Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Ishimwe's New Shoes - Fiction

“Imagination will often carry us to worlds that never were. But without it, we go nowhere.”
Carl Sagan

 I scuffed my foot back and forth in the dirt and watched the red puffs of dust float away in the breeze. Leaning back against the dried-mud wall of the house, I held up one bare foot and wriggled my toes. I couldn’t help but wish for the rainy season to hurry up and come; it had been so hot lately, and I loved walking on the cool, wet ground.

Hearing footsteps, I turned my head and watched as my uncle Rukundo came outside and sat on the stone step outside the doorway. He didn’t speak to me or acknowledge me in any way, choosing instead to stare silently into the distance. Uncle had lost one arm in the genocide; back in 1994, before I was born. Mama said he had changed since the genocide. I was too young to remember the happy, laughing man he had once been. Now, he rarely spoke to anyone. Since he had only one good arm, he could not work to provide for his only sister, my mother, and the rest of us. He was forced to take only menial, odd jobs in our village. Mama did her best to provide for us by taking in sewing jobs. Most people said we were lucky because Mama had been taught a trade. She always insisted the word was “blessed,” not lucky.

Both of us sat quietly for a while, soaking up the hot sunshine. Through the shimmering heat waves dancing over the ground, two small figures came into view. Squinting, I recognized my friends, twin sisters Umutesi and Umutoni. They were the same age as me, ten. As they passed by the house, I called out, “Ugiyehe?”

“To the well,” Umutoni called back, swinging the yellow water containers in her hands. She and her sister each carried two, holding about five litres of water each. The trek to the well was a daily job for each of us, as well as gathering firewood, sweeping the dirt yard outside of our homes, and a multitude of other jobs.

As I shaded my eyes with my hand, watching them disappear from view, I heard my uncle get up abruptly from his seat. I watched him stalk towards the center of the village. I didn’t know where he was going, and it was not my place to ask.

I was just leaned my head back against the wall, when suddenly…

“Ishimwe! Ishimwe!”

I jerked around to see who was calling my name. It was my little brother, Benimana. Benimana was only six years old, and right now he was panting for breath and waving his arms like a mad person.

Iki?” I yelled back.

Finally he got close enough to reply. “Abazungu! In the village!”

My heartbeat quickened. White people? Here? I had only seen a few white people in my lifetime, and then only from a distance. My sense of curiosity was aroused, and I jumped to my feet. “Let’s go!”

I only ran a few steps before I realized my brother was not following me. “Come on, Beni! What are you waiting for?!”

My brother looked at me hesitantly, and then blurted, “Mbarushimana said he thinks the white people eat Rwandans!”

I burst out laughing. “Benimana, you know better than to believe anything Mbarushimana says! He is always full of crazy stories. Now, come on, let’s go see what they want!”

Both of us ran towards the church, where Benimana said he had seen the Abazungu. Soon enough, we saw a big white van parked in front of the church, surrounded by a crowd of people. Leaving my brother to hang back at the edge of the crowd, I squirmed my way towards the front. Glancing around to see if there was anyone I could ask, I spotted Hitimana Moises, the pastor’s son, who was twelve years old. I liked Hitimana; he was always kind to everyone.

“Hitimana! What’s happening?” I called to him.

He turned and grinned at me. “I don’t know, but the white people are giving out clothes… and sweets!” Just then, we heard a booming voice, which belonged to our neighbor, Chance. He usually went by his English name, since he could speak the language. “Please be patient, people… everyone will get something!”

I was so busy listening to him that I jumped with surprise to see the white man standing in front of me. “Muraho,” he said with a big smile. We all giggled at his terrible pronunciation. Turning, he spoke to the white woman in a strange language, which I guessed must be English. She reached inside the van and pulled out a handful of sweets, and I felt Hitimana nudge me in excitement.

The white man handed us each a candy on a little white stick. We lost no time in unwrapping them and popping them in our mouths. Even Benimana approached the white people when he saw the treats; he must have decided the abazungu weren’t too bad!

As the three of us chattered excitedly among ourselves, I noticed Chance and Hitimana’s father, Pastor Jean Claude, helping the white people unload huge bags from the back of the van. I wondered what it was that they had.

A few minutes later, I was again startled when the white woman approached me. “Witwa nde?” she asked in the same strong accent, smiling broadly. “Ishimwe Soline,” I answered. Then I pointed to my brother, “Benimana Patrick,” and to Hitimana, “Hitimana Moises.” The white woman nodded, then pointed to my feet and asked a question in her own language. I couldn’t understand what she wanted, so I shrugged and spread my hands. She repeated the question, pointing to her own feet and then to mine. Is something wrong with my feet? Finally, Chance came to our rescue. “She says, ‘Where are your shoes?’” he told me.

