when education is not enough.

I come from a family built solidly and firmly on the bedrock of education. Becoming an educator is a source of deep pride; my father, for example, attended Overland High School in Aurora, Colorado (a member of the first graduating class) and after receiving his education license during his undergraduate studies, he returned to Overland to teach and has been there ever since.

For nearly 30 years, my father has been teaching a diverse, multi-cultural student body in geography, history, and social studies. Much of his life has been formed within the confines of a classroom, and honestly, I think it’s super badass. He’s inspired me to know the incredible gift that education holds.

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That matters because I grew up noticing and observing and then believing that education was the tool. For me, it was. I attended school systems with resources, qualified teachers, and supportive add-ons to enable the highest student potential to be met. This extended into college too, as if education was assumed to always be present and existent in my life.

So, remaining always enthusiastic to the process of education, I am faced with a deeply important and stark question: what happens when education is not enough?

Kigali, Rwanda

Inside a thick-aired upper room of a small alimentation in Kimironko, Kigali (towards the east side of town) I sat together with a Rwandan student of mine of whom I have known for six years. I hadn’t seen her since my last work trip to the country (in late 2015) and so she updated me, slowly and meaningfully, on each fragment of her life. I leaned in, listening, hanging on every word, wanting to know exactly what was happening.

With bread and fanta on the table, she chewed and sipped and told me everything.

Her mom is sick. Gravely ill. I try to imagine her lively, energetic mother withdrawn and in pain. It’s agonizing, honestly, to even imagine. This student does not have a father – her mother is her only parent. She confesses a fear of what happens if her mother dies. It will be okay, I tell her. But, really? Will it?

Her older sister, in pursuit of a job, left for Kenya without telling anyone in her family. Her family is devastated. They are waiting, hoping she will return.

Her younger sister passed the national exam last year and was selected to a reputable school two hours away from their community. They could not afford the school fees, so instead, she is attending a school that requires a 90-minute walk each day, one-way trip. The school’s education is sub-par and so, she fears that her sister will retain little, and perhaps be confined to the fields for farming for the rest of her life.

This student has the same concerns for herself; she graduated secondary school last year (a major accomplishment) but now, without an accessible (or even permeable) job market in her rural community, she feels stuck, isolated, and alone. Her fear, in addition to being single, is how she could possibly support her family without finding a job.

As she tells her story, I listen. As I listen, the same question repeats itself. This is a girl who did everything “right.” She studied hard, got good grades, and yet still, remains stuck.

How does she get out?

That’s the question, and it’s one that I cannot shake.

As she confesses all of things before me, her throat tightens as she does her best to not cry. Crying in public is quite taboo in Rwanda, and she knows this as much as anyone else. I give her a few minutes to hold it together, reminding her that I’m there for her, and with her. She is stressed and rightfully so; she worked for the last six years (even coming back to school after her father’s death so she could make a life for herself) and now this?

Now what?

How do we fill this gap?

Certainly, that’s the root of the model with my work with TWB: we seek to provide a tangible, realistic, and powerful application for an educational foundation. Yet, our program hasn’t yet reached this young woman – nor has it for all the women in Rwanda (and around the world) that enter the sphere of education but fall short when it comes to applying it. Herein lies privilege – yes, privilege, that uncomfortable elephant in the room of a word where we confront what others have (or do not have) and try to understand how we leverage our own existing mobility.

This student of mine is currently immobile – at least in an opportunistic sense.

For now, I have encouraged her to join other girls that I have supported to map out “next steps” especially as it relates to community-based solutions that would enable her to continue to take care of her family. Whether a small business (of tutoring in English for example) or seeking out educator jobs, I have instilled the hope that she can seek with diligence and confidence. She has something to offer the world and my god, she will offer it.

Yet, even in these small actions that work for a better future, we must take a larger step back and think about the education systems we promote and the larger systems of society they exist within. The strongest education, I believe, is one that is experiential and applicable. Learning can be done for learning’s sake, but it also must allow the learner to build capacity to leverage their own work ethic, knowledge, and potential for a better life.

