Friday, July 21, 2017

Lakin' it with friends

We have gotten to know the Livers over the last two years and truly enjoy their friendship. Two years ago we were one of their boys Sunday school teachers and our friendship blossomed from there. They ended up joining our D-group last year and we have thoroughly loved the transparency that they bring to the group and getting hearing them share their hearts on what God's doing in their lives and how He's using and shaping them. We weren't able to get to the lake with them last year so we made it happen this summer, here's a little taste of our lake day.
Ava Jane kept referring to Marley as "my friend".  They played so well together and enjoyed doubling on the tube.  (The sun was shining so very bright that they look upset but were actually having the time of their life!) 
Sweet baby Norah slept like a champ on the boat--that poor cheek-er got poked with a binky all day long but she didn't seem to mind.
Friends on the boat, making memories.
Everybody got up on something whether it was the wakeboard, knee board or slalom ski...I'd call that a successful day!
Full of snacks, sun and time with friends, this sweet girl passed out at the end of the day.
As we were finishing up our day on the water we got caught between to storm fronts and had to move around on the water to bypass the rain.  We saw a full double rainbow, it was beautiful! Livers, thanks for joining us, it was super fun!

Monday, July 17, 2017

The Genocide Memorial

July 4th in Rwanda, is a very special day for them just as it is for Americans, but for a completely different reason.  We celebrate our nations birthday, while they remember the liberation of their people after almost three months of constant mass killings that took place from April to mid July in 1994.  During that time period an estimated 1,000,000 Rwandans were slaughtered, men, women and children.  All Tutsi people were at risk of being killed and no one was exempt.  The widespread genocide finally ended when the heavily armed Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) led by Paul Kagame took control of the country.

Since we were in Rwanda over their special holiday, Annie offered to watch the kids for us so that the adults could go visit the genocide memorial that is in Kigali.  It is certainly something to observe.  It's quite a beautiful memorial and there were hundreds of people coming and going the entire time we were there that day to pay their respects, leave flowers and visit their loved ones.
It is quite a thing to take in when you listen to the videos, see the pictures and hear the gruesome stories of not just militia men on a killing spree but regular men wielding machetes against their Tutsi neighbors.  Hearing about the young woman who endured having both her legs cut off and LIVING to tell of it, was difficult for sure.  This war was between two people groups and was basically formed because of ethnic classification information that was introduced by the Belgian government in 1933.  During the genocide, checkpoints and barricades were erected to screen all national ID cards that labeled people as either Tutsi or Hutu.  The ID cards were used to systematically identifying Tutsi's and then kill them.  The UN, the United States and Belgium were criticized for their lack of help and inaction during this horrific period of time while the French government was criticized for its support of the Hutu regime once the genocide began.  (This stained glass hangs inside the memorial.)
The memorial was so well done. There were pictures of men, women and children, stories of their lives at every turn and a time line of other mass killings and genocides that have taken place around the world. The genocide has had a lasting and profound impact on Rwanda and its neighboring countries where refugees fled.  The pervasive use of rape as a weapon of war created an increase in HIV and many families were headed by orphaned children or widows.  Much of the buildings and infrastructure were destroyed, coupled with the massive number of deaths, the economy was more than crippled.  
Seeing the exhibit of skulls and femur bones that were mounded up, was unfathomable, truly unimaginable.  The clothing of those who were killed was hung up for people to see, it ranged in sizes from young children to women and men.  Similar to the way I felt when walking through the Holocaust Museum, this too was overwhelming to take in.
All around the grounds were flower memorials and baskets of remembrances.  There are genocide memorials all around Rwanda, but at this particular location there is an estimated 250,000 people buried in these mass graves.
The grounds were immaculate and truly a beautiful and peaceful place for people to come and visit.  One child survivor, whose parents were both killed calls this place his "home".  Though its a lovely memorial and a beautiful setting, it would be hard to actually think of this burial ground as "home" to me, however, if my parents were buried there, I might feel very different.


It is awful to think of the atrocities that took place on much of the Rwandan soil that we walked and drove on while we were there.  To think of the pride that people groups can have whether its ethnic cleansing (of all dark headed, dark eyed people or those who have broader noses and are of a taller stature) or if it is racist tendencies--it all starts with pride, a feeling of being better then or superior to another.  We have seen what pride driven to the extreme can create and it is not pretty, it is pure evil and horrifying in fact.  

Annie and Joel Sengoga both lived through the genocide and to this day Annie has not gone to the memorial because of how difficult it would be to see and "re-live" that period of time.  My eyes fill with tears as I remember being told that Joel went to many of the prisons where those who were prosecuted for their crimes of the genocide were placed.  He went there to preach the gosple, to share the hope of Jesus with people who had killed his own loved ones.  That my friends is true love, that is hard to do, that is real bridge building at its very finest.  Joel and Annie are amazing people in so many ways, but their love for Rwandans (even their enemies) is truly inspiring.  I want to be one of those kind of people who prays for my enemies, who has love towards them because God loves them and I want to be a bridge builder with people who don't look like me, think like me or always agree with me.  Truly this can only be done in God's strength being lived out through me, my prayer is to that end.  

