Places & Podcasts

Our church in Kigali has been a great blessing to us. It’s a community that has welcomed us, it’s a place where we consistently hear the word of God preached, a place to serve, and it’s a space to worship with our new neighbors. It’s obviously different from our sending church in the States where we know each person and are surrounded by so many who know us well, but that too will come in time. As we progressively root ourselves at St. Etienne, I’ve also enjoyed journeying with Redeemer from afar via its weekly podcast.

I put on my headphones today and cued up the latest sermon.  I listened to Fr. Jay begin his message with a story about dreams — the passage was on ‘Jacob’s Ladder.’ Jay’s story sounded pretty familiar to me, but I assumed that was because I’ve been around him a good amount. Then, halfway into the sermon there was a reference to the church’s hopeful new building (see here and you’ll realize that the new facility is way past the theoretical stage at this point). I looked down at my phone and realized that I had somehow played an old sermon from last July. Oh well, I’m sure it’ll be good to hear again. A few lines had already grabbed my attention, especially about the reality of God meeting people in specific places (see Genesis 28, where Jacob has his dream at Bethel). Jacob says, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I was not aware of it.” God met Jacob, the schemer, the guy who one commentator called “more scoundrel than saint” and decided to use him. God promised to watch over him wherever he went.

At this point in the sermon, Jay spoke directly to me. I don’t mean that in a theoretical sense…his next words were actually addressed to Natasha and me. Turns out, this was the sermon from the last week we were at Redeemer before leaving for Rwanda. Whoops… I guess that day was a bit of a blur (teary eyes and all) and I didn’t remember all that was said 🙂 Here’s a the ending:

“Ethan and Natasha… the Lord will be with you. He’s not just sending you; he’s going with you and is already there. I pray that you will hear the words that were spoken over Jacob… God will keep you, God will be with you, God will provide for you. There will be hard times, harder than you think. There will be times better than you think. We pray God gives dreams and insights in those times.”

My accidental podcast selection seems less of a coincidence and more of a God appointed insight, even a dreamlike incident. I don’t think I’m currently in a “harder than you think” moment (not that I’m great at identifying those times… Type 7 – for all you lovers and haters of the Enneagram), but a reminder that God goes with us, that he’s here, feels very timely. It’s been easy for days to merge together, for time to slide away, to feel more scoundrel than saint, and to lose sight that God is present and working. I was out on a walk in our neighborhood as I listened today. I was in a place that overlooks a valley and the outskirts of the city. It’s become a specific place where I’ve been able to pray, even when that task seems more difficult everywhere else. One year ago, when Natasha and I were in Rwanda for the first time together, I remember the sense of God speaking to us and confirming our call to be here. I’m thankful to know that affirmation again today, and to have places and spaces where God meets us.

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A recap of travels & staying put

December

We returned to Illinois and Minnesota over our Christmas break. Since I already had to come back to the U.S. for a school trip (see below), it made sense to visit friends and family as well. We’re very thankful to have connected with many of you! Highlight: meeting our nephew, Soren James Carlson, who was born on December 4th.

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January

Natasha traveled back to Kigali so she could resume teaching and begin the second semester. I traveled to New York where I met a group of 11th grade students from KICS. We spent the next couple weeks visiting universities on the East Coast. Highlight: Seeing the students (mostly Rwandese) deal with blizzard conditions and visiting the African American History and Culture museum in D.C.

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February

Soon after returning to Kigali, I was unexpecedly asked to join the KICS director on a school fundraising trip back to the U.S. So I jumped back on the plane in early Febrauary and spent a couple weeks in D.C., Virginia, North Carolina, and Texas. Highlight: Texas BBQ and more development experience.

Thankfully, Natasha wasn’t left alone the whole time I was away. Her sister, Alex, came to visit (Feburary highlight)! She was still around for another week or so when I got back. We were able to see some places around the city together, do some hiking, and we got Alex on safari as well. She was also a big help in Natasha’s classroom, I’m told 🙂

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March 

Staying put! I Our friend from Redeemer, Otto, also came to see us in March. It’s really encouraging to have friends visit and be reminded of our support and connection. Otto’s been to Rwanda several times, so it was less about seeing things and more about being together.

