06 January 2011

Continued from last time...

Todd is a student with a speech impediment, limited walking ability, but a big heart.  When I first came to work with him half way through the school year, I remember he looked very withdrawn and frustrated.  Coming off a very discouraging experience with my previous student, I felt like a failure and was a bit depressed as well.  As I started to interact with Todd and pray for him, I began to think about ways in which I could be his mouth and legs, interceding and creating opportunities for him to engage with other students in a meaningful way.  When I would lift him up to climb a rope in gym class or run his wheel chair around the playground at recess, he would get a great big smile on his face and start laughing.  

One morning his mom told me: God sent you to this school to be with my son.  He has opened up so much since you started working with him.  I realize I have forgotten God in my son’s rehabilitation process.  All I could do was give the lady a hug.  Without saying anything, she recognized her need for God through my actions.  In that moment, God showed Himself faithful: that he could reveal Himself to people through my life in spite of my own failings, weakness and inability to mention Him publicly.  Prayer and the Holy Spirit are a powerful combination indeed. 

The mother has since taken Todd to Southern Oregon to be with her family and renew ties with her local church.  Todd has recently received surgery on his legs so that he is able to walk better now.  Praise the Lord!

My experience with God at the public school reminded me that His word, whether spoken or revealed through actions, does not return void, nor is it squelched even in a restricted environment.  If God could get me through public school, what about Peace Corps?  Around six months ago, I decided to put in an application to Peace Corps to see what might happen: where would I go, what would I be doing?  As with most things concerning government, patience is a virtue. 

While I was waiting, I continued to volunteer from the previous year with a local ministry called FOCUS which stands for Friends of Overseas Citizens and University Students.  FOCUS seeks to build friendships with Portland State University International Students with the purpose of asking the Lord for opportunities to share with them about Jesus.  I was able to meet students from Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Vietnam, China, and various other countries. 

One memorable encounter I had was with an Egyptian student.  He was on exchange for one year to PSU from the American University in Egypt and eventually wanted to become an engineer someday.  He is one of many very intelligent students from around the world who attend PSU.  I found my new friend was different than most students I met.  In one of our conversation he told me he had critical questions about Islam, why the Sunni faction fought against Shiites and vise versa.  He also had questions about life after death and the meaninglessness of life on this earth.  I could tell the Holy Spirit was working in his heart. 

During Easter, at the weekly Friday night Coffee house FOCUS hosts, a clear presentation of the gospel was made.  I asked my Egyptian friend why he thought Jesus died on the cross.  He answered, “because of love.”  I was completely shocked, because the Quran does not portray Allah as a loving God.  How could my friend have come to this conclusion?  I told him, “the Holy Spirit has revealed Jesus’ love to you.”  I think I scared him a bit, because he did not want to talk with me very much after our conversation, but God is faithful.  I received an unexpected message from him a couple months ago asking how I was doing.  I believe God is still working through the questions within my friend heart.  What a blessing to see seeds planted.  I trust God will give the increase in his life someday.

Finally, about a month ago, I received my assignment from Peace Corps.   Would I accept?  After six months of praying and processing my experience in Rwanda; seeing God work in a secular environment and in one particular international student’s life, I believe God has communicated what I needed to know to take the next step with Peace Corps. 

I will be flying out of Portland on January 31st for a Peace Corps staging event in Philadelphia, PA where I will meet my fellow nominees.  I will then fly to Zambia February 3rd to start three months of Pre-Service Training, which will include language and culture learning as well as technical training in education and safety.   If I am selected as a volunteer after training, I will start my two-year assignment on April 23rd.  I will be working in a Zambian village as a Community Education Specialist under the auspices of the Zambian Ministry of Education with the Rural Education Development project.  My goal will be to support local teachers by co-planning lessons, co-teaching classes, and co-producing teaching materials.  It should be an adventure!

Thank you so much for your prayer and support in the past.  I will keep you posted on what is coming up.

