“Now, we shall sing! ‘What a Friend We Have in Jesus!’”
Joseph quietly sang the first few lines of the song while tapping his fingers on the table. Then he paused, took a breath, and started loudly from the beginning, hitting the table now with his palm and fist. The candles flickered and danced to the rhythm. Everyone gathered around the table began to sing along.
“What a friend we have in Jesus, all our sins and griefs to bear. What a privilege to carry everything to God in prayer.”
The lamp above the table clicked on, light illuminating joyful expressions. Almost as suddenly, it clicked off and we were once again surrounded by darkness. The power had been going on and off all evening. No one (except me) even flinched. They just continued with their song.
“Oh, what peace we often forfeit. Oh, what needless pain we bear. All because we do not carry everything to God in prayer.”
Joseph tried to start the second verse, but he couldn’t remember the words. No one else knew them either. The song dissipated into collective laughter – perhaps the most beautiful melody of the entire hymn. Friends, new and old, reached out their hands to the people sitting next to them, and Kay said a prayer of thanksgiving. We were all finally home.
Pastor Katherine Day (Kay) had spent the past six months in the U.S., traveling and preaching and sharing stories about Rwanda. Now, we sat around the kitchen table in her house – the house I will also be living in for the remainder of the year – surrounded by her students and friends. Gady (the theology student entrusted with watching the house in Kay’s absence) and I had been preparing for Kay’s arrival for several days. We had planned on riding with the PIASS driver, Bosco, to pick Kay up from Kigali the day before. After standing outside our gate and waiting for half an hour, we finally saw Bosco’s car turn onto our road. When Gady opened the door, however, we learned that Bosco no longer intended to drive to Kigali because he would have to make the same journey the following day to pick up people at a conference. We wondered if there would be anyone to meet Kay at the airport, and we worried that she wouldn’t have a place to stay for the night. The next day, when Bosco’s car appeared outside of our gate at 7:30 p.m., we were relieved to see that Kay was, indeed, inside the vehicle.
Pastor Kay barely had time to set her suitcases in her room before neighbors began knocking on the door. In groups of two or three, all the theology students living in the nearby residence hall for the holiday appeared at our house, greeted Kay with hugs and kisses and handshakes, and then gathered around our kitchen table for tea. I soon realized why Gady had insisted on boiling two kettles of water. As Gady and I brought out cups, passed around bowls of sugar, and refilled the container of powdered milk once again, I couldn’t help but notice the love these students had for their pastor and teacher. Many of them were bouncing their knees with excitement.
After Kay’s prayer, everyone went through the ritual of hugs and kisses and handshakes again, and then they walked out the gate into the still unlit street. Kay and Gady and I blinked at each other in the darkness. We were exhausted from hosting our guests, but we also had a renewed sense of energy and purpose. Gady and I served Kay the dinner we’d prepared for her arrival, and then we all went to bed – just as the lights came back on.
As of today, I’ve been living with Kay for a full week. Taking my clothes out of my suitcase and putting them in the wardrobe, putting pictures on the walls, organizing my books and notebooks on my desk – these simple things have helped me move out of the transitional limbo and into a space that I will call home for the next ten months. Already, Kay has become a mentor of mine. I admire the generosity and compassion she shows her students (for example: the students wanted a vegetable garden, so she told them they could plough and plant in her backyard!), I admire her tireless work ethic, I admire her commitment to contextualize scripture – to make her messages relevant and applicable to life in Rwanda. Also, she is an amazing cook, and she has treated Gady and me to several delicious American meals.
Our house is beautiful. Throughout her three and a half years in Rwanda, and her eleven years in Malawi before that, Kay has collected works from talented local artists, and the pieces adorn every wall in the house. The house is exploding with color – fuchsia flowers pour over the lime green fence surrounding our home, yellow and green shrubs line the walkway to our home, our gate and doorways are electric blue, and our kitchen is painted bright orange. It is a place of happiness, and it is a place students know they are always welcome.
On Saturday, I went to a university volleyball match with Joseph and Gady. We walked almost three miles to a secondary school and spent the whole day sitting in the sun watching young adults spike volleyballs over the net. The event was free and open to the public, and people came from all over Huye to watch all or part of the tournament. About half way through the tournament, a group of thirty high-schoolers dressed in lab coats and mismatched shoes ran up the hill and onto the court. They were the ultimate cheer squad. They danced, they cheered, they passed around a vuvuzela and blew the horn as loud as they could. Then, as suddenly as they had come, ran off the court and around the school, singing as they went. After that, the crowd gained a new sense of ownership for cheering on the players. Joseph and Gady graciously translated the shouting. My favorite cheer was: “You guys are like those little bugs stuck in banana juice!” Yeah! So there!
From sitting in the dark and singing hymns to sitting under the sun and cheering on a volleyball team, this has been a week of adjustment. There have been highs, there have been lows, there’s been a lot of sitting around and waiting for my teaching schedule to be finalized… but after four years of “being busy” at St. Olaf and Luther Crest, I’m learning to appreciate the simplicity of “just being.” And for now, I’m content to continue learning about my community through just being fully present with them.