support them to make this country better and better.  During our two weeks in Rwanda, we had the privilege of touring the countryside to see all the project they are involved in.  And boy did we hit the ground running!  We traveled from city to city meeting people they are connected with, connecting stories we heard with names and faces.

When I think of who Peggy is, I see a woman who is a strong advocate.  You can't help but feel that she is always on your side, cheering you along.  She is truly someone who loves well.  I loved seeing her delight when the driver realized that she remembered his children's names even though she hadn't seen him in a year and he doesn't even speak English.  His face lit up.  So did hers.  And it moved my heart when I saw her embrace a woman who suddenly and tragically lost her baby.  Peggy had just held her sweet infant the week before and gave the woman a photo of the baby.  It is the only photograph this woman has of her child.  Like I said, her heart is intertwined with the Rwandans.

And Mark...Mark is someone that just makes you feel comfortable.  Whether you're listening to the soothing strumming of his guitar or stranded on the side of the road in the dark after a bus accident (more on that story later) his quiet strength and easygoing sense of humor makes him a person that is just so good to be around.  Mark came alive during his interactions all over the country when he simply came alongside the Rwandans to help make their lives better...How to get clean water to this community...How to use local resources and empower the people to form their own solutions...This community has an excess of tomatoes every year, how about dehydrating them and exporting the sun dried tomatoes?  To be honest, I didn't always understand the technicalities behind the water purification or other solutions he helped to brainstorm, but I thoroughly enjoyed seeing the process.

Our time with Mark & Peggy was life giving.  Among all the ministries we saw, my favorite was the Wedding Dress Shop.  After learning of the need for wedding dresses, three to be exact - one big, one medium, and one small - Peggy's heart was stirred to help these women have dresses so they too could feel like a princess on their wedding day.  What started as an idea to bring 3 dresses from the U.S. has turned into a self sustaining business with a storefront presence that the Rwandan women run.  So many dresses have been donated that there are racks of them in the store.  Every time Peggy goes to Rwanda, she vacuum seals her luggage to bring as many donated wedding dresses as she can.  At the shop, women can find and rent the perfect dress for their special day.  It was so fun to look through the dresses on the rack while Peggy named people I know back home who were the original owners, "this one is Jess' and this one is Lindsay's."  The icing on the cake was seeing a woman shopping, trying on, and finding her dress.  Peggy also showed us a dress and told us a story of a bride in the U.S. who chose this dress specifically so she could donate it to Rwanda after her wedding.  Some people are so cool!

Another wonderful highlight was when I found out that I would be able to see a family friend, Mary, who I hadn't seen in years.  Mary is the daughter of one of my mom's best friends and we have known each other since we were little kids.  She is living and working in Uganda for a year and adventurously took an overnight bus by herself to cross the border to meet us in Rwanda.  It meant so much to me that she would do that to spend time with us.  The more time we spent with Mary, the more we found ourselves wishing that we lived closer together so we could spend more time with her.  Her hilarious sense of humor, her faith, and her spirit of adventure make her a joy to be around.

Spending a day with Peggy doing a Game Park drive was another highlight of our time in Rwanda.  I have never seen wild zebras so close, and being able to get out of the car and walk around with giraffes surrounding us was indescribable.  As a friend commented, they are just so otherworldly.  Our guide had an eagle eye for animals as she would suddenly say, "stop the car, look..." and then out of nowhere we would see a warthog or a gazelle emerge from the brush.

And finally, though it happened in the beginning of our trip, I have to end with the story of our bus accident.  The morning bus ride captivated our attention as we took in the stunning mountainous landscape while still buzzing from the excitement of meeting up with Mark & Peggy halfway around the globe.  We spent the day connecting with people we knew and then the four of us enjoyed a dinner together by candlelight.  One small candle lit our table because the power in the restaurant had gone out during the rainstorm.  We caught the last bus of the night for the few hour ride back to Kigali and all four of us dozed off after a full day.

The screeching of tires and sharp sound of metal scraping against the concrete startled us awake as the bus leaned to the right.  I grabbed Matthew's arm unsure whether the bus was going to flip on it's side or whether we were about to slide off the road and tumble down a steep hill.  It was pitch black out.  It was humbling to realize that one man's immediate response was to pray out loud.  Thankfully, no one was hurt although they made everyone get off the bus which is where we realized that the driver had taken a sharp curve too quickly and the rear right tire had gone into a steep drainage ditch pulling us off the road.  It is surprising that the bus didn't flip.  The bus was teetering on the axle, one rear wheel up in the air, the other trapped in the concrete ditch.  Many of the men on the bus started helping to try to push the bus so that all 4 tires were back on the road to no avail.

Suddenly, all the men dispersed at once heading in all different directions into the dark woods surrounding us.  I wasn't sure what was happening until I saw them return with rocks and sticks and anything they could find to build a ramp to get the wheel up.  Somehow, things went from bad to worse when the maneuvering caused both right tires to end up in the ditch.  Well, on the bright side, at least the bus wasn't balancing on the axle anymore.

Matthew and Mark's engineering problem solving minds were working overtime as they thought of potential solutions which couldn't be communicated because of the language barrier.  At one point, it seemed that the driver was following one solution that seemed so promising yet it ended up taking a strange turn and caused all four wheels to get stuck in the ditch!  From bad to worse to much much worse.  At this point we gave up all hope and called some friends to make the hour long drive to pick us up.  "Where are you?  How will we spot you?" they inquired.  Oh, don't worry, just drive on the mountain road until you see a bus stranded on the side surrounded by people.  You really can't miss it.

As we waited for our friends, an SUV decided to stop and try to help (it was really amazing to how many trucks and other people drove by without even slowing to see if we were okay).  The bus driver's next idea was to tie a rope from the back of the SUV to the bus to try to pull the bus out of the ditch.  The problem, as Mark so perfectly described (which also made us crack up laughing) was that the rope looked like a long piece of dental floss.  To our utter amazement, it actually did move the bus a little!  Then, the rope snapped in half - so they retied what was left and tried again, moving the bus a little more.  The rope kept snapping and they kept tying the remains and trying it again.  The bus and SUV kept getting closer and closer together because that tiny rope kept snapping and getting shorter every time.

If you look close you can see the "dental floss" rope :)

The front two tires of the bus were finally out (again, to our absolute amazement) but the rope was so short it was now unusable and the bus also seemed to be smoking underneath.  After a valiant effort, they finally gave up and started hailing drivers down to give rides to the bus passengers.  Shortly after that our friends arrived and indeed confirmed that the bus was pretty easy to spot on the side of the road!

We were grateful to be in a moving vehicle and happy to meet Mark & Peggy's friends who were willing to get out of bed, leaving their kids to rescue us.  Good friends are a treasure and I'm sure we will never forget our first meeting with them!

There are just too many stories to document in this blog, but I cannot end this post without a few more pics of some of the projects we were able to experience with Mark & Peggy...

A brand new Compassion International site

This is a cow that was donated to the village by Yobel Market in Colorado Springs

The villagers enthusiastically welcomed us to their church with music and dancing -
they are so so thankful for the gift of the cow

New homes for families - you can see a stark contrast between the
old home (above) and the new home (below)

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