My feet are small (perhaps cute when they are well taken care of) but they are mighty. I used to kick around soccer balls with these size 5 pudgy things; I’ve trekked a mountain or two; and they have carried me to places I never thought I would go. More recently, they have been my tickets to intimacy with the Lord.
With a disinterest in motorcycle taxis and a preference for active sightseeing around Kigali, I began walking in order to get things done. A few weeks ago, God pushed me further: “blessed are the feet that bring good news!” (Romans 10:15) and so I intentionally prayed for people to greet, talk to, and occasionally pray with on these busy tarred and rocky roads.
Drawn often towards older women street cleaners, amazing, almost miraculous things have taken place. Not because of anything I am doing – but because He is in the thick of these moments and conversations. In praying with one woman, Marita, once, a passerby, Grace, joined. We held hands together and continued in prayer. People, wide-mouthed, walked by in disbelief. I smiled when we finished.
Why not? If we can pray in churches together, then surely we can pray on the streets together.
Once, when my sandal broken on the outskirts of a sleepy Eastern town, Nyagatare, God placed a woman shoemaker right next to me – tools and all. Last week, a Muslim man asked me about Jesus. Mind you, this was in Kinyarwanda. God gave me the words. I didn’t speak with force, superiority, or intimidation. I was honest. I told him that no, Jesus wasn’t just a prophet – He came to save the world. He was sent by God. This man, Yohani, didn’t walk away totally convinced. But her shook my hand, hugged me, and said I was different – I wasn’t just a well-read Christian; I spoke from the heart. It was the nicest thing anyone had said to me in quite some time.
God’s revealed a lot to me as I have put one foot in front of another. With 10,000 steps, my daily goal, a lot of forward progress is required.
Our walks are not simply efforts in active ministry; it’s a way for me to hear His voice, too.
He’s reminded me of the root of abundant life: Him, not me.
He’s gently rebuked my controlling ways that always seem to surface back.
He has spoken and shown a deep love for grace and joy – for all.
He’s maintained promise after promise after promise.
He’s asked me to just wait. Wait and see.
To put on paper what He is worked in these daily 10,000 steps is nearly impossible, but I do love to try. This is why and where I find contentment in writing: it can show what He has done. Our stories of faith, revelations, and relationship with God become the life story.
And so, I try writing, perhaps not doing it justice, but it never did hurt to try. Here’s one of His most recent great works.
On yet another walk, Jean Pierre, an old Hendrix friend of mine, and I trudged up the brown-green hill in Gatsibo District to visit the local teacher training school. Zahara now attends this location – only 1 of 4 teacher training schools in the Eastern Province – and will continue to be trained in nursery school teaching for the next 2 ½ years. I was Zahara’s English teacher way back when it seems (when she was only in Senior 1 & 2!) and so I couldn’t wait to see what this new school had held for her and the way it would mold her future, her methodology, and her very natural gift of teaching.
I was stinky in sweat while the sun was seriously scavenging our skin, but I still smirked with restrained excitement as we entered the school metal gates. Even from the path below, her school looked stunning. For an hour, I met with administrators and toured the campus.
A new school, the bricks are molded together with white cement and the dormitories are full of beautifully built wooden bunks – the first of wooden beds that I have seen at a boarding school in Rwanda! An early childhood education student, Zahara is already observing nursery classrooms to ultimately educate Rwanda’s very young youth. Zahara is fed three full meals a day and is Vice-President of English while also serving as prefect for the girls’ dormitory.
I saw her sitting in her Foundations of Education class and waved timidly. She blushed back and I couldn’t wait for the bell to ring so we could chat. Finally. It’s been a year; but for someone your heart loves so preciously, that’s a very long time.
We sat in the main school office, tear-ridden and amazed we had gotten here. Literally. All of it – the student body, the school building, the environment, the programs – it made me incredibly grateful and joyful. I know a bit of where she has come from, and so this, yes this, is a promise of hope being fulfilled.
She’s doing it! She’s working towards her dream of teaching. I closed my eyes and I audibly praised Jesus. It wasn’t the education alone changing Zahara’s life – it was Him. She knows it too. As her eyes watered with genuine gratitude, I attempted to mutter a few words, like I had finally pieced together a long-awaited puzzle, “God brought out lives together for a reason…”
I started but choked up. Left speechless. Always left speechless.
But because we are in the world, nothing is so beautifully or perfectly wrapped or completed like this all the time. Our stories our laced with promise and struggle.
Her family called about an hour later, reeling off intense issues that were taking place at home while she was away at school. I watched helplessly as she quickly fell into the trappings of guilt, darkness, fear, and misery.
Traumatized, she was unreachable for 30 minutes. Crying, sobbing, and in a pit of pain, I prayed for her. You have to understand the depth of her family brokenness. Her past trauma is true and real. She, like all of us in some way, has been shattered.
I thought back to the previous week and deeply sympathized with her. I had visited her family, right in their home (back in our village), and I too, could sense a bit of this kind of penetrating, overwhelming wreckage.
