Sunday, January 23, 2011

The Earrings

I danced with 200+ inmates last night--all convicted of genocide related crimes. Most of these people would be considered mass murderers. A sweet older lady named Margaret took my hand, and as they sang and danced and pledged allegiance to Rwanda, she taught me her moves. I hate to dance... so this was definitely a hilarious sight. None-the-less, I was honored to be in the middle. I was honored to hold her hand. I was honored to see a glimpse of her heart.

Today I read from the Sermon on the Mount. I was reading Matthew 5:43 about loving your enemies and praying for those who persecute you. Verse 45 says, "He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous."

When I think about prison, about crime, about murder, my human heart doesn't want to offer grace. Why should one deserve to live when another dies? Why should one get wiped clean when then other will never have a second chance?

After we danced, I spoke with Margaret. She spoke no english. (Also a hilarious sight in which I yelled for a good couple of minutes for someone to come translate.) Margaret will be released in May for the first time in 16 years. I didn't ask her her crime. I could see in her eyes she was free. She will go home to her 6 children, and by now, many grandchildren. Her oldest is 30. As we stood there and spoke, she took off her necklace and gave it me. I thought about what I could give her. A pair of earrings was all I had on me. A present from an old roommate. I was reluctant. Probably my selfishness.

I walked back over to Margaret, and took out my first earring. She reached up and took out the earring she was wearing. As I placed my earring on her ear, it felt symbolic, almost ceremonial.

I wonder if that's how Jesus feels when He washes us clean. No condemnation. No, "I realize you screwed up, but here you go anyway." He's forgotten our sin all together.

Love your enemies. Pray for those who persecute. He causes the sun to shine and the rain to fall on all of us. We've all sinned and fallen short of God's glory. He doesn't care. He reaches up, takes out the old dingy earring, and replaces it with the new.

Tomorrow we are off to chase a story several hours away from Kigali. We will probably be gone from the city for a few days. I'm still feeling pretty weak with a cold/flu. Spent most of the day in bed. Pray for quick healing, for the guys not to catch this, and for protection as we drive.

Also, we're down to the wire. We have a great idea, but we need to find this man who doesn't have a phone and is a wondering farmer. Will you pray that we find him.

One last thing. We are finalizing our interview with President Kagame tomorrow. Pray for Joseph. The Rwandan man who has helped us every step of the way. He is our connection to EVERYTHING. Pray for wisdom in his words as he sets up all of the details of this week.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Unimaginable Grace

Today I shook the hands of three mass murderers. I shook their hands. I made them smile. I asked them about their kids and wives. I then sat and listened as they told me how they smashed the heads of children with bricks. How they raped and murdered dozens of people-- too many to count. How they ordered a massacre of hundreds, if not thousands. And these men-these convicted killers have been set free or will be set free in the near future.

The theme running through my head as we interview person after person is unexplainable grace. I should be able to comprehend it. Isn't that exactly what the Lord has done in me. Unexplainable grace. I deserve the worst for my sin- I deserve death. Yet he bestows unconditional forgiveness. I shouldn't feel so angry that tens of thousands of killers walk these streets everyday. They have repented, asked for forgiveness from their survivors, and have been released. But I just don't get it.

Simon works as a groundskeeper at a memorial site about an hour outside Kigali. It is a church where 5,000 Tutsi took refuge when the Hutus descended on their community. They carried enough supplies for a few days and holed themselves up under the shadow of the cross. They thought they wouldn't be killed if they were in the church. They were wrong. Simon was just a boy of 12 at the time. He hid with is mother and sisters inside. the Hutu militia didn't care- in fact it was the catholic priests who were instigators of Tutsi locations. When the grenade went off and the enemy stormed, Simon ran for his life. He returned hours later to find everyone in the church slashed yo death. As he spoke, he pointed to the wall where he found his mother face down. He turned her over- her arms, legs, and torso had been severed. Yet- she was still alive. As he looked in her eyes she simply said, "where are the children?" Hutu militia began running up the street. He ran. That was the last time he saw his mother alive.

The church still holds the bones of the dead. They line the wall. Skulls, ribs, femurs. As Simon prepared to walk along that wall- studying the bones for our shot- he turned his gaze at me. With tears in his eyes, he shook his head no. We got him to make that walk... But only once. Even after 15 years, after facing his attackers and accepting their apologies, the pain is still fresh.

We started today 3 hours from Kigali. A memorial site where 50,000 people where brutally massacred. After seeing so many skulls and bones yesterday, I wasnt sure I wanted to see more. Before the genocide, this place was a school and the surroundings are beautiful. Magnificent hills rise all around. The view- spectacular. During the genocide, hutus used this school to lure Tutsi's. Tutsi's were lied to and promised safety and protection. When enough Tutsi's had settled on the school ground- they attacked. They killed all but maybe 55. They dumped bodies everywhere.