Happy New Year 2011 to you all,


17 December 2010

Hello Everyone,

Merry Christmas to each one of you!

My mother and I attended an event called Advent Procession of Lessons and Carols this past Sunday and I was so refreshed to hear again the Christmas story seen through scripture from Genesis to Revelation: the prophecies and fulfillment of Christ first coming to earth in the form of a baby with grace and truth and his anticipated second return to earth in power and victory.  Jesus is coming again!  Come quickly Lord Jesus!

As I look forward to the coming year, I am excited to tell you of an opportunity to work with Peace Corps in Zambia, Africa starting on February 3.  

Over the past year and a half since returning from Rwanda in 2009, I have had time to process my first experience living and working in Africa.  I came away from my trip profoundly touched by the hospitality of the friends I made there, but also struck by the hardships and challenges the people face on a daily basis.  I don’t think I ever really left Africa in my mind when I returned to the U.S.  While living in Portland, I have made Rwandan and Congolese friends and continue to learn about the state of affairs in East Africa from several points of view.  In the back of my mind I thought and prayed about how I might return once again and look for more long term employment with an international development organization. 

From time to time, I heard some friends of mine share about their experiences in Peace Corps.  I was amazed to hear people talk about living in huts in rural areas and actually learning another language well enough to communicate and work with the indigenous people.  Could I actually do something like that?  I was hesitant at first because Peace Corps is not a Christian organization and the work seems very difficult.  Based upon my experience with God over the past year, He has shown me his power to work even in a difficult, secular environment. 

A few months after I returned to the U.S., upon the referral of a friend, I started working at a local public elementary school in the Portland area.  During my time working there, I saw God change my life and the lives of the students around me; I realized God’s Holy Spirit could touch people’s lives even if I was not openly free to talk about Jesus.  I would like to share how God spoke to me through several experiences I had while interacting with students at the school.

In my first assignment, I worked with a first grade student who had behavioral issues.  I quickly realized how powerless I was to keep this kid on task and out of trouble.  There was one memorable incident when he brought up suicide.  I couldn’t believe what I was hearing: could it really be that a four year old student in first grade would talk openly about wanting to die?  At one point in our conversation, I remember telling him that someone loved him more than he could imagine.  His eyes opened as wide as saucers and he asked with eager attention, “WHO?”  In my mind I wanted to say Jesus, but I replied, “me” instead.  I did not feel free at the time to share with him about Jesus, but I figured, with the Holy Spirit in my life, I could honestly tell him, as an intercessor, I loved him on behalf of Christ.  At another time, after hearing him say that God must not care about him very much, I was able to tell him that God loved him more than he realized.  

Friends, I came away from my interaction with this student more convinced than ever that God is seeking to work through available believers by the power of His Holy Spirit to call out through word and mostly action to those who are lost and hopeless, “be reconciled to God.”  I realized in a real and profound way how desperate people are looking for love without realizing they are looking for Jesus who proved it on the cross.  I came away from my time with this student realizing how completely powerless I am in my own strength.  But God was about to show me the power of his presence and strength when I was moved to another classroom to help a student with Cerebral Palsy, who I will call Todd, which is not his real name.  

More to come later...

07 September 2010

Hello Everyone:

It has been over a year since I last wrote a journal entry, so I thought I would give an update on what God has been doing in my life.

In all ways I have found God to be faithful to me.

After returning last year in April, I had the pleasure of visiting many of you in person and sharing my story of Rwanda through a slideshow presentation. I hope those of you who had a chance to see it have some context about East Africa that will help you better understand and interpret what you hear about Rwanda and Congo as ongoing conflict and tribal tensions continues to appear in today’s news headlines. Even as news about a U.N. report was released a couple weeks ago about suspected genocide in Eastern Congo, I continue to learn more about Africa’s political conflicts and human tragedies from Congolese and Rwandan friends I have come to know since returning to the U.S. As I went through reentry at the time of my return, the internal processing that took place as I put together the slideshow helped me put events from the trip into context. In retrospect now, I remember how much my eyes and ears were opened to the reality of suffering and I realize the extent to which my worldview changed. I think it is safe to say, what stuck with me the most was feeling God’s heart for the oppressed, which I failed to realize before. I would like to take a few moments to discuss more about my thoughts on suffering, oppression and in justice in the context of Moses’ life, which have been stewing in my mind for a while.

