Friday, December 12, 2008

Saturday, October 18, 2008

The Butterfly

Yesterday an amazing thing happened in our classroom.  First the back story...  Several weeks ago we planted some fennel outside of our classroom knowing that it is the larval food of black swallowtail butterflies.  One corner of our room has a wide floor-to-ceiling window facing a sunny hillside and a pretty little garden.  We could see the fennel easily from our pillow-filled reading area in the bay window. 

Sure enough, within a couple of weeks we spied some tiny larvae munching on the fennel.  We watched them every day.  They increased in size incredibly fast, shedding their skin regularly.  They ate, and ate, and ate.  We took seven of the caterpillars into the classroom and kept them on potted fennel plants in a large net enclosure.  They ate and pooped and ate and pooped until the fennel plants were only nubs.  We carefully lifted them off the old plants and placed them on new ones as they continued to mature.  I unzipped the enclosure regularly to take photographs so we could record their amazing growth.   

Our class is so into animals that every single day someone brings in a dead bug, a snail, a feather, a cocoon.  Our class walks to the library every few weeks.  It's about a ten minute walk from our campus.  Walking there and back can be a bit of a challenge since everyone is on the lookout for animals.  My friend Geri, who walked to the library with us last time made the understatement, "Wow, you guys are really interested in animals."  This after kids brought up dead bugs, pointed out many spider egg sacs, a dead squirrel and other roadkill.  "Yes, I guess we are a little obsessed," I answered.   

So, the other afternoon we hear this shriek from the reading area.  One little girl was backing away, eyes wide, pointing to the pillows.  "What's that?!" she almost screamed.

"It's a chrysalis," said another.  Indeed, a beautiful khaki and dark brown chrysalis was attached to a US shaped pillow with two silken threads. It was actually attached to the map of Canada.  The Northwest Territories.  We photographed it and it became a shrine-like fixture on the bookshelf.

On Tuesday morning, during our class meeting, a little boy said, "Hey!  There's the butterfly!"  Next to the pillow-map was a jet black, rumpled black swallowtail butterfly.  There was a collective "Ahhhh," as all heads turned toward the sight.  It was trembling and we could see its abdomen pumping slowly.  Its body was covered with thick black hair and it was rolling its coiled  proboscus (tongue) in and out.  It was truly a beautiful sight.  

I asked the little guy who first spotted it to pick it up gently so we could release it outside.  He put his index finger up to it and the still wilted butterfly dutifully climbed on.  I snapped several pictures for our web page.  There's this one picture of the boy with the butterfly clinging upside down to his fingers.  The look on his face shows this incredible mixture of joy and awe, of magic and excitement.  It captured how we all felt.

It is one thing to talk about complete metamorphosis with my students.  Even reading books with large colorful pictures and watching a butterfly emerging in fast motion on Youtube couldn't hold a candle to witnessing this miracle happen right in front of us in class.  We ooohed and ahhhhed at the tiny larvae.  When we first spotted them they were hard to see they were so small.  They grew so quickly and we found their shriveled up shed skins behind them as they grew.  When we brought them into the classroom we could smell the fennel as they gorged themselves.   we chuckled at the size and amount of "poops".  We watched the chrysalis thin almost to transparent and we were awed and inspired as the butterfly emerged as an adult.  

It was one of those miraculous moments that makes this year different from every other of my 30 years as a teacher of little kids.  And yet, it is an ordinary sort of miracle that happens every day, right?  Part of the joy of teaching little ones is that the ordinary becomes extraordinary because you can see life partly through their eyes.  I have witnessed this before, but seeing it with a group who have never seen it makes it new for me too.  

Friday, October 10, 2008

What I'm Grateful For

I woke up today at 5:00 and thought I'd keep a mental list of the greatest parts of my day.  Now it's 10:15 on Friday night.  I'm looking at the sleeping form of my wife on the couch.  She fell asleep watching the news.  As I end this day, I think of Heidi, the greatest blessing in my life.  We met in a college class in the winter of 1976.  I have been deeply in love with her ever since.  I remember the very day I fell in love (I cannot speak for her).  I remember it clearly.  

