I just got a Christmas card from an old friend. We’ve only known each other for a couple years actually, but we went through a lot in the short time we hung out, so Old Friend seems like the appropriate term for our relationship.
Chance, luck, fate – God – brought us together on a trip to Rwanda a couple summers ago. When we went I was a little unprepared to share anything with the people of Rwanda. I brought my old guitar and did manage to share music with some of my new friends. At the Sisters of Mother Teresa’s I played for a party we hosted for many of the children. At one point while we were there I played for some of the female survivors of the genocide. There was a blind young woman, older women with missing limbs, some who seemed out of touch with reality. Some who were simply left homeless. The Sisters never turn anyone away. ‘Amazing Grace’ and ‘Step by Step’ by Rich Mullins were the songs I played there. Several times, with my little scrawny voice, I played those songs. I’m sure most of the women didn’t know what the words meant. But some listened. And when I finished, some showed their appreciation.
Another time I played was for the children of Sonrise School. My friend Cindy and I taught the children some songs and they gave them back tenfold. Then they sang for us and blew us away.
But Nancy? Nancy brought her beads (suitcases full of beads) and her skill as a teacher and taught many women how to make beautiful earrings, bracelets and necklaces. Nancy left those
women with enough beads and wire and fasteners to open a business. She taught them how to take their profits and to buy more beads. We videotaped the instructions so they could go back and see how to do some of the tricky parts if they forgot. Nancy had it all figured out.
We had some joyous experiences together, getting to meet and share time with Immaculee Ilibagiza – the writer of one of the most brilliant books I have ever read. We celebrated mass with Immaculee’s wonderful cousin Ganza. We toured the beautiful countryside, visited holy places; fell in love and friendship with beautiful people.
We also shared some terribly sad moments. Together we went through the Kigali Genocide Memorial, the resting place of a quarter of a million people. We cried until we ached. We went to Ntarama where 5,000 innocent ethnic Tutsis were killed in a single night by extremists. It is a church no bigger than a Seven-Eleven.
Sharing those experiences made us automatically old friends. Tucked into her Christmas card this year was a photo of Nancy with a girl Heidi and I sponsor at Sonrise. Sophia was a little girl when I saw her those two-and-a-half years ago. She was in fifth grade I think. Now she is a tall, slender and lovely young woman. In the photo Nancy has her arm around Sophia’s shoulders. She is as tall as my old friend Nancy now. Both of them have these gentle smiles. Beautiful smiles.
The thing that is so amazing about Rwanda is that now it is all about forgiveness. After the violence – forgiveness. I can’t come close to understanding how they do it. But they do. Little Rwanda is the heart of Africa and could be, if we could watch, listen and learn - the heart of the world.
There is this short and simple but really sweet little piece on the front of her card. Of course I connect it to Rwanda and our time there. How could I not? I know that technically this isn’t the Christmas season any longer. It’s funny how the season seems to start the Friday after Thanksgiving, a month before Christmas, but ends the day after Christmas. Breaking all tradition, here is the little piece from the front of that card. Here’s to Christmas Spirit throughout the year.
Every time a hand reaches out
To help another…
That is Christmas.
Every time someone puts anger aside
And strives for understanding…
That is Christmas.
Every time people forget their differences
And realize their love for each other…
That is Christmas.
May this Christmas
Bring us closer to the spirit
Of human understanding,
Closer to the blessing