In August of 2012 his mother died. Just a month later his father died, leaving Joseph Mpiranya the head of the family, responsible for his three sisters’ education and well being. They are in secondary school (high school). Joseph was just beginning his second year at PIASS.
Saturday, May 25, 2013
Wednesday, May 8, 2013
Every house has problems with water from time to time. That is part of life. Mine have just come in rapid succession. I have only been in the house a month and I have called the plumber 4 times. There are only 4 water sources in the house and each one of them has developed its own problem. Fortunately the plumber is reliable and compassionate. He comes quickly.
When I first moved in, I noticed that each morning, water had pooled on the bathroom floor over night. My housekeeper, Josephina, who was here a few days before I moved in preparing the house, just dutifully mopped it up, as if this were a normal part of life. But each morning the pool seemed larger to me. By my fourth morning in the house, the pool extended to half the bathroom floor. I reported this to my friend Celestin, who is also the presbytery clerk in charge of the house and he sent the plumber. The plumber found a small hole in a pipe and dutifully repaired it. Problem solved in just 15 minutes. I rested easily when the next morning the floor was dry.
But two days later, on a Saturday, as I adjusted the water faucet in the kitchen, it came off in my hand. Water shot straight up in the air, bouncing off the ceiling, bathing me and the rest of the kitchen. I quickly turned the water off and moped up the mess. For the rest of the weekend I drew water from the laundry tubs, in a wash area just off the kitchen. That is where I washed dishes as well. On Monday, Celestin again called the plumber for me. He came and then left to buy a new faucet. The replacing of the faucet took about an hour, all tolled. Again, order was easily restored. Praise God.
But that evening, my watchman, John, who uses the laundry tubs for cleaning up after doing a bit of yard work for me, called me to see problem with the laundry tubs. The pipe that connects to the drain had come off and water was draining on the floor instead of down the drain. John’s solution was to place a bucket under the laundry tubs, let it fill up and then dump it outside. Mine was to call the plumber the next morning. He came immediately. This problem, however, took a bit more time. The plumber did not have the parts that he needed and he needed access to the drainage system. He explained that the laundry tubs could not be used for a few days until he got the parts and the access that he needed. John never said anything, but from the pools of water outside the laundry room door, I’m sure he continued with his solution until the plumber returned the end of last week and did the full repair. It took two days to do the work, but all was well.
This morning, when I returned from morning devotions to work in my study, I heard the toilet running. Josephina had just cleaned the toilet. I went in to jiggle the handle, but it did no good. I lifted the lid on the tank and gently jiggled the floater. It went shooting in the air, propelled by a fountain of water that baptized me and the small room that houses the toilet. I reached down and shut off the water as quickly as I could, but not before the impromptu fountain had left half an inch of water on the floor. While Josephina mopped it up, I dried off and then called the plumber. Six hours later, we now have a functional toilet, which has all new internal parts. Hopefully this is the end of the water saga, but just in case it is not, I have the plumber’s phone number on my speed dial.
Tuesday, April 30, 2013
To think of almost a million people being killed in just 100 days in 1994 is overwhelming. To stand at a mass grave and know that it holds over 30,000 people killed in just one day during that genocide is sobering. But to view photos of four students of PIASS and one faculty member and all 5 members of his family who were abducted from the campus and murdered, whose bodies have never been found, makes it personal. That was the remembrance at PIASS this weekend.
Students gathered on Saturday night for a candlelight vigil to remember those who were dragged from the campus. There were speeches and reflections on how this happened and how it might be prevented from happening in the future. One of the professors here has written extensively on the subject and offered not only the weaknesses of life that led to this but also powerful suggestions on how to prevent it in the future. A time for questions and answers allowed time to process all the information. Members of the victims’ family were invited to participate and share their stories. That made the whole thing even more personal.