What if we could re-work our systems and integrate the job market with what we are teaching? What if instead of teaching rote memorization skills, we built a curriculum that was alive, active and channeling participants directly into a trajectory? What if, instead of de-funding our entire system, we invested in it and compensated teachers for the value that they are worth?

I don’t have an answer for these questions, thought I genuinely, authentically wish that I did.

What are your thoughts?

How can we address the gap of education and income security?

How do we protect those, especially women, who are left with limited opportunities and yet incredible, limitless, budding possibility?

These are hard, awkward questions.

But until we ask them, we cannot discover and work through possible solutions. Let’s begin the conversation together. Let’s do this together. Let’s make education work for everyone. And I do mean, everyone.

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Flavia | Woman of the Week

Note – This story can also be viewed – with more information on The Women’s Bakery! – using the link below. 

The Women’s Bakery Blog

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Nestled tightly on a Kigali-bound bus from Kayonza, I grasped my bananas as multiple passengers passed by. The scorching heat was undeniable and unsurprising; even as evening draws near, the Rwandan sun is often relentless. Thank goodness for sunscreen.

I watched as a woman with a purple dress entered and sat in a seat a few rows ahead. Instantly, I realize there was something calming, interesting, and warm about her. I look at my brown paper bag of bananas. At this point, there are just about five other passengers on the bus and so I think, “oh what the heck, let’s share these things.”

I offer each person a banana and they gladly and warmly receive it. Bananas are much like gold here, after all, and so there isn’t a time or place where bananas are not welcome.

This same woman turns towards me and we begin a light conversation in Kinyarwanda. However, as she learned more about me and in turn, The Women’s Bakery, her enthusiasm steadily increased. She explained that she was Flavia, the leader of Kayonza’s co-operative group for women. Raised in Kayonza, her heart beats for the area and for the women around. “Life is hard,” she remarks, “and so I seek to help them to build their livelihoods. Even if it’s a small difference.”

Thrilled, we exchange contact information. I wasn’t sure what the connection would lead to – but I had a sense that I had not seen the last of this woman.

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Faithful to her word, Flavia called a few days later and arranged a follow-up meeting in Kigali. She was serious; she wanted more information about The Women’s Bakery. On her own volition and arrangement, Flavia traveled the 2-hour bus ride into Kigali to learn more about our model, our training, and our belief in business as a way to empower, ignite, and transform lives of women. We gulped tea together, and she nodded along as I explained the nature of our phased-program, the training fee cost, the hope for bakery start-ups, and our vision as an organization to have a presence throughout Rwanda (and beyond). “Yes…yes…” she repeated again, and again.

Her particular group in Kayonza includes 30 women who already have some experience in bag-making with banana leaves, but are looking to grow in their vocational capacity. Flavia, too, is a believer in business; this is what drew her in to learn more about our education offerings in the first place. And so, in our discussions, we tried to understand how our program could match with her group and what ‘next steps’ we would need to take.

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Just two weeks later, I and Meg, our East African Programs Officer, found ourselves back in Kayonza. This time, however, we were in a red, stuffy room at a children’s educational development center that Flavia had helped initiate and get off the ground. This, in addition, to the other roles she has played as a leader in the Kayonza community; I felt as though the more I learned about Flavia, the more dynamic she appeared to be.

We did talk. We started the conversation.

But don’t be fooled, we danced. Of course. Always, always dancing in Rwanda.

The traditional Rwandan dancing came after our arrival and being introduced to the group of women Flavia helped to organize. Each woman shared their name and their home village. Some came in beautiful fabrics found only in these corners of the world, and as each woman presented themselves, I remembered how each one has a story. Each one has a vision. How humbling and grateful I am to work for an organization that blends these stories together for change. Wow.

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We told them of what we do, of the trainings we have completed in other parts of Rwanda and Tanzania, and our vision for women, bread, and business. The women – attentive, excited, and numerous – listened and asked questions. We spoke of the materials for training needed, the kinds of lessons we teach, and the process of what happens after the training is completed. We explained that because of the informational nature of this meeting, our team wanted to better understand if the Kayonza cooperative was ready, compatible, and able to consider seriously entering the process for TWB training.

