Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Rwanda Moments: Eddie

Eddie is our guard/ outside worker. He is a man who has lived and worked at our home since we hired him a year ago when we moved here. He is a night-guard/handyman/gopher/playmate-for-our-kids/new-sparring-partner-for-Ben. He is one of my most favorite people in Rwanda, and today God used him to give me an illustration of the way God sometimes works.
One of the material blessings of our home is consistent hot water. Our hot water heater always seems to be working, and always seems to be “on.” (In India, we needed to flip a switch on whatever heater we wanted to use about 15 minutes before a shower)
The other day, the light on the heater was off and the water was cold. Not a life-or-death matter, but certainly one that affects the mood of the house (ok, mostly me). It seemed that the problem was in the switch that controls the heater - it can’t be flipped - it’s stuck in position, and the water heater light remains dark. Surprisingly, I happened to take a shower yesterday and it was hot, and the heater seemed to be working perfectly. By the time Ben came home for a shower, the light was off and the switch was stuck. This morning, he used the shower anyway and said the water was hot. We puzzled over what new kink Rwanda was throwing at us, and left it alone. I suggested to Ben that he ask Eddie to fix the switch, but all day I’ve been messing with it, and the switch won’t budge.
This afternoon, Eddie stopped in the house to ask me if the water was working. I said, no, the switch won’t flip. He said, try the water.... I felt like Peter being asked to fish on the other side of the boat, but I did it. And, just like Peter, I was surprised to feel hot water streaming out of the shower. Eddie didn’t fix the switch; he fixed the hot water. And, really, hot water was the problem, not a stuck switch. But, I was so fixated on that stupid stuck switch. 
I am reminded of my prayers, when I ask God to fix a problem that I see that needs addressing. Sometimes, in His goodness, He shows me that the “problem” I see isn’t the real problem, and he fixes the real issue. If I remain focused on my request, I might think He’s not answering me, but He is, with a more complete answer than I knew I needed. 

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Fourth

The weekend is coming, and so Independence Day celebrations are in full effect. This date is special in both of our home countries - Independence Day in the United States is also Liberation Day in Rwanda - the day the 1994 genocide was ended. But, right? There's always a "but."


Because, in the US, among other things, churches burn. In Rwanda, people still suffer from fear and distrust and insecurity.


Independence, Liberty, Justice, the ideals that much of humanity would be willing to fight for, are not ever ultimately won with wars.


We happen to be in the US, so we will be experiencing the Fourth celebrations from this side of the planet. Yesterday, we took the kids into Philly to see the Liberty Bell - one of those touristy things that we'd never done. While we waited in the long line, we viewed displays about civil rights. You see, the Liberty Bell originally hung in the Pennsylvania Statehouse, just meters away from our country's original "White House" - and the place where many slaves were imprisoned. The exhibit reminded us that the Liberty Bell stands for both liberties won and liberties withheld. At the time the Liberty Bell was paraded around the country, expanding its notable crack, slavery was legal, women weren't allowed to vote, interracial marriage was a crime, etc. And today, two hundred years later, churches burn.


Liberty & Justice for all.


It's been an intense week on facebook since the SCOTUS ruling. I won't go into my own feelings and opinions here (although I always love an interesting in-person discussion), but I do want to explore one of the ideas I find difficult. Many of my facebook friends lament the dying of the  "values this country was built on," and suggest God's coming judgment. What has been circling my brain of late - and was brought to the surface at the Liberty Bell - is that there is a difference between ideals and values. The American ideal might be liberty and justice for all. But the values demonstrated by both history and current events include racism, sexism, and materialism. This country (and all of us on this spinning planet) certainly deserve God's judgment, but a ruling on gay marriage doesn't strike me as more worthy of judgment than much of the chapter titles of our history textbooks or the headlines of our newspapers.


Liberty & Justice for all must be granted in our hearts before it can become real in our land.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Closing Time

"Time for you to go out to the places you will be from."

