OP ED: Let’s Not Politicize Everything

Learning things starts with one important attribute: curiosity.

Recently, as I’ve been trying to better understand the life, stories, and experience of being a refugee in our current climate, I’ve been doing a lot of reading. I’ve read articles from the New York Times, The Heritage Foundation, and The State Department.

What strikes me most rapidly in our current discourse on refugees is that we have politicized every part of the issue. I understand there are different ways to implement policy on people moving to this country. I also believe we must consider the social, economic, and cultural implications of integrating our country.

But, I believe in it. And, more importantly, I believe there are some parts of the issue that don’t need to be politicized. For many of the individuals relocating to the United States, they are coming from violence, war, and pain. They have been forced to leave home. In fact, they don’t have one.

And, when they do finally get a chance to come to this country, you can see from graphic below that it is not easy. The likelihood of foreigners attacking us is a narrative that is promoted to incite fear. It’s hard to ignore in these days of ISIS and attacks happening globally. I get that, and it’s true, it is scary. But in fear, we shouldn’t blame the vulnerable, marginalized, or other.

Sometimes, the issues that we face aren’t “issues.” Instead, they are people. They are stories. We can’t forget that. It’s easy to paint over the complexities of people and war when we don’t come face to face with it.

So, in addition to reading about the process of for refugee screening, I want to publicly encourage people to get involved in knowing refugees in their local communities. Reach out to organizations working within these communities. Get involved. Go outside your bubble. When you do, you realize that politics is unnecessarily stripping people of their humanity, and when that happens, we are at risk for forgetting what community, unity, and peace can actually look like.

America, we can do this. We can do this. I believe, and I always will.

I have much more to say but for now, I will simply hope these words and hopes are sufficient, and that the America I know and love will come together in these uncertain, questionable times.

We have a big opportunity to grow as people and communities, and I hope we do just that. Get informed, read, learn, and make friends. You won’t regret it.

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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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hope.

“Nothing can stop me.” – Yvette*

Kayonza is a sleepy town in Eastern Rwanda, though it maintains a solid supply of milk and bananas, so long as the harvest is good and the cows are healthy.

IMG_1582Last week, I zipped on a motorcycle across the small town, towards the bus station.I passed the internet café that I spent hours at for correspondence when I lived without electricity. The old coffee shop I frequented is now re-constructed into a larger hotel development. It seems the only thing that has remained the same is the dinky ATM I withdrew cash from (when it worked) and the large cow statue in the middle of the town’s roundabout. This part of the Eastern Province is nothing special to most, but for me, every time I pass through, there is something that buzzes inside of me.

Last Friday, I meandered through the Kayonza bus park to find a ride to my nearby Peace Corps community. This is my fourth, possibly fifth, visit to my village since I completed my service at the end of 2013. I’m fortunate, blessed, and simultaneously, recognize the unique opportunity I have been given.  With each time that I do return, my neighbors exclaim proudly, “wibuka ni wacu” (you remembered us). I nod with gratitude, humbly agreeing that returning means a hell of a lot to people, no matter the background, culture, or geographic location.

I hop on a bruised, dented bus that is, quite literally, falling apart. The motor, it appears, will die at any moment, and there are at least three extra people stuffed inside. The man in front of me is holding two chickens. The driver is desperately smoking a cigarette. There are numerous older women grasping their walking sticks as we roll along the hills of our town.

Standard situation.

I shift my backpack so it does not hit against the person next to me. As I re-organize, I hear a meek, but enthusiastic call for “Heather!” I turn around and behind me, waving joyfully, is a student that I taught English during both years of my service. We shake hands, laughing, and I tell her that I’m on my way back – but first have plans to stop and pick up Yvette. I’m staying the weekend at her house and I can hardly wait to see her again. This student smiles and shouts, “Yego! Karibu teacher!” (Yes, welcome, teacher).

I take a deep breath as I call for the driver to pull off at my stop. He looks at me quizzically. I smile, and assure him, that yes, this is where I want to be. I am meeting Yvette at our main junction before we continue to her home where I will be spending the weekend.

The first thing I notice is her hair. My sweet Yvette, who I began teaching when she was 16, now has a thick, long, black weave in a multitude of braids. This is an outward sign of mobility; paying to have your hair done  is not a frequent occurrence where we lived. I let the braids fall through my fingers as I shout loudly, and with so much happiness, “Yesu we! My dear you have become mature. You are looking so smart.”

I shouldn’t be surprised. Yvette is 20 now, and she’s completing her student teaching at a school adjacent to the start of our long, dirt village road. She’s teaching nursery school students while taking courses on educational psychology and teaching methods. I literally could not be prouder.

I am visiting my community again, but things are different than visits in the past. My students are beyond their coming-of-age; they have either dropped out of school or graduated. Most, I learn, have not finished their secondary education, however. For the few that have, the reality of finding a job feels ominous in a rural community sustained through subsistence farming. Harnessing an income feels overwhelming without existing purchasing power or economic capacity. Now, instead of questions about how to finish school, the girls are asking questions about budgeting, planning, and thinking through exactly what they want as young women – not as students. This “new life” as one of my girls calls it, “is not easy.”

Yvette and I ride in unison on separate motorcycles to her family home. I pass through the banana trees, knowing that once again, I am home. I soar on my moto, it seems, hearing mixed shouts of “Julia” (the newest Peace Corps Volunteer in our village), “umuzungu” (white person), and “Impano” (my Kinyarwanda name). The older kids tend to know who I am; the younger ones are now using umuzungu. So goes the passing of time. I notice that the bananas, beans, and cassava have all died. It’s a stark sight to see; a plethora of plots, yet all with an empty harvest. I would find out later that it didn’t rain in this village from April to December last year. Hunger, scarcity of resources, and food security are now even larger, more pressing issues.

