Category Archives: Hope

Post-Election Possibilities. What Now? (A Christian perspective)

The test of democracy is not simply about how well we follow the rules in selecting our leaders and participate in the process as citizens. The real test is in how we handle the results—and in how we treat the other side going forward.

No matter if our candidate won or lost, we need to find ways to work together with those who think differently than we do. It’s not going to be easy, but we have to get past thinking about politics as a win-lose endeavor. Especially as Christians, win or lose, we are called to think about the common good and the interests of others, not just our own. (Philippians 2:4)

If our candidate won, we don’t gloat but we keep trying to engage in respectful dialogue with those who think and vote differently. We think broadly, and seek to create policies that serve as many people as possible, not just “our own.” If our candidate lost, we don’t pour contempt on the winner, sulk, or withdraw. We roll up our sleeves and do whatever is still in our power to work for a better nation, doing whatever we can to represent our views to decision-makers.

What does this mean practically? It means the same thing it has meant for the past eight years under Barak Obama, for the two terms Bush served in the same office, and for the past two hundred forty years since the beginning of our republic. Each of us has a voice, and each of us has the privilege and responsibility to participate and contribute wherever we can.

We work for good on the local level. We advocate for our views on the state and national levels. We try to build bridges to those who see things differently. We work even harder to present and express our views to those who don’t understand or accept them. We contribute to charitable organizations and political activist groups we believe in. We even protest loudly and visibly, when need be, but without violence or malicious actions that only cause further damage or alienation.

In other words, there are right ways to participate in a democracy, and there are wrong ways. There are constructive options, and there are destructive ones. Especially at this time in the USA, after such an ugly and offensive campaign season, our country needs to find ways to pull together.

The Apostle Paul taught us to use the freedoms that we cherish so much to build up and not destroy (Ephesians 4:29-5:1). When teaching Christians how to conduct themselves both in the church and in society, the Apostle Peter said, “Rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind” (1 Peter 2:1). And then later on in the same letter, he commanded his readers, “As servants of God, live as free people, yet do not use your freedom as a pretext for evil. Honor everyone. Love the family of believers. Fear God. Honor the emperor” (1 Peter 2:16-17). In other words, we are expected to live what we preach. We are charged to model what we say we believe about human rights, dignity, tolerance, and decency.

Going forward, some of us will be in position to be political or social game-changers. If you can do something big, by all means, do it. Most of us, though, will find our greatest opportunities to contribute simply by trying to be our best selves in our families, at work, at church, and in our local communities. We will make a difference by relentlessly seeking to be Christ-centered and Spirit-led in every possible dimension of our lives, no matter how others behave or react toward us.

The day after the election Hillary Clinton quoted the Apostle Paul to encourage her supporters to stay engaged in society, even though they lost the election. It’s a good verse for all of us, no matter who you voted for. Paul said, “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up” (Galatians 6:9).

Each of us can choose our attitude going forward, and each of us always has options for taking action. Nothing can stop us from contributing if we are determined to do so. The question is never, “if” we can do something, but “what,” “how,” and “when”?

This fall, I’ve been far away from the United States, teaching seminary students and other Christian leaders in Myanmar. I voted by absentee-ballot, but otherwise could only observe the American political and social scene from a distance. I continue to be distressed and embarrassed by the name calling and hostility back and forth between opposing sides. I am anxious about how the new leadership will conduct itself. I worry about the fallout from the ongoing culture wars in America . But I’m choosing to not to focus on what is outside of my power to control. Instead I’m focusing on what kind of person God is calling me to be and the opportunities he’s giving me to make a difference.

At the very least, I pray that Christ’s love and light will shine through me in all my dealings with others. I will keep asking the Spirit to empower me to live by my values, to be the best husband and father I can be, to serve well in all my responsibilities, to keep working to build a stronger global church, to do my part to be hospitable to foreigners and marginalized people in my own country, and to promote better international relationships when I am teaching and ministering abroad. Beyond that, I plan to stay alert to whoever may be negatively affected by governmental policy changes, especially those who cannot advocate for themselves, and to use whatever power I have to stand with those who have less power.