I was finally able to get into a groove teaching my Grade 11 Seminar class each day, or at least until we got to Easter break. (I’m realizing now why teachers always talk about how choppy and quick the “spring” semester can feel.)  We were thankful to be home with our St. Etienne church community coming into Holy Week at the end of the month. On Easter Sunday (sliding into April now), we had our first large (-ish… 15+ people) party at our house. We failed to take any photos as a group – sad day – but you can check out the beef brochettes we had. Easter = highlight.

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April

Starting on April 7th, Rwanda begins it’s annual time of remembrance and commemoration of the 1994 Genocide agaisnt the Tutsi. It’s a somber time, the country mourns, and people unite together in the healing and continued reconciliation process. For seven days following the 7th, work stops in the afternoon and shops close so that everyone can gather in their various communities for meetings, walks of remembrance, and discussions. As a westerner living here, it’s not easy to know exactly what to do during this time, but we knew that we wanted to stay put and not leave the country. It was a time for us to learn and be present as much as possible.

 

Sub-Saharan Skiing

I used to go skiing several times a week while in high school (I worked at a small ski resort in Minnesota). My time on the slopes lessened in college as I moved to the even flatter state of Illinois, but I still made trips out to Colorado now and then. Now, I live in the Land of a Thousand Hills (and even Mt. Kilimanjaro – the highest point in Africa – is only 500 miles/800 km and one boarder crossing away), but of course being on the equator and all that ruins any chance of snow around here. Sad day.

But really, it’s okay everyone – I get to go skiing every day. I’m convinced that the best way to describe driving a car in Rwanda is to compare it to skiing or snowboarding. Here’s my rationale:

  • Conditions always change. Some days a road is potholed and rough; the next day it’s paved and smooth. Moguls vs. groomers.
  • Signs are somewhat taken seriously, like the orange slow sign on the mountain or the red stop sign by our house. But let’s be real, if the road is empty or the run is clear, you’re flying past that that sign and not worried at all.
  • Patrolling happens unexpectedly. Ski patrol or the police randomly (it seems) make a big deal about things that didn’t matter yesterday. (Confession: I probably just don’t know the rules of the road well enough yet and the police are doing fine work here.)
  • Falling in tree wells and rain ditches – get too close to a tree while skiing, you’re sinking down… veer off the road a tiny bit in Kigali while looking at Google Maps on your iPhone (Note: not a reliable idea to begin with. Further explanation: both looking at your phone while driving or attempting to use Google Maps is risky business), it’s game over.
  • Weaving and adjusting your route is the norm. When lanes merge, when runs cross, or when you’re at an intersection of any type, you look around, you might slow down or speed up, but the goal is clear: don’t get hit and don’t hit anyone. Honk often or shine your brights. Yell at the kid who cut you off on the slope. It’s a dance and you eventually learn the moves.

Endnote: This post makes driving sound much more fun than it actually is. Even if there’s a sense of the “I’m in a videogame” feeling that many expats initially experience, real life includes many more moments of frustration, near accidents, delays, and road closures. I’m glad the school is a five-minute walk from our house. I’m also glad that many roads are comparatively great here.

Flying Solo

The second semester of school is very much in full force. I (Natasha) returned to Kigali by myself after our Christmas break in the States. In many ways, we would not have planned a trip to the U.S. so “soon” after our move to Rwanda, but the combination of a desire to meet our newborn nephew, plus Ethan having to be in the U.S. for a college trip with students from KICS made us decide we should return to the (very) frozen tundra this year. Those of you who know me are probably already aware of my less than enthusiastic feelings towards Ethan’s travels without me. Needless to say, I was not excited about the prospect of returning to Rwanda alone… for 18 days. Although we’ve been a part for weeks at a time before, this time definitely feels different (as I write this, we still have a week to go before he’s back).