IMG_1555Yvette’s mother holds her hands high with kwishimira (praise to God) for my arrival. She hugs me tight and she smells of sweat, firewood, and soil. Her day has alternated between the land, the kitchen, and the road. Yvette’s  grandmother does the same. I smile because I realize that after all these years, I don’t even know Yvette’s grandmother’s name. Rather, I call her mukekuru (grandmother). That’s it. We share a moment and there is a glimmer of joy and appreciation that strikes me; I’m so happy to be back. Mukekeru jokes that she is still alive for my current visit. We giggle because the woman is now 85 years old. I jokingly tell her that she has at least six or seven years left, and snarkily, she tells me that she’ll stay alive until I come back with children. We laugh some more. Touché, mukekuru, touché.

It must be said: life in Rwanda is not easy. Perhaps for some, but not everyone. Life in Kigali can mask the deep divisiveness of inequity that persist in this country. I am unsure if I became numb to the hardness of this life over the years in which I stayed insulated inside the community. Perhaps my time living back in the United States tainted the hardness of what poverty in Rwanda is like. Either way, what I saw in just the first few hours of my return was intense. It shocked me. It awoke me, once again, to the raw realities of deep, deep poverty. It was painful, but also necessary.

Yvette and I left her cemented house before dusk to go and search for a couple of beers for her family. My return, they said, warranted a celebration. As we roamed the village terrain, we stopped by her aunt’s house to say “hello.” As we did, she confronted Yvette with news of an intense infection growing on her foot. Her leg was swelling, she couldn’t walk, and I could hardly believe what I saw was real. It was night by then, and so Yvette used her phone light to examine the injury further. My stomach dropped; I knew immediately that this woman urgently needed to go and get medication and treatment. Otherwise, she would lose her leg.

We left, and instantly, I felt sick. As we entered a small center of shops and bars, I began to see old friends, old neighbors, and old church members. They greeted me, smiled, and continued to proclaim, “uri inkumi” (“you have become a woman”). Considering that just a couple of months ago I had my age checked while seeing an R-rated movie in Denver, this strikes me as wonderfully reassuring.Yvette briefed me on more news from the community.

She pointed to house after house, noting that various young girls that I used to teach have gotten pregnant and are now mothers. The climate has also been harsh and food has been inadequate. Theft has increased, and a feeling of distrust has grown. She reports that her mother, aunt, and uncle have all had thieves steal crops, food, and pots from their homes.

When we arrived back at her house, I stopped and gazed at the sky. My overwhelming feelings of melancholy seem to subside for a moment. The stars are ominous, beautiful, and vast. I said a quick prayer, asking that God would reveal Himself in this place. And that for myself, and for this family, we would remember that God is  still so present through all of this.

We ate dinner together in the dark. Yvette and I talked for three hours about what she has learnt at school and why she believes so passionately in education. As she spoke, with sauce dripping from her mouth in extraordinary excitement, I became suddenly, swiftly, and deeply moved at how much investing in one life can make a difference. I can’t always answer big questions of poverty, inaccessibility, or oppression, but I can be assured that there are bright spots everywhere. Yvette is one of them. She passionately remarks, “the two things I must always remember: a good future and self-confidence.”

Late into the night, she openly shared about other things too; things like politics, social movements, and her past. I was amazed at how well-informed she was – especially about the growing activism in the United States. She admitted that she cried when Donald Trump won the election. When I asked why, she said simply, “I can’t imagine a leader acting or talking like that. It made me sad for America.”

Enough said.

I woke up to a rooster crowing. Already, at 6:00am, Yvette’s mother was cooking tea. I stretched my legs and visited the latrine for a bathroom visit. I used to be an expert at using these things, but with passing time, my squatting abilities have faltered. Let’s just say it was a bit messy. As we say in Rwanda, bibaho (it happens).

As we waited for the sun to climb in the sky, we sipped tea and looked at photos of my niece, AnaLynah. Mukekuru is obsessed, ooh-ing and ahh-ing over the lovely photographs. She was quick to remind me, again, that I must come back with children.

When we share a mid-morning snack of ubugali (cassava bread) and potatoes with sauce,Yvette’s mom prayed over the food. She commented sheepishly that she had “nothing to give me.” This broke every piece of my heart. I assure her – I don’t need or want anything. Just love, and only love. As we ate,Yvette asks, “Heather, when we tell you that you are a blessing to us, you keep telling us that we have been a blessing to you. How?”

I blinked slowly and scrambled to find the right, adequate words.

You’ve given me friendship. Community. A place to come back to. Purpose. All of you girls have motivated me to know what is important in life. If God gives me the opportunity to support others, I must take it. And, with all of you, you have demonstrated what it looks like to be welcoming and loving to anyone.”

We walked dusty trails in the western part of the sector, towards Liza’s* house. When I saw her, I gasped, amazed at how “grown” she has become. Liza detailed what it felt like to finish her schooling. She talked at length about representing her school at a national debate, and how she overcame her fear of pursuing her coursework in the sciences. She wants to go to university, but she doesn’t know how to proceed. The national government will announce scholarships in the coming months, and if she doesn’t receive one, she can’t continue. We prayed about this together, in her small, musty living room.

We also visited Yvette’s uncle, all with more food and more questions. Families often ask. “where is your husband?” and now, being in a very happy relationship with my girlfriend, I feel stuck in knowing what to answer. I can’t tell them the truth, and I also hate to lie. I feel in a different kind of a “closet” than I did before, and this is stressful. I get flustered and simply reply with a coyness, “God will give His answer.” This seems to be enough, at least for now.

The hard part of coming back, I realize, is that my new life doesn’t easily integrate with the old. I must grieve this and be patient with this, too.

One of the hardest part moments of my trip was seeing a baby with a disability going untreated. One of Yvette’s family members brought this baby to the house. I assumed the child was only two or three weeks from its birth. When I realized it’s actual age (9 months!) Yvette’s mom unwrapped the child from a small, blue blanket. As I tenderly held the small, floppy limbs in my hands, I fully grasped the limitations in each part of its body for this little one.