photo by Louise Koonce (KICS)
Referencing a song made popular in 1998 as I think about graduation dates me as either really young or really old, depending on how old you are I guess.
But, for real. Ben just handed diplomas to 10 bright young people who for probably ten different reasons went to high school in Kigali, Rwanda. Before they left, we got to have them over for dinner and it was fun to hear their dreams for their lives. One wants to be a pilot. One a human rights lawyer.  One a golfer. I'm not sure what Phoebe actually wants to do, but I've seen enough of her work to know that she will make the world more
beautiful. Ten stories that began in all parts of the world, converged here for a breath, and are being launched out to make a difference.
These ten will grow old. They will likely get married and have jobs and bills and kids. They will probably answer this question a million times: "Where are you from?" And, only a couple of them will say, "Kigali, Rwanda." For others this was a stopping point on a journey full of stopping points. For some, like me, they could grow up somewhere practically their whole life, but make a new life somewhere else that becomes their "from."
Ben and I have long argued where we're "from." Being a New Yorker, he's reluctant to claim any other place as his - even if he's lived there FOR TWELVE YEARS with the LOVE OF HIS LIFE and brought FOUR BABIES HOME to that place. (no, I'm totally fine with it.) Having my hometown ripped away from me as an adult, and then finding community in a place for twelve years with the love of my life and my four babies made Ohio my "from."
And now, by God's grace, Rwanda is becoming my kids'  from. There's a saying in the circle of third-culture and missionary kids: "Home is where you unpack your suitcase." We are about to live that saying out in new ways in the coming weeks as we unzip bags in France, Long Island, Philly, Fairborn, and Lake George.
Between Ben's allegiance to New York and my dying dream to become the Fairborn mayor, this will not ever be our from. But it has sure become our home.
For these graduates, who aren't kids anymore, I am excited to see them go out to the places they will be from. I hope for some of them, it ends up being right here.

We got to celebrate our fourteenth anniversary of marriage the same week we celebrated our first school year at KICS. Happy anniversary to us, wherever we're from.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Kwibuka 21 - Learn with us

April 7, 1994 is the day that the Genocide against the Tutsis began in Rwanda, and each year on this date, the country takes a day to remember and reflect. For the past five years, we have mourned with Rwanda on this day - from afar. Today, we have the privilege and heartache of personal experience in this city and country where so many died and people still suffer as a result. We look out our windows onto roads and hills that were once stained with blood. We have friends who survived it. We know missionaries who had to evacuate and then returned. We have co-workers to mourn with. We have memorials to visit. 

But, our small experience is not enough. We have the responsibility to keep learning and we invite you to join us. Do you remember 1994? Ben and I were in high school and really had no idea what was happening. What did you hear on the news? Tribal warfare? Just another problem in Africa? Nothing? 

We ask you to take some time this month to learn about the Genocide in Rwanda, and the role the world played in ignoring it - causing exponentially more deaths. Below are some recommended films and books you can check out. It is important to remember that none of these tell the whole story, and that everything has a bias or the potential for inaccuracy. But each of these resources are an important reminder that this happened. And, unless you are a random under-21-year-old reader of our blog, it happened while you were living and breathing on this same planet.

FILMS
WEBSITES
What an important week to celebrate that Jesus conquered death!

*Kwibuka means "remember"

Friday, March 20, 2015

thirty-six

It's my birthday and I generally think it's tacky to call attention to that, but Facebook always has, and I think there are extenuating circumstances here. Like, this is the first birthday that I legitimately beat some medical odds to make it to. And, not only am I alive and breathing; I am LIVING happily and healthfully with my most beautiful family in one of the most beautiful countries in the world. I am in love with my husband, and thanks to His Supernatural intervention in my heart, I am more in love with Jesus today than I was a year ago.
Today was the first time I've articulated to the kids how serious my sickness was, and that today is a gift that we don't take for granted. I'm on my way to celebrate with friends I love, and I don't take them for granted either, because we were strangers a year ago - except for my dearest Thompsons, and this is my first birthday to celebrate with even them.
This is also a day I miss my loved ones in the States. GiGi's cupcakes and Los Mariachis and trashy television is how we'd probably be celebrating.
I have to confess some insecurities at crossing the hump into the second half of my thirties, but I hereby resolve to never grumble about getting old - and maybe I'll even stop pulling out my grays.
xoxo - go enjoy a cupcake that is dwarfed by its frosting for me!
Susie

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Cross-Cultural Lessons: Adoration

