Yesterday morning I visited the Kigali Memorial Centre, a genocide memorial founded in 2004 to mark the 10th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide. I already knew most of the facts and circumstances surrounding the genocide, but to stand in a place where over 250,000 Tutsi and moderate Hutu bodies are buried was in some ways a sickening and in every way humbling experience. I will have all of the photos with plenty of information posted to Flickr and Facebook soon.
Today was a great day. I got to hang out with one of Bridge2Rwanda’s interns - a 19-year-old Rwandan guy named Christian. I thought I was going to ride with a couple of people to see a few areas of Kigali that I haven’t had the chance to see yet, but they got tied up in meetings while Christian and I wound up sitting around the house for a few hours. During that time we got to know one another and found many similarities between us. He speaks English well and can understand everything I’m saying, but he works with Americans every day so that’s not surprising. I let him listen to Lecrae and he flipped out like it was the greatest thing he’d ever heard….and you know I was excited about that. We each shared how Christ has changed us and the new purposes he has given our lives. Before I left Arkansas, my Rwandan friend, Anita, who is enrolled at Arkansas Baptist College in Little Rock, gave me a few things to bring back to her brother. We met him at a nearby hotel around 4 PM, and after that Christian and I took off walking down the streets of Kigali. What I love the most about Rwandans is how much they value community and relationships. No one is ever too busy to listen or talk to you. They want to hear about your life, and if they know you care then they’re eager to open up and share with you as well. Today I had the opportunity to share my heart and vision for Rwanda with Christian, and I think it was really encouraging for him to hear. I told him that I want to help change the perspective that many Rwandans have of mzungu’s (white person/person of foreign descent) in Rwanda. Many mzungu’s come into Rwanda for humanitarian purposes, and of course they’re on the ground amongst the common people. But many mzungu’s come into Rwanda and are distant from the common people. Sure, they may have a good reason to be there, but they aren’t really getting to know the people. Or maybe they just stick to their business with certain people and don’t reach out any further. So far, when I’ve walked down any street and passed a Rwandan they just stare at me. They don’t smile or wave or speak…they just stare. BUT, if I smile and say hello or stick out my hand to introduce myself then they light up and become the friendliest people. I’ve only been here a few days, but I’ve noticed that this happens everywhere I go. I don’t expect everyone in the world to always smile and say hello or stop to talk, but in Rwanda the vibe is different. It’s not as if they’re just going about their business and passing me by. No, they definitely notice me. So why don’t they nod or say hello, but when I say hello they light up??? In part, it’s because they’re “astonished to see a mzungu,” as Christian put it. Many will automatically look at white people like we’ve made it in the world and we’re something special. Mzungu’s have money and the key to success and happiness in life. And they don’t really expect a mzungu to reach out and try to connect with them. Sure, there are plenty of faith-driven and good-hearted mzungu’s who invest their time and energy into serving and loving as many people as possible on a daily basis. But there are 10,000,000 Rwandans and few white people in comparison. Even fewer actually try to connect with the people who are walking the streets. So most Rwandans are not expecting me to say hello or stop to speak. They just stare.
I want to change that perception of Americans…or at least the perception ofsome Americans - namely, Christians. I want these people to know that I came to live.with.them. I came to live with them, to know them, to share my life and my heart with them, to help them understand that the Kingdom of God is the ultimate goal - not the goal of creating a society that imitates “The American Dream.” Ultimately I want to help them fall more in love with God’s Word and with Jesus. I just want to be open in saying, “I’m American, you’re Rwandan, and let’s just be honest about our differences…..but, let’s find that common ground where every human being longs for an authentic relationship and a hope that brings purpose and meaning to this life. Yes, I am a rich mzungu (because I am very very rich). Yes, you’re environment and standard of living has been nothing like mine, and you didn’t go to the school I went to or take the vacation I took or get the present I got or drive the car I drove…..or have a car, period. You don’t know as much and haven’t seen as much of the world as I have, but that’s okay!
Most of the stuff that we esteem…oops, I meant most of the stuff that I esteem is so insignificant. You can nod your head in agreement or say that you know and realize that, but please come talk to someone in Africa who’s never even heard of the NFL and doesn’t have a concept of what American football is. Then you will realize how dumb it sounds to get all excited about stuff that has zero importance. That’s how I’ve felt a couple of times. Maybe you wouldn’t, but then maybe you just don’t care.
Do you know what people have heard about in Rwanda? Do you know what the most common bond I have with these people is?
They love God, and they love Jesus. Their hunger for more truth from God’s Word is evident, and that really excites me. Also, this is what I’ve realized… If I esteem insignificant things as an American, then they will esteem insignificant things as Rwandans - or whoever it is in the world that looks to America as a picture of God’s great blessing. That’s just how it is. They look up to me, watch what I do and want to find out what my interests are solely because I’m from the United States. They want to build huge buildings and houses over here because that’s what they see in America. Being poor and unable to provide for your family is definitely not a good thing, and I’m all for improving your living standards and economy. We should most definitely educate people, send them to college, and help them use their gifts to serve their communities. However, skyscrapers and big houses are not a picture of God’s blessing.
This is a call to the church in America to understand your incredible influence and, yes, to set the bar. God has blessed America. We are so free to teach and preach the name of Jesus, to plant churches, to create and expand and have conferences and all the things that come along with “American Christianity.” Christians have a vital presence in the United States, and I’m not talking about anything that has to do with politics. America is not a “Christian nation,” but Christian influence is stronger in America than anywhere else on the planet. We must accept that and be responsible for setting an example. I’m in Rwanda, so I speak for what I’ve seen here….. People are watching. They are learning. They are modeling after…..and what is it that they want to be??? What do they see as the greatest thing about the USA? It’s not about one country over another, but just like certain people have the power to influence and lead, so do Christians in America have the power to influence and lead other believers throughout the world. We have no choice except to make sure that people in every nation on earth receive blessing from what God has given us, and that they see the Kingdom of God manifested above anything else.