The child went to a hospital, but was referred to a specialty clinic. Because of transport fees, the family hasn’t yet gone. With urgency, I insisted that they must go soon. If the baby can access some physical therapy, the body can still develop some muscle strength. I excuse myself to the latrine, again, but not because I need to relieve myself.

I stand on the wooden logs, with tears in my eyes, unsure of what to do. Why God, why God, does this happen?

On the final day of my visit, I met the current Peace Corps Volunteer, Julia, who is simply, a gem. She’s connected strongly with Yvette, and her family too, and we share stories about teaching and what it’s like to live inside of this part of Rwanda. We walk to her home together, and I squeal in delight when I see my timeworn painted walls of turquoise. My old home looks largely the same, and with all the other stressors I experienced, this was comforting.

IMG_1586Yvette and I walked the five kilometers out of the village so I could soak the place up as much as possible. I was sad to go our separate ways, but we quickly made plans for her to visit the bakery in Kigali the following weekend. I thank her for all that she has given and shared with me. I thank her for being her. She shyly thanks me too, and she goes.

Then, like magic, I’m back on a bus, surrounded by colorful fabrics, women with babies, and bible-carrying men, to return to my current life. It feels like I took a step out of time and went somewhere else. I’m processing these experiences, people, and stories still, and it’s challenging.

It’s hard to reconcile our lives with one another sometimes. However, even in the difficulty, it’s a worthy process. I’m learning a lot from this visit, feeling affirmed in my work, and considering what it means to resist, persist, and keep going no matter what. I am thinking about those kinds of things, mostly, because more than anything, that’s what I want for my girls, my loved ones, myself, and my children one day: that is, to hold both the joyous and heart-breaking pieces of life together, knowing that life is neither one or the other. It is both. Always, both.

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My community, my village, my home always serves as a benchmark for a part of my life that allowed me to understand and know a bigger picture in this world. Life can be immensely difficult for all of us, as we each face unique challenges. I can’t move forward and forget these things. Instead, we are called to hone what we can and advocate for each other, wherever our gaps may be. We all have them. But, we can all help one another, too.

I don’t know what to do about what I saw: the paucity of food; the lack of education; the scarceness of jobs; the propensity of medical issues; there is just so much. Too much.

But, I am assured, knowing that I can continue to stand with my girls, with Yvette, believing that opportunity does provide the most valuable kind of a return on investment: HOPE.

*Some names and identifying details have been changed to protect the privacy of these stories and the individuals involved. 

the power of people

Since becoming an avid fan of walking (read: my knees keep hurting whenever I run) I have found numerous ways to channel my thoughts while my legs boost me forward.

Sometimes, I listen to podcasts (the Robcast, Denver Community Church, Modern Love, Call Your Girlfriend, and Fresh Air top my favorites); sometimes I focus on the sounds around me and identify what each thing is (certainly, more applicable in an urban environment), like yelling children, sound of birds, or bicycles climbing up long, arduous hills.

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Kayonza, Rwanda

Occasionally, and when I’m feeling particularly contemplative, I literally put myself in someone else’s shoes.

The exercise is simple: when you find yourself in an area with other humans, find someone that catches your eye. Without being a total creep, observe them.

Ask some (or all) of the following questions:

  1. Who are they?
  2. Where are they going?
  3. Where are they coming from?
  4. Do they have a family?
  5. What has happened in their life?
  6. Who has molded their life?
  7. What goals could they hold? Dreams?
  8. What might be easy in their life? Hard?

You won’t know the answers to these questions. That’s the whole point.

The exercise is not about judgement, nor is it about feeling jealous or “sorry” for another person; it’s about thinking about all kinds of persons and what their lives might be like.

I believe, and I know, that existing outside of ourselves (even for a few minutes) cultivates a deep, abiding kind of empathy because when we realize that the moving world does not hinge upon us, we are more fully aware of what and who we are surrounded by. I started doing this a few years ago, and I’ve noticed that with time, it’s furthered my understanding that we all sit on different spectrums of everything.

There is no linear human being.

Most recently, I did this exercise on the border of Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo, in a town named Cyangugu. The town sits on the Southwest corner of Rwanda, with just over 60,000 people living in the surrounding area. It is a lakeside town, with sambaza (a type of fish) as a preferred food type. I spent little time here when I was in the Peace Corps, as my community was nearly 8 or 9 hours away, within the Eastern part of the country.

Our TWB team was in the region to complete a bread market analysis which involved visits with other local bakeries, visiting shops that source bread for customers, and researching local preferences for consumption. To understand the place as best as I could, I knew that moving by foot would be advantageous. I think that because you can use your five senses in varying degrees, walking is the most optimal way to learn about a place. Amid our bread research, outside a crowded, local market, I decided to contemplate a woman moving hastily with charcoal on the road.

It was raining.

The moisture of the air swelled together with the dust-capped pavement, like a gust of earth touching each part of my body. I tried to squint my eyes so I didn’t fall into a ditch or misstep and run into one of many pedestrians moving from one place to another. People were moving with intention; while the sunshine might keep people in a haze, the rain acts like a buzzer for immediacy. Suddenly, whether going to the market, to the lake, or to home, the journey must be done speedily.

As the pace of the conglomerate of people around me quickens, I spot a middle-aged woman carrying charcoal. The bag rests in such a way that the top piece is strapped around her forehead and the bulk of the weight is held by her back. She was wearing royal blue fabric with yellow adornments. She was also sweating, profusely, and her muscles seem to mold to the bag as if she knows it well – perhaps carrying these kinds of things every day. Her skin is well-worn by the sun. She seems tired. Strong, but very tired.