This is what it means to me to serve Christ and to be led by the Spirit in the real world, with so much conflict, distress, uncertainty, and suffering. No politician, governmental policy, or authority figure can take these possibilities for doing good away from me, from you, or from us as we keep working together. Some of our goals and efforts may be opposed or thwarted, but if our cause is right, God will work for good in some way through us.

Whether your candidates won or lost, may God enable you to stay rooted and grounded in the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the leading the Holy Spirit. May God give you eyes to see all the open doors before you to work for the common good, and give you strength to not grow weary in doing all you can for the sake of Christ and his kingdom.

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Obama or Romney: Who Should a Christian Vote For?

Once in awhile someone asks me or implies that Christians should vote for one particular candidate over another. I vehemently disagree with this point of view in almost every situation I can imagine. Rather, I would say all citizens, including Christians, have a responsibility to be as informed as possible about the issues and to vote. Their decision should be based on their best effort to determine the issues, and to listen to their consciences. Unfortunately, too often, the most responsible vote requires choosing the lesser of two evils. Nevertheless, choose we must.

I value prayer as part of the discernment process for me, not as an infallible guide but as a resource to help me to sort out my own thinking and values. We have to be careful not to identify one or two issues as the whole measure of whether a candidate is acceptable to Christians. Rather, our responsibility is to vote for the candidate and party that, on the whole, will best serve the interests of our country at this time, under the current circumstances.

Then, from the perspective of faith, we must also put our hope in what God is doing—not to elevate one candidate over another, but to produce the kinds of changes needed at a deeper level within individuals and society. One of the students at the Myanmar Institute of Theology, where I am currently teaching, sent me a link to a very interesting essay written by an Asian-American pastor on Christians and voting. In it he urges Christians to look beyond the candidates to God, the one who is continually at work for good in the world, no matter who wins. Looking to God is not instead of voting, rolling up our sleeves, or otherwise working hard to alleviate suffering and provide better governance. Praying and seeking God’s help is acknowledging our limitations and our dependency on God to change our hearts and minds in ways we don’t seem to be able to do very easily on our own.

Our country and world are in mess, but that is not exactly news or a modern phenomenon. Since the beginning of human history, we have been continually in a struggle to make the world a better place amid so many destructive forces both within us and among us. We need to do all we can to address the plethora of challenges facing us, but no American politician is going to be the Savior of the world. That role belongs to Jesus Christ, and no matter who wins the election, we are going to need all the help we can get from him.

Jesus at Saint Suplice, Paris

May God give each of us the ability to be a good citizen at this critical time, and to increasingly let the love of Christ flow through us to others all the time.

A Prayer from the Apostle Paul

“And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God.” —Philippians 1:9-11 (NIV)

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When You Feel All Mixed Up

Musanze

Do you know that “all mixed up” feeling? Your stomach is churning, and you’re just not yourself. You’re feeling a lot of inner turmoil, and you don’t know what to think or what it all means. You realize you’re getting a signal that something important is happening within you, but you’re not sure what to do with the feelings or how to go forward.

Maybe you’re feeling that way right now.  I am.

Since returning from Africa a couple of weeks ago, I have felt all mixed up inside. I feel like I have gotten in way over my head, and am being called to go even deeper.

Seeing firsthand again how much suffering is still going on in Rwanda is very upsetting. The genocide ended in 1994, but thousands of orphans, widows, violated women, and maimed individuals have had to carry on, often with very little help or resources.

Now that Jill and I have informally adopted one of these surviving orphans (pictured above with me), we are learning more and more about how difficult life truly is for some people. I feel increasingly disturbed and unsettled by Théoneste’s plight (https://spirit-ledleader.com/?s=Theoneste), and I am desperately trying to work through my emotions.

In my distress, I can feel myself being drawn to God. I need comfort and I want help. So, on the way home from Rwanda, while in Chartres to drop off our “Africa suitcase” for our trip to Congo this winter, I found my way to the Cathedral to pray.

Chartres Cathedral

I sat awhile in front of Jesus of the Sacred Heart statue, contemplating Jesus’ compassion, and asking God to alleviate the suffering of the Rwandan Christians. I stayed even longer in apsidal chapel (pictured above), contemplating the crucifix. Surely “the Man of Sorrows” had something to say to me that might help.

