Goodbye, Rwanda. Hello, Ghana.

Hi guys. So, I really don’t understand how it’s already time to write this final post on Rwanda. I’m really not ready to leave. I’ve been stealing words from my host mama a lot lately, but she says it best. Half my heart is here, how could I feel ready to leave? 
I wanted to take a few more moments to reflect on this trip. It has been life changing, and for me it’s not even half over yet. I have learned so much about myself, and this world. I want to talk about that for a few minutes. 

Here’s a bit of what Rwanda taught me:

1. I am stronger and braver than I ever thought. I mean, I rafted class five rapids on the Nile River. I walked a canopy bridge in Nyungwe Forest. I hiked a tropical rainforest, and a volcano. I’m going to Ghana with just one other person. God has shown me that I can handle a lot more than I thought I could. He’s shown me that physically, I can push through. He’s shown me that mentally, I can focus and accomplish whatever He wants me to accomplish. 

2. Finding balance isn’t easy. I have a soft heart. I will always have a soft heart. It turns out, that’s okay. I’m still learning to balance that soft heart with the harshness of this world. But I’ve learned it’s okay to be angry. It’s okay to cry. It’s okay to feel guilty. What’s not okay is letting that consume me and stop me from taking action. What’s not okay is keeping it all to myself and not trusting God with it. That’s where I’m working, that’s where I think I’ll find balance. 

3. There is something special about Africa. I can’t place my finger on it, but it’s true. There’s this feeling, this sense here that is so unlike anything in the US. It’s safe, and it’s comforting. It’s beautiful. And I wish I had works to describe it.

4. Pictures are great, and it’s okay to love them. But there are also so many moments that are okay to be pictured in your head and not with a camera. I’m still working on this too, because I love pictures. I love sharing them and looking at them. They make me happy, and I often worry that without pictures, I’ll forget. But I’m learning to enjoy the moment for the moment, not miss it trying to snap the perfect picture. 

5. Missionaries don’t have it all together, all the time. And that’s okay. God is in the messy bits. He’s there when it’s challenging. And I appreciate so much getting to hear about the challenges. There are a lot of sacrifices made in dedicating your life to being a missionary, but it’s also a special calling. I’m still figuring out what mine is.

6. People are people, no matter where you are. And when you get a chance to meet people who view life differently than you do, both of you get the opportunity to grow. I spent a good two hours at the Art Center today, talking to a great guy who managed to make me view Rwanda differently one last time before leaving. He made me realize that it’s okay to trust your gut. Others may not agree with you, but trusting your gut, trusting Gods calling for your life, it’s more important than the views of this world.

7. God is perfect, and this world is not. It’s hard to have high standards sometimes, and to realize that sometimes things can be messy and good at the same time. Life isn’t completely black and white, and the grey area is often exactly where God puts you. When I came to Africa, I had very few ideas of what to expect. I didn’t know what I was walking in to. But I never expected Rwanda to be the way it was. I never expected it to change my heart the way it has. The truth is, I had no interest in coming to Africa. I thought that it wasn’t for me. I swore the first country I’d go to would be Chile. Yet, God had other plans for me. He put me in a world of grey areas and shook up my planner lifestyle. I never expected to love it. I never expected my heart to change for messy places. My standards haven’t lowered, but my heart has grown. Instead of expecting life to come up to my naive and optimistic view, I’ve learned that I can love life for what it is, and play my role in bringing it to where God wants it to be, with His plan, not my own. I’ve also learned that it’s the unexpected messy bits that are the greatest.

8. It’s okay to be scared. It’s okay to be concerned, and confused. What’s important is to take that to God too. I’ve been scared a few times here, and I’m nervous about heading off to Ghana. But I’m learning to trust God’s plan for my life, and I’m still learning to give my anxieties to him. 

So, there have clearly been a lot of things on this trip that have shaped and molded my life. I’m very excited to continue on to Ghana, because I know God has even more plans for me there. 

I won’t have access to wifi in Ghana so the blogs will stop for awhile after this one. However I will be checking in periodically with those I love via phone calls. I would greatly appreciate your continued prayer and support as Megan and I say goodbye to Rwanda and hello to Ghana. 
Thank you for your support and love here in Rwanda. I can truly say that I love this country and that someday I fully expect to be back. Rwanda is a country unlike any other, and pieces of my heart will remain here. 

