Friday, April 28, 2017


We just completed a truly amazing week in Rwanda, and feel refreshed, encouraged, and excited for our next steps. Nearly 50 other mission-coworkers serving in Africa gathered in Rwanda for this conference, along with several of our mission leadership staff based in the US. As you can imagine, the fellowship of people with similar experiences and passions is particularly sweet – and throw in the Holy Spirit and our connection as God’s children, and that made for a uniquely powerful time together.

Kibuye breakfast
Breakfast with colleague, overlooking Lake Kvu

The conference happened to be in Kibuye, a town in Rwanda that is right on Lake Kivu. Lake Kivu is dramatically beautiful, with hills along the shore, islands dotting the horizon, and a lush green landscape where bright flowers and birds are plentiful. Fishermen in large dugout canoes sing together as they head out onto the lake at night. In 2003, Bob and I first met at another gathering on Lake Kivu, so it was particularly meaningful to return after so many years.

Loving the view of Lake Kivu!

The week started by visiting the genocide memorial in Kigali, which walked us through the tragic and horrible cataclysm that was the genocide in Rwanda. Each day after that, we heard from a Rwandan church leader about their process of healing and recovering from the genocide, starting with the Presbyterian Church in Rwanda’s confession in 1996 of their failure to be a prophetic voice speaking out against injustice and genocide ideology. One of the most tragic aspects of the geneocide was that massacres happened in the very places where people expected to find sanctuary – in churches, schools, and stadiums. You can imagine how hard it would be for someone whose family members were killed in a church to return to the church to worship, with all of the memories and trauma that experience includes. This is why one of the msot poignant moments in the week was hearing from a few members of a reconciliation group called Umucyo (light). Pastor Jerome was sent to Zambia to be trained in reconcilliation and conflict resolution. He returned to Rwanda, and realized the deep trauma and fear that many members of his congregation were experiencing. Many had lost spouses, children, parents, or close friends, and their homes and livelihoods had been destroyed. At the same time, around 2008, people who were in prison for participating in the genocide were going through a community judicial process – those who confessed their crimes were allowed to return home to their communities. Pastor Jerome gathered both survivors and perpetrators together, and helped them to gradually find healing, forgive, and be willing to pursue reconciliation. We heard from one woman, whose husband and 5 children were killed in the genocide. She shared how traumatized and immobilized she was for years after the genocide. Yet becaue of her participation in the light group, she has been able to forgive individuals who killed people during the genocide, to the point that she can socialize and appreciate other members of the group who were perpetrators. Seeing the evidence of that before our very eyes was powerful – a true miracle.

Testimonies in rwanda - AnastasieAnastasie shares her testimony

We also spent time getting to know our new colleagues who are based in South Sudan. We have a lot of respect for these fellow-mission co-workers who have walked with the South Sudanese in spite of long years of instability and conflict there. Most of them have been evacuated at some point from their homes in South Sudan because of conflict in recent years. Yet, they return and continue to be present and continue in partnership with the church in South Sudan. Over meals, we talked and laughed and continued to anticipate jumping into life in Juba in a few weeks and building relationships with our new South Sudanese collleagues.

After this week of refreshment and inspiration in Rwanda, we continue our journey of transition by going to Kananga. We look forward to reconnecting with friends and colleagues – important links in the chain of our life and experience on this amazing continent of Africa.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

The Wilderness Within

I entered this essay on wilderness into a contest for the Christian Century two months ago.  Some of the images and metaphors are inspired by the late poet and philosopher John O’Donahue in his seminal work, Anam Cara.  

We hadn’t planned to do such a long hike. We were just excited to be in the wilderness of Yosemite for a couple of days in November. Yet when I overheard the Park Ranger describe to a couple of chaps the fourteen mile hike up Vernal Falls, and then up Nevada Falls, then hiking above and crossing over on the Panorama Trail, marching up to Glacier Point, and then blazing down to the valley floor on the Four Mile Trail, my curiosity was piqued. We approached the elder statesman of our national parks, and, with a twinkle in his eye, he gave us the same recommendation. He sized us up, “Yah, you’ll make it, but you sure as hell will be tired and sore afterwards. This is the type of hike you want to go and discuss doing over pizza n’ beer. If you do it, it’ll remain in the family annals forever.” My wife Kristi and I went outside and sat under the glare of the mid-day sun. “So, what do ya think?” we asked each other. It certainly wasn’t the relaxed jaunt we anticipated, but there was something captivating about the ranger’s recommendation. We felt we could do it, but we also knew it would be a stretch. The decision was made.