Thursday, July 13, 2017

An African Safari

Due to where the Akagera Game Park is located, and with all the traveling we did to see Joel's church plants, we actually did our safari middle of the trip instead of at the very end since we were on that side of the country and didn't want to have to make that trek across again.  After leaving one of the churches, while headed to the Park, we came across a horrible car accident.  Joel, John and Adam jumped out of the truck and van to see what they could do to help.  We ended up putting the unconscience man and three other bloodied men in the back of Joel's truck and flying down the road to the nearest medical facility.  This whole experience gave us a birds eye view of the unfortunate problems that exist in that country, the need for experienced medical staff.  Upon arriving to the facility, Adam was able to use some of his combat medical experience (from his Army days) and hopped out to talk with the hospital staff.  Adam informed them that the man appeared to have flown through his vans window and landed on the ground.  The man was unconscience and laid in a contorted side-ways heap in the back of Joel's truck bed.  When Adam asked them if they had a spine board or neck stabilizer, they said "no", if they had access to x-ray machines they said "no".  Literally all they had was an IV and some basic bandages.  Adam spoke to the Lab Tech who met them upon their arrival and spoke to him about the possibility of major internal bleeding or severe spinal injuries that the man may have and the Tech informed Adam that they would be calling an ambulance to transfer the patient as quickly as possible to a better facility in Kigali, the capital city which was about two hours away.  We have no idea what later happened to this man who we helped along the road that day, but we have a greater understanding of the countries need for experienced physicians and medical staff to come and invest in the people there.  They have medical facilities in each province (basically like our counties) but lack the people with experience and know how to treat the sick and injured people who enter through their doors.

This is a picture of the men loaded in the back of Joel's truck as we tried to weave our way around the accident.
Our van driver graciously parked some distance from the hospital so that our kids would not be disturbed or panicked by the scene that was unfolding.
Each morning we had tried to do devotions with the kids before starting our journey for the day.  This particular morning was pretty amazing because Carol had chosen to talk about the story of the Good Samaritan, and we as a group, got the opportunity to be the Good Samaritan to four men we did not know, who we came upon and saw in desperate distress.   It was not only a real life example for our kids to see but for us to live out as well.   And because of our eventful afternoon we were later then expected when arriving to the Game Park.   The gates to the Park close each night at six o'clock sharp and thanks be to God, we arrived with just twenty minutes to spare!  As we flew down the clay colored dirt road to the Game Park, this is what it looked like every which way you could see. There was so much dirt flying that we had to keep the windows shut and every thing along the road was covered in a blanket of dust.
Once we came to a stop, this is what the trees along the road looked like.
Upon our arrival, this is what we saw, beautiful rolling hills and shadows of hills for miles and miles.
We saw fossils of animals that are found within the Game Park and Emerson wanted his picture with the largest crocodile bones they have yet to find.
While baby girl was quick to find a flower to give me.
It took us quite a while to get checked into the Game Park and then into the hotel.  I'll be honest with you, of all the travel and all the fatigue from the trip, this by far was the most stressful moments for me.  Picture this, all eighteen of us (Spensts, Sengoga's and Head's) converged at one time into the lobby of the Game Lodge and we were quite a scene no doubt.  We'd been telling the kids that we would swim in the pool once we got to the hotel but upon our check-in we were notified that the pool promptly closes at 7:00pm.  So literally John started opening their suitcases in the lobby, gathering swimsuits and hurrying to change their children while I stood there trying to determine if the 45 minutes we had to swim was really worth all the rush.  Of course my kids were begging to change and swim too, so I took our suitcases to the edge of the lobby and proceeded to find their swimsuits.  After changing all the kids in a matter of moments a stampede of children went running down the sidewalk toward the quiet pool area where vacationers were lounging.  It literally took only .5 seconds for our twelve children to completely clear out the pool of any other guests (insert monkey emoji with his eyes covered up!!)  I was stressed by the events of the day, mortified by the herd of children who swarmed the pool and on the brink of a melt down for sure.  The kids hopped into the pool and immediately started whining about how freezing cold the water was, to which I had no words of comfort except, "well, here's a warm towel."  This momma was toasty toast...pretty well spent by this 7:00 hour.  (I managed to snap very few pics!)
We decided that we would all go back and change clothes then meet in the restaurant for a late dinner. This was by far the WORST meal we had on our entire trip simply because it was a five course meal, of which we had no reserve of energy for such a lengthy affair.  Our children were exhausted and were in no mood for the one shrimp a piece appetizer that was set before them; they were starving! We decided to go out onto the patio for a while to get the loud children out of the quiet dinning room, which unfortunately was our only option for dinner that evening.  Joel and Annie answered some of our questions about their country and culture then Joel shared some stories to help us pass the time while outside.  Finally our meal began to be served and literally it took two hours or so for us to complete said was difficult to say the least!

We finally made it to the end of dinner and the dad's stayed for the check while the mom's took their four children a piece back to their rooms and set to tucking all the children comfy cozy into their beds with malaria nets securely stretched around them.   After which I took the opportunity to run hot water (that I'd not had since leaving the States) in the bathtub and soaked for a few moments before sinking into the bed for the night.

After a goodnights rest, we awoke early to this scene.  It was spectacular to take in for sure.
We ate a quick breakfast before heading out for our early morning safari!  We loaded up and headed out.  Can you tell we were excited!?
The first animals we saw were these beautiful zebras, and there were so many of them!
Next we saw this water buffalo who didn't really want to be observed and promptly took off running into the bushes.
As we drove around looking for animals, I was reminded that this is NOT Disney's Animal Kingdom where animals are placed in certain areas and you are assured to see them.  This was a real life safari and it required a little hunting to find the animals, but we did in fact find some and we were thrilled!
We stopped for a little potty break and got to see a few hippos from afar.
This was the best picture I could get of the hippo unfortunately its his rump!
It was a thrill to get to go on this safari!  What a memorable experience to get to do it with my sweet family and dear friends!  This entire trip was thoroughly enjoyable, one I am so tremendously glad we were able to go on.  With memories to last a lifetime and experiences that I will hold dear for years to come, it certainly will be a treasure to look back on and smile!

Lakin' it with friends

We have gotten to know the Livers over the last two years and truly enjoy their friendship. Two years ago we were one of their boys Sunday ...