Back to today's blessings...

*Waking up.    At all.    Just waking up.
*Waking up to the beautiful sleepy face of my wife, Heidi.
*It being Friday.
*Hawaiian coffee.  Light roast, very strong. 
*This new book I'm reading - Same Kind of Different As You.
*The warm sleepy goodbye hug and kiss from same Heidi.
*John Fogerty's new album on the way to work.
*NPR, perhaps the only "fair and balanced" news on the radio.
*This subtle, graceful, pale blue/gray sunrise.  Overcast.  Breezy.  Early fall.
*Time alone in my classroom.  
*The anticipation of a great Friday with my second graders.
*The sounds of children through my door.  Hearing their excitement at being at school.  
*The first hugs, fist bumps, high fives and handshakes of my earnest children as they come into the classroom at the very beginning of the day.
*Playing chess with a seven year old.
*Helping kids understand some challenging math.
*Talking about the news with little ones.
*Learning about animals, addition with regrouping and place value, sharing a favorite book with second graders (The Prince of the Pond by Donna Jo Napoli).
*Discussing writer's craft with young writers.  Finding craft in their writing.
*Talking about the election with an earnest group of learners.  Watching history unfold with young children.
*Lunch with my students.  Making each other laugh.  Sharing story.
*Recess on our dusty field.
*The tears of a little one who has fallen.  
*Playing the best playground game ever.  
*Laughing, running and sweating with my new group of best friends.
*Walking to the public library.  Looking for animals all the way there.
*Helping children check out good books.
*Walking back to school.  Looking for bugs the whole way.  Finding lots.  Gold.
*Singing songs with children.
*My fingers which, however feeble, allow me to play guitar.
*My voice which, however creaky,  allows me to teach these young ones to sing.
*The sense to stop singing when they have learned the song. 
*Listening to my best teacher friend, Tameka, read one of my favorite books (More Than *Anything Else) to my old class and my new class.  45 of the best people I have ever known in one room.  Gold.
*The quiet school building after the kids and teachers have gone home.
*Driving home.  
*The moon, rising through the hazy early evening sky.
*The early fall colors just now being revealed.  The anticipation of another beautiful fall.
*Pulling in to my neighborhood.
*That first evening kiss as I see Heidi.
*My dog's smile as she wags her entire body in greeting.
*Our Friday evening together.
*Sharing our respective days.  
*Remembering our own children when they were small.
*Looking into the beautiful sleeping face of my true love as she snoozes on the couch.
*Knowing that tomorrow is Saturday.
*The anticipation of my sleepy boys waking up tomorrow (I'll probably be asleep before they get home).
*My home.

The thing is, this is just the tip of the iceberg.  The tip of the tip.  Even as I sat writing this, 
I knew that in a single day I have so many blessings that I couldn't name them all.  We all do.  Make a list some day.  It feels good.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Tina - A White Girl In Rwanda

My friend and traveling companion, Tina Robinson, emailed me recently from Rwanda.  She went back.  Rwanda is like that.  The magic of the place, the people, that smile, the kindness and hospitality and frankness make it irresistible.  Like Tina, I know that I will return to Rwanda someday.  Her trip this time went beyond where we went together last year.  She went straight to the heart and soul.  She went to witness and to participate in the reconciliation that makes Rwanda such a powerful example for the rest of the world.  While other countries are still trying to exert influence through violence and intimidation, Rwanda serves as the beacon of human possibility that we so desperately need.

Hello everyone... Where do I begin?