As I thought about my own feelings of anger and powerlessness to respond to the injustice I saw and heard about, I began to ponder on Moses’ heartfelt, God-given desire for justice and freedom for his own people in Egypt during their captivity. How powerless he must have felt while starting his job of shepherding flocks in the backside of the desert, realizing his own strength and once powerful position could not stop the atrocities from taking place. What questions was in his mind as he pondered over why God allowed His own covenant people to be in bondage and why God allowed him to be aware of the injustice without provision to do anything about it? Did he wonder why he was the chosen Hebrew privileged to grow up in Pharaohs’ house and taste the luxuries of Egypt? Did he try to forget about the injustices he saw, when he realized at that time the extravagance he was privileged to experience was at the expense of his own kin? Did he ponder over the feeling of hopelessness realizing his power and influence fell far short of setting his people free? Did he feel guilt and shame thinking about the impulsive, failed attempt to make things right on his own terms and the rejection it cost him of both the Hebrews and Egyptians alike? These are the questions the Bible does not mention in the story of Moses. It amazes me how the Holy Spirit uses personal life experiences to interpret the things left unmentioned in the Bible to believers like you and me. As an American with great privilege and position in comparison to most Africans these are similar questions that have been in my mind.

Is there hope? Continuing from the story of Moses, God tells Moses that He has seen the plight of the Hebrews, His people, and is prepared to take action to set them free for his own glory. Moses might have been thinking in his mind, “I’ve already tried that and it didn’t work. I lost all credibility as a leader in the eyes of the Hebrews and the Egyptians. That was then, this is now. I’ve moved on and I am just fine with the way things are right now raising a family in the desert. I’m not going through this all over again.” Moses might have pressed those feelings of justice way down inside to be forgotten. When God is calling Moses out to go and proclaim freedom for the Hebrews on His behalf, it is almost as if God is saying, “I was the one that put the original desire for justice in your heart in the first place and now is the providential time for you to do it according to my plan, not your own.” How humbling it must have been for Moses to recall the past and realize the pride with which he acted beforehand.

The takeaway I observe from the story of Moses is: 1) righteous desires come from God; 2) God’s providential time is the right time to act; 3) in the mean time, the trials of keeping righteous desires alive through prayer until God’s provision is revealed works on my pride and self-sufficiency; and 4) God’s grace is available when we display unbelief and disobedience.

All these points challenge me to persevere in waiting for the Lord to indicate what he will do with the desires he has put in my heart. I never knew waiting could be so hard, especially when my own pride and self-sufficiency is being worked upon. I must say it is a confusing time, I think, because a lot of stuff is happening inside my life. Maybe I should put a sign around my neck, “Under Construction.” Scripture says, “even if we are faithless, He remains faithful, because he cannot disown himself.” It also says, “he who began a good work it you will be faithful to complete it.” Even in my failings toward God—frustration, anger, confusion, inpatients—grace is still there to bring me back into repentance and right relationship again. Look at Moses: God used a murderer to set His people free.

I have much more to say about the past year and how God has been working in and through my life, which I will share more about in my next report.

17 June 2009

Hello Everyone,

I want to thank you all for your faithfulness in giving as unto the Lord for the mission trip I took to Rwanda beginning last fall. I received an extra $3,606.00 in donations above and beyond my own needs.

In the beginning of my fundraising process, I did not believe I would raise enough money to stay a full six months in Rwanda as I planned. God proved himself faithful to me financially through the gifts many of you contributed. I count the abundance as proof that we cannot out give or out sacrifice the Lord. I have found God's promise in 2 Timothy 2:13 to be true: "if we are faithless, he will remain faithful, for he can not disown himself." Even the title of this blog "Kingdom Seekers" is based on the promise of Jesus in Matthew 6:33, "But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well."