Sunday, a worship service and a march to the site of the abductions intensified the remembrance. The PIASS faculty gathered in full clerical garb and participated in the service. The sermon was a powerful reminder of the healing, forgiving, restoring nature of Christ in our lives. It was a call for us to take the step to embrace Christ’s redemptive grace and healing power in our lives. Once again, survivors told their stories, in the context of Christ’s work in their lives since 1994. Then everyone was invited to march to the student housing where the four students had been abducted. It was a solemn procession. One faculty member had been a student here at the time and was friends with the victims. He told of the students being powerless to stop a gang of men wielding machetes and dragging their friends away. Then he talked of the character and the gifts of the young men who were targeted for no other reason than having been born into the Tutsi tribe. We paused for a moment of silence and then prayer. From there the congregation proceeded to a memorial that has been built on the campus, to lay wreathes and once again offer prayer that this kind of thing may never happen again. It was a solemn time but also a personal time, since this was not about numbers that can overwhelm but about people who had great potential, who were wise and fun-loving and faithful but whose lives were cut short and whose bodies have never been recovered. Only their names and memories remain. But those memories call out that this may never happen again. That is the point of remembering.
Friday, April 26, 2013
In a new country, I have a new housekeeper, Josephina. We are both struggling to learn about one another and find a good middle ground for communication. She speaks no English and I speak no Kinyarwanda. I do have a dictionary and I thought that might help. It has some, but I’m not certain of her reading level, or maybe it is her understanding of a dictionary. Whichever it is, it has not been as effective as I had hoped. Then there are assumptions that we each make about our respective cultures that we thinking the other understands, but doesn’t. For instance, I was horrified the morning I came back from morning devotions to find her immersing my good leather shoes in soapy water to wash them. I hadn’t told her not to, so she did. I tried my best to explain that that was NOT the way I cleaned my shoes, but she just smiled and nodded. I know she didn’t understand me. I know hide my shoes when I take the off.
Today was another adventure in miscommunication. She insists on cooking lunch for me. I have tried to tell her that she doesn’t need to cook, that I like to do that, but she just smiles and cooks. I have given in. We were low on many food items because I was away for 3 days and because I did not have a refrigerator until yesterday. I got a small one when I was in Kigali and I was ready use it. I had sent Josephina to the market for me before with a list I had prepared, using my wonderful dictionary. I wrote in Kinyarwanda the items that I wanted and she brought them back, just as I had asked. What I forgot was that these were things that came in predetermined sizes. I wished I had remembered that today before I sent her to the market. Once again I made a list, this time of vegetables, fruits and the like. Then I included instructions to buy some of the food items she would like for cooking. Then I gave her what I thought would be enough money but she indicated that it was not. I gave her more, thinking that she knew the prices better than I did, and expecting that what she did not spend she would return. This is what she had done before. She was gone a longer time than I thought it would take, and when she returned it was with a bicycle taxi loaded with all her purchases. She began unloading the bags and I stood speechless. She had gotten what I had asked her to, but in quantities that were for a family of 10, at least. She filled the vegetable crisper to over flowing and then began to put green beans on the shelf of the fridge. She unpacked more green bananas (a staple for cooking here) than I would use in a month. She had 40 pounds of potatoes and 8 pounds of beef. Praise God for a small freezer, but it is small. Now it is packed. Either these vegetables and fruits will go bad before they are used or she will cook as if she is preparing for a small army, I’m not certain which, but I fear it will be both. The problem was that I did not tell her how much to get. I made an assumption that she would understand that it was for one single person who doesn’t eat large amounts at a time. I thought she had seen that in the last week or so, but I was wrong. I assumed (and we all know what that means.) She set about to fill the empty fridge, and she did that. She used all the money I had given her. She was very satisfied with her accomplishments and was puzzled that I was not thrilled with the volume of the purchases.
For someone who has been a “professional” communicator for all my life, as an English teacher and then a pastor, this is humbling and frustrating. I realize I still have a lot to learn about effective communication.