Today we began by visiting the reconciliation village!!!  When we arrived, the chairs were set up beneath a canopy and men and women with children gathered around.  I wondered if the men were killers and the women victims.  The men cradled babies in their arms and the women were shy.  Occasionally one would smile and cover her mouth... Something I find many women do here.  One by one, they stood up and told their stories.  First, a very big strong looking man spoke.  He began by giving his name and then sharing his testimony.

"This women I sit beside, I killed her mother and father... and this man over here... I killed six of his family members..."

He talked about why and how and ended by saying, "Now we all love each other and my children play with their children and we are trying to heal what has happened."

Then a woman... the woman who sat beside the man who killed her family gave her testimony.

I was in absolute amazement as to how and where these women and men got their strength.  Twenty people all came together to share with us their stories.  And how they are healing together... side by side... victims with killers!

Then we were off to the prison.  I really had no idea what to expect... and tried not to think about it too much.  I requested a month ago that I visit the prisons, not really knowing what I'd feel or even why I wanted to go.  I just felt led... and this desire to see for myself... and so... today we arrived at the prison which was in the most beautiful place... hills and banana trees, a beautiful lake... and then the prison.  I imagined seeing a few prisoners... and wondered what I'd feel when I saw them.

First, we went to the young offenders whose crimes were drugs and rape.  Wow... they were just children!  They were shy and many blushed.  Pastor Deo them told them that I was there to speak to them.  So, without warning I suddenly found myself talking to about 40 young boys.  What I said I hardly remember but I will say that I somehow felt intense love for these teenagers... my heart was touched as they sung me a song and told me that they were blessed to have me there.

Then... the men.  I did not expect this at all!  We walked in and there were thousands of them - over 4,000.  All killers... some in green were once high ranking government officials and had life sentences for their crimes.  They made a passway for us.  I walked without any fear with killers on either side of me until I came to the platform.  And, once again I was asked to speak!  How on earth did this happen?  I can only say that somehow this is all part of God's plan for me.  What it is I have no clue.  But there I was, in the middle of Rwanda, in a prison with thousands of murderers... speaking to them without fear.  I am still trying to make sense of what I was doing there.

 Then the women.  Yes, the women who killed in the genocide.  We sat with them, cried with them... there were about 80 and about 20 babies and toddlers.  They separate them from the mothers at three but they must be with the mothers to breast feed until they are three.  They were the most malnourished babies and toddlers I had ever seen.  Swollen bellies... just sickly looking and my heart broke for them.  Again, I was asked to speak to the women.  And I cried and they all cried.  I bought their baskets and I have no idea what to do with them.  Baskets made by hands that have murdered.  Why did I even buy them?  Am I crazy?  Why this love and compassion in my heart?  I am trying to make sense of all this.  I am feeling God in my life like never before.  I feel like I am living my life fully on purpose and I trust that everything is as it should be.  I know I am being led and I know that I have work to do...  my mind is too full though... 

Okay, so now I must go.  But let me just say that today was just huge in so many ways.  I have new perspectives and I am braver than I was yesterday...

Sending love to you all,

Tina has grown and changed for the better.  It is so clear.  Perspective.  Bravery.  Looking forward to a future bright with possibilities.  God.  That is Rwanda.  That is how we all can be.  I am so grateful to Tina for her message.  Sometimes when I look back on my time in Rwanda, it seems like a dream.  When I read over what I have written, it seems like someone else went there and wrote those words.

Tina made it real for me again.  When I read her words I cried once again.  For Rwanda and all that has happened there.  For Immaculee and Richard and Gonza and Aimable and Souda and Bishop John and the Women's Guild and all of the wonderful people there.  I cried for the pain and suffering they have endured.  I also cried tears of joy for how they have come back and continue to push forward with brave hearts and faith in a God who loves us all.

God, please help us to learn from the tragedy and triumph of Rwanda.  Help us to forgive those who have hurt us and to find peaceful solutions to our conflicts.  Let us always be mindful of those who are less fortunate than us.  Help us to live a life of service.

