Let me introduce you…

Jean Paul and Me

I have fallen in love…

…with about 60 young adults from Congo, Rwanda, South Africa and Uganda. (Some of you were REALLY excited for a few seconds there! Still single. Ha!)  My last post spoke about my joy in my work with These Numbers Have Faces but without these amazing students my work is pretty useless.  So over the coming year my goal is to introduce you to at least two of my students every month.  Warning. You will be inspired.  You will be challenged. And you just might fall in love also.

I will start with Jean Paul Mugisha.  Jean Paul is 20 years old and is a total tech geek.  He loves computers, engineering, electricity and pretty much anything with wires sticking out of it.  The irony of this is that Jean Paul has spent a majority of the last 17 years living with no electricity, computers or sophisticated structures of any kind.  Jean Paul is a Congolese refugee that has been living in Gihembe refugee camp where none of these things are available.

In addition to his passion for all things technical, Jean Paul also has a deep faith and as he grew he believed that working hard in school and excelling at studies would somehow pay off.  Repeatedly Jean Paul would advance to the next level in schooling, only to be rejected for some technicality or another.  Although he was ranked the #2 student in Rwanda his final year of High School and earned a full ride scholarship to university, his Congolese refugee status bumped him out of the running.  This wasn’t the first time that Jean Paul had faced seemingly insurmountable obstacles, so he brushed himself off, said a few more prayers and trusted God to provide  a way from him to get his university education.  (In most of Africa there are no college loans–so for a refugee family that has no possible income, there are no loans or grants to get students into university.  Unemployment is in the double digits in Africa and it is nearly impossible for an uneducated person to earn their way through school.  So often incredibly talented students simply have no opportunity to move beyond High School.) When Jean Paul met Shoshon at These Numbers Have Faces, he knew this program was God’s answer to his prayers.

Yet even after he began his freshmen year, Jean Paul didn’t coast but continued to strive.  Due to some mixed up paperwork, he was initially placed in the less challenging night classes.  After he “followed up” with the registrar repeatedly and doggedly for the first few months of his term, he was moved into the much better day program.  When asked the secret to his success, Jean Paul often thanks God and refers to his schedule.  Each week he writes  a detailed schedule to be sure that every moment is maximized.  One time I invited him to a movie–he has never been in a movie theater–and he politely declined because “personal reading” was on his schedule.  And no Harry Potter on his reading list.  He is deep into biographies of great leaders and is often asking questions about them!

Self discipline, perseverence and grit are innate characteristics that make me admire Jean Paul and want to be more like him, but his grateful heart, thoughtful attention to people and great kindness are why I love Jean Paul.  Through a complete miracle of God, Jean Paul’s family of ten was just resettled to Portland (that’s a whole other blog post!) It has been a great joy for me to see Jean Paul interact more with his three little sisters  and younger brothers.  He  is patient and sacrificing and truly is helping his family find their way in this whole new world. I was sick early last week and Jean Paul was on facebook asking people to pray for me.  He gets calls and text messages all through the night (the ten hour time change is near impossible for some people to remember!) from friends and peers back in Rwanda seeking his wisdom and friendship.

As I glance through this, I realize there are so many details missing. I could write another ten pages about what I admire about Jean Paul, the challenges of his family and the ways in which he amazes me with his grace and maturity, but for now I will just encourage those of you here in Portland to try to get to know him.  Now that his family is here, there is an amazing opportunity for people to connect with thsi family and see what all the fuss is about.  To understand why I am so eager to see all of these young men and women thrive and impact their worlds.  Our world needs a lot of love these days and I honestly believe that investing in these young people will have a positive impact on us all.  To learn about other students in our program, take a look at our impact circles.

Tomorrow

Nyamata Memorial

Twenty years ago tomorrow a simmering cauldron of tribalism, racism and pure hatred boiled over in the tiny land locked African country of Rwanda.  Although the official numbers vary, most Rwandans will tell you in a few months over 1 million Tutsi and sympathetic Hutus were brutally murdered by their Hutu neighbors and friends—often by hand with machetes or clubs.  That’s 10,000 murdered every day, 400 every hour, 7 every minute.  In a country the size of Maryland. Nothing compares to the brutal speed and horrible efficacy of the destruction.