What was I supposed to learn from everything I saw and experienced? Is God calling me to do something? What?

Many thoughts and ideas raced through my head. However, the most powerful notion was not of any specific heroic act of service.

Rather, what I sensed in that quiet place of prayer was simply a call to keep going. The Holy Spirit was saying, “Take the next step of faith. Don’t stop now. Don’t be afraid, and don’t worry about what I might ask of you. Let all that you are experiencing penetrate your heart as deeply as you can, and let it change you. I am taking you deeper and deeper in our relationship, and I will show you what I want you to do for these people….”

There are countless reasons why you may be all mixed up inside today. However, why you are upset is not as important as what God wants to do in you through your distress. Your turmoil is an opportunity to draw closer to God and to be transformed in some way.

Jesus’ life and death shows you the way forward. God may be allowing you to suffer with others, or even unjustly at the hand of others, so that you might become more willing to suffer for others. The Holy Spirit is teaching you to love.

We know love by this, that [Jesus Christ] laid down his life for us—and we ought to lay down our lives for one another. How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help? Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action. (1 John 3:16-18, NRSV)

The Point: In the midst of all of your inner turmoil, God is certainly at work in you, even if you feel all mixed up at the moment. Keep looking for how God may be transforming you through your distress and teaching you to love. As you increasingly embrace the suffering of others, say “Yes” to the Holy Spirit, and keep going in your day-by-day, step-by-step, walk of faith.

Prayer: “Loving God, please help me to trust you in the midst of my turmoil, to embrace better my own pain and distress, and to not be so afraid to see and feel the depth of others’ suffering. Grant me grace to feel the fullness your compassion, to respond more and more fully out of your love, and to take whatever steps of faith you are placing before me now.”

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Forgiveness Beyond Belief

Agnes and Tim
Survivors of Genocide

Her husband and children had been killed during the Rwandan genocide in 1994, along with over 800,000 others. Hacked to death actually. In this case, by her next-door neighbor.

The killer was sent to prison, but his wife and children still live in the same place. Every day for the past 15 years, “Sarah” has had to walk by their house and be reminded of the horror of that night, of all she has lost, and of all that she must continue to suffer because of what happened. On top of it all, the killer’s wife resents Sarah for causing her husband to go to jail, and is cold and rude toward her.

Then, about two weeks ago the unthinkable happened. Sarah decided she couldn’t take living under this cloud any longer. She took a friend from her church and knocked on her neighbor’s door.

When the woman saw Sarah standing there, she screamed. She left the door hanging open, ran into the interior of the house, and locked herself in the bathroom. When her children begged her to come out, all she would say was, “Run away. Run away. Don’t you know they’ve come here to kill us!”

Sarah and her friend sat down inside the living room and waited. Yet, when the woman refused to leave the bathroom, they decided to come back later with a different friend who knew the woman well. When Sarah returned the next day, this time the neighbor nervously let them in.

What happened next is beyond my comprehension.

Sarah fell on her knees and began pleading with the woman. With tears streaming down her face, she begged for forgiveness. Sarah was sorry that she had been so judgmental of her neighbor. Could she forgive Sarah?

At this, the neighbor dissolved into tears. “No, no! I should have been the one to go to you to ask for forgiveness,” she cried out. “I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry. Please forgive me!”

A miracle was happening.

I can’t imagine what it must have been like for Sarah to live next door to the family of the man who killed her husband and children for all those years, let alone comprehend living with the memory of their brutal murder. But going to ask the man’s wife for forgiveness?? What in the world?

Yet, there she was. She did it. And in an instant, years of hatred, guilt, shame, fear and grief were transformed. I don’t think for a minute that all of their pain is now gone forever, but real healing took place in a way that I have never experienced or heard of before.