Sunday, July 13, 2008


I was inspired by my visit to Rwanda. Truly inspired. If I had gone there with a different group, or had different experiences it could have meant something else to me. Less. If I had not met some of the people I met along the way or traveled with different companions I would have simply been a tourist. As it was, I was blessed to connect with little Sophia at Sonrise School, the Mother Superior at Sisters of Mother Teresa’s, the man with no legs in Butare, the little Twa woman at Kibeho, Richard and the Bishop of Rwanda.

I have been asked since returning, “Where was God?” “If there was a God how could he have let this happen?” “How can you still believe in God?” My questions exactly. I have said that I am no authority on God. But I have read some remarkable things about Rwanda by people who are much more in touch with the answer to these questions than me. The book The Bishop of Rwanda by John Rucyahana helped me to understand in a way that nothing else has. Bishop John started Sonrise School and has done brilliant work toward reconciliation in Rwanda. I have to quote him at length in answering these tough but thoughtful questions…

Where was God when million innocent people were butchered? Where was God when priests and pastors helped massacre the people in their churches?

I’ll tell you where God was. He was alongside the victims lying on the cold stone floor of the cathedral. He was comforting a dying child. He was crying at the altar. But he was also saving lives. Many were saved by miracles. God does not flee when evil takes over a nation. He speaks to those who are still listening, He eases the pain of the suffering, and He saves those who can be saved… God has always used the broken, and he is using this broken nation to manifest his grace and power. He is taking the brokenness cause by evil and using it for a greater purpose – a great reconciliation in a nation that the world had not only given up on, but had given over to the devil, and its own evil… I know what it is to forgive through the tears. Like many people in Rwanda I have to forgive in order to live…

The pain of Rwanda is not just in the survival of brutal acts or in those who lost someone dear to them. It is in the killers as well… It does not matter that the government pushed them to do it. It does not matter that the devil reigned for a time in their hearts and minds. The guilt came and the pain stayed. That is why I have seen so many prisoners burst into tears after they have repented and been forgiven by the very people who suffered at their hands…

I have seen people forgive those who killed their loved ones. I’ve watched survivors and perpetrators cry together and hug each other through their tears. Something like that requires the presence of God. I could never go to a single prison to preach without the power of God. Without God I would hate such killers with all my heart. But with God I can truly say that I love them. (p. xv and xvi)

John’s family suffered terribly at the hands of the extremists, yet he forgives and he preaches forgiveness. He wants to show the world the power that comes through forgiveness. Where is God? He is with John Rucyahana.

If you have read much of this notebook/blog, you have read about Immaculee Ilibagiza. Her book, Left to Tell is one of the most important books I have ever read and has influenced my spiritual walk immensely. If you don’t know, Immaculee survived the genocide by hiding out in a tiny bathroom for 91 days with seven other women in hunger and silence. For all of this time Immaculee and her friends were waiting to die. They waited quietly as the killers searched for them just outside the bathroom door. Immaculee heard her name called out by the very men responsible for deaths of her beloved family members. She survived this horrific ordeal through prayer. She prayed her rosary and spoke to God in ways that I will probably never truly comprehend.

She and the others in the bathroom narrowly escaped death many times but she did escape. She did survive. Her parents, two of her brothers and all of the Tutsis in her village were brutally killed. Immaculee survived. She went to the prison where the killer of her mother and dear brother Damascene was held…

As burgomaster, Semana was a powerful politician in charge of arresting and detaining the killers who had terrorized our area. He’d interrogated hundreds of Interahamwe (extremist Hutu) and knew better than anyone which killers had murdered whom.

And he knew why I’d come to see him. “Do you want to meet the leader of the gang that killed your mother and Damascene?”
“Yes, sir, I do.”