This is the general process we have as an organization right now – to begin a training, it is important to meet, discuss, share, and negotiate how it would work for each group. Every women’s group that we meet and partner with is different, and the question of commitment and feasibility is always on our minds.

As our team meets with different potential partners, groups, and women, we realize and recognize that the discussions and process are truly a building process. Empowerment, education, and transformational change don’t just happen overnight. It’s a relationship, it’s a discussion, and we were excited to begin those conversations with this specific group in Kayonza. Moving forward will be dependent on numerous variables, largely funding, and yet, the opportunity persists; the need remains. It’s a gap in the world that we are driven by – women’s empowerment – and this group in Kayonza (along with Flavia) was a reminder that because the need remains, we are able to offer opportunity and choice as market-based solutions. That, we believe, is bread power.

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Our woman of the week is Flavia.

Flavia, a leader who is seeking, eyes opened wide, for access and opportunity for her women’s group. Demonstrating what strong advocacy looks like, the conversation for a potential group match would never have begun if she had not initiated the initially small, light-hearted discussion a few weeks back on that sun-soaked bus.

As an organization, we appreciate women like Flavia, as these are the women who are changing, renewing, and innovating their communities – more and more, we hope with bread. Because who doesn’t love a good loaf, right?

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the tasty side of what we do.

the tasty side of what we do.

bread makes for perfect lunch time meals.

bread makes for perfect lunch time meals.

honey, oat, and olive oil.

honey, oat, and olive oil.

new recipes - spinach! basil! oh my!

new recipes – spinach! basil! oh my!

bye (for now)

Hi there.

This morning I took a walk in the Seattle-esque damp mist and watched moms, dads, babysitters, grandmas, and neighborhood friends in black mini vans drop their little kiddos off for school. I remember that distinctive feeling of finishing up with school. Summer is upon you, yearbooks are being distributed, and pools are opening up. They say Christmas is the most wonderful time of year. I, however, would contest that the beginning of summer holds itself as pretty stiff competition.

Strangely, I’m headed off to school today too. Kind of. I’m beginning a two-month training that I’ve written about the last few months; sometimes I’ve posted my fundraising link, other times I’ve referenced the reasons I want to do this thing anyway.

Today, I simply want to say thank you. They are simple words. I do mean them, though.

As my heart orients closer and closer to God, I find more and more

peace, humility, and acceptance.

I didn’t write “happiness”, you know. For so long, I have chased happiness as the indicator of life’s temperature, and for me, for us, friends, I think we can measure with completely different tools. It’s like measuring baking soda with tablespoons (big T) instead of teaspoons (little t).

God doesn’t promise happiness. He promises something greater,

“For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.” Jeremiah 29:11.

My friend Matt wrote this verse on the back of an envelope that he gave me at a quietly filled Starbucks, just a couple of weeks ago. When I opened the card, I was careful to rip the back softly. I put the piece of paper in my Bible and it’s coming with me for the next couple of months.

God promises goodness. Inherent in life is difficulty, pain, and sadness. But how we overcome those things – through God’s grace – is our access point to greater goodness. Not happiness. Happiness is a fabrication of our doing; goodness is a gift given. I am finally ready to accept that gift.

So what’s that mean for all of this?

Well, I’m going through this “training” for practical purposes (learning intricately what it means to follow Jesus, about God’s plan for us, and an opportunity to study more intimately the Bible itself), for spiritual strengthening (namely working alongside a mentor and developing a committed prayer life), and for real commitment to taking part in the kind of love Jesus talks about (missions or not).

It’s going to be an intense 2-months that will take me through classrooms, churches, mountains, foreign countries, other cities, and to places still unknown. It’s 58 days full-time; I won’t be going home and I won’t be spending much time in the communications & social media world. Yes, that means a blogging break. But, I think that’s important; I’ll be doing most of my writing in my numerous and vast notebooks, processing “The Experience” as it goes along. I can’t wait to share all that’s learned when I come back.

Which brings me to my next thing.

I’ll likely be headed to Rwanda & Tanzania late this summer for 3-ish months (until late October) to begin field training with The Women’s Bakery as I take on my new role within the organization. Following my time in East Africa, I will be working primarily from my home base in Colorado. Wow. What a blessing to have a job to come home to; this alone will allow me to even more intensely focus on this impending ministry training. God is so good.

