If Not, Then What?

I shared these words on a blog for the women in our church community in the States, and wanted to continue to share here. Warning: here’s my heart and soul on the internet.

My Story with Jesus and Anxiety 

Hi, my name is Rachel and I have clinical anxiety.

Some say admitting you have a problem is the first step towards healing. That part’s not hard for me. The next part is: telling my story in light of Jesus.

Unfortunately we’ve been fed this lie in privileged American culture that everything is supposed to be as close to struggle free as possible. Convenience is king. How fast, how finished, how polished can our lives get. If you’re struggling, there’s an app for that. And then there’s social media—everyone’s best. Or even some honest people’s “worst”…but it’s still the worst that we’re curating and choosing to share, unfiltered or otherwise.

What’s even more, I feel like in western Christian culture, this lie is somehow perpetuated. We struggle, but Jesus. We went through that thing, but then Jesus. We offer our stories to the world with the best homemade Pinterest wrapping paper and a nice finished bow on top. We often only share in the aftermath, as if the middle of our stories, where we’re still struggling and we don’t know the ending isn’t just as God glorifying as our polished conclusion. But we are promised struggle and heartache in this world… and His power is made perfect in our weakness. So why is it so hard for me to share my story of such crippling weakness?

The Bible says not to worry for anything… isn’t anxiety just being really worried all the time? Maybe for some, your story of anxiousness is rooted in worry from a broken or sinful struggle But on the other hand, worrying and anxiety can be very different.  I have anxiety. The kind where sometimes I feel like the chaotic world is closing in and everything is a disaster. I have panic attacks. I have made the choice to be on medication. And because of the side effects, sometimes I feel like my soul is separate from my body. The way I feel and am experiencing the world is different than the way my body feels. And this is all in the midst of the middle of my story–a season where I see and feel God, but He has not in His timing brought me healing.

But then I should just trust God more for my healing, right? I need to pray harder, trust more, worship longer and he’ll calm my spirit and take away my anxiety. He promises us “peace that surpasses all understanding”. How does that play out here? But that’s not the whole thing.

You wouldn’t tell someone with diabetes to just pray away their insulin problem. Maybe they can make some personal choices to heal their body—you know: diet, exercise, tracking sugar levels, engaging with their health more. But at the end of the day it’s a chronic disease that in almost all cases demands medical attention. And yes, there are those rare cases where natural recipes and excellent self care lead to healing. And that’s amazing. But not usually.

So what about this whole mental illness thing? Can’t I just engage with my God and my faith more and he’ll bring me healing? Well, maybe. But my guess for this current season of my life is no. I believe He can heal me. I believe in miracles, divine intervention, the power of prayer—God’s promises to protect us, work all His plans for our good.

But if not, then what? If He doesn’t bring relief, where does that leave my faith? I’m a “missionary” for goodness sakes—living in a different home than my first culture and doing life in vocational ministry… I need healing right? But if not, then what?

And then there’s the lies. Well if living abroad is what’s triggered these symptoms, I must not be cut out for what God’s called me to. If I can’t handle the daily stresses of life here, maybe I’m not meant to stay. Somehow the poverty is too much. I wasn’t truly built to last in the developing context that I’ve dreamed of engaging in my whole life. Maybe I should just give up, go back to my first culture. You know, for the sake of my weak brain.

Here I take my cues from the Bible. Look at the story of Joseph, Moses, Naomi, Job. Holy cow, look at Paul. Never have David’s pleas in Psalms felt so real to me—the evil pressing in, the faithfulness of the Lord still present. Then most of the disciples. Then the early church. Oh, and Jesus: “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.” …And God said no, Jesus had to suffer for the sake of the whole world and Eternity. He knows ultimate pain and suffering. When we ask for the healing and it doesn’t come, then what? Then we look to scripture, we trust His promises.

This struggle with mental health doesn’t somehow quantify my  (or your) faith. And because I’m in “vocational ministry” “in the field” that doesn’t make me immune. In fact, we are all more vulnerable.

