I felt a bit exposed, which admittedly felt uncomfortable, but in reality was spiritually good for me. Let me tell you about the situation that led to those feelings of exposure. I finally had the opportunity, after five years, to visit a young pastor “on the field”, meaning outside the capital city where we hold the Good Rain trainings and in the rural setting that he called home. Nicodeme, his wife and 5.5 children live in a rural village called Batima, about 5 miles from the Burundi border. Traveling out there, we left the paved road and traveled for about 30 minutes out to this fairly active village.
Since I first met Nicodeme in 2011 he has always impressed me. He is intelligent and always seems to have smile on his face. He seems to clearly have risen above the tragedy of his childhood when his entire family, except for one sister, were killed in the 1994 Rwandan genocide. But his vitality and gracious spirit are genuine. So on the last Saturday of Good Rain ’16 I was pleased to honor a commitment I had made to him to visit his church. We used the opportunity for Christina to meet with a group of women leaders, which included Nicodeme’s wife Therese as well as several community leaders. Therese led the choir that greeted us and boy did she do it with great zeal. While they met, the guys used the opportunity to see a land parcel that the church has purchased 3-4 miles outside the village for a second church as well as visit Nicodeme’s home.
The latter experience was humbling. In response to my question, he informed us his rent was 8000 rwf/month, or the equivalent of $10. His home was virtually void of furniture, the couple of wooden chairs they owned loaned to the church. The “kitchen” was a fire pit out back. The wood for the fire, the 5 gallon water containers and a few metal pots were on the floor in the “pantry” at the back of the house. The only food in sight was the bag of rice we had just given them. There were two 4ft square foam pads in one small room which served as the mattresses for this family of seven. The whole home was no more than 350 sq. ft. The two thoughts dominating my consciousness as we pulled away were: 1) amazement that people stilled lived like this in the 21st Century, a century where they are inventing cars that drive themselves but folks still live without electricity, sanitation, and running water, and 2) a sense of sorrow for Nicodeme and his family.
Later I got to reflect a little bit on the day’s experience. In many ways, I felt like things were out of sync. I had seen the living conditions. I had a sense of the challenges. But I had also been exposed to genuine joy and energy and passion. The images of the bright smiles on their faces, the whole-heartedness of the worship and delight in life filled my mental images. And somehow the two just didn’t seem to fit together…they were out of sync from my perspective. Somehow I find myself trying to reconcile the two by attributing it all to naiveté. They were happy simply because they didn’t know what they were missing. They didn’t know what life could be like, and so forth. And it was precisely at that moment I felt exposed.
You see, I have spent a good portion of my adult life teaching and advocating that we find joy in God alone, and not in our circumstances. But here, as I was confronted with abject poverty, I could only attribute their joy to what they didn’t know, instead of to the One they did know. And I felt exposed. This young couple had nothing, and yet they had joy, real joy, joy in the Lord, and I was struggling to believe it. I was caught off guard, starting to realize that so much of my “joy” was dependent on stuff and, and not simply on having a relationship with God. And in those moments the “teacher” got schooled by the student. And if I will let God use the lesson, I will be the way better for it. Getting to see one’s self in the proverbial spiritual mirror is a healthy thing, spiritually.