So, as usual, I don’t really know everything that God has in store. He’s doing some crazy things. Just yesterday, I felt like He was answering a good bulk of my prayers that have been left looming for months prior. I called Rachel and was just like, “what the what what what???????????”. Or something like that.

Anyway, just know I’ll be back. Whether I’m writing state-side, ministry-side, or Rwanda-side, I guarantee this: I’ll be writing. And giving thanks.

Thanks y’all.

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Who Am I? (part three)

Frankie: Father, that was a great sermon….made me weep.

Father Hovak: What’s confusing you this week?

Frankie: Oh, it’s the same old, “one God-three God thing.”

Father Hovak: Frankie, most people figure out by kindergarten that it’s about faith.

Frankie: Is it sort of like snap, crackle, pop, all rolled in one box?

Father Hovak: You are standing outside my church, comparing God to Rice Krispies?

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Frankie, in Million Dollar Baby, is an under appreciated boxing coach who stoops to – gasp! – coaching a dynamic, backwoods woman (Hilary Swank). As the film progresses, viewers observe as Frankie moves beyond his structured reasons of order, relationships, and sport and instead, surrenders to the understanding that limitations are only what we make them – faith included. This is not unlike many “walks with Christ”: God is before, with, and beyond us. The Bible points to a myriad of characteristics regarding God (a leader, comforter, defender, lover, all-knowing, all-powerful…) and while it’s important to track these in Biblical precedence, it’s also an experiential relationship that is revealed heavily when engaged in.

I think back on important moments where I felt the Spirit itself and here’s one I would like to share. In it, a group of young Rwandan leaders are together playing guitar and singing. This moment was captured by a dear friend of mine while beginning a week long boys’ leadership camp. Some of the students that attended were blind and it became a genuine opportunity for stereotypes, assumptions, and nuggets of generalizations to be named, discussed, and broken. God works in all of us; the students singing felt as strongly about that as anyone.

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There’s a movement in the United States, with a vision cast by an energized and compassionate Texan, Jennie Allen, called the If: Gathering.

The premise is simple, but the ramifications are huge:

What if God is Who He says He is?

Communities of women all over the world are gathering and taking this seriously –  fellow-shipping and praying together. Building communities and networks of kindness, hope, and church. Not the structure – but the people.

Even at the church I attend, we are exploring the idea of “covenant” in our young adult community groups – practically and relationally seeking what it means to build a relationship like this with God, others, and our community.

If we say God : (fill in the blank) –

How does this impact what we do?

What does our functional belief system reveal about how we define God?

So, here on my little home of a blog, I’ve been asking the question Who Am I? in contemplating some of these questions. I see, feel, and know God to be an experience. Dynamic, creative, gracious, redemptive, strong, and without blemish. He knows His people and His people are his jewel, remnant, and perfect reward. Above all, God is transformative.

Especially in the name of Truth. Because that’s exactly who He is: TRUE.

Unlike the biblical fire stones of debate that are easily found online, I’m not talking about theological truth, doctrinal truth, or truth as any given person relativizes in their world. I’m talking about life. About the lives we have lived.

Good, bad, beautiful, ugly, weird, eccentric…whatever it has been. Because here is the thing: the PAST is our truth. It doesn’t have to hold us down in bondage by definition, but ultimately: it has happened. We are living to tell about it. Speak. Truth. God has been alongside us the entire time. He knows.

God is transformative because He encourages these discussions. About being true to what has been your life story and maybe what you hope it to be.

However, instead of asking “what do I want to do with my life?” or “what are my gifts?” the trans formative quality of these “truths” can probe a question like,

What is He calling me to?

When that’s the question life becomes a lot less scary.  Fear? It will be taken care of. Doubt? Work through it. It’s normal and it’s no less painful, but step on the right path and at some point these concerns feel….resolved. You walk through them, but you know in the end, you’ll be taken care of.

All of this to say, truth included, that’s not only how I see God working in our world, but that’s precisely why life is taking me where it is in the next few months…and years.