Understanding our sisters and brothers struggling in this way is essential to their, my, healing. Yes, I trust the Lord to take away my pain. Yes, more time in the Word and in prayer and worship does calm my spirit and bring momentary relief. But if not, then what? For my body to fully heal, I personally have decided to try medication to find chemical balance again (y’all physical clinical anxiety and hormones are fascinating… google it). And Jesus. Lots of time with Jesus. His promises are just as true today as in any other season.

So there’s my story. No Pinterest worthy kraft paper wrapping or washi tape. Just smack dab in the middle of the brokenness. No beautifully crafted burlap bow. Just my heart and all it’s weaknesses. And my desire for the nations. And oh yeah, my broken body (brain included) poured out…and still hurting. But trusting in God’s sovereignty, his Will, and his ability to use my weaknesses, my story for His purposes. So that if not, then this: I will continue the race set before me, and trust all the more that He hears us and we are Loved: in the middle and too the end.


Lessons and Carrolls: Top 10 of 2017

Whew. We made it. The end of the year is a sweet season of reflection, a time to consider lessons learned from a year of living and make a plan for the next. Here are some thoughts from your favorite Carrolls in Kigali.

  1. “From scratch” isn’t as hard as it sounds.

This one has been learned somewhat out of necessity. Turns out, living in a country that is not America means you can’t find prepacked food. We don’t have a Publix with pre noodled sweet potatoes or frozen pizza (or even pizza dough), no pre shredded cheese (or really any cheese), no jarred marinara, no Trader Joes monkey plantain chips, no break and bake cookies. So what this means is I make everything from scratch. And if you know the Eller family, that is NOT something we know how to do. So I rode the learning curve this year and it’s taken us on some pretty great culinary adventures (and some not so great ones, sorry Chase).

I’ve made pizza dough, perfected pasta sauce, indulged in cookies/brownies/pies, experimented with soups, fried plantains, baked bread, cooked Pad Thai and come up with a hundred new recipes with whatever is in the fridge! As it turns out, it’s not nearly as intimidating as I thought! Except for the time we butchered and cooked a chicken—that was actually really hard. So grab your yeast and flour, pick up some fresh ingredients and make something homemade for dinner—it’s fun! And enjoy something with chocolate chips for me.

  1. There is never a bad time to bake homemade goodies.

This is separate from number one for a very good reason—baked goods are a whole separate level of important. Sometimes you just need a cookie for breakfast. Or sometimes that friend could really use a pan of brownies. And really, who doesn’t love being the hero at a party with a homemade pie? Also, I just learned how to make almond toffee and there is no better medicine than its buttery chocolate goodness (thanks Emliy!). I now work at a bakery, but I have zero real experience in this realm. But I am beginning to recognize the friendship found in baked goods—whether you’re baking together, sharing with each other, or loving a neighbor, it’s always appropriate to use this medium. Jesus offers himself as the Bread of Life because bread is the best, right?

  1. Essential oils—seriously.

Y’all, I joined the club. I jumped on the bandwagon. I’m a believer. Whether the kitchen smells weird, I need something to calm me, we can’t sleep, Chase has a stomach ache or someone got a bug bite (all daily occurrences) there is an oil for everything. You can smell them, rub them on, ingest them, spray them, clean with them… it never ends. These things are legit. My current favorite it Peace by DoTerra. My friend Karli hooks me up and it’s just the best thing. Try it. It’s not a cult, it’s a lifestyle.

  1. Hot drinks warm the soul.

I’ve never been particularly into hot drinks. Now coffee (praise the Lord for Starbucks), I’m your girl, but my hot drink affinity used to end there. But this year we invested in some yummy fancy tea bags, we’ve detoxed with lemon water, have had an obsession with hot chocolate this holiday season, and just can’t get enough of our chai tea latte mix—all served hot and delicious. Hot drinks work for relaxing, caffeinating, calming, sharing or soothing. All good things start with some boiling water. Something about drinking in the warm goodness of any one of our concoctions makes a day go better. Morning, noon, and night self care now looks like something hot in my mug.