I was extremely nervous about returning to our new home all by myself. Aside from being alone, I realized (read: panicked) that we had split up ‘living responsibilities’ and I would need to know how to do everything by myself. Where do I go to buy electric power again (it’s a cash, prepaid system here)? Were all of our bills paid? Who’s our contact if the house roof has a leak? Early December became the time to figure these things out.

So how has the time alone been? To be honest, it’s hard. I really miss Ethan and I miss our teamwork. Sure, absence can make the heart grow fonder, but I’ve come to see what a good team we’ve been during our time in Rwanda so far. We’ve been able to walk with each other through this journey and help each other in areas of weakness, fear, or anxiety. We’ve also been able to enjoy the newness of life here together, make new friends, and serve at church together. As I was reflecting on this reality, I was reminded of all of the people who prayed for our marriage before we left the U.S. (and who I know are still praying for our marriage now) – thank you! Your prayers are being heard and they are making a difference.

A few more days to go.

Short & Sweet 

So I realize that we haven’t posted many (or any) quick notes on here so far. Along with the larger updates, we want to share more day-to-day info as well.

This post will be short and sweet (as much as that’s possible for me — yes, this is Ethan writing), but it’s certainly not simple or insignificant information. This update has more to do with the U.S. than Rwanda, but we’re thankfully all connected.

Our sending church, where we’ve invested so much of our lives over the last several years, has closed on a permanent property! After years of renting, and a multi-year journey to find a permanent home, a new chapter began this week. A historic church building, in the exact area we’ve imagined and prayed about, is now owned by Church of the Redeemer. Renovation will begin soon.

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On the day of closing this week, Natasha and I strongly and sadly felt the physical distance between Kigali and Highwood (the tiny urban suburb north of Chicago), but I also experienced real joy when I knew papers were being signed. We’re  incredibly thankful. If you’re interested in following along the journey, check out Homeward to Highwood.

I can truly say that playing a small role in the facility search, fundraising efforts, and discernment process has been a highlight of my life. It’s an honour and privilege to be sent and be part of a church that is faithfully working to fulfill its calling on both the local and global level.

Praise be to God. He has literally opened doors for the Redeemer community (or at least the church staff now has the keys to open the doors…) and I ask you to join us in praying for the continued blessing of Church of the Redeemer.

Please also keep praying for our work and ministry with Kigali International Community School (KICS), Rwanda Ministry Partners (RMP), and St. Etienne Cathedral (no acronym that I know of yet). We’ll be sure to share more about each of those areas of life soon.

There’s my attempt at a “short” update 🙂

― Ethan

P.S. On a more personal note, I also want to share how thankful we are for God’s provision within our own family. As DuPont and Dow merged, my dad lost his job after some 25-30 years with the same company (I’m happy to give you a rant about corporate America at another time if you’re up for it). But! we thank God that within a few weeks he found another position that seems like a great fit. God is good and Pop is pretty talented it seems. Thanks for praying.

Setting Up and Starting Up

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Hilda out and about.

The school year is officially underway! The past month and a half has been a whirlwind of getting settled in our new environment as well as preparing to start the school year.
We arrived in Rwanda with one week of “extra” time before our work officially started. I am so thankful for that week! We spent the time getting our house set up, learning where to go for food and household items, and finding a car. We quickly learned that shopping is not as straightforward as you might think. In a way, I think it would be better to see ourselves as treasure hunters rather than shoppers… it really is a whole different experience here.

There are many items available in Kigali; however, just because you see something once, doesn’t mean you’ll see it again. Dog food has been a pretty good example of this. We went to at least four places searching for dog food, then we found it, but we’ve never seen it there again (side note: it cost three times as much as it would have in the U.S.). Looks like it’s back to rice and beans for you, Hilda.

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The Hanlons and our friend, Katie at the KICS kick-off night. (So great to have you visit, Katie!)

Since our first set-up week, the majority of my time has been spent on school work. The school routine feels fairly similar to what it was like in the U.S. The first few weeks were full of training and hours and hours of lesson planning, as well as preparing my classroom. We did have a short-term mission team at our school during our set-up time and they were a HUGE help in organizing our classrooms and helping us get things ready for the students.