I looked back at him, puzzled. “I don’t own shoes.” Chance quickly turned and translated my reply to the muzungu, and she turned away and hurried to the van. I shot a questioning glance at Hitimana, who shrugged in reply. A minute later, though, she was back; with a pair of shoes! Kneeling by my feet, she motioned for me to hold out my foot. Carefully, she slipped the purple sandals on first one foot, then the other. They fit perfectly; they were even a little big, meaning I could grow into them. I took a few tentative steps, feeling the odd weight of the shoes on my feet. My first real pair of shoes!

I carefully bent down and removed the shoes from my feet. I didn’t want to spoil them by walking in the dirt, and I had to show them to Mama! I felt Chance touch my shoulder and remind me, “What do you say?” Quickly looking back at the white lady, I blurted, “Murakoze! Murakoze cyane!” Chance laughed as he translated my thanks, and the white lady touched my cheek affectionately. Then, I noticed the white man coming towards us with a small black box in his hand. Chance told me, “Ishimwe, the muzungu wants to know if he can take your picture.” I nodded and proudly cradled the shoes against my chest, standing tall and straight. I tried to stay serious, like Mama was in the picture pinned to our wall at home, but I couldn’t keep my smile inside. New shoes! Wait until I showed Mama and Uncle! Wait until I showed my friends!

Just then, I heard a yell from Benimana. Rushing up to me, he waved a bright red shirt in the air. “Look what the muzungu gave me!” he hollered. Obviously, I wasn’t going to be the only one with exciting news to share! “Come on, let’s go tell everyone!” he shouted. I’d never seen him this excited.

I turned and raced up the hill after my brother, still clutching my precious shoes. Then, I turned around to catch a last glimpse of the abazungu. I caught sight of them lifting their hands to wave to me, and I waved back, calling, “Imana aguhe umugisha!”

As I ran after Benimana, I heard their voices faintly reply, “God bless you, too!”

NOTE: this story is imaginary. All names and events are fictional. However, the pictures above are of a real little girl who was given a brand new pair of crocs by the Shelter Them during one of their Rwanda visits. Notice the lollipop in her mouth, and the huge grin. I’ve tried to bring to life how a child like her might feel, receiving a new pair of shoes. We don’t know her name, but she certainly appears grateful! Do you know that YOU can help children like Ishimwe, Benimana, and the little girl pictured above? Find out more by clicking this link: Shelter Them

Tuesday, 14 May 2013

The Sometimes-Beauty of Religion

As I sit here at my desk, I have to pause in my writing and simply enjoy the music flowing from my speakers. The song is O Bone Jesu, a Gregorian chant. Pure voices blend in perfect, complex harmony, like a well-woven tapestry. The words are Latin, but translated, they are as follows:

O good Jesus,
Have mercy on us
Because you created us
You have redeemed us
With Your most precious Blood.

While I enjoy the song, I also feel a tinge of sadness, knowing that great songs like this are almost never played in churches anymore. Why? Well, because they’re “religious.” Well, isn’t any song played in church technically “religious?” Well, yes and no, depending on the way you look at it. You see, while the term “religious” simply used to mean “one who has or shows a belief in and reverence for God or a deity,” it’s now taken to mean something like, “governed by laws, ordinances, and rules pertaining to God.” For example, you might have heard the expression, “Religion is a list of do’s and don’ts, while Christianity is a relationship with God.” Or, “Jesus is my Saviour, not my religion,” or even, “I’m not religious, I’m a Christian!” I’ve heard people get extremely offended if you refer to them as religious. Why? Because “religious” is often seen as a code word for “Old-fashioned, narrow-minded, judgemental, backwards, behind the times, hypocritical, doom-saying,” and what have you. The truth is, Christianity is so different from the world, and we are so desperate to be accepted by the world, that we have almost turned our backs on true Christianity in order to be accepted by the world.

Christians of years ago would say, “We’re being persecuted by our neighbors; the Holy Spirit must be convicting them! Let’s continue to pray and speak the truth, and die for Christ if we must.” Nowadays, we would say, “We’re being persecuted by our neighbors; we must have said something to offend them! Let’s change our message so it doesn’t sound so harsh.” The fact is, no matter how we change our message, we will never be accepted by the world. Jesus said, “In this world you will have tribulations (trials or troubles) but be of good cheer, for I have overcome the world!” John 16:33. Christianity and the world are like oil and water: no matter how you shake them together, they don’t mix and never will!


