Monday, March 2, 2009

The journey begins?

Yesterday I took some friends to lunch at the SunDial restaurant in Atlanta. The goal was to find an interesting place where my friend Paul could get pictures taken of him, his wife, and their kids that he could show to his family back in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Now any trip to the SunDial is always interesting - for those who don't know the SunDial is the restaurant on top of the tallest hotel in the western hemisphere. It's a rotating restaurant on the 73rd through 75th floors of the Westin Peachtree Plaza hotel in downtown Atlanta, and normally offers gorgeous views of the entire metro Atlanta area over the course of a meal. But Sunday was different. Sunday was snowing. Hard. And since the SunDial's glass elevators are still blacked in after last year's tornado damage, you really couldn't tell we were 73 stories up. All you could tell was we were in a big restaurant with giant windows and a big swirling mass of clouds and snow outside. The SunDial's best asset - it's view - was totally useless.

In a way though that's a good place to start the story of my trip. Becuase the pictures Paul was taking, and is still taking in fact, are for me to bring to his family when I visit them in Kenya, Rwanda, and DRC this month. I'm spending most of March on a mostly personal trip into rural Africa, partly to help an old friend and partly becuase a new friend invited me. Mostly because I feel called to go, and I can't really explain why becuase you'll think I'm crazy. But I do know that what I usually think of as my best assets - my tech skills, and my business skills - are going to be as useless as the SunDial's view when I'm walking through a region with no electricity, no phones, and no businesses.

People ask me why I'm going, and when they do I've noticed there are two very distinct types of question. One is the question asked with a look that clearly indicates the questioner is trying to determine exactly how crazy I am and how much longer they can politely talk to me before they step back into somewhere or some topic that's more comfortable. It's the same way I treated the homeless woman shuffling through a Denver burger shop last month, who included each table in turn in her one-side conversation about how her kids had never been on welfare in Kentucky. "That's good." I told her, as I focused my attention on my french fries. "That's interesting" is the response I get from my uncomfortable friends as they too find something more comfortable to munch on.

The other people ask me why I'm going with a sense of envy and excitement and anticipation. These are the people who I think will seriously consider joining me on this trip next year, and hopefully some can make it work. It's not an easy thing to get away from work and civilization for a month, and I don't know that I'll be able to do it again either. But these are the friends who either understand the need of the people I'll be visiting, or the understand the need to see what life is like for a completely different culture than mine, and they share my excitement and my nervousness and my sense of responsibility, and I appreciate that.

So this Thursday the journey begins. I'll leave Thursday for DC, leave DC Friday morning for Kenya (28 hours from first takeoff to final touchdown, yikes!), and after a couple of days working with Computer Troubleshooters Kenya and buying some supplies I'll head to Rwanda where the real heart of the trip begins. The first week and last week of my 4 week trip will be spent in Rwanda, with my friend Jean's organization ARDR, helping them in their mission to imrove the quality of life for people in rural Rwanda, especially widows and orphans of the 1994 genocide. I was there last year and saw some of the work they do, and it's overwhelming in every sense of the word how much need there is in that part of the world. I met a woman in Rwanda last year who lost her family in the genocide, but still has a banana field. Once a month she cuts down a bunch of bananas, takes them to the market, and sells them for $20, and that's how she lives. Her dream in life is to one day be able to buy a wheelbarrow so she doesn't have to carry the bananas on her head.

The other two weeks of my trip are the ones I'm more concerned about, because we'll be going into areas where the woman with bananas would be considered well off. South Kivu is a province in DRC which has seen more than it's share of war over the last decade. It's relatively peaceful now (unlike North Kivu) but there are no guarantees it will stay that way. I know people from South Kivu, refugees I've met over the last two years who live near me and who sometimes go to my church. The stories they tell are often horrifying to American senses, and I won't repeat them here but suffice it to say that massacres, killing, raping, and starvation are a sadly normal part of their life. Their government is poor, far away, and really unable to care for them. The local armies only care about what they can use from them. The international community is rarely even aware of them. So into this world where injustice and poverty are the norm, a Christian group from Germany is going to show them that even when no one else cares, God cares for them. Thus the name of the group: GodCares. It's one of GodCares principals who invited me, a man named Nelson Mukiza who grew up in this area and is now a Canadian citizen. Nelson invited me, and I realize this is not an invitation that comes along every day, so I am going. I don't know what I'm going to do when I get there - my vision on that is just like yesterday's view from the SunDial, nothing but haze and fog and swirling shapes. But I know that I'm invited, and even if they don't have electricity or businesses to run I know I'll find some way to be helpful.

If you're following my blog, I would appreciate your prayers and support too. I will do my best to keep this space updated while I'm over there, and I've included some photos and other information on my other website, If all goes well I'll be back in the US on April 4th, no doubt exhausted and thinner and with many more interesting stories to tell.

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