Although teaching feels pretty normal, there are a few noticeable differences. One is that I only have 15 students! Seriously… this is a dream situation (okay, if I was going to be really picky I would choose 14 or 16 students so I could have even groups, but that would be just pure perfection!). Most of the students in my class are East African and then I have a few students from the US, UK, and South Korea. I love the richness of cultural diversity in my class. Although I’m familiar teaching in an environment where I am of a different culture than my students, I’m continuing to grow in my cross-cultural communication and teaching. I’d appreciate your prayer in this, as well as prayer for each of my students as they continue the new school year.

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My class during a math lesson.

Overall, my work is really wonderful, but there are a few things that are challenging to work around. The power does go out a few times a day, which is obviously inconvenient, but we are fortunate to have a generator at the school that helps. The power is usually back on within 10 minutes. Also, good news — the school does have internet. Bad news — it can’t really accommodate the entire school using it, so we can’t stream anything while teaching and it sometimes moves like a snail (sort of like we are back in the 90s with dial-up).

Overall, I would say that life has been good here, and we’re very thankful for a smooth transition. We definitely miss our friends and family (and cheese…and ice cream…and chocolate ;)) but we really appreciate all of the encouragement and support from everyone we left at home while we continue to make Kigali home.

 

A Warm Welcome (we’re here!)

First, a few basic updates:

  1. Yes, we’ve arrived in Rwanda!
  2. We’re doing well and feeling good (and for the Hilda fans out there, she’s great too).
  3. We have a house, we love it, and we’re learning how to live in it (tasks like paying for electricity, using an oven, or doing laundry are not as obvious as one might expect).

The past twelve days have been quite the whirlwind — beginning orientation at KICS, setting up our house and phones (a long-term internet solution is still in progress), finding a vehicle, heading to Rwanda’s Western Provence for our staff retreat on Lake Kivu (one of the Africa Great Lakes), and much more.

We are incredibly thankful to have amazing people here to welcome us and help in the transition. Our friends from Church of the Redeemer (the Hanlons) have given us an immediate sense of connection, friendship, and practical help (e.g. assuring that we got a fair price on our new papyrus furniture and then creatively packing out their Rav 4 to transport it). It’s been good to connect with new and returning staff at the school as well.  Meeting people from all over the world who share a similar calling and passion for this place and work is encouraging. There’s no doubt that we will deeply miss our friends in the States, but we take comfort knowing that friendships will form here as well.

We also received an early reminder that our US church diocese and province is deeply connected to Rwanda. Our bishop, the director of Rwanda Ministry Partners (the organization where I serve on the board), and their team came through Kigali and invited us out to dinner last Monday. They were wrapping up their two-week visit around the country where they were serving, sharing words of encouragement, and fostering sister church relationships between American and Rwandan Anglican churches. Rwanda Ministry Partners (RMP) is a newly formed organization and ministry, but its mission and vision is rooted in (and a continuation of) the much older relationship between our two countries. I’ve been praying that our lives in Rwanda may consist of several unified strands of relationship and ministry as we serve at KICS and with the church; I’m thankful to see the beginnings of answered prayer so soon.

There will be a lot more to share soon, I’m sure. Things are moving quickly and we certainly haven’t had time to process everything, but here are a few prayer requests for the time being:

Health: We’re feeling alright, but there’s still some adjustment to new diets and schedules.

School: We’ll meet students and families this Thursday and then begin class on the 21st. Please pray for our future students and for a smooth beginning of the year.

Finances: We are thankful that a few more families and individuals have recently committed to support us. We still need to raise about a third of our total monthly support in order to be in a healthy place moving forward. We are committed to serving faithfully and stewarding contributions wisely as we know that every dollar, Euro, or Rwandan Franc is ultimately the Lord’s. As I’ve recently wrapped up my role as Treasurer at our church in the States, I am continually amazed and thankful for the generosity of God’s people towards the Church and various organizations. We would be truly grateful if you might consider supporting our work as part of your giving.

Rhythms & Routines: Please pray that we’re able to settle into new rhythms and routines that are healthy, stretching, and focused on serving and loving others well.