For the first time in my life I have not updated my blog for two months from sheer happiness—not procrastination, confusion or PMS—just straight up joy. And I am so thankful!
I arrived in Kigali two months ago and things started at full speed immediately. First things first, it was time to select new students. That sentence reads very easily but truly this was one of the toughest things I have ever done. There are SO MANY AMAZING young students in Rwanda who both deserve the opportunity to attend university and who Rwanda needs to lead her forward. It was brutal to try to decide the fate of one student compared to another. After much prayer, discussion and thought we finally settled on 11 new, wonderful students.
Next we planned a day outing to a local lake as a mini-retreat and opportunity for the old students to get to know the new. There was football, volleyball and even this amazing stick dance thing!
Next up, time to get all 37 of our students registered and starting school. Last year the government of Rwanda went through a consolidation process to have all of the public universities under one central institution: the University of Rwanda. For many reasons this is a really wise move and I really support it but let’s just say implementation was bumpy this year. So, Scovia and I had quite a full month of getting everyone enrolled.
Over the past two months, I have had countless opportunities to chat with students, hang out with friends and fall in love with Rwanda all the more. Every day I wake up and my first thoughts are wonder and gratitude that I get to spend another day investing in young leaders and building a program that truly holistically addresses the many facets of leadership. Even when water is out or power is out or the roof is leaking, I am still full of a sense of such joy. Truly I am living out my original design daily and it is the best gift ever. For those of you that have supported me thus far, I cannot express my deep, deep thanks for your partnership in living out this calling. Just know that your support is impacting so many lives—mine, my students, staff and partners! (If you are still interested in supporting me, I am still short by about $100 a month. Even a tiny monthly donation can make a big difference. You can invest in an aunty here.)
Now we are in October and focusing on partnership development, monthly trainings, Accelerate Academy and preparing for a small team in late October. The Director in me is excited to get into some vision development, strategic planning and big picture stuff and the promoter in me is so stoked to show off our students to visitors!
Thanks to all of you that have been praying for me—I am continually reminded of your love and truly I feel the power of your prayers. Many small miracles have happened over the last month. Here are just a few things we can thank God about:
- From 5 to 11 New Students: Although I like to adventure through Africa, I am fiscally a conservative program manager and we all agreed that we needed to keep our growth at a conservative level this year. We established a budget based on adding only 5 new students to our Rwanda program. Yet, once Scovia and I met the students, we wanted far more than 5. Then old students started stopping by and randomly letting us know that for various reasons they would not need as much support as last year and hoped we could use the funds to support more students. Ultimately with the help of our students—who have so very little financially—we were able to add 11 new students. All of whom I could not imagine our program without!
- These Numbers Have Faces Rocks: Seriously, we have seen such great growth and depth added to all of our programs over the last year! We recently got a big grant to continue to develop our entrepreneurship program. We have more amazing corporate sponsors partnering with us—really, big time partners. Folks are joining our Impact Circles and coming around a student to support them, encourage them and be inspired by them. It has just been an amazing year of blessing and I am so thankful for Justin, Shoshon, Taylor, Carolyn and Nick for ALL of their great work stateside. And I would simply be lost without my partner in ministry and dear friend, Scovia.
- Deeper Relationships: Any missionary or expat will tell you that splitting your life amongst multiple continents breeds a unique kind of loneliness. It’s hard to build real friendships when you are gone a lot of the time. It’s hard to overcome cultural differences. It’s just harder. It is. I try to just let God be my consistent friend and read a lot of books when I am lonely but this trip has been particularly full of moments of connection, laughter, kindness and a deepening of so many relationships. I am building a community here and oh what a difference it makes!