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I am entering an equipping ministry training for 2 months because I believe God is asking for all of my truth and how to enter into conversations with others so they can do the same. Truth really does set people free. I’ve seen it happen time and time again.

After training, I will start a new job. It’s unrelated and totally different from a ministerial type of position. Yet, working with others cross-culturally, building relationships, and building a business model need the foundational wisdom of how to engage others in meaningful conversations and experiences. So, the ministry training will inevitably inform this experience too. I’ll be working for The Women’s Bakery – http://www.womensbakery.com.

Between sharing these two upcoming opportunities and changes in my life with friends and family the last couple of weeks, I have fielded some questions that are important to address.

I have included some of them here. Should you have more, please feel free to contact me at heathermnewell@yahoo.com.

In so far as understanding more about the ministry & equipping training program, you can also visit the ministries link here: http://forgeforward.org/equipping/the-experience.

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Is the Experience related to working for the Women’s Bakery?

No – they are two separate opportunities. The Experience is training; the Women’s Bakery will be a full-time, paid position where I will be based out of Denver, working as the US program director stateside (from home!).

How long is the Experience? The Women’s Bakery?

Two months. I will start mid-May and end mid-July. I will start with the bakery either at the end of July or in early August. I will be traveling to East Africa a few times a year to get experience on the ground, but most of the year, I will be here in Denver.

What exactly do you do during the training with Forge Ministries?

The Experience – the titled training program with Forge – is a two month phased program. The first part is direct training in how to engage in cross-cultural ministry. The second phase is an international mission trip. The third section is utilizing teaching skills and leading a camp for young Christians at the YMCA. The final part includes a mission opportunity stateside as well as “life planning” that involves working with a mentor to map out our lives – past, present, & future. I will be here in Colorado for most of the training – but I will be housed with the other program participants – I will not be living at home. Once I finish, I will return to living at my apartment in the Denver area.

 Will you be converting people with the Experience?

The intention of the program is to build and strengthen the individuals’ relationship with God so they know how to cultivate the kind of world and “kingdom” that God and Jesus speak about in the Bible. Essentially, how to build community. The program focuses intensely on nurturing your own spiritual walk and faith in God so that you live the life that God has called you to.

 Why is the Experience costing you so much money?

It’s a training experience that is literally, experiential. This involves travel. A bulk of the expense is traveling abroad for a mission project – either in Haiti, Guatemala, or Honduras. However, we also will be getting housed, fed, and taught, all of which require financial commitments. To donate please visit the following link:

http://kbm.donorpages.com/TheExperience/HeatherNewell/

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the experience.

“Why do you believe in God?”

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The drizzle of rain and sputtering puddles around the city glistened outside the metropolitan burger joint. I was in Brooklyn with Suzi; one of my dear friends from the Peace Corps, and sipping a peanut butter shake. I swallowed the sweet concoction and paused to answer the question with articulate conviction. I thought, “I can’t really describe it,” and the words felt hard to form. Later, while hiking in Buena Vista, I found the two sentences I had been seeking in that moment,

He has never failed me. He has never left me.

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My belief rests here and is then planted, rooted, and grown because of who Jesus calls us to be in our faith with God. Never again do I want to fumble when someone asks me why. It is a story, yes, but the beauty of our relationship with God is being able to share it.

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In Him and by Him and for Him, all things hold together. – Colossians 1:16

Because brokenness manifests itself differently in our lives, the consequences develop in a multitude of ways. In my own life, control has gripped my heart and often directed my path. On the surface, it’s not so troubling – I succeeded in my drive to be the best athlete I could be, completed a degree at a prestigious college, and blossomed in development work as a United States Peace Corps Volunteer in Rwanda. I love people, working hard, and maintaining many fruitful relationships. Yet, often I have done all this to mask my own pain and hurt. If I could manage it all – in my own strength – I would be just fine, right?

Um, no.

For the past 3 years He has patiently and intentionally dismantled every notion of my own power. He used Rwanda in particular to reveal this to me. More miraculously, He used one of His daughters, Divine, to speak enough wisdom into my life that I could begin to accept what God really has for me.