And now it’s time to welcome Ghana. I am certain it will claim a piece of my heart as well. Turns out, my heart is big enough, and having a soft heart is a beautiful and precious thing that I have no intention of giving up. 

I’ll be journaling still in Ghana and will share the rest of my story when I’m back home in the States.

Until then, may you be blessed, may you find God in messy places, and may you welcome the unexpected. 

All my love,

Brandi 

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Dear family, 

Yes, family. In just three weeks you have truly made me feel welcome in your family. I can’t express to you what that means to me. You were my first experience with a host family and I am truly so grateful that you were, because you have shown me the greatest love. You opened your home to me and made me feel welcome, safe, and loved. Thank you for that. Thank you for all that you have blessed me with. 
I wanted to take a few moments to reflect and to thank you for those blessings. I don’t think you know just how inspirational of a family you are. Your love for one another, for people, for God, is evident every single day. You’ve shown me this little corner of familiarity in a country I knew nothing about. You’ve blessed me with a framework understanding of what it means to be a Christian American in another country. Thank you. 

I wanted to thank you for popcorn and for smoothies, for matoke and homemade chipati, for trips to Java House and Mr. Chips. I wanted to thank you for bubbling laughter, and long talks about movies and games. I wanted to thank you for board game nights, for bumpy car rides, and always being on time to take us home again. I wanted to thank you for dinnertime talks, and for your testimony. I wanted to thank you for listening to mine. 

I wanted to thank you for showing me that it’s not always so clean and pretty. I wanted to thank you for teaching me about the challenges you’ve faced and overcome. I wanted to let you know I admire you for that. 

I wanted to thank you for teaching me that it’s okay to be angry. It’s okay to not agree with the way things are. It’s okay to cry. It’s okay to hurt. It’s okay to not be able to answer the “why” questions. You’ve helped me to learn balance. You’ve helped me to see that even in the messiest situations, God is there. You’ve reassured me when I’ve been overwhelmed and heartbroken. You’ve given me your arms when I needed your warmth. In just three weeks you have transformed my life. 

I don’t know how I can possibly thank you, but I hope that this little letter finds you all well. I am eager and excited to continue my own journey to Ghana, but I have to share that I feel infinitely more confident in doing so because of your love and guidance. I pray that whatever the next step in your own journey is, it brings you joy and happiness like you’ve never known. You truly are a blessed and beautiful family. You take care of others before yourselves. You’re willing to go without so others may have things I’ve taken for granted. And you touch the lives of everyone you come in contact with.

I’m horrible at goodbyes so I won’t say it. You’ve left a mark on my heart and because of that I know you’ll never truly leave me anyway. I pray that you continue to be yourselves, to touch the lives of those around you. I pray that you continue to take life’s challenges as opportunities. I pray that wherever God sends you next, you remember how you’ve inspired me and others like me. I love you guys, so much. It feels like we’ve known each other a lifetime, not just three weeks. Thank you for being intentional about forming relationships with me. 

And, forgive me for being cheesy and personal, but I express myself best with words. 

Jen, you are such a beautiful and wonderful mother. Your love for your children and your family shines in all that you do. Your love for Christ is molded into your life. I pray that your education goals continue to be met with A’s and joy. You’re a wonderful counselor, and I agree, I think you’re a natural. Thank you for being someone I could confide in, someone I could ask questions to. Thank you for sharing your story with me, for being vulnerable. Your story has melted into my own because you’ve impacted me. Thank you. 

Lance, you are such an amazing person. I love your passion for music ministry, for students, and Christ. I hope that you continue to pursue the things that bring you joy in life. I pray that wherever God puts you next, that you remember how impactful you are on those you meet. Thank you for always being willing to listen and not judge, for hearing our stories, and sharing yours. 

Miles, thanks for being the little brother I never had. I pray that you continue to grow and find your own passions and callings. You’re so incredibly smart, friendly, and capable. I pray you continue to do well as you start high school, and that you remember it’s okay if your passions and dreams in life are different than where you are now. It’s okay to keep changing your mind too. And also, thanks for being our tour guide of the neighborhood. We’d be lost (literally) without you. 

Thank you all again for being the most wonderful host family. Thank you for sharing Coda, and Frankie, and Hazel. Thank you for meeting the demands of our crazy schedule, for making sure we’re always safe, fed, and happy. Thank you for never once complaining. 

I love and appreciate you more than I can possibly express. 