I watched through Semana’s office window as he crossed a courtyard to the prison cell and then returned, shoving a disheveled, limping old man in front of him. I jumped up with a start as they approached, recognizing the man instantly. His name was Felicien, and he was a successful Hutu businessman whose children I’d played with in primary school. He’d been a tall, handsome man who always wore expensive suits and had impeccable manners. I shivered remembering that it had been his voice I’d head calling out my name when the killers searched for me at the pastor’s. Felicien had hunted me.

Semana pushed Felicien into the office, and he stumbled onto his knees. When he looked up from the floor and saw that I was the one waiting for him, the color drained from his face. He quickly shifted his gaze and stared at the floor.
“Stand up, killer!” Semana shouted. “Stand up and explain to this girl why you murdered her mother and butchered her brother. Get up I said! Get up and tell her!” Semana screamed even louder, but the battered man remained hunched and kneeling, too embarrassed to stand and face me.

His dirty clothing hung from his emaciated frame in tatters. His skin was sallow, bruised and broken; and his eyes were filmed and crusted. His once handsome face was hidden beneath a filthy, matted beard; and his bare feet were covered in open, running sores.

I wept at the sight of his suffering. Felicien had let the devil enter his heart and the evil had ruined his life like a cancer in his soul. He was now the victim of his victims, destined to live in torment and regret. I was overwhelmed with pity for the man.

“He looted your parents’ home and robbed your family’s plantation, Immacculee. We found your dad’s farm machinery at his house, didn’t we?” Semana yelled at Felicien. “After he killed Rose and Damascene, he kept looking for you… He wanted you dead so he could take over your property. Didn’t you, pig?” Semana shouted again.

I flinched letting out an involuntary gasp. Semana looked at me stunned by my reaction and confused by the tears streaming down my face. He grabbed Felicien by the shirt collar and hauled him to his feet. “What do you have to say to her? What do you have to say to Immaculee?”

Felicien was sobbing. I could feel his shame. He looked up at me for only a moment, but our eyes met. I reached out, touched his hands lightly, and quietly said what I’d come to say.

“I forgive you.”

When Semana had Felicien dragged back to his cell he was furious with Immaculee…

“What was that about, Immaculee? That was the man that murdered your family. I brought him to you to question… to spit on if you wanted to. But you forgave him! How could you do that? Why did you forgive him?”

I answered him with the truth: “Forgiveness is all I have to offer.” (p. 202- 203)

Now when I am asked, “Where was God?” “How can you believe in a God who would let this happen?” I think of Immaculee and Richard and Bishop John and of all of Rwanda who survived to forgive and to ask for forgiveness. God is in the message of forgiveness held closely by the leaders of this wonderful nation and in the hearts of those who are unknown to the world.
Where is God? God is in the heart and soul of Rwanda.

Monday, June 9, 2008


I don’t know if I’ll ever finish my post scripts. If you have read this far, and you started at the beginning, I am grateful. I hope that in some way it has served you, helped you to understand more about the world and Rwanda.

As a result of this blog I have been contacted by some remarkable people. Karen Froming at the Institute for Restorative Justice has shared some of her amazing work in Rwanda with me. Ned and Meg from West Virginia shared their quest for adopting a young child from The Sisters of Mother Teresa’s Orphanage. Many of the response were intensely personal; others were posted as comments on the blog. Thank you to everyone who read and responded and upon whom my words and experiences had some effect.

I hear from some of my travel companions sporadically. I read that Immaculee (with the wonderful aid of Tim Van Damm) is still doing her work spreading the word about forgiveness. She has another book coming out soon. Brandon completed his first year of law school and is off on another adventure to Ireland this summer. Portia has likely finished another successful year as a teacher in NYC and Midori as a masseuse in Orlando. Tina and her family had a child (!!!). Nancy has been instrumental in helping my new acquaintances Ned and Meg adopt a child from Africa. I still stay in close touch with Cindy, the organizer of our trip and the one to whom I owe the most gratitude for getting me to Rwanda. She has bravely stepped outside of her comfort zone as an occupational therapist to teach third grade kids in Sumter, SC. Those children will never be the same after this year with Cindy and our good friend Brent Petersen.
I still hear from Richard (an alias) from time to time. Our exchanges are usually brief. I think he knows how much our time together meant to me. I hope so. He was the bravest of us. He took us to places he knew we should see and experience if we were to have a real picture of Rwanda. He told us stories of his own pain and sorrow as well as stories of his family and acquaintances. He accompanied us from the mountains to the savannah, from Hotel Rwanda to the church at Ntarama where 5,000 of his people were killed. Much has changed in his life but I know that he, and all of Rwanda, has demons to deal with. On April 22 he emailed a few of his friends his memories of that time 14 years ago.