We bickered once over something silly. She was washing clothes in a basin just perfectly, and when I came alongside her and she tried correcting my form, I got mad. The blue soap continued to press and push in her hands until she dropped it and water plopped near her elbows as she stood up, looked in my eyes, and said, “Heather, you are not perfect, you cannot be perfect… why do you try so hard? You have a fear to be weak. But you have Jesus. You can be calm and rest. Don’t fear, my friend.”

Wow. Talk about truth in your face.

That’s how Rwanda was entirely. The joys, the students, the pain, and the poverty. Yet, by becoming a part of that community, I had to release my own assumptions, desires, and will. I just was and freely accepted what was becoming. When I came back home, my faith in The Lord grew out of totally necessity, but my belief in myself diminished.

Who was I? …What now?

It became a year of deep pain too. Questions of identity, issues with eating properly, pain from watching my brother work through his own issues, and a loss of overall belonging nagged and drug on.

However, in the last year I also depended on God more than ever, found a church home, and began to write and share about this cultural and faith struggle more and more. I began to realize how blessed I have been through it all and that He has always provided.

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At 26, for me, God wants more.

Wired to passionately serve with others from all different places, I must submit my control, my broken heart, and my fear of vulnerability to do so in the name of God. I must forge on with a recommitted heart. And so, I will be committing 2 months this summer to The Experience.

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The Experience is a 58-day equipping program that takes a group of young adults through training, ministry, life planning & coaching. Practical skills training will be the focus for the first several weeks in Denver and this will continue in travel overseas to understand cross-cultural ministry in application. The commonality of all sustained relationships I have built cross-culturally – be it in Vietnam, Ghana, or Rwanda – has been God Himself.

The Experience will expound upon that even further. Following time overseas, the program will send us to serve as leaders of a summer camp for youth exploring Jesus in the beautiful Rocky Mountains. Towards the end, our team will work across the United States in ministry opportunities before spending the final phase learning in depth who God made me to be as I prepare to continue my work across cultures.

The Experience is unique and presents itself at a timely point in my life.

Later this Spring when tax season comes to a close (!!), I will finish my time with the financial firm I have been so fortunate to work with this past year. Then, I will begin The Experience from mid-May to mid-July. Following this commitment and beginning in late July, I will resume working cross-culturally as I begin a full-time position with The Women’s Bakery – (click to find out more!) a parent organization that oversees independent and women-operated bakeries in East Africa by providing training, ongoing support, and education. I will work from the United States, but inevitably, will develop relationships across cultural and social lines. Continuing this ever-present passion, I realize that for myself, God must be at the source of it. The Experience will help me do that.

Whatever it is that God has planned for me, it can only be realized with the help of others. Prayer is of the utmost importance as I allow God to lead me and submit to my own plans, power, and control. If you can please pray for this program and my journey through it the next few months that would be greatly appreciated.

Also, I would ask that you prayerfully consider financially partnering with me regarding this training and equipping opportunity.

The cost for the program itself is $5600. This includes housing (I will be living with other program students for the duration of the two months), food, international and domestic travel, teaching, and any needs I would incur during my time in training. Additionally, I will be seeking support to help cover my expenses while I am not living at home (including my rent, loan payments, health insurance, and the Rwanda girls’ education). Those costs equal $2400.

It’s mighty expensive, but as my mother was quick to assure me: this is the life of a missionary.

Whether that becomes the final road I take is uncertain, but as a member of our striving “beloved community”, I hope you can think of this as an investment of resources into people, a movement, and changed lives. It’s an educational experience that allows God’s love to develop and grow.

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If you are able and willing you can support me here: http://kbm.donorpages.com/TheExperience/HeatherNewell/

You may also write a check to Forge and mail it to: 14485 E Evans Ave., Denver, Colorado 80014.

You can include my name “Heather Newell” in the memo.

If you have any questions, or would like to speak further, please call, email, or visit me on my blog website listed below. You can also learn more about Forge and refer to their annual guide at: www.forgeforward.org/annual-guide.

Thank you, love you, and God Bless,

Heather Newell

heathermnewell@yahoo.com

720.288.6697

www.ikundayou.wordpress.com

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