  1. Learning to say hello can brake down barriers.

Language is really hard. Both Chase and I only speak English. We’ve daveled in Spanish (I took 6 years in school and still can’t claim it), French (does preschool count?), German (for one year in fourth grade), Latin… but Kinyarwanda is a whole different beast. After a year and a half of living here, I can introduce myself, get around the market or a moto, greet you at any time of day, and make my way around a bakery. It’s so hard, y’all. But so worth it.

Learning a language breaks down walls. It creates comradery, companionship, connection—and usually when I say something wrong it’ll get a laugh. Any time I’m walking down the street, exiting a shop, entering my office building, or greeting the ladies at the bakery, a few simple words spoken in someone’s heart language creates a deeper level of relationship. Learn to say hello to someone in their native tongue and learn their name to go with it and you’ll have a new friend instantly. Don’t we all love to be acknowledge and feel known?

  1. Work to love and love to work.

We work hard here. We both are working in what we would describe as our dream jobs and loving it, but it doesn’t come without challenges. But regardless of the hard stuff, the most important part for me is that we work to love. Sure we’re working within organizations that are creating jobs, sustainably affecting families and communities, and building the economy. But at the end of the day my desire is to “do small things with great love” (I mean if Mother Theresa said it was a good idea, I’m in).  Even in the mundane tasks, the setbacks, or the stress, we love our work because we’re getting to love others through it.

  1. Don’t take your day too seriously.

If I could only make a list every day of all the things. All the things that drive me crazy, that aren’t how I think they should be, or are just different than what I’m used to. Let’s just say it would be a long list. When you live somewhere that isn’t your first culture, when you’re a resident outside of your passport country, things on a daily basis can seem strange, difficult, stressful, or disheartening. I literally almost get in an average of four car accidents every morning on my way to work. But you learn to just roll with it. If I take in every moment of culture stress, I might lose it. So every day is an exercise in patience and flexibility—some days I’m better at it than others. But I’m learning not to take my day too seriously.

  1. It’s not all mine (or yours) to own.

On the other hand, there are serious issues to be seen in every day life in a developing country. There is a population here that is severely impoverished, and experiencing people in need is a regular interaction. From the momma who asks me for some pennies for her baby to the kids who maybe don’t have a home or a family, to the women I work with and see their broken parts on an intimate level, there is need all around. I’ve learned that we regularly experience secondary traumatization (google it, it’s really an interesting phenomenon) but we can only do something for so many someones.

If I chose to own every one of these scenarios, I’d want to crawl under a rock in defeat. One of the most important things I’ve learned this year is to listen to the Holy Spirit, do something when prompted, and allow the heartbreak to fuel me, not cripple me. He’s got the whole world in His hands and not every crisis is mine to own. As my dear friend wisely said recently, “you can’t be the Savior of the world, that job is already taken.” I do what I am called to do each day, and say a little prayer for the rest. As I grew up hearing Andy Stanley say, “Do for one what you can’t do for everyone.”

  1. Understanding your mental health is imperative.

As some of you know, both Chase and I have been on a journey in understanding our mental health this year. Dealing with this part of my body is something I’ve never experienced. And Chase has his own story to tell. But we have both been learning to listen to our brains, take care of our bodies, and medicate when necessary. Mental health is no joke. The brokenness that mental conditions cause can threaten to destroy.

For the first time this year, I have suffered from medium to high levels of anxiety on a regular basis. I have experienced panic attacks and fatigue, mood swings and irrational fear. And now we have a plan for treatment. We are not ashamed of our mental health stories and as we learn to love each other in the midst, we want you to know that understanding your mental health is essential to your quality of life. It does not make us weak.  It does not mean we can’t. It simply means, just like any other health problem, that we need to seek healing.

  1. Choosing to love is always worth it.

This year we’ve learned that sometimes love centers around an intentional choice. Having friends and family so far away means choosing to take the time to love those we can’t see on a regular basis. And we have been so well loved in others choosing to take the time to reach out. We had to choose to love our enemies when our house was broken into this year and we could have harbored hate for their violating crime. We’ve had to choose to love new things, new people, new places, new circumstances as the year has continued. We’ve had to choose to love each other in commitment to our marriage even on the days when it doesn’t feel good.

