Something amazing happened just a few hours before I got on a plane and left Rwanda.
I met with one of my supervisors at the Peace Corps office.
The Peace Corps office in Kigali sits upon a hill that overlooks a very green golf course. You can see Kigali City Tower several miles away, and when you look far, towards the horizon, you can see some of the city smog mixing with the blue mountains and the yellow-orange sun. It’s a breath-taking view and I always thought that our office was located in a very picture-esque part of the city. Plus, not only was Bourbon just a 5-minute walk away, but a new coffee shop of wonderfully epic proportions (smoothies! cinnamon rolls! pastries!) opened just across the street this last summer.
So I passed by all of this and walked the obnoxiously narrow stairway to my supervisor’s office. This was the last step to officially “cos-ing” that is, closing out my service and officially ending my 2-year job as a Peace Corps Volunteer. I was feeling humbled, quiet, and reflective that day. It was my last day in country, after all, and my life had finally met the next crossroad, whether I was ready or not.
I entered his office that glowed just a bit from his yellow lamp and sat down, took a breathe and we started to chat. I figured about 5 minutes into our discussion that I would be out of his office in less than 20 minutes. He was asking the basic, obligatory questions that every Peace Corps Volunteer gets asked before they leave and quite frankly, I was giving superficial and short answers. Let’s just get this over with.
But then something weird happened. I mentioned off-handedly about my time in the Catholic Church in Rwanda and how my friendship with Divine really did elevate my faith to a new level in terms of trust, reliance, and belief. That girl changed my life, and I started to open up about to my boss and former Peace Corps Volunteer. He smiled a bit and remarked, “wow, that is just so beautiful.”
Next thing I know, an hour has passed and we have been exchanging stories about how God works in our lives and in the relationships we make “out there” and how it’s so incredibly hard to come back and explain exactly how that all worked. It’s completely transcends how we understand people, God, and faith.
Before I left, he did two things. First, he told me that I’ll be fine. He told I would end up right where I needed to be. And that not to worry, those connections you make? They are always there. Be patient, he said. Just enjoy the transition because soon, you’ll be back. Whatever that means.
The second thing he did was strum his fingers along the bindings of hundreds of books. He was looking for something. A few minutes pass and finally he finds the mid-sized paperback he had been searching for. He writes something in the front page and passes it to me.
“I like to keep a few extra titles that I feel strongly about to pass along when it feels right. I want you to have this book. Read it. I think you’ll find a great deal of strength and meaning in it. So much of what you’ll read in here will speak exactly to what you told me about God, Divine, and your life for the last couple of years in Rwanda.”
I could barely muster a thank you. I stumbled over a few words and said goodbye.
I opened the book on the plane, right before taking off.
On the first page was a quotation from Oscar Romero in 1977, The violence we preach is not the violence of the sword, the violence of hatred. It is the violence of love, of brotherhood…
The next page is dated December 10, 2013, with “Kigali” written under the date.
It is good to serve with you. Here’s hoping our paths cross again.
Then he signs his name. Abrazos comes from a Spanish word meaning “to embrace.”
The book he has given me is called “The Violence of Love” and it is a compilation of radio speeches from El Salvadorian Archbishop Oscar Romero. Romero was a leader of the church during El Salvador’s bloody civil war and one of the primary way he reached his followers and citizens was by of radio. This book is a collection of some of the most moving and meaningful excerpts from Romero.
I didn’t know how important it would become to me.
I’m a mess. I drop my phone, my hair is a bit frazzled, and I slip on a small patch of ice on the way into church. I get there – about 10 minutes late – with a warm cup of coffee in hand and look for an open seat. I find one near the front row, next to an older single woman. Today, I’m worshipping alone as mom had headed up to the mountains for a birthday celebration with Randy. No matter that I’m late, my coat is off, I’m singing, and I’m there.
The song plays on and it’s beautiful. I close my eyes, pray, and open them back up. I take a moment and look around and it’s like I’m seeing something miraculous for the first time.
I’m surrounded by a group of believers and a congregation. I’m seeing men and women raise their hands asking for everything. Maybe they are needing strength in an illness, peace for financial security, or hope for a never-ending cycle of doubt. I don’t really know what everyone is praying for. But it’s here that I realize that this jean-lovin’ group of Christians isn’t all that different from the African-fabric wearing Christians I prayed with for so many days in Rwanda. As I glance around, my memories of Rwandan Sundays float back and it’s like I’m seeing these two very different places at one time. Embarrassingly, I start letting go of some held-up tears because I’m so emotionally moved. I’m not sad – it’s not that I’m missing Rwanda at this time – I’m overwhelmed. It’s an incredible thing to realize how badly we need God and how deeply we need Jesus. It’s not just about our church or our family or our country. It’s about everyone. Because I can guarantee you this, the prayers of Rwandans and Americans really can’t be that divergent. All of us, we give thanks. We express our love. And we ask for answers. And God loves us back. Jesus provides grace. Herein lies the beauty of Christianity, and on this particular Sunday, I’m just so moved by the fact that we can actually experience God’s love at any time, in any place. The cold, concrete floors edged with dust hold the feet of Rwandan Christians. The carpeted floor full of remnants of Colorado snow keep warm the feet of American Christians. God has the power to take us, to take the weak things of the world, and He makes them strong. It doesn’t matter where you go or where you are from. God is God.
I sat down after the time for singing and wiped away my tears. I’m sure the single woman next to me thought what in the heck is wrong with this girl? but I just smiled and continued to listen.
You know when everything just aligns as it should?
The message for that day stemmed from Acts 1:14.
They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers.
Our pastor went on to discuss the way in which Peter and John and other followers of Jesus prayed. And I sat there engrossed the entire time. So, this is what it’s like to understand the body of Christ. Or understand a small part of it, anyway.
Later that Sunday, I opened that book up. The Violence of Love. You know what excerpt I read?
Let us not measure the church by the number of its members, or by its material buildings. The church has built many houses of worship, many seminaries, many buildings that have been taken from her. They have been stolen and turned into libraries and barracks and markets and other things. That doesn’t matter. The materials walls here will be left behind in history.
What matters is YOU, the people, your hearts. God’s grace giving you God’s truth and life. Don’t measure yourselves by your numbers. Measure yourselves by the sincerity of heart with which you follow the truth and light of our divine Redeemer.
-December 19, 1977
Sometimes God just makes it so abundantly clear.
I’m keeping all of this in the back of my mind. This kind of community – us, as a people – that God wants us to be. I’m staying rooted in the people back in Rwanda who taught me a lot about this and continue to encourage me to stay on God’s course. And I’m reaching out to the communities that exist around me, because we were never meant to feel God alone. Sometimes, certainly, but if I learned anything from that one service and that one excerpt, it’s that we are in this together.
Because so much of life is not getting what we want. Or what we think we want. Just this last week.
A disappointment here, a rejection here, and by Friday, there’s a completely heart-breaking situation that makes me just want to stay in bed all weekend long.
We have to fight this inclination. We have to do better, not because we should, but because we can.
Because as Timothy Keller writes in Encounters with Jesus,
“God looked into our world – the world he made – and saw us destroying ourselves and the world by turning away from Him. It filled his heart with pain (Genesis 6:6). He loved us. He saw us struggling to extricate ourselves from the traps and misery we created for ourselves. And so he wrote himself in. Jesus Christ, the God-man, born in a manger, born to die on a cross for us. Behold who Jesus is, how he loves you and how he came to put the world right.”
That’s love, y’all.