As you have given sacrificially to the work in Rwanda, I trust God has shown himself faithful to provide for your needs as well.

What will be done with the additional funds collected?

After seeing the many needs in Rwanda personally and praying about how to allot the extra funds God provided, I decided to deposit the money into a scholarship fund for students who can not afford to go to school. Schooling for young people, especially orphans, is needed at this time, since Rwanda is developing quickly and competitive jobs require a secondary education or higher and English proficiency.

How will the funds be administered?

Alivera Nyirampirwa, a good friend of mine from ALARM, is currently administering the funds to students who are in need of financial help. As a Bishop's wife, she is well aware of the needs within the community of believers in Rwanda and will make sure the funds are judiciously and fairly distributed.

Have you donated towards a cause while in Rwanda? How did it turn out?

Some of you may remember a previous blog journal entry I posted on 21 January 2009, which talked about ALARM/Rwanda women’s ministry to young single mothers who have recently given birth at a local hospital called Muhima. The hospital assists single mothers in childbirth. Many of the women must stay in the hospital after their baby is delivered and have family members provide for personal needs, such as food. Many times the young women are not able to afford the hospital bills after delivery.

After visiting the women at the hospital myself, I realized first-hand what a great burden these young ladies carry.

Several weeks before I left Rwanda to return to the U.S., I was able to give a gift of 140,000 FRW (~250 US) designated to medical expenses for women who could not afford payment. Upon release from the hospital, women receive assistance for a period of time through a government sponsored program, which helps them get back on their feet again; they are not sent back to the streets without some kind of support.

Upon Alivera's suggestion, the hospital agreed to give a report on how the funds were spent.

On June 16, Alivera sent a copy of the report, which I would like to share with you now:

Dear Andrew,

How are you doing? I pray this finds you fine.

I am glad to let you know that the Muhima Hospital Leader has sent a letter to us, to recognize the financial assistance we provided to the patients there. Unfortunately the letter is sent in Kinyarwanda language with the attachment of people who benefited from the money you provided.

Briefly, the written letter is translated as follows:

To the ALARM Leadership,

The Muhima Hospital is grateful to the assistance and commitment you manifested while paying for 13 needy patients at Muhima Hospital in March 2009 and even before that date. Find enclosed the list of people who benefited from your financial assistance.

May God bless.

The manager of Muhima Hospital
Dr UHAGAZE Blaise.

Copies were addressed to:

- Deputy in charge of Social Affairs in Nyarugenge District
- Executive of the Muhima hospital board
- Muhima hospital Administrative Assistant
- Muhima hospital Accountant

It is followed by the report about the use of 140,000 Frw given on March 18, 2009 to pay for 13 patient who were not able to pay the medical bills.

Thanks brother for your generosity and do know that your labor is not vain in the Lord. Your reward is for sure at hand.


Thank you again for your gifts and faithfulness in prayer towards the mission to Rwanda.

May God richly bless you.


P.S. For reasons of privacy, I have not included on this public site the original version of the letter, which lists the names of the women who received assistance. If, however, you would like to pray for these women by name, you may request a copy of the letter on a per case basis.

27 May 2009

Where God Is Calling

Over the course of the internship, the need for Bibles and the discipleship of Rwandan youth became evident as I spoke with local pastors. A month before I left Kigali, I sat down with Benjamin Nkusi, a pastor of a mainline denomination, and Rifain Safari, a pastor of a small, local church plant, and asked them if discipleship could be an avenue of service for me, if I returned to Rwanda long-term. Pastor Safari became very excited and affirmed the need for discipleship in the Rwandan church as well as opportunities to disciple students in secondary schools and universities. Mainline denominational churches in Rwanda have largely solidified the theological positions of older adults, the minority population, according to the persuasions of second hand information given by pastors. The majority younger adult population still has an open mind and is willing to hear new thoughts and ideas about Christianity.