- New Digs: When I first came to Rwanda, my friend Marie graciously opened up her apartment to me and I am still so thankful for a place I could call home immediately upon arrival. Yet, Marie eventually returned to the US to marry Cedric and things started going wrong in the apartment. It was hella cheap, so I stuck with it but over the past two months I was pushed a bit too far. I decided to look around and see what was available. Almost immediately I found a small house on a beautiful and quiet compound, in a neighborhood that I love, with hot water, a washer, 3 plumeria trees and an avocado tree. All somehow within my price range. (Kigali is actually a really expensive real estate market—so the fact that I found anything within my budget is a miracle—let alone a place meeting all my heart’s desires.) I quickly found a great roommate and am now spending the exact same amount for a dreamy home. I would like to also note that I still have a spare bedroom just waiting for YOU (yes, you) to come visit.
I could go on for much longer, but those are a few wonderful answers to prayer that we can celebrate together! For those of you that like specific things to look forward to and pray for, here is that list.
- New All Students: For many of our students the transition from secondary school to university is a huge challenge and as with all students, the new independence in life also means new responsibilities, which can be hard. Please pray for the health, peace-of-mind and success of each student. They have come so far! Pray that the LORD remains with them through this next journey. (And if you want to really get connected to what we are doing, join an Impact Circle for one of our students. Invest in them, support them and encourage them. You can learn more here or email me and I will recommend a student for you!)
- Accelerate Academy: The unemployment rate in Rwanda is really high. That means most Rwandans look for jobs but also want to have a side business that can help diversify their income. (Diversify! That’s how Africans do it!) Yet most entrepreneurship programs target older more experienced business people rather than tapping into the creativity and passion of university students. We have decided to do something about that! This summer we will be launching Accelerate Academy—an entrepreneurship program that focuses on university students. We are so excited to launch this program and help young entrepreneurs test the market and bring their ideas to reality. BUT this will take a lot of work, a lot of involvement from local and visiting business folks and investors. Please pray that God provides a smooth path for this program and that we can really help tomorrow’s business leaders have the ability and integrity to transform their economies from the inside out. Interested in helping launch this? Email me or leave a comment below.
- God-led Growth: Over the past 6 months, God has blessed These Numbers Have Faces with grants, sponsorships, interest and investment. We are super stoked to get more support to provide stability to our existing program and allow us to dream of new ways to help our students more or help even more students. That being said, fast growth can turn our eyes from God’s plan and towards our own views of “success.” It can also place pressure on our students, international staff and programs and that is the tension that I live in and really the heart of my job—supporting growth to help more but maintaining top quality programming. This requires far more wisdom and effort than I have on my own and requires a really unified team vision both here in Rwanda and in the US. Please pray that God bless our entire team with wisdom, creativity and mostly, unity, as we seek to have even more impact on more students in Rwanda and beyond.
- The Internet: If you have lived in Africa, you will laugh at this request but Internet has been soooo slow and inconsistent for the last month that I want to pull my digital hair out. There is a new service that offers 4G Internet but they keep delaying the consumer rollout and we have no clue how much they will charge for it. This is very first world of me—but for me to do my job properly, I really do need somewhat consistent Internet. Please pray with me that the 4G is available soon or the 3G will start working again. Thanks from the bottom of my mzungu heart.
Well, this is a super long blog post. If you have made it this far—thanks for listening! To stay better in touch with what’s up with me, get Instragram on your smartphone. I am a very faithful instagrammer—almost always at least twice a day—which you can see on the blog or follow me at smartytee. It’s a good view into my work and life on a daily basis and they are some pretty happy photos–if I do say so myself. (You can see why I am too full up to sit and write a blog post with so many lovely people and moments to distract me!)
I appreciate your love and support so much! I know there is a deep and wide team of people at home praying me through the days and months. Please do not hesitate to email me and let me know how I can pray for you. I love hearing from home and would be honored to pray for the journey that God has you on in your own world. I pray that each of you finds the joy that God has to offer when we follow his plan and walk with him in all we do.
“And let them offer sacrifices of thanksgiving, and tell of his deeds in songs of joy.” Psalms 107:22