I heard this remarkable story from Agnes (pictured above), one of the participants in the Pastors Leadership Training Conference I was leading in Musanze, Rwanda, last week. Agnes runs a ministry to promote reconciliation between about 200 Hutu and Tutsi women, and offers in-home care for many of those who are especially struggling, some of whom are HIV positive due to being raped at the time of the genocide. Her face was literally radiant over what had just taken place the week before, and she kept bubbling over with joy as she told me all that God was doing in so many different lives in the community.

I, on the other hand, was absolutely speechless. I wanted to run out of the room and find some place to weep. I don’t cry that easily, but I had been hearing so many tragic stories of human suffering from the genocide. What few seem to realize is that the nightmare is still going on for thousands upon thousands of orphans and widows living in poverty, struggling to survive without their husbands and fathers, and constantly being reminded of the massacre in myriad ways.

I had been working with 50 pastors for the week, and I was feeling the unimaginable heaviness that each pastor carries from the ongoing legacy of the genocide. The traumatization was evident in their tired eyes, grim faces, and slumping shoulders. Many of them clearly bore deep scars, and perhaps deeper secrets they could tell no one. They were clearly people of faith and dedication, but I didn’t even know if true healing under such circumstances was possible.

But apparently it is.

Sarah’s authentic expression of longing for healing collapsed a seemingly impenetrable wall of judgment and mutual hatred. And in the face of such humility and vulnerability, the neighbor woman refused to cling to her defensive denial and projection of her guilt and shame. Their heartfelt response to one another made real repentance and reconciliation possible.

I still don’t really get it. But I want to learn from these women. And I want to spend more time with people like Agnes and many other men and women I’ve met in Rwanda, who show Christ’s love in such practical ways, and who work tirelessly to help survivors and perpetrators alike to build new lives post-genocide.

And I want to never forget that the unimaginable is not only possible on the side of darkness and evil. God also does unbelievable works of grace in the lives of those who look to Jesus Christ for healing and help, who cry out to him in their longing and despair, and who obey the leading of the Holy Spirit and step out in faith.

I realize now that my flood of emotion when Agnes was speaking was only partly due to all the pain and suffering I was seeing. My heart was breaking because I suddenly knew I had given up on God too easily. Some part of me had stopped believing that such miracles were still possible. I was in Rwanda to inspire, teach, and encourage pastors and leaders, but I needed to hear Sarah’s story to break through my own despair and to revitalize my own faith and hope once again.

Thank you, Sarah. Thank you, Agnes.  Thank you, Lord.

But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it. So he came and proclaimed peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near; for through him both of us have access in one Spirit to the Father. (Ephesians 2:13-18, NRSV)

The Point: Just because we can’t imagine how God can help in certain dire circumstances doesn’t mean the Holy Spirit cannot exceed our imaginations.  We serve an unbelievably compassionate and powerful God, who can do unimaginable works of grace in the lives of those who depend on and follow the Holy Spirit’s leading.

Prayer: “Loving God, please forgive our lack of faith and despair when we cannot imagine how we might forgive others, or experience healing and transformation. We believe, yet we need your help to dispel our lack of belief. Please do in us what we cannot do in ourselves or by ourselves. Thank you.”

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What can anyone do?

Coaching session with Chaplain Bolingo

To say the situation is bleak in Congo understates the horror and impending catastrophe there. Since leaving Goma (the capital of Northern Kivu, on the border of Congo and Rwanda) a few weeks ago, the situation has deteriorated rapidly, with a sharp spike in displacement, hunger, rape, and deaths. The rebels have routed the government troops and sent tens of thousands of people running for their lives without adequate food or medicine.

As many know, somewhere between 800,000 and 1.1 million people died in the Rwandan genocide in 1994. What much of the world does not seem to realize is that the death toll has continued to mount just over the border in Congo, in an extension of the hostilities stemming from the genocide.  Since 1997, a staggering 5.4 million people have died from fighting, starvation, dehydration, and disease. Currently, up to 1500 people are dying per day in the region of North Kivu.  

17,000 United Nations troops are in the country, but it’s not enough. The U.N. is once again undermanned and over their head in the face of the greatest humanitarian disaster since the Second World War. Stretched to the limit, and unable to stop the Tutsi general, Laurent Nkunda, and his advancing rebel troops, the U.N. has dug in. They are hoping for reinforcements and waiting to see what will happen as a fragile ceasefire has given everyone a few days of respite, before the inevitable onslaught continues.