The following morning we arose before sunrise. It was thirty five degrees out, so we outfitted ourselves with long underwear, jackets and stocking caps. Along with our lunch, we packed lighter clothes, knowing that the temperatures would climb into the seventies. Crossing a river, we headed up towards the falls. Like a giant monolith, Glacier Point towered above us. I crooked my neck to see the top of the precipice. The trail going up and up and up was heavy underfoot with large stones. The morning was gray and bleak and cold. The silence and grandeur were palpable. Our bodies were miniature in scale compared to the vastness of the wilderness surrounding us. It felt like we were the protagonists in a Lord of the Rings movie, moving towards some enchanted land. The undulating, sometimes unsure path maneuvered us hither and to, across rivers and up waterfalls. Finally we reached a high haven where the glory of Half Dome spoke majesty to us. The trail delivered us over and down, across, and, was it true? Up another mountain? Yes, it was true! We soldiered on, walking like persons half dead, drinking in the beauty, begging our bodies forward to the pinnacle of the day’s adventure. Finally, atop Glacier Point, our beat-up bodies radiated sheer glory. We found rest in this holy habitation, looking down on all that we had covered, enjoying a moment of sublime ecstasy. After a fine rest, we sallied gaily down the mountain. After an eternity of switch backs, we returned to the valley floor, where, returning to our digs, we did enjoy a pizza and a beer. We did it, and yes we were tired and sore.

Often, wilderness takes us “out there.” We take a hike. We sit on a rock. We backpack through wild and uninhabited regions. We breathe in the thin, untainted air. We sit under a two hundred year old tree. We feel small, yet alive, broadened. These are the hallmarks of the external journey. But another wilderness journey beckons us. It is far more grueling, demanding so much more. Feeling unforgiving and inhospitable at times, this journey delivers us home. It is the journey to the wilderness within, filled with rocky crags of hurt and disappointment, with giant monoliths of pain, but also covered with cool streams and green pastures of hope and healing. This journey is not one of bagging or conquering. It is subtle, disarming, beckoning us to come and look, as the flaming bush brought exiled Moses to I AM. Actually, this journey requires patience with self, a touch of gentle, loving care. Strength is found through solitude, in the wilderness within, in this journey home. It is the journey of the soul, and it is the journey we do well to take. In our nurtured souls we find shelter, as we take the time to be, as we become acquainted with our true selves. Inside of us resides a world unknown. Looking into the eyes of a stranger, a friend, or a loved one, we look into a world we cannot fathom. Often, we are a stranger even to ourselves. Our fragmented lives bury shards of pain unuttered, memories unspoken, incidents of shame, relationships distressed, and a weightiness of heart which overwhelms. There appears no path home. There is no peace. Joy is ever elusive.

Our Yosemite adventure last year was sandwiched by two heart-wrenching blows. Before, was a failed and final fertility attempt. “Why, O God, do you stand so far off? Why are we left out, while others are brought in?” The sharp daggers of disappointment dug deep. After, and most recent, we found ourselves on an island of uncertainty, standing before a closed door. Stripped of agency, we could only pray and wait.  I found myself puzzled and panged, which is why I packed my bag and took the hike into the wilderness within, the wilderness of the soul. On this solitary journey I found mountains and crooky crags, longings unfilled and hopes dashed, but I also found the sweetness of silver streams of grace mingled with golden, glorious rest. Reflection, solitude, diving deep within, here is where I make a friend with myself again. Here is where the Holy One sets out the linen, prepares the table. I just stop, sit, and listen. At the end of the day, it is the wilderness within, the journey I take in, back, to my Faithful Friend. Thank you, Lord Jesus.