The challenge in evangelizing and discipling both generational groups is providing first hand information such as study aids to help them discover the truth of the Bible for themselves. Pastor Safari told me the youth in Rwanda don’t have access to Bibles; are not aware of what the Bible says through direct study; and are not able to defend their faith when challenged by Jehovah’s Witness or Seventh Day Adventists—both an ever increasing presence in Rwanda. Therefore, the harvest field is ripe, but uninformed and highly impressionable youth of Rwanda are in need of solid, Biblical direction.

With a Biblically informed population of genocide survivors, it is possible to begin forming testimonies of redemption and restoration among the population of youth who survived. Terms like forgiveness and reconciliation are used by the government and the United Nations to promote stability among perpetrators and victims in Rwanda. But the terms as defined by the Rwandan government and the UN do not include the Biblical context of the Holy Spirit’s power to enable one to truly forgive and reconcile from the heart.

In rural areas, there are cases of male perpetrators and female widows who agree to get married. But in the urban areas, there is still great fear of retribution killings. The explanation for the different responses to reconciliation in rural and urban areas may have to do with the level of familiarity between the people in the community. But I am not exactly sure why perpetrators and victims in the rural areas agree to marry one another. If people who survived the genocide could read the Bible for themselves; understand what forgiveness and reconciliation mean in light of Christ’s resurrection; and experience healing in their hearts by the Holy Spirit’s power, there would be opportunity for testimonies of restoration and reconciliation, which could impact many lives in Rwanda and around the world. It is imperative then that spirit-filled believers, whether Rwandans or non-Rwandans, teach and disciple people within the country and display the power of the Holy Spirit, not simply dictate what the Bible says.

As Rwandans begin to read the Bible and experience the regenerative work of the Holy Spirit in their lives, there will be opportunity for them to obey the great commission and make disciples of their own within Rwanda and possibly around the world. There are many obstacles to overcome, however, in leading Rwandans to an informed view of what we term in the west “missions.” In Rwanda, missionary is a term associated with colonization and western culture. As an example, on one occasion at church, I asked a seminary student if he would ever consider being a missionary and going to other countries to share the gospel. He responded by saying: I don’t think I could do that. I would need a lot of money, which I don’t have. To clarify what he meant, I asked him why he needed to be rich to be a missionary. I found out he thought he needed a car and other western amenities to become a missionary. I also discovered from a close friend that the closest term in Kinyarwandan to describe the western meaning for missionary is "a witness" and the term is associated with the Jehovah’s Witness.

I quickly realized there is a need in Rwanda for creating a new definition of missions as:

“The intentional, sacrificial penetration of major human barriers by a global church through specially sent cross-cultural messengers of the Gospel, in order to plant communities of responsible disciples of Jesus Christ among groups of people where none have existed before[1].”

The implication of Rwandans understanding the great commission and sharing their testimony of redemption, restoration and reconciliation from the despair of the genocide through Christ’s power could have an impact the world has never seen before: world-wide peacemakers.

There are many countries around the world which have experienced genocide and are currently groaning under growing pains of modernization and development. Is it possible for informed and transformed Rwandans to speak into their counterpart’s despair with the hope of Christ. As I toured the genocide memorial in Kigali, at the end of the display was a list of genocides which have impacted other nations throughout history: the Armenian genocide executed by the Ottoman Empire, the Cambodian genocide under the Khmer Rouge, the Jewish holocaust performed by the Nazis as well as many others. There are still victims and their descendants today who are angry over killings which took place many years ago.

I found several opportunities to tell my Rwandan friends about other victims of genocide. I told them: you are Christians and have experienced loss from the recent genocide; there are Buddhist victims in Cambodia who could listen and benefit from your testimony of true reconciliation and forgiveness; they may not listen to me, but they might listen to you. As I spoke, I saw their heads nodding in quiet affirmation in response to a new idea taking root in their thinking. With endless possibilities there also come realistic obstacles to faces of which there are many in Rwanda.