What can anyone do? You and I simply do not have sufficient wisdom, political clout, material resources, human resources or anything else of substance to make a difference in eastern Congo in any significant way. (Though, for those willing to contribute money, organizations such as HEAL Africa [healafrica.org] are on the ground and able to put donations to work to help victims immediately.)

And what about in all the other troubled spots around the world, where human suffering abounds and obstacles truly seem insurmountable? What can any of us ever do in the face of such intractable problems—whether in developing countries or simply in our own personal lives and families?

We can do whatever we can do.

In the face of loss of life, destroyed homes, broken relationships, and other crippling disasters, it’s easy to want to give up. It’s easy to think that there’s no point in trying to help. It’s easy to despair. But, the truth is there is almost always something that we can do, even in the midst of the worst tragedies and most overwhelming circumstances.

Meeting with genocide survivors, encouraging African leaders, and coaching pastors in Congo have inspired me in new ways to not give up hope. In just 10 days this fall, I met numerous people who are finding meaningful ways to make a difference. For example:

As I have been writing about over the past couple of weeks, Théo has been caring for his three younger sisters ever since he was orphaned in the Rwandan genocide when he was twelve. He is a survivor, and has showed me the power of focusing on what he can do, rather than on what he can’t. 

Cristina and Chelsea have given a year of their lives as Christ Presbyterian Church and Upper Room interns at HEAL Africa in Goma. One is helping women to develop products for sale in an arts center. The other is making plans to do development work with those who most need help learning how to provide for their own needs. Both are invested fully in doing whatever they can to help wherever they are needed.

Paul and Lyndee came with a team of volunteers from Australia to offer their services to HEAL Africa for two weeks. Paul upgraded the computer network, and Lyndee tutored numerous individuals in English. They don’t know if the buildings will be standing or how many of their students will be living after the war, yet they are doing what they can do now. They are helping in ways that fit their skills, hearts and opportunities.

The Rev. Jacob Lipandasi, one of the Congolese pastors I have been coaching, has been working tirelessly on behalf of widows and orphans in his hometown of Bukavu. His heart could not be larger. His vision keeps growing. He simply will not be deterred by ongoing, seemingly insurmountable challenges. Just last week, he was interviewed on Congo radio and television, and is busy trying to expand his ministry to the most vulnerable.

The Rev. Kambere Bolingo, lead chaplain at HEAL Africa (pictured above during one of our coaching sessions), splits his time between ministering to patients, supervising the other chaplains, and doing leadership training in the country villages. He carries around great weight of responsibility and concern, but every day he seeks to minister to needs and promote hope. Now, he has already started to coach some of the young men in his church with the same methods he has been learning first hand.

The Rev. Désiré Mukanirwa, Anglican priest in Goma, has a vision for the physical, mental, and spiritual vitality of his congregation. Many individuals in his church are illiterate, many families are overwhelmed due to the influx of refugees (relatives seeking safety in the city), and many widows are unskilled with little hope of providing for themselves. To help address these seemingly impossible challenges, Désiré went back to school to earn a degree in development and signed up for coaching. His plans for creating new ministries must wait while he attends to traumatized parishioners, a refugee pastor who has cholera, and daily threats of violence, but no matter what each day brings, he is doing whatever he can do.

We may never know what difference any of us truly make long term in a given situation—whether we are talking about helping suffering people in Africa, creating a better America, reaching out to needy people in our own communities, or simply trying to love our own families and friends better. We will always be surrounded by intractable problems, and can never guarantee what might happen tomorrow to the work we do today.

But today is the only day we have for sure. And what is within our power to do is all that we are responsible for. Each of us can do something for some situation that we care about. By writing emails, making phone calls, contributing time and money, offering a smile or gentle touch, or simply showing up with willingness to help, we can stand in solidarity with those who are suffering. We can link arms with those who are trying to do something to make a better world.