Anyone who has traveled or lived cross-culturally (whether in their home country or abroad) should be able to share more about lessons learned than lessons taught. If I can't do that, something is wrong. This Sunday, I was able to reflect on what cross-cultural living has taught me about adoration.
As with most things, the journey to the obvious was long and twisty.
A synopsis of the beginning of the story is that I am terrible at adoration in prayer in worship. My mind wanders, I lose interest, and I even begin to feel it is pointless. The sinful train of thought goes something like, "God knows He's great, I know He's great, what are we talking about here?" Even as a young girl, armed with the acrostic ACTS, I got so stuck on the A and wanted to skip to Confession, Thanksgiving and Supplication. Adoration seems so redundant, and so obvious.
There is quite clearly sin in this attitude. Also, though, there is the natural way my brain works - to tease the nuance out of something, to want to wrestle with the complicated, to exercise curiosity and wondering, to discover new things rather than dwell on the familiar.
So, in my personal prayer, adoration is rushed - the prayer equivalent of a head nod instead of a bear hug. In corporate prayer, while someone else is adoring, I'm daydreaming or (at my worst) judging.
****
You all know that my first foray into crossing culture in a significant way was marrying Ben. Guys, I had some ugly missteps in navigating this as a young adult - the epitome of a selfish, arrogant American, believing that my husband's culture was "behind," as was their theology. My parents-in-law can PRAY. They can and do pray continually, for everything and everyone. And, they worship. They spend solid minutes reciting to God what is great about him. They do it with tears and repetition, and do not seem to tire of restatement. They never believe that they've overstated Truth.
And, I'll be honest. That tends to drive me crazy. I'm an antsy, selfish toddler, wanting to go to the next step, and then to amen, and then to out-the-door.
****
A few months ago, I began reading a book with friends. Every Bitter Thing is Sweet by Sara Hagerty.  She explores the idea of adoration as an impetus to spiritual growth and depth. And she developed a pretty devotional to help. I tried. She warned it would feel awkward, and boy did it. It was the same old problem. My impatience with taking the time to tell God what isn't new to either of us.
****
On Sunday, in church, I listened to the African pastor pray. And I was struck with how he sounded just like Ben's dad - how they have in common the beautiful ability to sit in adoration. How it's not an Indian thing or an African thing, but it might just be a non-American thing. If I put aside my American values of independence and argument, might I find more freedom in prayer?
Maybe it has cultural roots, maybe it doesn't; either way, I'm hoping to incorporate something new into my faith: stating the obvious, and restating it enough that it doesn't seem obvious anymore.

(Susie)

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Happy Birthday to (and from) Ben

It's Ben's birthday today. You all know I love him. As part of his own birthday celebration, he sent this email to his parents this morning. I think it's beautiful and I hope he doesn't mind that I'm going to share it. The reason I'm sharing it is because I, too, have benefitted every day from the choices his parents have made in having and raising him. Just the fact that they moved to America in the 1970s, before Ben or I were born, changed both of our lives. That they raised him in a way that encouraged him to know and love many different kinds of people made our marriage possible. That Ben's mom saves money and plans ahead and Ben's dad does the dishes and prays always are qualities that I see in him every day. 

It's Ben's birthday today. There are three of us who probably celebrate that more than anyone else in the world. The ones who gave him life, and the one who shares his life. I love you, Mom & Dad Thomas!

Hi mom and dad,
As I remember my birthday today, and we celebrate with friends, I just wanted to say thanks.
Thanks for the ways you have raised me and loved me throughout the course of my life.  You encouraged me from a young age to be who God made me to be.  It first started with playing sports.  When no one else played sports you saw that I loved it and you found a way for me to play.  My first team was the Tornadoes.  From soccer to travel soccer to baseball to roller hockey and eventually you let me play the sport I loved the most, football.  Thank you.
From sports to being able to spend time with friends when no other Malayalee parents would. You trusted me and allowed me to be make friends with non Malayalees and spend time with them.
From spending time with friends to going away to college to play football.  To a college no one heard of, where no one we knew was.  You knew Hobart was the place for me after the first visit.
From Hobart to sending me to Urbana, to encouraging me to go to seminary when I sensed God calling me to ministry.  From there to meeting Susie and then marrying her.  From marrying her to be a missionary.  From being a missionary to living in ohio and then India.  From India to adopting Charlie. From adopting Charlie to being the global director.  From the global director to taking care of Susie, you helped me in every way.  From Susie's cancer to Annie being born. From Annie to my doctoral program.  From my doctoral program to Brasil and then to Rwanda.
Through all of this you have raised me to trust God, to be comfortable with who God made me, and to love others.  Without you raising me to trust God, I could not do all the lord has allowed us to do.
As I celebrate today in kigali, Rwanda, please know I can never thank you enough for how you raised me.  I am forever grateful.
I tell people in kigali all the time, I am the son of Indian immigrants who trusted God with everything.
I wish I could celebrate with you today.  I look forward to the day I can celebrate my birthday with you.
Please know that I think of you with great thanksgiving everyday, but especially today.   Every happy birthday wish to me is a reflection of both of you and how you raised me.
Happy birthday, mom and dad.  I love you.