Tim and Brandon do you remember that forest in Butare where u guys visited very briefly to our way to Kibeho…. It was yesterday april 21th
Dear friends
If there were no memories I could forget this day, but the memories have become part of my life, and I can not live without them.
“April is the cruelest month, breeding lilacs out of the dead land mixing memory and desire, stirring dull roots with spring rain…”
It was on April 21, 1994, and the soldiers decided to kill us. It was 5:15 p.m. when the soldier marched my brother and I into the forest. Behind me my brother was pleading with the soldier when he was shot. At the same moment, I turned to see what was happening to my brother, and the same soldier shot me too with his kalichnikov. I fell down and lost consciousness because I was shot in the arm, the finger and in my side as I turned to see my brother. Later I woke up and called my brother, “Remy, Remy” but he didn’t reply because he was already dead. With difficulty I got up and went out of the forest because I wanted to be on the road where someone would find my dead body. The night had already fallen, so no one found me. Minute after minute I waited for my turn to die because I was losing a lot of blood. I couldn’t move any more and I spent all night in our blood near my brother’s dead body till I was able to move, and I walked out that forest just to be on the road so that I could be strewn away like all the others dead. I was afraid to be eaten by dogs like we saw them all along the road… Gosh I can’t write any more about it all I am asking is to help me ask for forgiveness to my brother since I abandoned him alone in that forest, as a big brother I should protect him, but I couldn’t even through I tried so hard.
Dear brother you know how much I love you and you know that I would protect you if I were able to do so. I have been visiting that location hoping that I would find you again but it has been in vain, I even took some of my friend to that location but we never find you. I only see the trees that are so tall than ever and I just smile thinking they are showing me that you’re in good hands wherever you are. Tell Dad and Mother that I wish they could see us together again, and I wish I could see y’all. Little brother I hope you forgave me, if not please allow my friends and myself to ask forgiveness. Love u.
In loving memory of my brother.

How could I not cry with my friend? How can we not cry for Rwanda?


June 2008

While I was in Rwanda (I Saw What I Saw - video by Sara Groves) I kept struggling with the question of “Why am I here?” Upon returning to the US and beginning this blog version of my notebook I continued to ask myself that question. After putting some installments out there I was contacted by my nephew (and good friend) Mike Cowles. He is a social activist in New Mexico. Really smart. Someone whose opinion I respect tremendously. He was complimentary but asked the question, “Now what?” Which I translated loosely into, “So what?” It has taken me several months to finish blogging the notebook (a direct consequence of not taking typing – keyboarding – in high school). Also, just a busy schedule, teaching little kids, being dadly, etc. But the question of “So what?” still lingers.

One result, I know, is a sense of spiritual growth. My time in Rwanda (video - Genocide in Rwanda) simply helped me to pray more clearly, more fiercely, more carefully, more joyously. I am not one to say that I know God’s plan. But, Rwanda has taught me to appreciate all of my life’s blessings, both great and small. Before Rwanda, I thought of my blessings simply as good fortune, as in, I sure am a lucky guy to have been born into a loving working class family where I wanted for nothing. How lucky I was to meet and fall in love with this beautiful woman, Heidi Mills, who has changed me and filled me and taught me so much. Before Rwanda I thought of falling into teaching little ones as fate. I thought of the adoption of our oldest son, Devin, when it seemed impossible for us to conceive, and the birth of our second son Colin (eighteen months later) as incredible good fortune. Now, when I close my eyes at night to pray, I thank God. While it’s personal, almost selfish, this view of God being responsible for what is good in my life is huge in answering the “So what?” question. My life isn’t a blind free-fall of good luck here and bad luck there. I live with more purpose. I am simply, more grateful.