It was as if I had re-entered a room and though nothing had changed, everything had changed. All the problems. All. the. problems. Sickness, famine, dry fields, absent teachers, failed projects – God placed this place on my heart – so why did it feel so bad?
While on my visit, I excuse myself from the family table and go on one of these “10,000 step walks” to gain clarity and grounding. With the skirmishes and on-going issues of her family resurfacing, I began to ask questions out of hopelessness.
Is this school-sponsorship thing even worth it? Am I still being called to help facilitate this? Does this – will this – ever change? What might actually work here?
I had let hopelessness – damn you, hopelessness – trickle in.
The thick evils of our world would much prefer we stay in this place of distraught discontentment. If we do, we don’t remember the purpose of our lives and what we ultimately seek and strive for. Namely, there is nothing we can do in ourselves to end these challenges, disparities, needs, and pains. Strife will be with us as long as sin has a stake – and until otherwise notified – sin is a tragic part of our existence. And so, because of that, we don’t give up. We press on, asking God, what would you like me to do? How can I serve YOUR plan – even in these situations that I don’t think I can really handle? We surrender ourselves (feelings included) trusting that He will show a way.
I finished the weekend in more bountiful, joyful spirits (after all, my village is, and always will be, a sweet spot of home for me) but the power of hopelessness did not go unnoticed. That’s why Jesus and grace and love can be so difficult to comprehend; the further lost we become in our hopelessness, the harder it can be to come out of it.
I knew it would be something I would need to remember.
Zahara left for the dormitory to have the space to let her emotions free.
The school disciplinarian and dorm mama sat alongside her too, patiently scratching her back, waiting for her emotional return. It was here, on this auburn-wood stained bunk, that a newly resurgent wave of conviction, passion, and belief came upon me.
Where God opens doors, the evil forces of our world will try to desperately distract us so we close them and miss our path to grace.
I’ve closed enough doors in my life to know this.
I didn’t want to see Zahara trek down this same kind of road.
“You are meant for this Zah….believe me. We don’t know why opportunity or struggle or our situations are placed in our lives and then come and go…but you are here. Keep pushing forward. This is your future. You must believe in what is being laid before you.”
Blotchy redness slowly faded and we hugged. I think she believed me.
I will keep praying, I told myself.
I was quiet for some of our bus-ride back to Kigali.
What was God doing? What was He revealing – to both me, and Zahara?
Morning comes too early.
My mind has determined to run, my body however, has not. I choose coffee and oatmeal knowing that I will be walking later anyway. Maybe I will do an extra 2,000 steps here or there for measure. I spill hot grounds on my Bible and oats fall between my shirts. Once a master of morning hours, I am now a mess. I dress and the walk begins. If only I knew what was ahead.
I would pray with Sifa, a woman searching for something. We chatted briefly, and I prayed that peace would transcend all areas of her life. Minutes later, I arrive at Canaberra, for another morning coffee with Nadine, a speaker and recruiter for Rwanda’s only all-women higher level institute, Akilah. With a mutual writing interest, we got connected and were discussing how she could elevate her work for communication and professional purposes. Our discussion shifted instinctively to the realm of faith.
Minutes later, as we sipped from our mugs, Nadine was telling me her own story. Raised within deep poverty in Rwanda, she used to walk 2 hours to school a day. There wasn’t always food. Her mother was sometimes sick. She knew God, however, and didn’t stop believing things could be different. Someone, along the way, believed in her too. The right person at the right time.
Then, her life changed forever. She enrolled in Akilah’s hospitality program and following completion of her degree, became a development and recruitment associate – on one occasion, working in their New York City office for 6 months.
“God’s hands were all over it. It’s only for His glory.”
She was emotional as she shared – almost in disbelief about what God had done. On a prompting from the Holy Spirit, I shared Zahara’s story with her. It had just happened days before and was still fresh in my mind. Then something amazing happened.
“I would love to talk with her…to reach out to her…whatever she needs…”
Just 24 hours earlier, I had prayed God would show an answer to Zahara’s needs of assurance and comfort in her freshly-sought faith. A mentor. A mentor who knows much more than I ever could. I exhaled with so much thankfulness and relief.
2 Peter 3: 8-9
8 But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. 9 The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.
He’s got a plan for Zahara. I’m just one small part. He is true to His people. He is faithful. That’s the God we live for, the God of creation. When we walk discerningly, it is amazing what we find. Whatever blisters may come, I will do my 10,000 steps faithfully too, and seeking and trusting in his unyielding sovereignty. It may be easy to forget, but that’s why God is a God of relationship. We walk with Him, sometimes taking wrong corners, but realizing He can (and will) get us back on track when we let Him. And more importantly, just because we follow Him doesn’t mean our walks are full of momentous, jump-on-the-couch-happy dances. Life is hard. Really, really, really hard. Zahara, her family, my village, and things in between reminded me of that this week. Prayer is a serious thing then, because it allows us to voice those concerns. God knows, but our voices bring the reality to life. Talk with Him. He’s listening.
It’s worth it. He is. You are. Life. Let’s try and hold firm to His promises. That’s my prayer for Zahara, for me, for all of us.
Enjoy your walk. With each step, we have a new promise. Promise.