Yours,

Brandi 

Akagera Day 2 & 3

Hey guys! So, once again I’m a little behind on blogging but it’s a busy time right now with packing and getting ready to leave for Ghana. I cannot believe my time here is ending. It seems like we just got here. 
Anyway, this blog is going to be relatively short because really I think the pictures speak a thousand words more and I’m not going to be able to add them until I get back to the States. So, here we go.

Akagera was amazing. Not only were the views absolutely stunning, but so were the moments just in the hotel balcony looking at the stars. I’ve never seen so many stars in my life. It was mesmerizing. 

Then there were the animal encounters. We saw so many animals, though we didn’t get to see the big five. We saw tons of giraffes and even had lunch on the plains right near them. We saw the black rhino mama and her baby, which was very special as they just arrived. We saw more zebras than I could ever imagine. We saw tons of antelopes, topis, impalas, water buffalo, water bucks, bush bucks, warthogs, and even one elephant far in the distance. He waved his ears at us, it was cute. We also saw hippos, tons of birds, butterflies, and beetles. 

Akagera just reminded me so much of how amazing God is. He created all these animals, and there’s nothing like riding on the roof of a safari jeep, dust in your eyes and teeth, watching them roam. I also just loved spending time with our group, sharing stories and bonding during the slower parts where less animals were present. 

Akagera was one of my favorite trips during our spring term, and I’m really glad we went. 

That’s all for now, 

Brandi 

Walking in The Sky

So, this is my last catch-up post, yay! Once again, photos to help will come when wifi is not horrible. This post is all about our trip to Nyungwe National Park. It was here that we did a waterfall hike, and a canopy tour. Let me just say this was definitely the most physically difficult experience of my life so far. 
The first hike was in the morning and was to the waterfall. Unlike the Golden Monkey Hike, the mud here wasn’t nearly as bad. However, we had to deal with these switchbacks and slippery leaves and moss. I found myself once again thankful for the guide who stabled me every time I nearly fell, and the one time I did fall. What I didn’t expect was for my body to respond the way it did. For those of you who don’t know, I was apparently diagnosed with Fibromyalgia a few years back. For the most part it hasn’t truly affected my life in ways that stop me from doing what I do everyday. I also just look at my beautiful mother who deals with so much more and doesn’t complain. There are times where it’s annoying, like when my shoulders feel pain from just a gentle hug. But it’s otherwise pretty bearable. 

It wasn’t that way on this hike. Every joint in my body felt like it was on fire, and perhaps it was the elevation, the steep hills, the crazy amount of uneven rock stairs, and the length of the hike, but I was hurting, badly. My knees cracked with each set of stairs, and when we reached the bottom of the waterfall, I actually cried. I felt like my body was betraying me. I love to hike. I love to walk in the woods. And walking in the tropical rainforest is incredible. The trees, butterflies, beetles, birds, they’re all so vivid and lush and stunning. Yet part of me was quite focused on how much I was hurting. Plus, I was embarrassed. I was slowing our group down, and I felt like a faker in a way, because fibro hasn’t really been a thing in my life except on random occasions. Then I realized that I was capable. I made it to the bottom of the waterfall. I did it. I accomplished that. 

And so I looked up at the incredibly tall rock steps to the top of the waterfall and agreed to keep climbing. I made it to the top. I won, in a way. And then my professor, Dr. Thelen, reminded me that I’d done it despite what challenges I had suddenly needed to face. It was an incredible high, and even though I’m not a fan of how I look in these photos (you can see them on Facebook currently), I know they’ll serve as a reminder that it doesn’t matter if you have Fibromyalgia, you’re stronger than you know, and capable of making big things happen.

And I also realized it’s okay that it took me longer, that I had to stop and rest. The important part is that I didn’t give up. I made it. And the reward was a spectacular waterfall, with a mist of rain, in the middle of a tropical rainforest in Africa. How freaking cool is that? And it’s another reminder of just how incredible God is. He redeemed the waterfall hike for me, and I am so grateful. 

After lunch, we went to the canopy walk. This hike was much shorter, only about 2 kilometers, whereas the first one was 8 kilometers. The problem was there were lots of red ants, and lots of stairs. That was okay though. I knew I could do it, even though I felt like I needed an ice bath a whole lot more than I needed to walk in the canopy. 

