Last week, I entered what has been deemed sacred by defenders of gym life, the locker room, gabbing abruptly on my phone. Dirty looks were cast my way but I allowed them to bounce off the ever-present mirrors around us.
I chuckled loudly and in the midst of tennis shoes, spandex, and work clothes, I realized these people are also perhaps heavy onlookers because not only am I shouting vigorously, but I am speaking Kinyarwanda. Another language, girl. Oh.
I gazed at one of those omnipresent mirrors and gave myself a funny look. How is it 2015 and you are standing half-dressed at one hell of a gym (10,000 square feet!) in South Denver, simultaneously laughing with Rwandans thousands of miles, hours, and lifetimes away? Technology, the world, and communications never cease to amaze me – even after all this time of adjusting to long-distance, cross-cultural relationships.
That afternoon – and in culmination of a few days of conversations – I spoke with all of “the girls” via Skype. Some of the contact is regular; Divine and I chat weekly, but because Maisara, Zahara, Yazina, and Eugenie don’t keep their phones charged while at school, the conversations occur a bit more sparingly.
Epic, are they, when we finally have our chats again.
Hence the hootin’ and hollerin’ in the locker room in good ole’ suburban America.
It doesn’t seem long ago – and yet it was – when I first met these young women who had only motivation, persistence, and ethic to fuel their commitment to learning. In a span of 4 years – because of their own opportunities and awareness of themselves – they have developed an underlying belief in what they are doing. They have seen it works.
Maisara was a shy, timid, and tired young lady when we first met. I’ll never forget that first home visit – her body was physically present, but her mind was far, far away. She pursed her lips in hesitation and fear as I got to know her. As she opened up though, she blossomed. She’s a natural leader, with intellect and charisma, doing everything with intention. I love that about her, and I have heard it in her voice, and seen it displayed in her actions. She scores goals, aces exams, and studies every free moment she has. No longer timid, she can brighten any room she enters.
Zahara has always been more gregarious, rambunctious, and let’s be real, crazy, but she’s oozing this quality of balance now. She is maturing and honing her strengths beautifully as she becomes soccer captain and head girl at her new (brand new – just built last year!) school. She’d drive me nuts when I would teach her class lessons – she was so dang talkative – but as she’s grown up a bit, she understands better how to utilize her sociability. People can’t help but want to be around her.
Divine is more thrust into her life as a Catholic woman than ever. On campus, she tells me that she is a “prayer warrior” and leader for student religious events. She’s always been faithful, but now, I sense it’s seeping into everything; namely her education. Success, she says, is not the pinnacle. Trusting in the process is. Take that for a chunk of wisdom. Her education is fueled and funneled as a top priority along with her identities as a Christian and daughter. She is starting to fully grasp what it is to be well-rounded; understanding that her best qualities are available to her in anything she might do.
Yazina’s grades are improving – promising, considering the poor girl is loaded with Chemistry, Math & Physics courses. Bleh. When I was in Kigali last summer and I visited her school, she was intensely worried about her marks. Be patient, my dear, her grandmother would tell her over a broiled pot of bananas and greens. And indeed, it’s getting better for her. She wants to be a nurse or a doctor, so the only road ahead is the one full of calculators, tests, and laboratories. When I met her back in 2011, I noticed her observant mind right away. She’s still like that. Only with a little more sass.
I only began to facilitate education sponsorship for Eugenie last August, but I have known her now for over three years. She’s diligent, studious, kinder than most people I know, and also eaten alive by an incessant need for perfection. Stemmed from a forever begrudged father who is always groaning about raising 4 girls and never fathering a son, she has always wanted to prove something. It’s an innate human quality, and these young Rwandan women and ladies are no exception to the rule. In our conversations, she’s learning how to not be perfect. We’ve all been there right? It’s a necessary lesson, and one that serves a 20-year old girl quite well. Hell, we’re all still learning how to graciously do that, right?
I share all of this – their summaries and life updates – not to solely draw light on an important issue (education for women) but to address the reality that, like scripture tells us,
For wherever your treasure is, there your heart will be also. Matthew 6:21
Supporting them is a commitment that I happily stand by. These long conversations, money transfers, readings of tuition statements…it pales to what the experience has been like for them but also for me. Frankly, by staying faithful to this commitment, God has remained faithful to all of us. As you can read above, they are thriving at their schools. More than that, they are thriving women. That’s the real victory. Humbly, fortunately, and by the grace of God, I can say the same for myself.
What’s appropriate; what’s not. What my role is; what it’s not. When it works; when it doesn’t.
Some have called this charity. Some of labeled it ministry. Still others have commended the great and noble act of advocating for a person when they may not have the means to do so themselves.
I smile when I get comments like that. I appreciate that heartfelt sentiment. But let me be the first to say, God has impressed something important on me in this process.
This is not about me. I’ve prayed that, spoken that, and have come to believe that. I do this because ultimately, these girls are my friends. I love them. We are called to covenantal relationships of love that require agape that is unconditional. So, sure, I help them go to school. But when Rwanda was my home, they were the frameworks, building blocks, and foundation for my life. They cooked me meals, showed me how to get around, and laughed with me. They protected me. They stayed with me. They do some of this – even now. We talk and I am reminded to be patient. To practice intentionality. They remind me what’s real in life – and what is not. That, is truly a relationship.
I love cross-cultural experiences because of that – you learn quickly that the human experience is far more wide and far-reaching than you can ever even grasp.
Here’s the kicker, though.
At least in my life, the kind of relationships I describe above?
You and I aren’t only called to do this kind of stuff for people thousands of miles away who may need the opportunity. We are called to seek ways to serve, share, and do life with the people in our inner-circle or periphery too. Just because we can build from afar doesn’t mean we aren’t called to build right next door.
In many ways, it’s harder to engage in covenant with those close to us – especially in proximity to our hearts, homes, and past. It might hurt a little more – just a warning.
But I can say this: God wants this. God seeks covenant with us, and in turn, exhorts us to a covenant relationship with other people. Moms, dads, brothers, bosses, roommates, whatever or whomever it may be. Can you do this with absolutely everyone? No, of course not. But live like you can. Live a bit like Jesus and your life might look a little different. It’s not a self-righteous thing, it’s a love thing. When you realize that, everything changes. It did with the girls in Rwanda and it’s happening with my life here too.
That’s transformation, my friends.
Love will change everything.
From Ephesians 4:
11 So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, 12 to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of Godand become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. 14 Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming.
15 Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. 16 From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.
31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. 32 Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.