She had a ring on her left hand – perhaps she was married – and hence, it’s possible that she was also a provider for children, too. She dropped the charcoal near a bus for loading. I watched from afar as she received a wage – what appeared to be in coins – from her presumed boss. She counted her money. She left.

Was this her day’s wage? Was it enough to buy food? Is she from around these parts?

I can’t know the answers to the questions. I know nothing about her life. And yet, I feel heartbroken.

At any given time, we are surrounded by those who have a life full of opportunity, or perhaps oppression; poverty, or perhaps money; dreams, or perhaps hopelessness; limitations, or perhaps, educational access; hunger, or perhaps food; a job, or perhaps unemployment; nothingness, or perhaps status; mobility, or perhaps subjugation; isolation, or perhaps friends; and health, or perhaps sickness.

Turns out, our privilege is mobile (we carry it with us) and it sits on a spectrum depending on where you find yourself.  If we are engaging with the people around us, we can’t always know the levels or places of their privilege, but we can assess the levels of our own – depending on the situation.

As I watched this woman walk away, with hundreds of others around me, I couldn’t help but think: why do individual lives often look so disproportionate? Is this privilege at work? Or something else?

For instance, on this trip, I walked into bakeries, asked questions, and received tours of the facility without hardly a second glance. I even went home with a free loaf of bread. It’s possible (and likely) that being white had something to do with this.

In the same trip, however, I also entered a bar full of drunk men to purchase a bottle of water. Quickly, I was made to feel small, like my place was not there. I was mocked and laughed at and felt uncomfortable immediately. A drunk man tried to touch me – I left. Here, in spaces like that, I hold very little power – conceptually speaking. It’s possible (and likely) that being a woman had something to do with this.

After intentionally thinking about this woman – and the realities and possibilities in her life – I came back to our hotel room and cried.

I cried because I am maddened by inequity. I’m angered by lack of opportunity. I’m aghast at the nature of cyclical poverty. I’m saddened by loneliness. All of it – it’s so much to absorb and understand. It seems, tapping into this ONE woman’s life for 15 minutes allowed an outpouring of questions, thoughts, concerns, and opinions to rise from deep within me.

I can’t forget the way this feels.

If I forget, I become numb to justice.

If I forget, together, we will not overcome.

If I forget, we cannot acknowledge where we are limited, but where we have power.

I want to understand, know, and dissect the privilege I have. I also know, intimately, that there are areas in my life in which I’m not privileged. Learning to know these places is just as important.

And so, I will keep going on my walks and will maintain awareness of the people around me. For me, people serve as markers and reminders of all the powerful, incredible diversity of humanity, and still also the work we have ahead to ensure human rights are met for everyone.

Justice does not imply equality and that life is the same for everyone; justice, instead, necessitates equity – that we all can build a healthy, prosperous, supportive life, all within the context of our God-given place on this Earth. Whether in small-town Indiana, or on the shores of Thailand, all of us, as people, must know more about others, and then take hard-looks at ourselves, too. We must not be afraid to see our own privilege (and limitations) and then address it head on.

How does our privilege perpetuate systems?

How do acknowledge our mobile privilege and do something about it?

How can our privilege influence change?

These are the questions that this exercise ignites in me.

This is the power of people.

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Cyangugu, Rwanda

muhabura

On the first day of 2017, Chelsea and I penned (nerdily) “bucket lists”, outlining goals and hopes to accomplish within the year. This is a favorite practice of mine, as setting forth possibilities simultaneously allows us to appreciate our experiences and relationships held in the past.

In this list, I included trips I wanted to take (visiting the East Coast, for example, to reunite with my girlfriends from college), writing projects I wanted to do (beginning a book!), and commitments I wanted to engage with (joining Denver Community Church).

I also jotted down highlights of the past year, grateful for so much that had happened – even in a turbulent year of change and uncertainty.

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I believe in holding loosely to plans, of course, but I do think there is something intentional and progressive about jotting down the pieces of life you are consistently striving and working towards.

This includes climbing insane mountains.

I knew the first couple of months of my year would be in Rwanda since I was scheduled to be with The Women’s Bakery team at our headquarters in Kigali.

Knowing I would have weekends to gallivant the country or do things I’ve left undone in previous visits, Mount Muhabura topped the list of activities I wanted to do. It’s been on the back of my mind for literally, years. When I was in the Peace Corps I often thought about tackling this brute of a mountain, but frankly, didn’t want to fork over the money for it. This actually makes a lot of sense since I was living on a stipend of around $250 monthly and the costs for a permit to hike Muhabura is $100, at least for a non-resident. Regardless, I let Muhabura slip away from me and decided at the start of this year that I would finally, finally attempt this trek.

A dormant volcano, Mt. Muhabura is the second highest point in Rwanda at 4,127 meters (over 13,500 feet). It is also a part of the Virungas, a series of peaks across three countries: Uganda, Rwanda, and the Congo. The Virungas are made famous for a few reasons, namely, Diane Fossey and Gorillas in the Mist. The Virungas have a more controversial history too, as the epicenter and convergence for military and international conflict between countries in this part of the world.

Muhabura can be approached via Rwanda or Uganda – with the easier side known to be Uganda. With a small crater lake at the summit, the total hike involves over 5,000 feet in elevation gain. Muhabura translates as “the guide” so naturally, when I arrived back in Rwanda this winter, I knew it was time to go and finally find my place. To be guided, if you will.

My colleagues and friends, Meg, Julie, and I initially planned to arrange our permits for two Virunga hikes.  Ambitious and perhaps slightly naïve, we originally intended to complete the Muhabura climb on a Saturday, followed by a hike to the top of Mt. Gahinga the following day. When we arrived at the Rwandan Development Board in Kigali, though, we decided to focus on one hike. After all, upon purchase of our permits, every official seemed to repeat the same thing: “you must be fit.” To be honest, I approached comments like that with loads of laissez-faire, confident that my daily walks and occasional weight-lifting would be enough to get me up (and down) the mountain.