We rented rubber boots from the park, and headed out. This time it was just endless stairs. But we got to the canopy bridge and it was all worth it. It truly felt like I was walking in the sky. The view was stunning. We walked across these shaky steel bridges, and then back across them to return. There is no way to express how incredible it is to stand in the middle of a bridge, overlooking trees that are hundreds of years old, a mountain, and the canopy of a tropical rainforest. It’s breathtaking. In a way, it makes you feel both invincible and insignificant at the same time. 

It was remarkable. On the way back, Dr. Thelen and I sort of got separated from the group. It was okay though, because I got to learn more about the second guide, Fred. Like many Rwandans, he’s majoring in wildlife tourism, since it’s a huge industry here. I asked him what made him pick that job and was rewarded with a great answer. 

First, he loved nature and wanted to educate people about it, do research, and work for conservation. Second, he wanted the opportunity to gain new experiences and understandings of life by meeting people from all over the world. He said you are always changed by the people you meet. 

I thought that was profound. And I agreed. Just two hours with Fred taught me that it’s okay to put your trust in strangers sometimes, that some people are just naturally good at encouraging you, and that its really fun to take the secret paths. Plus, there’s always a chance you’ll run into a group of people from Luxembourg along the way, and will get the pleasure of learning about a country you only barely knew existed. It’s wonderful. 

All in all, I discovered that I am capable of so much more than I thought, again. This trip keeps pushing my boundaries of what I think I’m capable of. It also reminded me how awesome people are. And, it let me walk on the sky. I can’t ask for more.

Until next time,

Brandi 

An open letter to KICS,

What can I say about KICS? I am truly, truly, truly grateful for the opportunity to volunteer in the school for just a few days. I didn’t realize just how impactful working in a Christian based school would be. I am floored. I am excited to add photos of this experience because I think they speak a thousand words, but allow me to try to force words to make sense for this.
I had the privilege of working in the pre-kites classroom (pre-k) with Mrs. Devescovi, and what a treat that was. The classroom was beautifully decorated and had a lovely little playground that made the most of space available. The classroom offered puzzles such as Noah’s Arc and Jonah and the Whale, it offered a dramatic play center, fantastic blocks, and an assortment of children’s books from around the world. 

The classroom was immediately inviting, but what really made all the difference was the people who worked, and learned, and played there. The little pre-kites were the most remarkable children I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know. Three times a day I got to listen to them pray for everyone and everything you can imagine. I watched as they danced and lifted their hands in praise to God during praise and worship time. I laughed with joy as they acted out Daniel in the Lions Den, and Jonah and the Whale. I found myself welcomed into their world as they asked to play “saloon” and style my hair, fed me at the most amazing restaurants, and entrusted me with drawing hearts for them (a very special privilege, I am told.) 

It was remarkable. Each day I found myself more and more amazed with these little ones understandings of who they are in Christ, and who Christ is for them. If Mrs. Devescovi has done nothing else, she has given them one of the best foundations for living a Christ based life I have ever seen. (And believe me when I say she has done much, much more than that. This woman is remarkable, her story is remarkable, and never have I seen so many itty bitty’s able to tie their shoes as in this classroom.) 

I found myself in a new element working at KICS. I found myself noticing God in every single situation. Whether it was praying for boo-boos or simply watching and observing the way the children respected one another during play time, His presence was always there. 

I don’t know where God will lead me next, but I know that if I end up in a classroom like the pre-kites, I will be infinitely filled with joy. And that’s not to say there aren’t challenges. There are. Resources are readily available like in the US, most of the children are third culture kids with their own sets of special needs, and Rwanda is still developing, though at a steady and incredible rate. However, KICS is a community that has learned to tackle challenges with scripture, love, and life. I couldn’t ask for a better way of handling things. 

Despite being there for only such a short time, I can truly say that KICS, and my precious pre-kite family, have blessed me in the most beautiful and remarkable way.

Thank you, and I hope to visit again as soon as possible. You’re all amazing, and I pray you continue to grow, expand, and follow Christ’s plan for you. From an outsiders perspective, I can truly say that the work you’re doing is impactful, meaningful, and so incredibly rare. 

All my love,

Brandi 

More than Sparrows

Hey guys, so here I am with another late blog post. I really wanted to take a few moments to tell you about a co-op called More than Sparrows because it’s truly amazing. I love the co-ops here in Rwanda, they truly encourage people and provide opportunities that people otherwise wouldn’t have. 