As the Apostle Paul taught, God has equipped each believer with an ability to contribute meaningfully in this world. Paul encourages us to believe in this message of hope, and to fulfill our calling by acting on the opportunities we are given. He writes:

We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a [person’s] gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith. If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach; if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully. Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. (Romans 12:6-9)

For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Ephesians 2:10)

Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers. (Galatians 6:9-10)

What can anyone do?  

Whatever we can.  

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God Spottings

Théo and his sister Clarisse, by their new home
Théo and his sister Clarisse, by their new home

In Rwanda, I was once again surprised at how little faith I have sometimes—how easily I assume God has abandoned the victims of war, disease and violence.

As I listened to Théo’s story and saw what he and his sisters have had to endure, I was first shocked, then angry, and then sad. Where was God for them and for all the others victims of violence?

My distress only intensified when I found out that some 85% of Rwanda was supposedly Christian before the genocide. Yet church members turned against their fellow church members and neighbors. Even some clergy participated in the killing. In the most egregious circumstances, pastors locked their own parishioners in their church before bulldozing it, setting it on fire, or turning them over to genocidaires.

Unfathomable.

Reports like this can really get to me, and start me on downward cycle of disillusionment, doubt and despair. Not only has Christianity failed in such circumstances, but God appears to be either apathetic or powerless, or worse. I don’t believe this, but when I see so many suffering, I don’t know what to think.

So, I wasn’t surprised to learn that some survivors of genocide feel that God turned his back on them in their dark hour. I wasn’t shocked to hear some victims of violence admit to losing their faith in God and humanity. And I could not criticize anyone suffering from such horrors for wanting to die. As one thirteen-year-old Congolese boy cried out after he was horribly burned when his house caught fire in the night, “God let me die. Let me die.” In such circumstances, who wouldn’t want the nightmare to be over? Or, if you saw your family butchered in front of you, or your mother or sister being raped and mutilated, or you were left to scrounge for food and shelter as an orphan or widow, how would you feel?

Yet, as awful and unconscionable as these atrocities are, as appropriate our revulsion and angry reactions, and as reasonable our questions and doubts, there is more to the story. There is more to God.

I needed Théo to help me see what I was missing.

The insight came to me when he showed us his new house. I was struck by how thankful he was. Never mind that the house is still uninhabitable. He can’t afford the sheet metal to repair the holes in the roof, and doesn’t have the money to replace the over-filled latrine behind the house. Never mind that there is no kitchen, and the walls of one of the three small rooms are about to collapse. From his perspective, even if he had to go without food for a couple of days from time to time, he felt so grateful just having a home that he could call his own and offer to his sisters.

As he stood in front of his house, beaming with pride and joy, he was not thinking about all that he has had to endure in the past. I saw that what mattered to him was the gift of the moment, and his hope for the future.

I, the outsider, materially affluent, highly educated, privileged in countless ways, was angry at God on his behalf. Yet, he, who had hardly any possessions, periodically lacked food, and had to try to cope with responsibilities and needs that made him physically sick at times from stress, was thankful to God for his blessings.  And on this day, in particular, he was very grateful to God for showing his love and generosity to his sisters and him through the gift of his new home and new “parents.”

As I saw his face and listened to him talk, I suddenly realized something I had been totally missing. God had not abandoned Théo as I had assumed. I just couldn’t see him until I followed the impulse of love and acted on the compassion I felt. I couldn’t see God until I started looking for him within myself and in others, when we are at our best rather than at our worst.

In that single moment, something shifted within me. I stopped looking in vain for signs of God “out there” somewhere, independent of ordinary human beings. Instead, I started seeing God where he has been and is—in Théo’s uncle who saved his life, in those who gave his sisters and him something to eat when they were starving, and in the man who took them in before he died. Above all, I began to see God in Béatrice, the woman who has been hiring him so that he could afford to pay his rent, and who sticks by him offering him whatever she can with limited resources and so many others to care for.

Théo sees God in all the faces, voices, arms and hands of each person who has helped his sisters and him over the years. He also sees God now in Jill and me. And because he sees God in us, it is suddenly possible for me to see God in myself as well as in him.

In the inspiration of the moment, I went from questioning whether God is truly anywhere, to seeing God everywhere. The darkness may be great, but when Christ shines through you and me, the light is greater.

