On paper it looks exactly the same.
In August 2013, I made the difficult decision to not extend my Peace Corps service in Rwanda for a third year. America, I was coming home!
I made a similar choice recently, once again as the summer months came winding to a close, turning back on an almost irrefutable offer to stick around for another year working at an upcoming rural Rwandan social enterprise. Instead of working on the ground with women to develop leadership systems, a for-profit approach within a small bakery, and empowerment strategies, I opted for a one-way ticket to Denver. I accepted the post, originally, and was beyond excited. But, God has a way of making His way known – if you listen. I can’t really explain it, but after a few weeks I knew I had to give up my own desires, wants, and goals, and give in to something greater than myself. I had to rid myself in order to do the right thing.
I’m not back at “square one”, though, not at all.
Yeah, a year later I am still unemployed, leaving Rwanda, and not sure what the heck I am going to do once I finish the long journey in the air. But, really, the similarities end there.
Unlike a year ago, I am far more grounded in my reach and love for Rwanda. Having had had the intense connections here, I was previously determined to allow all of my professional inclinations take root here. In a way, they do, as much of my skill set and deeper inspirations come from here. And to be sure, I am an adventurer-live-life-in-the-moment kind of girl. I think I’ve proven I can do the “alternative” sort of thing by living abroad in a couple of different contexts.
Yet, like I carefully explained to Divine as we walked around the curves of Lake Kivu and Bukavu, the nearby Congolese town, a professional life in Rwanda means signing up for contract after contract after contract. Short term stints in development are incredible opportunities but in their very nature, do not breed stability. If I stay much longer, I know I will settle here. As a young 25 year old that has spent much of the last 7 years away from home, I feel strongly that I can’t do this. I just can’t.
My connection to this country does not need to be hindered by this; as I have worked in Kigali, mingling will all kinds of development, I can take a moment and be honest: I like mine best. I’m not being facetious or absorbed or self-righteousness. Quite literally, as I have explored employment opportunities to do women’s empowerment I have finally realized that HELLO I AM ALREADY DOING WHAT I LOVE TO DO. HEATHER- YOU ARE ALREADY FULFILLING THIS DEEP PASSION FOR WOMEN’S EMPOWERMENT; I have about 4-5 young women that I have connected with over the past three years – in GLOW club, in travel, and in long-distance skype calls – that are being enabled to continue to study and really begin to fathom the kind of life they can build for themselves. I’m doing it. Not because I’m awesome, or great, or some holier-than-thou woman. It’s just what I am meant to do. Period.
I saw this special kind of encouragement in Divine’s eyes when she absorbed Kigali, Nyanza, and Rusizi during our recent week-long travels. The kind of life she can build for herself is possible. If you knew the kind of life that she comes from, this statement is perhaps a miraculous declaration of the reach we can have, should God allow it. Those girls, those young women, they are passionately discerning their goals of education and a promising future. There is no job for me in Rwanda that can “top” this. This is exactly what I should be doing. Sometimes we become confused, thinking everything we do professionally contains all of our interests and deep passions. Actually, it’s how we live our lives that speaks to what makes our heart turn – and this is it. I have big dreams that have nothing to do with what kind of job I have. I want to see the girls graduate. I want Divine to one day visit America. I hope one day they can give back to their own families – and ideally other women who have the same capabilities they do. I can maintain these hopes this alongside these young women, and simultaneously be at home. Talk about being lucky.
My family needs me. I need to be there. It’s as simple as that. I’ve watched Rwandans intensely commit, devote, and give to their families. As I’ve watched how a communal society like this functions, I have been slowly understanding that I must do the same. In a funny way, the familial commitment you can often find in Rwandan society has actually encouraged me to find closure here. Closure was greatly needed, and without this summer I never would have found it.
God’s worked in my heart in new ways the last three months and I can say this much: obedience is hard work. But we must follow. If we do, we will be saved. The negativity, the doubt, the voices, and the evil of this world has the potential to swarm you. The only way to overcome is to follow Jesus. Laying down my own goals, my own objectives for life, and my adamant persistence that I control everything has been the best decision I have ever made. I’ve been a Christian for about 10 years. I’ve been a true follower for about a month.
When I came home from Rwanda last year, I didn’t feel like this. I had tried letting God control that decision, but it was still a decision rooted in my own motivations. I was bogged with fear and uncertainty because of this; I couldn’t trust myself. Now, I don’t have to. Y’all, this isn’t really about me anymore.
This summer was intense.
Professionally. Emotionally. Spiritually.
I am much more honest with myself about who I am. Start removing some of your burdens, short-comings, and lies and you can really find out who you are. I like myself more than I would, honestly.
I grew a much deeper understanding of what it means to advocate for someone. This a major reason why I actually realized why my vocation doesn’t necessarily call me to live in Rwanda. I don’t feel comfortable working in the development world – not here in Kigali. I have my reasons. I do. I have my girls, my friendships, and my grassroots preferences. I stand by them. Working in education finance was informative, interesting, and completely frustrating at times. But hey, I learned a lot. Both internally and externally, and if I had a choice, I would do it all over again.
I know what it feels like to feel utterly alone, completely in the dark. I also was reminded of the immense blessings I have found here, particularly with God’s provisions of the people in your life. Nothing is for accident. And a lot of times, just when we think God wouldn’t do something, He does. Satan will tell us we are disgusting, awful, and unworthy people. He’s wrong. Those are lies. That’s all Satan is. Lies. Once you are able to pick them out – and I finally could do that in the last month – you will be free.
I’m on a plane home today, including one 17-hour leg of the journey from Ethiopia to Toronto.
I suppose these paragraphs of ramblings and realizations is a bit all over the place. That’s okay. I recently read,
“Our original shimmering self gets buried so deep we hardly live out of it at all…rather, we learn to live out of all the other selves which we are constantly putting on and taking off like coats and hats against the world’s weather. “
Frederick Buechner, Telling Secrets.
If you take anything away from this at all, you can know that sometimes taking unpaid, three-month stints abroad actually clears your mind more than you would even imagine. Sometimes going back helps you find closure. Come to find out, bringing closure to life experiences is the very thing that helps you move forward. Most of all, obtaining this closure allows you to stop lying to yourself, to the world about the different selves we put on. No longer can there be a Rwandan, village, Colorado, college, or mid-20’s version of myself. I just want to be me. And that’s what I am going to start taking a lot more seriously. I carry this place – and home – wherever I find myself. And as always, I truly believe that even those who wander aren’t really lost. I think we are just finding the best version (that’s singular) of who we are. Without question, mine lies with Jesus.
Rwanda, I love you, and I always will. Divine and I have forgone any notion of “goodbyes” anyway. It’s see you soon now, always.
America, I’m coming home. For real this time.