We bought our tickets, packed our car, and left for our short trip away.

Only a 2 ½ hour drive, our launch town was Musanze, in the Northwest corner of the country and a popular outdoorsy stop for tourists. For locals, the North is characterized by the thinner, more brisk air, potatoes, and green rolling hills of tea. The beauty in this part of the country is stunning; in fact, while driving, it’s hard to even absorb the fact that the views are real and you come to the stark realization that no matter how many photographs you take, you will not capture the essence of the terrain.

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Our guesthouse at Kinigi (just outside of Musanze town) was quaint, welcoming, and perfectly simple. Adorned with black and white cow-colored stones and red brick, I appreciated the homey-ness of the place after a trip out of the city in a 4×4. I was ready to relax and mentally prepare for our formidable task ahead. We were welcomed by Faustin, a young gentleman with exceptional customer service. Sometimes, finding accommodating and helpful service in Rwanda can be difficult, however, he not only had our rooms ready, but customized our orders for dinner and was beyond friendly for the extent of our stay. It was refreshing, honestly.

As we settled into our room and ordered brochettes and stews for the evening, the girls and I put our feet up (literally), read our books, and sipped hot ginger tea. I began reading The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien (lovingly given to me by my dear friend Jordana) and I was hooked immediately. We read for nearly an hour until dinner arrived. As the evening slipped away, we were in bed by 8:30pm, anxious for the adventurous day to come.

Sporting my beige Columbia boots and black fleece (acquired 2 years ago at a gorilla naming ceremony, naturally), I was hiking-ready. We packed nearly six liters of water and a healthy load of snacks (Whole30 compliant as Julie and I started the natural cleanse this month) in our daypacks for our day on the mountain.

From snooping on other blogs and doing extensive web searches, we had heard that the predicted time to summit would be around 6 hours. Because of the time-intensive nature of the trail, we wanted to get as early of a start as possible. So, we ate breakfast right around 6:15am. After coffee, eggs, and bananas, we met with our guide, Patrick, and drove to the presumed “base” of the mountain.

“Base” was an overt exaggeration; Patrick claimed that the size of our car (think mid-90’s jeep, Pajero) would be unable to pass some of the steeper, rockier parts of the path. Normally, this would hardly be an inconvenience, however, this created an additional 40 minutes of walking time (one way) from where we parked the car to where the entrance of the trail was marked. Nonetheless, we begun. Stubborn at first, we weren’t entirely sure about hiring a “porter” to help carry our bags. Meg was quick to agree with Patrick that it would be helpful and so for the equivalent of $18 we paid Damascene to join our crew on our journey. In my opinion, it was the best investment of the day – without question.

Along with Patrick and Damascene our motley crew continued to grow. We were also accompanied by 5 military officials, tasked with the job to “watch out for buffalo.” They hiked the entire way with us, usually veering off the path. Even now, I’m a bit aghast that they could hike the mountain with guns (think huge rifles) dangling over their shoulders while wearing heavy camouflage. When in Rwanda, I guess?

At right around 9:00am, we crossed a creaky wooden bridge and Patrick announced, “this is it.” And so, we started the official climb, just past tremendous fields of wheat and the extensive, green forest before us. Reminiscent of Fern Gully, I was slightly full of trepidation as we started. I mean, the first 40 minutes of walking was hard, so what in the hell was I going to be like for the remaining day? I wondered these things as I had a “short call” off to the side in the bush.

Here goes nothing.

The forest instantly captured my imagination. It was like a dream; green forestry surrounded us entirely and though we were already climbing at what felt to be a 45-degree grade, it was beautiful. It was hellish, though, after we acclimatized, because my body was not quite ready for the steep incline. Julie and I had done a relatively intense gym workout just two days prior and so my muscles were already sore.

I focused on my step, my muscles, my mind, and my surroundings. It was kind of a spiritual experience during the first part of trek, actually, because I was absorbing everything around me. The first two hours was brutal. I tried to leverage my body with existing roots of trees and pre-planted steps, but my small legs had to take big leaps at times. We took breaks every 45 minutes or so, ready to catch our breath. I loved having Julie and Meg with me, knowing that we were doing this together helped me stay focused and motivated even in the most difficult parts.

At around 11:30am we reached a point by which we would be taking lunch. We sat on the cusp of the upcoming rocky terrain and looked at the horizon upon us. It was the closest I had ever felt to seeing all of Rwanda – at once. It was a relief – to be sitting, but also to feel like Rwanda wasn’t so daunting, hard, and complicated. It reminded me, again, that Rwanda is also beautiful and expansive and I loved being able to take it all in at once.

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Patrick asked us a lot of interesting questions while we were eating our carrot sticks and previously roasted sweet potatoes.

“What can Rwanda learn from other places?”

“Why is customer service lacking?”

“What do you see in other countries in the region that is unlike what you experience in Rwanda?”

I mused over our answers and tried to breathe as much as I could, as if I knew I would be in short supply as we went up in altitude. At this point, he remarked that we were about 45% complete with the climb to the summit. When I looked up, I didn’t feel assured by this – the next part was completely vertical.

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The terrain switched fast; out of the forest, we were now climbing on grey, volcanic rock. Forget your standard switchback, we ventured straight up the mountain. Meg, Julie, and I alternated carrying our two packs and I was glad for this. We also each had sticks to help us, though one of them was hardly useful. Considering these things, we attacked the incline like beasts. We hit another “false peak” but we were not dismayed – the summit was in sight. Together, we finished the last part of the summit together. I had to take a few moments to motivate myself and to do so, I remembered what I always repeated in my head during field hockey games:

Leave no doubt. The words came from Remember the Titans, and they always inspired me to give my best in everything. I might not BE the best (which is totally, completely fine) but I will give my best efforts. I had a few more rocks to overcome and I was going to do it. I summited, along with the girls, at around 1:15pm.