After the genocide, there were hundreds of bodies that had not yet decomposed. It order to preserve the memories of the genocide, they covered the bodies in limestone. The bodies are now decomposing at a much lower rate. As we waked into former classrooms, body on top of body slept silent. White corpses. Clothes on, hair in tact. One woman still wore Heers wedding band. You could see faces and breasts and childrens little toes. There were legs that had been hacked off so the injured couldn't run. There were mouths wide open and arms blocking faces, and a single finger pointing up as if the victims was trying to reason. The smell was almost unbearable. I started to tear up as we went from room to room. These were people. People wiped out for not looking a certain way.

While the guys went back to shoot- I had to wait outside. The heaviness in those classrooms was overwhelming.

We ended our day at a prison. Where strangely, I felt compassion for these men. Tens of thousands have already been released. Mny more will be released at the 20 year mark. We talked to one man who killed and raped so many and was sentenced to death. He apologized to the survivors of families and repented for his crime. His sentenced was reduced to 20 years..

I think what's hardest to grasp is that these people should be paying for their unspeakable crimes- yet they just apologize and they are set free. My American mind can't comprehend this unexplainable grace.

But I want to know- so we'll keep exploring. We have a story line- tomorrow the search for our character begins. Pray that the Lord leads us to the right man. Pray that we find an english speaking killer. Pray that our team keeps working and collaborating as one. Pray against dissension between us as we explore. We are allfeelig ver emotional about the things we have seen and heard.

Thanks for praying!

Friday, January 14, 2011

A Rwandan Adventure

When it comes to my job, I’m a planner. I’ve always been this way. I wish I weren’t. I like to know when things are happening and how they are going to happen. It is how I am wired and I really don’t like to navigate away from the safety of my checklist. About 2 months ago, I received a phone call that would totally shake-up my plan.

My dear friend, Emmanuel, called to ask if I would consider going to Rwanda to shoot some stories about the amazing things going on in the country. My initial answer was NO WAY. Not that I don’t want to go back to Africa, but I was in the middle of another documentary project and busy with my day job at DIY Network. How was I going to take off enough time to travel to a developing country long enough to tell a great story, and who would cover the cost because I surely didn’t have the resources. He then said, “What if I were to give you access to the President? In fact, what if I could get you access to any person you want to talk to from the President to prisoners to the man sleeping under the bridge?” I told him I would pray about it for a few days and get back to him.

A week went by and I started doing some research on Rwanda and President Kagame. He was recently re-elected for a second term in office with 93% of the vote. That seemed like a huge margin to win an election. It also seemed big changes were happening in Rwanda. An unprecedented number of women had been elected into parliament. The President had been aligning himself with CEOs of major US Corporations like Costco, Starbucks, and investment firms. Kigali was awarded the cleanest city in all of Africa. I had heard amazing stories of reconciliation and forgiveness going on between genocide killers and survivors. Something big seemed to be brewing in a nation the size of Maryland. And for a few days I got really nervous. Why was this opportunity being presented to ME? Maybe I should call Katie Couric. She would tell the story so much better.

I woke up one morning scared to death that I was supposed to say yes, but wasn’t sure I was making the best decision. That same morning, my friend Sarah posted this on her facebook wall:

Bible time with a 2 yr old-

"God made Queen Esther brave, didn't he??" "No!!"

"Yes he did! God makes us brave...... Who makes us brave??"

So glad the point is really hitting home... :)

It may not have hit home with Londyn, but it struck a chord with me. If the God of the Universe, who knows us inside and out, can make a scared, plain-Jane like Esther the queen of a nation, imagine what He can do through me if I just step out in faith.

So, I called Emmanuel back and said I would go.

Two months later, my crew is intact. And they are INCREDIBLE. I’m going with some college friends, Brandon Bray, TK McKamy, and a new friend who works with TK, Jesse Gregg. We are doing this mostly on our own dime which makes it all the more risky, but we have no doubt God is in this and will provide.

Here’s where my leap of faith has had to come in. We don’t have a story. Yes, that’s right. We have an interviewed lined up with the president of a nation, but we have no story to interview him about. That’s the terrifying part. And, we’re not going to know our story until we get there and start talking to people. The Lord’s been teaching me a lot about trust through this process. Around Thanksgiving, before this was even a reality, my sweet friend Linda reminded me to relax. The story God wants to tell is SO much greater than any story I could come up with. He’s already got it mapped out. I’ve been living by that. Up until last week, all I knew is that a man named Joseph would be waiting under an exit sign in the doorway of the airport with a sign with my name on it.

Every time I start to worry, God drops another breadcrumb on my path and says, “you’re going the right way… keep moving!”

Would you pray for our team these next few weeks.

-That God would ultimately lead us. That He would make it so clear to each of us the story He wants us to tell. And that we would be one in our decision-making, collaborating, shooting, and storytelling.

-Protection. Pray for safety for the four of us, and protection over our expensive gear!
-Provision for Bishop Joseph who is taking care of all of our accommodations while we are in the country.
-Provision for the documentary. That God would continue to bring investors along the way who will invest in our vision.
-For doors to continue to open and favor to be on our path.
-For opportunities to be the church to the people of Rwanda.

Thanks for standing with us. We covet your support, encouragement and prayers.Looking forward to sharing the adventure with you.