Almost a year has passed since coming back from Rwanda. My memories are inevitably diminished. Caught up in the day to day demands of teaching, a busy family, etc. I go longer and longer stretches of time without thinking so much of Rwanda. Still… I think differently. Issues of social justice are so much more important to me. When I see a homeless person now I see a human being, not simply someone asking for a handout. When I hear candidates wax on in their bumper-sticker-elect-me-because-I’m-better speeches, I listen more carefully about what may slip out about caring for the poor, foreign policy with human rights as its cornerstone. I also listen for what is missing.

Because of my time in Rwanda, I read and listen to news differently. What stories are given the most ink and time? I carefully consider which stories are barely mentioned. I wonder about stories involving real human pain and suffering which are not mentioned at all. I read books and stories which make me think and don’t just entertain (Howard Zinn: You Can’t Be Neutral on a Moving Train, Tony Campolo: Red Letter Christians, Jimmy Carter: Our Endangered Values, Shane Claiborne: Irresistible Revolution).

Because of Rwanda I definitely teach differently. Not only have I shared my stories and photos of my trip with my third graders, our second graders and my faculty, but social justice has become a cornerstone of my curriculum. When my third graders talked earlier this year about the Europeans who “discovered” and “settled” America as is written in our history books and social studies curriculum, my kids asked the obvious questions, “How could they have discovered this land when there were already millions of people here?” and, “How could they think of invading America as settling it?” I would dare say that my students know more about Civil Rights than most adults in this country. Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King Jr. and Ruby Bridges are our heroes and role models. We are aware of the countless others who are still involved in the causes of civil rights in our country and aren’t anyone’s heroes because their names are not well known. My children know they can change the world. We held a fund raiser in which we sold CDs of original songs. In January we sent a check for $1000.00 to a truly worth cause in Mexico called Ninos Incapacitados. Because of Rwanda, all of my future students will know that they can make a positive difference in this world.

I write differently. I think I speak differently. I want others to know about Rwanda, about Africa, and to open their eyes to the wonder, grace, delights, suffering and hardships. I have spoken to many small and large groups about Rwanda. I think people are receptive to knowing about this. I find most are amazed to discover just how little they know about the world, Africa, Rwanda. Maybe it helps them to think of people outside our borders, to think of foreigners as people with similar feelings and desires. Maybe I have helped, in some small way, to put a face on people far away, to help a few people understand that Africa is not just a big backwards bunch of countries full of tribal war, AIDS, malaria and poverty.

I have come to see Rwanda as a wonderful, complex, joyful collection of people who are willing to reconcile after the unspeakable. Rwanda’s children are just like ours. They play, and laugh, and cry. They love and work and learn and pray. They toil endlessly and are grateful for what they have.

Immaculee and Richard and Gonza and the people of Rwanda are my heroes. We are a nation of great resources, great power and great wealth. Their resource is their indominatable spirit. Their power is their faith in God and a better future. Who is the more powerful? While Rwanda is a small nation in area it is huge in its heart and soul.

Whenever I think back about the great lessons in my life I will always remember the faces of the children in Ntarama when we emerged from the crypts where so many bodies still lie. Those smiling, laughing children were looking ahead, not behind at a past full of ignorance and hatred. I’ll think of the faces of the poor who blessed me for my small contributions to their lives. I’ll think of Sonrise School and of the brilliant minds of those children brought out of the depths of poverty to achieve their potential. When I think of hope and grace and love and forgiveness, I think of Rwanda.