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Julie, Meg, and I took pictures together at the top. Turns out, per Patrick, in his 6 years of guiding hikes on this mountain, we are the first team to finish together. Usually he leads groups of one or two and in the case of two, someone either takes more time, or turns back. Needless to say, our adventure was a strong team-building activity.

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At 2:00pm, we began our descent. For the lack of a better term, it was hell.

It would take us over 4 hours to get off the mountain, and to be honest, there were moments I wasn’t even sure I could get off. My muscles were so tired that with each step, I wasn’t sure if it would hold up. Several times, my legs completely gave out and I fell on my ass. Tears came fast when this happened. Not out of pain, but out of frustration. I pride myself on being strong and this mountain was making me feel so very weak.

For probably 30% of my descent, I had to hold the hand of our porter, Damsascene. He was kind and gentle, assuring me that we would get down, we just needed to go slowly. I am convinced I wouldn’t have gotten down the mountain without him. I prayed multiple times – mostly that I would be able to find enough strength to finish – and tried to engage in light chatter to distract myself from the pain. We talked about food, Donald Trump, and cultural norms in Rwanda.

The military men behind us snickered at times, baffled by how slow I was going, but I had to ignore them and keep on going. Meg and Julie were ahead with Patrick, so I simply did my best to move quickly, but also move within the pace I had set for myself. I fell at least 6 times and cried at least 7. Turns out, adventures on a mountain does feel like a life journey, full of ups and downs (literally). Julie got altitude sickness on the way down and so she had to deal with an excruciating headache. Clearly, at least for us, the first two hours of the hike were the most difficult, and the entire descent was incredibly challenging – physically and mentally.

When we entered the clearing, after the forest, I was so happy and relieved.

We made it.

I was accompanied through a small village center by Damascene and the soldiers. For a small, remote mountain village, you can imagine the kind of spectacle this created. I encountered plenty of drunk people (apparently, since Sunday is a day off from the fields, many people rest by drinking plentiful amounts of home brew) and was even asked jokingly if I was a gorilla. Sometimes, these things just don’t seem real.

As we got closer to refuge (the car), I shook the hands of an older woman with a stick. We exchanged pleasantries and she asked where I had been coming  from. I simply commented, “Navuye hejeru. Nasuye Imana.”

Translation: I am coming from heaven. I visited God.

It didn’t feel like a smart-ass remark. It seemed appropriate given the fact that we had hiked straight into the clouds and sky. She laughed and raised her hands in humor. In these kinds of situations, if you can simply make people laugh, you’ll be good to go.

When I did reach the car, reunited again with Meg and Julie, I just wanted to sleep. I was so glad we had done the journey, but it was one that I’m not sure I would do again. Scratch that. I don’t think I’ll ever want to do Muhabura again. However, I’m incredibly glad I did it.

It feels empowering to accomplish things that you set your mind to. I didn’t realize how much of my body, mind, and emotions I would have needed for this climb, but luckily, I came ready.

Muhabura, like life, isn’t for the weak. It’s a formidable mountain, one that should be taken seriously. But with grit, perseverance, and strong legs, you can climb it. You might have to crawl up at times, or perhaps slide through mud and rocks on your way down, but it can be done.

Cross that item off the bucket list. Huzzah.

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the welcoming tradition.

Men hate each other because they fear each other,
and they fear each other because they don’t know each other,
and they don’t know each other
because they are often separated from each other.

Martin Luther King, Jr. 

In times of grief, I often pray with my hands cupped together, as if I’m holding all the pain in my tired fingers and asking for God to see it, hold it, and carry it with (or for) me.

I began praying like that on a trip that culminated with time at a progressive Methodist church in Birmingham, Alabama (Highlands United Methodist Church). I was with a group of Hendrix students, learning about the Civil Rights movement while also taking part in service work. This experiential learning program was designed to explore on-going, systemic issues of poverty, race, and historical segregation – especially in the South. On one of the final evenings, I stayed alone in a small, chapel-like room and lifted my hands like in the cup-like stance, praying that God would teach me how to have an open heart. My soul was tired from the stories we had heard. I was at a loss for words – in disbelief of how our country had so violently and rigorously held onto exclusionary policies and attitudes because of a person’s race.

What disturbed me then, as it continues to do so now, (today, in 2017 when we legislate the rejection of people not quite like “us”) is that exclusion was not the kind of tradition I was taught. I, in the tapestry of experiences across state lines, groups, ethnicities, countries, genders, and families have been shown and empowered with a welcoming tradition. I refuse, resolutely, to disembark from this way of loving and honoring the humanity around us.

I took time this week to jot down specific moments or circumstances by which was modeled for me as a way of inclusion.

Inclusion, inherently, comes with risks.

If we embrace “otherness” in our communities (whether that includes a different religion, ethnicity, sexuality, socio-economic background, gender, etc.) we can’t guarantee consensus. If we celebrate diversity, we might have to live in the tension of misalignment. Most profoundly, if we welcome people that are not like the community we live within then we might lose the power we have systemically maintained.

Imagine!

What if the opportunity for inclusion presented a pathway to disassemble privilege so that we could access a more equitable, shared, opportunity-rooted society?

I’ve suggested something like this with close family members before and have been called a “socialist.” In a better light, I’ve been characterized as simply “too idealistic.”

But in fact, welcoming others is a tradition found within the framework of the beginning Christian community, not merely something I only formulated myself.

May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus, so that with one heart and mouth you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God…May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Romans 15: 5-7; 13

My push, desire, and passion for inclusion stems first from my faith, and then from my upbringing and experiences. Truthfully, it also comes from a deep-seeded belief that each and every human has value. All of us. We’re messy, incomplete, wrong, misguided, mean, selfish, corrupt, and imperfect people. But, that doesn’t change the fact that we are alive and to be image-bearers of Christ. We are not Christ. Rather, we are made in His image, carrying some piece of that reflection with us.