“Never forget” is the theme of remembrance in Rwanda.  Purple flags unfurl throughout the country as a visual reminder and each community has a memorial commemorating what happened.  Any day of the week, you can go to a memorial and a survivor will walk you through the site and share horrible facts and relive terrifying moments.  Annually, the week of April 7th-14th is a time of national mourning.  Businesses close. People return home and visit the memorial in their community.  The April rains beat down and everyone hunkers in.

Most Rwandans that I speak to dread the month of April.  For some, it is the obvious reason that it is so painful to remember the ones you lost and the utter horror, but for many there also seems to be an unspoken desire to be able to move past the genocide.  To free themselves from that impossible weight.

But how do you move on when tragedy has branded your community?

Yet the genocide is only one piece of Rwanda. And twenty years on, I think there is so much more to talk about.  I see this in the faces of my Rwandese friends when some well meaning visitor asks them about the genocide. They inwardly seem to groan and the light goes out of their eyes as they try to answer the questions as quickly as possible.

I work with Rwandan young adults with dreams of an education and moving their communities forward.  Their minds are sharp.  Their eyes are bright. Their hope is palpable. They talk about building businesses and giving people opportunities to earn an income.  They talk about becoming teachers and changing the quality of education for all.  They even talk about designing iPhone apps and software.  These young people are full of possibility.

Lenny at Hope School Graduation

And they are not unique.  The raw potential in Rwanda is vast and when you consider that along with the strength, determination and power of a nation that has gone through hell and returned seemingly stronger than ever, you can be certain that they are a people worth investing in. Earlier this year President Kagame addressed 1000 people at the Wisdom 2.0 Conference in California and said, “At the end of the day, no one had gained from the genocide. We lost people but even those who killed them lost. But from the beginning Rwandans refused to be trapped. We had a future to look forward to.”

What would happen if we all looked forward to a bright future together?  What if we invested in tomorrow? What if we helped university students or recent graduates establish the businesses of their dreams?  What if we helped train teachers on new techniques and found ways to provide tools like computers to more schools?  What if business people mentored business owners?

These are the thoughts that have been going through my head for months now. The anniversary has been looming, but honestly I have been more interested in how can I help today for a better tomorrow?  How can I help that chapter in Rwanda’s history become a secondary message behind the many other stories of resilience, opportunity and hope?   Obviously the basic work we do at These Numbers have Faces addresses a big first step—helping the best and the brightest afford a university education. Yet even beyond that, I’m considering opening an English and skills training center in Kigali to help equip young people to step into their roles as top notch leaders. Even small things like collecting biographies and leadership books to make those resources available to more people is huge. Or how about making business attire available to help young undergrads dress the part? There are so many ways to become a part of the change!

Consider it a rebellion to the genocide. Defying the hatred that tried to destroy a people, together we can all move forward.  Twenty years from today I expect to see a vibrant Rwanda, united and strong. And that will be something well worth remembering.

Providing Tools to Lead

Beyond the pages of school books and university lectures, we aim to provide leaders with real world opportunities to lead and make change in Africa.  In Rwanda, a large donation of Bibles has become the seed for our Congolese students to work towards unifying Congolese refugees.

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At These Numbers Have Faces our goal is far more than just providing funds for school.  Yes, we  provide Leadership Loans to enable young African scholars to focus on their educations while in University, but we are also continually working in each country program to develop local connections that will provide additional trainings, networks, mentorships or opportunities for our students. Particularly we want our students to have real world experience leading, so we look for opportunities for our scholars to practice active leadership, project management, team building and community change in their own contexts. 