In day to day Rwandan life, people face almost insurmountable challenges: the suppression of free speech by the government; police arrests without warrants; impoverished populations forced off their land due to development; high tax burden placed upon small business owners; unfair, low wages paid to laborers; high cost of living caused by importing goods and modern development; and shortages of food. According to Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, it is very difficult to speak with Rwandans about self-actualization of hopes and dreams while their basic needs of survival are not met. I realize, though, in an unjust system, my own meager means and even those of humanitarian aid organizations will not likely translate into upward mobility due to internal corruption as well as outside manipulation of internal political affairs. It is possible a few people I may commit myself to financially might benefit, but the gains for that individual may not spill over and cascade into other people’s lives. Therefore, it is a limited effect.

If I focus on the spiritual side of life, the physical needs and desires are always looming in the background; preconceptions of Mazungus—the ability of the rich man to positively change an African’s financial situation—is always a distracting factor to deal with. It is hard for a Rwandan to think about the soul when the hunger in their stomach has not been alleviated. I could choose to feed a few people from my own resources. But assuaging a few peoples’ needs can foster dependency due to their cultural perspective of the “big man” who is seen as the benevolent provider. A new set of challenges can emerge from dependency. The majority of Rwandans face a cruel and unfair reality, which sets up the precondition for insincerity in a relationship with a white person, which western culture despises so much: you only want me for my money and what I can offer you. The artificially generated impact I am having on the peoples’ difficult circumstances will undoubtedly create unfairness: some will benefit and most will not.

Realizing I can neither bring many Rwandans up to a western standard of living through my efforts and resources alone nor can the people themselves work up to a prosperous economic level on their own, what if I took George Patterson’s advise and “geared down” to their level? If I live like them, eat like them, travel like them, would I have a voice to speak into a few lives with some impact? Or would I be seen as insincere by not living up to the Mazungu, big man status the people expect of me?

The ultimate question I am wrestling with is: if I decided to go back to Rwanda long-term, how can I serve the Lord within the context of Rwandan culture? Paul says I can give myself to the flames and if I have not love, I gain nothing. What does it mean to love Rwandans? Maybe the key to these questions is Christ. Jesus said: “Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me [2].” At the judgment seat: Jesus also says, “whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me [3].” So maybe a better question to ask is: am I sacrificing myself for the people or am I obeying Christ and sharing in his sufferings? Maybe the object of my devotion and service is not so much the people themselves, but Jesus.
What does obeying Christ look like in this case?

Awareness is a major component to obedience. God has made me aware of the Rwandan people and their plight, where I was not aware of Rwanda at all before my trip. Waiting is another component of obedience. At the right time, God will provide the increase and blessing to the labor of the workers. The farmer tills the soil, plants the seed and waters, but it is God who makes the seed grow. It takes faith to believe God will bring blessing where there seems to only be frustration and failure. Taking action in faith is another component of obedience. I must go and work based upon my awareness and wait for the blessing to come from the Lord sometimes not seeing the result in my lifetime.

Overall, the time I spent in Rwanda opened my eyes to see true solidarity and hospitality between people on a level I have not experienced before in the United States; family members and neighbors truly depend on one another to make ends meet. I also became aware of peoples' needs and suffering as never before in the case of the IDP camps surrounding Goma. After living and working with Rwandans and sharing in their joys and hardships, I come away from my six-month trip with many more questions than I started with and a profound realization of the beauty and complexity of the culture, the language and the people. I have much more to learn about Rwanda and I look forward to continuing the journey of discovery while I am in the United States and hopefully again someday in the context of Rwanda.

[1] Bryant, David. In the Gap: What It Means to Be a World Christian. Ventura, Calif., U.S.A.: Regal Books, 1984.
[2] John 14:21
[3] Matthew 25:40