I’m blessed because I’ve seen enough inclusion in my life to know that it is the worthy way. I will commit my life to it. And for that, I have the people in my life to thank for showcasing what it means to see, love, and accept people and to courageously choose the path of integration, not separation. It’s harder, but the right thing usually is.

Inclusion: noun

the action or state of including or of being included within a group or structure.

Divorce

Appropriately, my first molding to what relational inclusion can be, came from my parents. I’m forever grateful for that.

My parents divorced in the fall of 2003. I was 14. It was the dismantling of my family as I knew it, though frankly, I had expected it to occur many years prior. I was sad, of course, but I was also hopeful that both of my parents could heal and find the happiness they so deeply longed for, needed, and deserved.

Initially, to cope, I threw myself (literally) into sports. Field hockey became the outlet by which I could channel my spectrum of emotions (despair, gratitude, doubt, expectation, concern, and uncertainty) and still process what was happening. My parents were available to ask questions, and most conspicuously, did their damndest to uphold consistency to our life. I still took the bus to school, I maintained delicious dinners of macaroni and cheese, and for a while, we stayed in the same house, with our parents rotating each week.

Eventually, as the dust began to settle, even over the course of months, years, and other marriages, I witnessed something quite miraculous. My mother and father kept an amiable relationship, and because of that, kept an inclusionary approach to each other in our lives. It would have been easy for my mom or my dad to silo their experiences with us – away from one another. Instead, together, they attended sports’ games and activities and together, built the role of both “mother” and “father” equally, without marginalization or omission. This can be unique in the status-quo for divorced families.

What I learned – from both mom and dad– is that even in time of division, a cohesive community still can be cultivated. Our family could remain intact, just different than before.  Yet, even in our pain, our growth as a family that included myself, my brother, my mom, and my dad remained.

Menifee

I graduated from a public-school system with resources. Lots of them. Cherry Creek Schools are well-known (locally and nationally) for excellent teachers, technologies, and innovative classroom methods. To be honest, I didn’t know how lucky I was until I left.

I’ve always loved volunteerism and as a student just outside of Little Rock, I made it a priority to find the perfect club, activity, or organization where I could get involved. When I joined the team of Menifee, a tutoring and education program for rural Arkansasan youth, I fully, and finally realized how advantaged I had been to receive the kind of education I did.

Menifee, a small, rural town near my school (we’re talking population 311), is a community that has over 10% of people living below the poverty line. It also has a sizeable population that attend school districts lacking in quality teachers, experiential learning, and enough resources (say, textbooks) to provide high-level classroom engagement.

Once a week, a well-known (and well-liked) Hendrix professor would bring a handful of tutors to practice spelling, mapping, or time tables with Menifee youth. Her compassion for this community was compelling and deep; she worked for years to elevate the educational opportunities for these children, and truthfully, it was inspiring to even just be around. Unrelentingly, she believed that these children had every right to access a fair, equitable education.

Tutoring was just one facet of her efforts; she also advocated for parental engagement, believing that strong families can encourage student proficiency. I learned from her that inclusion of all students is essential to our future. If we neglect students from rural, minority, or poor communities, we inherently advocate for a society that doesn’t push forth opportunities for knowledge – for all.

GLOW & BE

While in the Peace Corps, I wrote extensively about the experience of educating young women, particularly in the realm of personal growth, leadership, relationship-building, and women’s issues. After school, once a week, I would meet with our “GLOW” (Girls Leading Our World) Club (usually with around 20 students) to discuss issues relevant to their lives (sex education, menstruation, studying habits, and boys). It was a powerful experience, one that still informs the work and passions I have for encouraging safe spaces for women.

Over time, the club became, truly, theirs. I sat on the side, allowing their own leadership to thrive and for them to establish the kind of conversation they desired.

After about a year of meeting regularly, the president of the group approached me with an idea: let’s include the boys. I was confused at first. Boys? We want to empower boys? Wasn’t our club designed to empower our female populations?

Her idea took root. By including males in the conversation of empowerment, we empower both genders – together. If women are to rise in confidence, efficacy, and choice, inherently, men would need to join us. They would need to advocate for us, and us for them. We started a “BE” (Boys Empowered) club the following term – designed to educate boys on how they can be a part of the process to empower themselves – and women.

Even years later, I’m still amazed at this kind of foresight and progressive thinking. Inclusion, is necessary for all genders, across all spaces.

Denver Community Church

Most recently, my church, Denver Community Church (DCC), has publicly announced its decision to be a fully inclusive church – largely in reference to inclusion of the LGBT community.

The 2-year discernment process involved elders of the church praying, analyzing scripture, discussing, and meeting with members of the LGBT community. They have most recently launched a 5-week learning group to explore these issues publicly, and declare, without reservation that LGBT members are welcome to attend, serve, and have as meaningful of a place in the church as anyone else.

I’m gay, and I’ve known that a long time but have not lived outwardly and authentically until more recently.

I never thought I would be brave enough to share this.

I never thought I would live the life I dreamed of.

I never thought I would find a church that would celebrate this.

I never. I began so many sentences with that word. I was ashamed, scared, sad, and resigned to the fact that I would have to hide this for the rest of my life.

Yet, something happened within the last year. I entered a time of deep prayer. I was provided the opportunity to do counseling. I began realizing (and fully accepting) how much God loved me. I began saying my truth aloud (again and again again) – without fear, without shame, and certainly, without going back. I had told family members before about this deep-knowing of who I was, but previously, had been too scared to live out the life I knew I was supposed to lead.

This year, I moved forward more boldly, sharing with my best friend that I knew I was meant to be with a woman. On a crazy (and wonderfully surprising) set of circumstances, I met a woman. We started dating. She became my girlfriend.

fullsizerender-2And then, this church came along, also.

