Strangers Welcomed In

One thing about travel that's both difficult and really good for us, kind of like the vitamin-packed veggies my little boys dislike finding on their dinner plates, is that it makes us strangers in need.

After our team arrived in Kigali, two weeks ago today; sweaty, tired and ready to be upright, we spent around an hour trying to figure out where our missing luggage was.  Once we understood that our luggage wasn't in Rwanda like we were, we left the airport to meet up with our ALARM partners.  It was my first time to meet Rwandans face to face.  I will never forget Benjamin's genuine expression, his big smile and his first words, "Welcome.  We are so glad you have come to Rwanda.  This is your home too, so please feel at home here."  Any stress or worry over missing things faded behind the genuine welcome and care of those who welcomed us.

Hospitality.  How often do I reduce hospitality to the gift of entertaining?  I know entertaining is a skill and I truly admire those who have that skill and use it.  But the gift of hospitality in the hands of God has the power to go deep into a heart and transform it.  It has little to do with how much we have or how nice of things we have, and everything to do with how and who we notice, how we love and how we bring those who are strangers into a place of being known and welcomed in.

From those first welcome words to thousands of details throughout our 10 days there, our Rwandan friends genuinely did everything they could to not only share their world with us, but to make our team feel like anything but strangers.

When we are strangers in need, we are in a position to receive.  And there is so much to receive when we follow the God whose grace is abundant and whose hands have held the entire oceans in their hollow, who has named every star and created every person, in every country and every culture, in his image.

In my own familiar culture, where there is an abundance of the material, an abundance of personal choices from cereal to forms of education, an abundance of resources, an abundance of events, and an an abundance of entertainment and noise, I forget (or choose to ignore) the vital places within me that cannot be filled an inch by those things.  I am ashamed to admit that I easily grow numb to the hunger of my soul, the thirst of my spirit, and the needs of my heart.  I am so prone to wander and grow slow to realize how great those needs are in the face of all of the things I allow to distract me.

In Rwanda, I will not forget how we were greeted so personally almost everyday, by everyone we interacted with, from the ALARM staff who served us breakfast, to the ALARM leaders,  to the women who attended the WLTI conference from every part of Rwanda and every kind of life circumstance.  There was so much eye-contact, so much acknowledgment for each person, so much "noticing" of needs despite any language barrier, that it was overwhelming.  It's easy to think that we don't need those little gestures, but oh, how our hungry souls do.  That kind of hospitality allows God to show us his love for us.  And oh, how he loves us!  Oh, how his loves welcomes us in our strangeness!

Every time we sang with the women at our conference, they would dance and clap and the room would fill with a freedom and joy from the Spirit that I had not known before Rwanda.  One of the older women who attended the conference sat near me, and she would ever so graciously and freely dance and sing while looking back at me to see if I was catching onto the arm movements.  We exchanged no words, but she noticed me next to her and just with her eyes would move and nod as I tried to move my arms as she did.  She did not have to do that.  She did not have to notice me, standing a bit behind her.  But she did.  I could cry right now as I type, for the unspoken measure of grace and and love offered to me in that moment. She noticed and God loved on me in a way I did not know I desperately needed, in her noticing.

We went to serve and to love the faces and people we met.  I think that our team did just that and it was a joy to do it for each of us in the varied roles we had.   We also went because God knew we each needed to be strangers who were noticed by Him when we felt most strange, and because we needed receive his love in the Kinyarwandan language, and in the Rwandan way.