For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. (2 Corinthians 4:6-7)

Thanks, Théo. You have given me far more than I have given you.

Wherever I see good, I now see God.

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Facing Truth

This is the first in a series of reflections on our recent trip to Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo with Faith, Hope and Love Global Ministries.

Théoneste—Kigali, Rwanda

Presumed dead, Théoneste was thrown into a latrine filled with piles of other mutilated bodies. Having just witnessed his parents being hacked to death by genocidaires, he was barely hanging on to his own life. As he lay dying from a machete blow to his head, he drifted in and out of consciousness. Théo was just twelve years old.

When night fell, his uncle who had been hiding in the forest nearby fished him out of the mass of bodies. He was still breathing and was starting to regain consciousness. Though the killers soon caught up with and murdered his uncle, Théo managed to escape. That was fourteen years ago, and only the beginning of his long journey of suffering.

In one fateful day, in the midst of 100 days of genocide where over 1 million Tutsis and moderate Hutus were slaughtered in Rwanda, Théoneste had to suddenly grow up—or perish. He instantly became responsible for his three sisters, who also miraculously escaped being slaughtered.

First they went to an orphanage of sorts, but soon it had to close due to lack of funds. A kind man took the four children in, but then he died. Since the deceased man’s widow simply was not able to take care of them along with her own children, they had to leave her home. On the street, they went from place to place looking for places to sleep wherever they could. When Théo was able to work, they were finally able to rent a small apartment. However, his limited income sometimes meant they had to go without food for two or three days at a stretch.

Théo also suffers from headaches, and sometimes his nose suddenly starts bleeding without warning. He showed us the scar stretching across the top of his head. No doubt the throbbing and bleeding are linked somehow to the old machete wound. However, his symptoms worsen whenever he worries about where he is going to find shelter and food for his sisters. The doctor’s only advice has been for him to stop thinking about his problems! Some solution.

As I listened to his story, I wasn’t sure I could handle what he was telling me. I wasn’t sure I could face the truth of the extent of his suffering and desperation. Meanwhile, there are 350,000 other orphans in Rwanda alone with their own stories. If it were not for the occasional kindness of strangers and others who are able to offer the minimum of assistance, many would die. Instead, most of them barely scrape by. All of them continue to suffer.

I felt overwhelmed, and scared. If I gave my heart to him and his sisters, and gave them some money, what would he else would want from me? Would I get trapped in a relationship that would demand more from me than I could give? I had already shocked myself when some of us helped him to buy a small, three room house (not three bedrooms, but simply three small rooms under a roof that leaks, with no kitchen, toilet, furnishings, or floors). Where would his need for our help end, I wondered? And maybe even more scary to me, what toll would caring for such a high-risk family take on my heart?

After listening to his story and making a plan for continuing to provide modest support for his sisters and him, we held hands and prayed together. He in Kirawandan, my wife, Jill, in French, and I in Franglais.

When we stood up to leave, Théo wrapped his arms around me. As we hugged to say goodbye, he clearly did not want to let go. Jill told me that he closed his eyes and put his head on my shoulder as he hung on for dear life for at least 60 seconds.

After I made a few tentative taps on his back, which usually signal that its time for the hugging to finish, I caught myself. That’s not the message I wanted to send at all. I didn’t want to let go either.

I stopped tapping.

When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began teaching them many things.

By this time it was late in the day, so his disciples came to him. “This is a remote place,” they said, “and it’s already very late. Send the people away so they can go to the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat.”

But he answered, “You give them something to eat.” (Mark 6:34-37, NIV)

For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich. (2 Corinthians 8:9)

I have no illusions that I can solve the problems of Rwanda or that I can ever rescue or provide all that this young man and his sisters need. I am no hero, and in fact, my experience in Africa is showing me how small and weak I actually am.

However, I am not completely powerless.

I’m still not sure how well I truly can handle the harsh realities I am starting to face in Africa, but I can try to face the truth of the suffering of others. I can choose not to avert my eyes. I can open my heart and mind. I can embrace at least this one relationship.

I can commit.

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