You see, it all happened so fast, like a beautiful unfolding of a story that is meant to be. Even for myself, I can barely keep up.

Freedom does that – it happens fast and you can’t help but just succumb to the reality of real, gritty, kick-your-ass kind of faith.

Freedom for myself, and for others, to love God is the most beautiful kind of inclusion. We can have a place with Jesus. We can bring our most true versions of ourselves and continue to Love God, and Love others. We can live out the gospel actively and fully.

DCC isn’t asking everyone to agree with their stance on LGBT issues. What they are suggesting, instead, is a move towards love. A move towards, “unity not uniformity.” I would hope for the same thing. Because, as I witness this inclusion occur from afar, now in Rwanda for the next few weeks, I am learning how transformative inclusion can be – for anyone. I’m honored to be in a church that models this and lives this out.

Inclusion. Love. Community.

The pursuit of these ideal may be arduous, but I want in. I’m all in. No matter what.

just like people, places change.

Just like people, places change.

Flying into Kigali, Rwanda last week by way of Denver, Detroit, and Amsterdam (read: crazy amounts of jet lag), I was unable to ignore the expansive landscape of bright, yellow lights over the rolling hills that I have seen many times before.

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The Convention Center is open and the Marriott is now operating. Plentiful (perhaps unnecessary) roundabouts have been added to the city roads as more and more cars seem to fill them. There is a new dance club, a handful of new restaurants, and newly launched start-up companies. Whether in the IT sector, drones consulting, or in business incubation, Kigali has transformed into a flashy choice for investment. I saw this happening years ago and yet it still it surprises me. This city isn’t the way I left it.

My work has changed immensely too.

With The Women’s Bakery, I was most recently in Rwanda at the end of 2015 when we were at the tail-end of our first cohort, before the launch of our first Kigali-based bakery. We had a group of women, start-up capital, and big dreams. We were fine-tuning our business model, trying to refine how we could best educate and empower women for economic opportunity throughout Rwanda (and East Africa).

This week, I had the incredible honor and experience of baking, observing, and tasting our nutritious (and delicious) bread from these same women, in our 6 days-a- week bakery. Beet, banana, carrot, and honey bread galore, the intricate process of making this bread proves, once again, that the application of education is potent leverage for opportunity. Our bakery, lined with green metal, sits amidst a bustling part of the city as proof that commitment, belief, and grit can make dreams a reality.

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My eyes filled with unexpected tears when I was shown how to properly knead and shape some of our new products, like our tresse bread, for example. Patient with me, our ladies demonstrated the varying preparation techniques for ideal fermentation and shaping. I loved being taught. I loved baking with women who were now our teachers. The moment was small, but it left a deep impact.

Our work as a service-provider in Rwanda continually changes too. We’re training more women’s groups this year AND for the businesses we’ve co-launched, we are seeking and exploring avenues for profitability.

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To see tangible change like this is evocative and meaningful because you are reminded (humbly) that the things we work, sweat, yearn, and long for can actually happen.

Though incremental at times, change does deliver.

In the year since I’ve last been on this side of the world, my work, the landscape, culture, and atmosphere of Rwanda aren’t the only pieces of life that have changed here.

The girls I have supported in school since 2012 are all nearly graduated and exploring post-graduate options. The teachers, like the students have moved on too. My Peace Corps site in the Eastern Province has since seen 3 additional volunteers and educators. The sports materials our soccer team acquired through a grant were stolen. The care-taker of the cows at my old school passed away. My host father has a booming milk business. My Kinyarwanda teacher got married and a baby. The woman who helped take care of my house (and me) has made enough of an income to buy goats, pigs, and a cow. One of my students now posts regularly on Instagram.

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Rwanda has provided me a unique lens by which I can measure the change around me – and within me. I’m realizing, each time I come back, that I come back a different person. Like the changing architecture, views, and life circumstances of my friends in Rwanda, I too have pivoted, made mistakes, adopted new ideas, achieved new successes, and continue to grow into just being me.

Sometimes, these changes are visible. It’s easy to see when I’ve grown my hair long or have opted for a different style of clothing. It’s also relatively straight-forward to speak about updates on my family – their work, homes, and families.

Yet, I can’t help but wonder, how to express the internal change that has molded, shaped, and impacted our development as people.

How do I contextualize the joy of a new relationship?

How do I give words to the changes I’ve experienced in how I view gender, faith, politics, and policy?

These are just some of the questions.

Change happens over time – with small (and big) experiences – and we are challenged each day to enter conversations, relationships, and life with what has already happened to us.

Perhaps the struggle is not choosing how we express our change, but instead, we can choose to faithfully move forward into it. We don’t have to be afraid of change. It’s going to happen. The weighty, more implicative question remains what we will do.

I sat in our Kigali bakery this week, chatting with a Rwandan male that explicitly (and genuinely) expressed concern over what the implications would be with the plethora of executive orders released throughout the week in the United States. Like many, he was apprehensive about the onslaught of change happening so quickly.

Today, on a much-needed slow Saturday morning, I took the time to catch-up and read all that was taking place in public policy from the White House. I was appalled, shocked, and in disbelief.

I considered the changes I have noticed so intensely within our bakeries, within Rwanda, and within myself and wondered, how much change can America take?

I don’t know. I’m tired of not knowing, but honestly, nobody does.

What I do know, for certain, is that change does not have the final say. We do.

Like these hills that remind me all that I have been through for the past 5 years, we will overcome.

And whether it’s about your country, your work, or yourself, we have the communal responsibility to join each other. We can’t give up – not now. Not ever.

Because places, like people change, I think they can serve as mirrors for the way in which we see our own progression through life. Perhaps places can serve as powerful mechanisms in this way, addressing change without agenda, without reservation.

I’m grateful for Rwanda because of this. I’m grateful I have a place that helps me benchmark my life, propelling me forward with new dreams, goals, and hopes, mindful of how far I have come.

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