Friday, April 19, 2013
I keep my flash drives (USB drives) for my computer, the small units that hold all sorts of important data, in a small leopard pouch with a zipper. The pouch also holds my aspirin container, peach iced tea mix, my lip stick and a $10 bill for an emergence. I store this in my hand bag so I have it when I need it. Today I was working at the computer and I needed to check some information on one of the flash drives. I opened my purse where the little bag is stored and it wasn’t there. I carefully looked through the bag, pulling out everything in every pocket and placing the items on the work table in my new study. The pouch was not there. I searched the backpack which I use to transport my computer, thinking it might have been put in there when I used the computer on Monday at the library to download some files from a colleague. That was the last time I remembered using the little pouch. It was not there. I began praying. I went to my bedroom and looked in a bag I had used to return books to the library, hoping I had mistakenly put it in there. I hadn’t. I returned to my study and looked again. My study is not elaborate. It consists of a small work table, a chair and a straw rug under the table. There was no little leopard pouch anywhere. I decided the only thing to do was to go to the library and see if I had left it there and someone had turned it in. I could not think of where else to look.
I walked to the library, just on the other side of our small campus from my house. The library was empty. There was no one in it, even though it was 11:15 a.m. While most students were in class, the library staff should have been around. They were not. I waited for a short while and finally decided that I would have to return later in the day when someone should be there. As I walked home, I reflected on the contents of the leopard pouch. The only thing I really cared about that I could not replace was the flash drive that had all my Malawi pictures on it. I had just transferred them to the drive from my computer for safe keeping. I was afraid that my computer could crash again and I would lose all my photos as I had 2 years ago. Now the pouch was gone and with it my photos. All my visual memories of Malawi were gone – the children and grandchildren and friends, the churches I had visited, the seminars I had led, the scenery that I love – all gone. As I walked to the library I fervently prayed that God would reveal the pouch and enable me to have back those things I treasured and believed I needed. Returning from the library, I began to pray that God would give me peace to let them all go. Maybe this was the final way to let go of Malawi. Hard as it was to accept, this seems a real possibility. And then I had a peace that I carried the images of the important things and people in my heart and that would be enough. As I opened the gate to my house, I was content.
|Leopard poouch against the right leg|
I walked into my study and stopped, staring in disbelief. There on the floor, against the table leg, in plain sight, was the missing pouch, as if it has been placed there. I had told no one but God about it. My house helper does not speak English so it would have been worthless to try to tell her, given my very limited Kinyarwanda. Surely I would have heard it if I had dropped it as I searched my hand bag. I should have seen it when I returned from searching my bedroom as easily as I saw it when I returned from the library. Where had it come from? How had it gotten there? The only answer I have is God. I can’t explain it otherwise. God heard and answered. God allowed me to release it and its contents and the emotions that went with them and then He returned it. I have no other answer. I just praise Him.
Thursday, April 18, 2013
I’m learning that life in Rwanda is multicultural. I’m teaching at a college that invites multiculturalism. The rector is from Switzerland, so that in itself sets a tone and I am one of 5 lecturers from countries other than Rwanda. Add to that that there are 3 languages used – Kinyarwanda, French and English. Folks who know all three easily move from one to the other as is appropriate. Since I have a little French (from high school and college) and no Kinyarwanda, I’m limited.
All of this came into focus for me yesterday when I was invited, as part of the college community, to go with other lecturers to visit a colleague who just had a new baby. The practice is to visit about 2 weeks after the baby is born, to offer encouragement to the family. There were enough of us that we went the short distance in two cars. The conversation in the car was lively, but I didn’t understand much of it. When we arrived at the house, the Tanzanian lecturer, who has only been here 6 months, but who has lived in the States for 5 years, offered to translate for me. There are similarities between her native language of Swahili and Kinyarwanda but not everything is the same. As she translated, she struggled for a word now and then and someone else would offer a word in English, but is was more of a question than it was a statement. At two points, discussions ensued as to the correction of the words offered. It became a United Nations Council to get the right translation for the language-challenged American.