Estimates say that in 2014 Rwanda will have over 90,000 Congolese refugees in 5 camps spread throughout the country.  Over 1/3 of our students in Rwanda are Congolese. Many of the families have been in Rwanda for almost 20 years as the violence and destruction continues in their homeland. When we visit the camps, refuges continually tell us that their primary prayer is that they can return to the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).  Even though some of them have never set foot in the DRC, our students and their families long for home.  That being said, most people agree that Congo is a nation in a state of emergency.  The government and all major institutions have declined after decades of unrest, the education system is anemic and weak and the overall infrastructure is poor.  On top of all of that, our students are isolated in camps far from Congo and missing a connection to their home and their community.

On a recent trip to Rwanda, we brainstormed with our students ways that they could meaningfully connect with their peers inside Rwanda and see if together they can envision what life in Congo could be like and perhaps begin small steps towards that vision.  As we talked, it became clear that the students had two primary goals:

  • Expand the spiritual environment—which they believe is the most critical element of unifying and emboldening their community. 
  • Provide Congolese students an opportunity to connect with fellow country men and women—which creates connections to learn and maintain Congolese traditions and find ways to look forward for their community and their country.

Recently These Numbers received a generous donation of Bibles and this formed an idea in our students.  What if we used the Bibles to connect to each camp, build relationships and provide a means to connect?  Costs would be few but the potential connection would be invaluable.  This idea was germinated on a Tuesday night, by Saturday midday the Gihembe Bible Society had been created with all 12 of our students and another 13 Congolese students on top!  Leadership was selected, a budget and schedule created within 1 week and a plan in place for using these Bibles to build their community blossomed.  Our students are learning how to share leadership, meet a felt need (people regularly ask for Bibles) and are so excited to do something to unite their community.  Needless to say, they are stoked!

All of this because someone provided a fund for Bibles.  The potential in our scholars is so great—but few of them have been given the tools and the chance to practice community leadership until joining These Numbers Haves Faces.  Support from donors and foundations, provides our staff on the ground with the tools to encourage creative leadership and allow our scholars to test and hone their leadership abilities.  Balanced with the school support they get, opportunities like this one are what make our program unique and one that goes far beyond the surface needs of a young leader, but digs deep to truly help transform these young men and women into leaders that will change the face of the Democratic Republic of Congo—and all of Africa.

a little bit of leave

After a few months in Uganda, it was time for a short leave. So, I met up with a River West service team in Rwanda. It was a wonderful time to reconnect with River West friends and beautiful to see the amazing work that God continues to do through Africa New Life throughout Rwanda.  I seriously had trouble containing myself at my excitement over the new seminary that will start instructing African pastors in the fall.  It is open to Pastors all over Africa and I am so expectant to see many lives impacted by this new amazing ministry. We were honored to provide hundreds of meals to kids in mutiple ANL programs.   And of course, there were adorable kids every where!

Once Sunday came around it was hard to say goodbye to my friends but fortunately Angie was coming back to Uganda with me–so the post-peep depression was lessened. We flew into Entebbe and met up with folks from Africa Renewal Ministries.  It was great to see what another Ugandan organization was doing and I left feeling encourage and excited. Truly an amazing staff building a new kind of Christian leader to serve all of Uganda!

Of course, Angie is a child hugging magnet–so a lot of our time was spent with kiddos in Angie’s arms.  She even got me to hold babies at ARM’s baby home!  Her joy is simply infectious!  Of course, I was a kitten magnet and regretfully did not bring this little furball of sweetness home.

The Rwanda team also had offered to bring me a few items from the states.  I sent them a list of things that would be useful–expecting to receive a few but was totally blown away when they showed up with everything on my list!  The team and some friends from home had all contributed and sent so many wonderful items from home: fluffy towels, sheets that would fit my bed, sharp knives, spoons, office supplies, beautiful dishtowels and even artwork.  They brought me tortilla shells, Stumptown coffee and skittles–all of my favorite things! Honestly, I don’t even know that I thanked them very well because I was in shock at the sheer abundance of goodness.  Yet another reminder of how God cares for us–with abandon and sugary sweetness!