Take, for instance, this beautiful portrait of Christ, painted by Warner Sallman. I have a print of it that was given to me by my grandmother hanging in my bedroom. I treasure it dearly. But people tend to shy away from “religious art” because “it might offend somebody.” Never mind that it’s a classic, “it looks too religious!”

Take for instance, the book Pilgrim’s Progress, by John Bunyan. A famous classic. But seldom read because, “It’s too boring and religious and hard-to-understand.”

Take the song that I listed above, “O Bone Jesu.” Or take any Gregorian chant, or even the more contemporary hymns written a mere 50-100 years ago. I’ve heard churches refuse to play the old hymns, because “they are too old-fashioned” (and religious?)

The King James Version of the Bible is seldom read, because, “We need a more modern translation, one that the young people can identify with.” Unfortunately, much of the beauty and meaning of the original has been lost in the switch to modern language.

My dears, Christ is old-fashioned. He walked on earth over 2,000 years ago. He created the earth long before that. In fact, He has always existed, as far back in time as you can possibly go. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever. He has not changed or adapted with the times. His Word remains the same as it always has.

Now, let’s compare a couple of songs. The first is a modern song. I’m not even going to mention the name of the band, because the purpose of this is not to bash anybody personally, but simply to make a comparison.

It's a big big house
with lots and lots a room
A big big table
with lots and lots of food
A big big yard
where we can play football
A big big house
It’s my Father’s house

Hmmm, I didn’t know we’ll be playing football in Heaven…

Now, compare the song “O Sacred Head, Now Wounded.” Remember, it’s a religious song; that’s why it’s not played anymore.

What language shall I borrow
to thank thee, dearest Friend,
for this Thy dying sorrow,
Thy pity without end?
O make me Thine forever;
and should I fainting be,
Lord, let me never, never
outlive my love for Thee.

I’m not saying that everything modern is bad; there are many modern songs, paintings, and books that are worth listening to, looking at, or reading. But I just think it’s sad when the very foundations of our Christian and yes, religious heritage are thrown down the drain. Being religious isn’t always a bad thing… I’m not offended at all if someone calls me religious. I think it’s a beautiful way of identifying with other people who have a deep and reverential respect for God.

Why don’t you take some time this week? Read a Christian classic. Listen to some choral music or hymns of the church, such as the hymn below (When I survey the Wondrous Cross, performed acapella by the Gaither Vocal Band) Admire some religious art. You might be surprised at the ancient and enduring beauty and wisdom that you find therein.

Monday, 6 May 2013

Isimbi is Pleased!

Today I’m linking up with Michelle W. from Blogging from the Boonies for “Mail Call Monday”! If you haven’t checked out Michelle’s blog yet, you should! She shares her daily life as a homeschooling Mom, Compassion Advocate, and sponsor/correspondent of nineteen kids! She also has lots of resources for sponsors and plenty of neat stories to tell!

 On Saturday, I received a beautiful letter from my precious Isimbi. After I received her introduction letter, which is a form letter sent out to all new correspondents and sponsors, I waited impatiently for her first “real” letter. And when it finally arrived, I was blown away by how sweet and personal it was.

Before I share her letter, let me clear up one thing. The “visit” Isimbi mentions is actually referring to our church’s team that visited her last year; I actually haven’t been to see her yet. I’m guessing something got lost in translation, but no matter…

Isimbi writes,

“Dear Hannah, I greet you in the name of Jesus Christ. My family love you so much and we are glad that you visited us in Rwanda. Hope you liked it too. I am doing well in my studies and I am in Primary Four (P. 4) now. I request you to pray for me so that I can progress in my studies. I enjoy playing tennis ball and hand ball. We are preparing for Easter. May God’s peace be upon you. Happy Easter. Thank you so much for the letter that you sent to me and the card of colours. It pleased me. Thank you for wishing me a happy Easter. I liked your letter. Thank you so much.”

Can I just say that I melted into a happy puddle of tears? She is so grateful! I also liked getting confirmation that she received the “card of colours” I sent her, as well as the Easter letter. And not only did she receive them, but they pleased her! And she thanked me for wishing her a happy Easter. I’m so grateful for this precious glimpse into my girl’s heart, especially since I know some sponsors/correspondents never receive letters like this from their child.

The "Card of Colours" that Isimbi refers to.

Until next time, my sweet girl… I will be writing and waiting to hear from you again!