A year ago, I never would’ve walked all the way to Jamba Juice from my apartment.
Not only is it a mile walk, but it’s also smack dab in the middle of Chicago in August; meaning hot and humid and so not worth the effort. But on Wednesday, I found myself back in the Midwest on a spontaneous surprise trip without a car and a craving for the smoothies I missed most in Rwanda, so I took off without really thinking about it.
I thought I had prepared myself for re-entry into the United States. Everyone had prepped me for the emotions and the heartache and the culture shock, and I thought maybe because I knew ‘everything there was to know’ about it I’d be fine.
As I meandered past gorgeous two-story homes and sky-scrapers, it hit me that just two days earlier, I had been walking past mud-and-sticks huts with people in bare feet and fifty pounds balanced on their heads. I realized that– deep down– I had wanted to walk, considering the fact that I had been walking double or triple the distance from my apartment to Jamba Juice on a regular basis for the past two months. As I walked, I became conscious of the fact that I was surrounded by paved roads and side walks and mailboxes at end of quaint little driveways with white picket fences.
It was all too much.
I grabbed the trunk of a nearby tree as cars flashed by and my phone vibrated with text message after text message and horns blared and…
Tears pooled in my eyes with each deep breath. The faces of my students and the village kids kept appearing across my heart. What was I doing back in the United States? Why was I back here in the midst of Mercedes Benz’s and Lulu Lemon and McDonalds? I wanted to walk up to every person and shake their shoulders and scream, “DO YOU KNOW WHAT IS HAPPENING ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WORLD?” Two days earlier, I was an hour away from rebel armies in the Congo. Now, the most renowned point an hour away was a gigantic outlet mall.
How could I even begin to explain what I’d been living in for the past two months? Would I ever be able to make people here understand what I experienced?
In a way, I don’t know if I ever will. There’s a joke among some ex-pats in Rwanda. When other people ask what it is that they do overseas, they have a simple answer: “Sit around and cry.” And it’s true. Because the only word I’ve found that adequately describes Rwanda is raw. The history and the people and the stories are so deeply enriched with such raw, real emotion that it’s hard to go a few days without tearing up in an ordinary conversation. There, you are not distracted by the materialism and consumerism and technology that has become a plague in modern society and instead focus on relationships and hearts and souls.
Tomorrow will mark a week since I’ve left Rwanda. The past seven days– though the reunions with loved ones have been so incredibly sweet– have been some of the most difficult. I feel as though I’m in limbo, just a body with no real place in the world. Not to mention the jet lag that still hasn’t worn off.
In this process of re-entry, I pray that my heart does not become hardened. I do not want to close-up and become this pessimistic version of myself because I do not know how to relate what I saw across the world to the American society we live in today. I pray I would be the kind of person David Benner spoke of when he defined transformation:
“Transformation is not for the faint-hearted. But it is for those whose hearts and spirits and minds are open and ready to become even larger. It is for those who long, and those who dream, and those who seek. It isn’t for the contented. Rather it is for the seeker that is in all of us – seeking the larger places for which we were born, seeking the larger self we dare to hope we really are, seeking the truer self we trust must lie hidden in the clutter of the various selves of our own construction. It is for those who hunger and thirst after being all they can be and are not prepared to settle for anything less.” -David Benner
I pray I would keep my hands open as I seek after the woman God created me to be. There is no doubt in my mind that this trip to Rwanda has been and will continue to be one of the thousands of ways He uses to mold and shape my heart, Although it may be difficult now, everything in my past shows me that I serve a God who redeems and who creates beauty out of ashes. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever. He is the same in America and in Rwanda and all over the world.
It is to this that I cling in the midst of a time when the direction of my soul feels incredibly up in the air. To the faith that I have in the “God of hope to fill me with all joy and peace as I trust in Him, so that I may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” (Romans 15:13)