Dear Rwanda,

Ramba group

It’s been exactly 365 days since I boarded a plane to come meet you. 365 days of new faces, new senses, new experiences–crafting a new normal. 365 days of simultaneously wanting my time with you to never end and eagerly anticipating my return home.

I say “home,” but for the last 365 days you have been my home–a home that welcomes me whenever I return from hopping around the continent. Your streets that once overwhelmed me and smells that once shocked me have become comforting in their familiarity. Your strangers are my new family.

Even so, you kept me on my toes always. You never stopped challenging me. You never let me become apathetic. You never stopped pushing me beyond the limits I placed around myself.

It was you who taught me how to live in your hills, in your culture and thrive. How to immerse myself in your workplaces, churches and villages, while finding respite among the other strangers in your land.

How to drive on rocky, jutted unpaved roads and through reckless traffic. How to ride motorcycles, and understand directions that include “up” and “down.”

How to always greet first with a personal question (like How was your weekend? or How is your family?) and be okay with delaying business for just a few minutes. How to make every relationship count, regardless of how much or how little time we’re allotted together.

How to welcome warmly, but trust cautiously. How to give generously and set boundaries.

How to be sensitive and compassionate toward the millions of lives who struggle day and night just to stay on this earth and toward those who embrace living between cultures in order to help. How to celebrate the vast spectrum of methods, missions and philosophies working together toward a dream of a better world for every human inhabiting it.

How to be a part of that dream.

I could keep going, but my point is this: Because of you, I am a radically different person today than when I began this journey 365 days ago.

I’m sitting in seat 35D on the vessel that is carrying me home–American home–anxiously awaiting the unknown known. In just a few minutes, I’ll be on American soil again. I’ll have to craft my new normal again.

I know the struggles of re-adjustment will be real. I’ve heard too many stories to think I’m the exception. Even the sea of white faces and American accents filling this cabin seem surreal to me, and either airplane food has drastically improved or my taste buds are in for a whirlwind of flavor in the coming weeks.

Part of me is worried I’ll re-adjust too well, that the sights, sounds, smells, tastes, touches of you will quickly fade into a fond nostalgia. Lucky for me though, relationships don’t fade quite so easily, and if there’s one thing you were good at, it was relationship.

Few things are certain on the other end of this itinerary; most are not. But God has a way of turning what I think I know and don’t know upside-down, because he’s so much bigger than all of it. Through you, he showed me I could be so much more and do so much more if I just let him take the lead.

So that’s what I’m going to do. April 1, 2014 I plunged after him headfirst into the adventure of a lifetime. April 1, 2015 I’m going to do the same.

Thanks for a phenomenal year, Rwanda.


Joanne INEZA

Into Rwanda [VIDEO]

In case you missed it on social media, here’s a personal project I’ve been working on for the last month or so with my dear friend, Amanda.

It took us weeks to come up with a name for this video, because it’s not just a tourist guide across the country. It’s also not specifically for work. And while we wanted to give viewers a taste of our day-to-day life here, it’s neither a cultural textbook nor a social yearbook.

Finally, we settled on “Into Rwanda.” Into the land unseen by passersby. Into the work we wholly believe in. Into the lives that captured our hearts–the lives that to us embody Rwanda.

Sexy causes and the not-so-sexy

Ngororero dancing

Orphanages, clean water wells, women empowerment programs (whatever that means): easy to understand, tangible and marketable. Those are sexy causes.

But how do you explain what savings groups are in a catchy tagline? How do you convey the enormous impact of small loans in developing communities? How do you tug at heartstrings with photos of villagers sitting in a circle, passing around cash and writing numbers in a ledger? Microfinance: not so sexy.

That was the preamble to my position when I arrived at HOPE’s office for training last February. Our assignment was to make a complicated strategy approachable and convince the layman that our mission is as exciting as other trending causes. And we would do that by bringing home stories of impact from the field. (more…)

A short aside on dreams

Youth SCA officers

“What are your dreams for the future?”

Every one of my interviews ends with this question. Though it may seem like just a feel-good cake topper to an otherwise substantial story, the question of dreams is actually so central to our work at HOPE it’s even in our mission statement:

“To invest in the dreams of families in the world’s underserved communities as we proclaim and live the Gospel.”

At one of the groups I visited recently, the members were discussing the importance of setting goals and having dreams. Here are some of their thoughts: (more…)