So More Than Sparrows is a little shop at the bottom of the most uneven steps you’ll ever find. There’s a yard with a nice tree where women will work on different pieces. Then there is the building. The front room is filled with women of all different backgrounds, but their backgrounds all have one thing in common: prostitution. All of the women working at the co-op are former prostitutes. And I don’t point that out to judge or degrade, in fact, that’s what makes More Than Sparrows so wonderful. 

The sewing cooperative gives these women a chance to learn a skill, make money, and have support from one another. They’re required to sign a contract agreeing to stop prostituting themselves in exchange for work there. It’s amazing. It’s truly taking something broken and making it into something beautiful. 

And beautiful are the things they make. The women make aprons, jewelry, paper bead necklaces and bracelets, and their signature sparrow and owl ornaments, as well as a plethora of other items. They then sell these items to support themselves and the business. It’s a wonderful system that speaks life to these women. You can really tell that the place is filled with love. 

Immediately when we walked in we were greeted with warmth and kindness. And if you look at the women for a moment, you can see the impact of having this opportunity in their eyes. I felt hope there. It was incredible. 

One of my favorite things is actually due to my host mothers daughter, Grace. Grace did an internship there, and she painted the once drab walls with Bible verses in Kinyarwanda. I found myself staring at her familiar handwriting and admiring the love she poured into making it beautiful, because it deserves to be a beautiful place. 

The women there are learning how valuable and precious they are. They’re reminded everyday with different verses on the wall that they are loved, uniquely made, and powerful. They’re reminded of the redemption Christ brings. I can’t help but smile writing about it. 

So now every time I look at the few pieces I purchased I’ll be reminded of these things:

1. I am beautiful and powerful too, just as Christ has brought redemption to these women, He does so to me as well. 

2. Every situation can be made beautiful, those women have testimonies to prove it.

3. Those women themselves. I’ll remember their faces, their smiles, their talents, and hopefully it will encourage me to play my part in supporting them and others like them. 

Sorry this was another short post, but I wanted to share. It’s small shops and cooperatives like these that make Rwanda truly a place of empowerment. I admire that immensely. 

May you be inspired as well.

All my love,

Brandi 

Akagera, Day 1

Hi guys! So finally, a current blog post. I’m so sorry for how delayed my posts have been, and for publishing like 8 today. However, I wanted to chat about today.
It was so cool! We arrived at the Akagera Game Lodge this morning and its stunningly beautiful. It has a great swimming pool, fantastic food, and really nice rooms. But what’s cooler is that we already have seen so many animals. Just swimming in the pool we got to see a ton of baboons, and baby baboons. They even climbed onto the playground to play. How awesome is that? 

Before swimming though, we went on a boat tour of Ihema Lake, the second largest lake in Rwanda. On the way to the boats we saw zebras (so close you could identify the differences in their stripes), impalas, bush bucks, a ton of birds and bugs and butterflies, baboons, impalas, and a lone water buffalo. (Everyone wants a water buffalo! Veggie Tales anyone?)

Then we got to the boat, and it was really nice. Our guide, Emmanuel, was so friendly and would stop so we could see the animals and take pictures. I’m taking all my photos on my real camera, so they won’t be uploaded for a while but I’ll add them, I promise. 

In the water we saw tons of hippos! They were so cute and their ears are so funny. They’d pop up out of the water and one even came so close we could see it under the water and had to move the boat rather abruptly to avoid being bumped. We saw tons more birds, even the Ugandan crane. We saw a gazelle, termite mounds, and a few crocodiles too. We also saw an entire herd of water buffalo. 

It truly was a one of a kind experience. And driving back we saw even more animals. We saw more zebras, a huge herd of impalas, mountain monkeys, and of course, more baboons. 

Tomorrow we are going out all day long. Hopefully we will see giraffes, lions, zebras, and more. Akagera also has all of the big five back! They just got new lions and new black rhinos last week, and they said now is the best time to look for them. Fingers crossed that we will see all of the big five. 

The big five are:

Black Rhinos, Lions, Leopards, Elephants, And Water Buffalo (check!) 

Wish us luck! Thanks for reading.

Oh! And, from our balcony in the hotel room we can see so many stars, and the milkway is visible too. It’s incredible. I’ve never seen the stars so clearly in my life, as if this park wasn’t already such a display of how remarkable nature is. 

All my love,

Brandi