The visit consisted of our being greeted by the parents and the older brother (just 3 and very proud), accepting their hospitality of drinks and food and then each of us holding the child. Then we offered a prayer and a blessing for the family. There were closing remarks, a closing prayer and departure. I was invited to give the prayer for the child, which I did in English. The vice rector of the college gave the blessing in French and the school chaplain and the father of the child gave the closing remarks in Kinyarwanda. Then Faith, my translator, asked what the child’s name was. This instigated another lively discussion about varying traditions around naming children. Each culture has its own. I was reminded of being handed Cathy when she was just hours old and being told it was my responsibility, as her paternal grandmother, to name her. Here they wait to see the personality of the child before giving a name. That wait is usually 8 days, but it can be longer. The child I prayed for has not been named you.
Last evening, some of us who had gone to the blessing gathered at Faith’s home for dinner. She had invited me on Monday, so it was just God’s timing that we should be together again on the same day. This was a smaller group of just 3 families and me. Again lots of cultural comparisons were offered. Faith cooked food from her cultural tradition in Tanzania and we all compared foods. Faith’s family lived in the States for 5 years and their youngest son, Omega, age 4, was born there, although he speaks little English. Their first born son, Alpha, age 8, does very well in English and corrected his mother’s grammar at one point. Her husband is teaching English at a private school near PIASS. I was able to better communicate throughout dinner.
The end of the evening put the day into perspective. We were invited to participate in family worship. The hymn was in Swahili. The scripture was in English, read by Alpha, and the prayer was in Kinyarwanda, offered by the school’s Chaplain. We were all one in the Spirit, regardless of the languages and cultures from which we came. It was a powerful time.
Monday, April 8, 2013
This week at the Africa Mission Co-Workers’ Gathering in Cape Town South Africa, we have had as our theme “Walking with Jesus.” This theme has been explored in our spiritual lives, in the areas of our responsibilities, in relationship with the partner churches with whom we work and in the logistics of our positions with PCUSA headquarters in Louisville. We have discussed, analyzed, and envisioned, but on Sunday we experienced walking with Jesus in a new way.
The group took part of the day to do some sightseeing after worship, since we are in such a scenic location. There were several options. Many of us chose to ride a cable car to the top of Table Mountain, a sharp incline of about 8,000 feet up the side of the mountain. The car is one of only 3 in the world with a revolving floor that slowly spins as the car ascends, enabling the riders to have a panoramic view, somewhat akin to the surround cinema ride at Disneyland, only the rider is moving, not the scenery. As the cable car ascended, the site of Cape Town, the harbor, and the mountains in the vicinity was magnificent. But as we neared the top, the scenery began to fade into a white haze. Clouds were descending on the mountain. By the time we stepped out of the cable car, we were in the clouds. In the past, folks have accused me of having my head in the clouds. Yesterday they were right - my head, my entire body, was in the clouds. I walked in the clouds.
|Descending from the clouds|
The experience was rather surreal. There is a stone wall along the edge of the pathway that leads around the top of the mountain and there are some interior paths to follow as well. As I stood at the wall and looked out into the clouds, the wind began to blow. The clouds were blown away a bit, revealing a veiled view of the town below, for a few moments. Then the wind brought in the next wave of clouds and the view was once again obscured. This ebb and flow of clouds continued for about 15 minutes, giving glimpses and then taking them away. Finally the clouds settled and my friends and I were left to walk in the clouds for the rest of the hike. We could see the rocks and vegetation that were directly in front of us, but anything more than 6 feet beyond us was enveloped in the mist. As we walked, I reflected that maybe this was a life image of walking by faith, being able to see only a short distance in front of us, unable to see too far ahead of where you are going, trusting God for the unseen.
The wind was cold and damp, so a shorter walk seemed in order. We comforted ourselves in the Mountain Top café with the warmth of the indoors and of hot chocolate until it was time to take the cable car back down. As the car descended, Cape Town slowly emerged and we were back to the real world, back to the world that walks by sight and not by faith.