But making that choice is always worth it. Building and maintaining relationships, trusting our journey and staying close to each other is always worth it. Jesus chose to love us in the midst of our brokenness, and we must do the same. Loving the ones who hurt us or the marginalized or the ones far away, that takes commitment, dedication, perseverance—it’s a choice. This year we’ve learned how to make that choice more intentionally every day.

Friends, it’s been a good year. It’s been a hard year. It’s been a sweet year. We look back on lessons learned and we’re thankful. And now we move into 2018 expectant, excited and grateful.


Words have always been my favorite. I use a lot of words. Just ask Chase.

But this last season the blog has been empty of my words and thoughts. That is mainly because I didn’t have words for the several different seasons we have walked through since my last post.  Don’t get me wrong, there were so many thoughts and emotions, SO many; but for the first time in a long time I was not able to share them coherently, constructively, and with purpose.

Quick recap since the last post: Chase and I suffered a major break in in February and then experienced rich and sweet community in our people surrounding us here. I helped direct a YoungLife camp and Chase plunged into the throws of busy season in March. In April, we mourned and reflected with our friends in the wake of the atrocities experienced in the Rwandan genocide of 1994, but also celebrated the beginning of a new adventure when I accepted a fellowship with Global Health Corps. In May, I said goodbye to my precious preschool kiddos and we ventured home for the first time. Our time at home was vibrant, fruitful, sweet, busy, and enlightening. And now here we are.

Therefore, since through God’s mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart.

2 Corinthians 4:1

Tonight I will get back on a plane and travel to Yale for my Global Health Corps training. This is truly one of the most exciting and nerve-wracking things I have ever done. I am more confident than ever in my calling to be in vocational ministry alongside health professionals seeking health equity for all—no matter the socio-economic status, demographic, gender, region or age. I believe that health is a human right—that Jesus sought to meet physical needs before he ministered to people. He healed, performed miracles, and provided for his followers in real tangible ways as a representation of the gospel. And now I get to be a part of an entire movement seeking health development all over the world. What a privilege.

We have seen so many triumphs and challenges in the last four months. We have experienced victory and heartache all in the midst of the extremes of another culture and context. We have lived life in the extremes physically, emotionally, spiritually, and mentally. We have struggled through new spaces and ideas and failed and succeeded and celebrated and loved and suffered and learned. Like I said, so many words.

It is written: “I believed; therefore I have spoken.” Since we have that same spirit of faith, we also believe and therefore speak, because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus and present us with you to himself.

2 Corinthians 4: 13-14

Life in Rwanda, or in any home away from home can be so beautiful and so difficult. We live in extremes, fight through the discomfort that comes and seek to find the words to explain our days. One of our first days back I was in an office setting up our new internet when some street boys with two puppies approached me and asked for money. They were homeless, likely living without a family and certainly living without knowing where their next meals would come from. They played rough with the puppies, as if they weren’t living things but just toys. Who knows the last time these boys experience real relationship and love. The scene broke my heart—as I walk into an office to pay for my internet, that money could have fed those boys for a month. Later that week some more boys approached my car and pleaded for another handout: “I have no mother. No food. I have nothing, I’m hungry” he said. In the midst of those words that pleaded in brokenness I was on my way to buy meat for our dinner. Another situation where the extremes of our daily life were flung into my path and it crumbled my heart. This is the reality of poverty. And yet we work: we work for a better future for the people we have come to love and care deeply about. We work so that generations of families can stay together, provide for each other and thrive. We work to do for one what we could never do for everyone. We are not the rescuers, we are not the Saviors. We are simply vessels in this grand Story and we will use our words: our influence, our capacity, our dreams, our very daily interactions, to seek justice, to seek change, to seek sustainability, to seek joy and to ultimately seek Kingdom members. We are broken so that we can be poured out.

But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.  We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may also be revealed in our mortal body.

1 Corinthians 4: 7-12

Everyone has the right to reach their full potential. Everyone has the right to live a full life, and when we see the physical brokenness around us we are reminded that Jesus is the only way to true full life (John 10:10). We believe every person has a purpose, a unique calling on their life, and has words to share that will change their world. As we work to help those around us achieve all that the Lord created them to be, we lean in to the daily experiences we have. We use our words to process, to encourage, to grieve, to learn, to share, and to love.

Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.  For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.  So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

2 Corinthians 4: 16-18


Sweet Juxtaposition

This year pretty much everything was new and different for us during the holidays. We all experienced some firsts: some wonderful and some painful. It was my mom and sister’s first time to Africa as my whole family ventured over the ocean to spend a few weeks with us. It was also our first time in another country, away from home and family and friends for the Christmas season. We felt joy and excitement to be loved on by my family and their time here, but we also desperately missed others still far away. We cooked all day and had a feast with our whole home, but missed the tastes of Christmas in the States. This is when the juxtapositions found through life in Rwanda really began to set it.

Christmas Eve morning we were driving back from the most magical lakefront tent lodge after having gone on safari (in a car AND a boat!) when it really hit me. We are living and witnessing two very different extremes. On one hand, we had a lovely time with my family, experiencing all the beauty the landscape Rwanda has to behold. On the other we were driving past an entire village of people, just beyond the gates, who were selling anything they could to the passerbys on the road in order to, I would assume, feed their families for Christmas. And so is life here in this beautiful country. We live in a house where we are blessed to feel safe and comfortable: something we consider a necessity to make life here sustainable. Our house sits on a street where we often see local life flourishing. There are women working hard, carrying anything and everything on their heads, as they walk to provide for their families. We see kids playing soccer in the streets with no shoes and make shift goals made out of rocks and homemade balls made out of dried banana leaves. Life goes on and life is good, but life is hard for many.

We took my family to see the most beautiful hotels and delicious restaurants and magnificent views and peaceful beaches. We also took them to experience a day in the life of a village woman; gathering grass to feed the cows, fetching water, cultivating the land, cooking for many. The comparisons are difficult, but in the midst we all have our purpose. I learned long ago not to feel guilty about poverty just because “we have more” or “they have less.” I know the measure of a life is not in the material blessings. Just have a conversation with our house manager Eric and see how he devoutly loves the Lord and laughs ALL the time—joy is not measured in dollars and francs. But still, how do we reconcile this sweet juxtaposition—do we allow it to cripple us or does it move us to action? THIS is the beauty of living in Rwanda. We get to taste the kingdom in such a unique way by witnessing first hand the already, not yet position of life in our world. Already we have and can spread life and hope because our Savior has come, but he has not yet restored our world to Himself in finality and therefore brokenness still abounds.

We all face challenges. We all have good days and bad ones. This is the nature of the brokenness of our souls. We have heard stories of heartbreak from both our Rwandan friends and our expat ones. Life is not as it was meant to be, but this Christmas we got to remember the “already” of the promise for Creation. We have been given the gift of Jesus, who has ALREADY saved us, redeemed us, brought hope to the brokenness. But we live in this place of knowing that not yet has God come to restore the world entirely to himself. A new earth is coming, heaven is coming. But we still live in this sweet juxtaposition of being broken but made whole by the Father. Having heartbreak but being comforted by a Savior. I’m reading a book called The Broken Way by Ann Voskamp and it allows me to put so many words to the conflict I’ve been feeling. “Brokenness happens in a soul so the power of God can happen in a soul.” HE is being revealed in and through the brokenness.

“In the shattered places, with broken people, we are most near the broken heart of Christ, and find our whole selves through the mystery of death and resurrection, through the mystery of brokenness and abundance.” Out of HIS brokenness came abundant Grace for the world. In the midst of the world’s brokenness, we are closest to Him.

Everyone and everything in this world is broken. That is why we spent the Advent season in expectant waiting of our Only Hope. We all know and feel the brokenness of our context, whether that is felt in our own homes, in hospitals, in classrooms, in offices, we feel it everyday. But He has Already come. And in that we place our hope, and our own broken souls, as we wait for the Not Yet.

Here in Rwanda, this is Chase and my broken context. Maybe yours is in your home, in a hospital, in your classroom, in your office. Where do you face the sweet juxtaposition of the already, not yet? We have an opportunity to lean in, to absorb, and to share light in the brokenness—we all do. In whatever context we are in, we have our own broken souls and Jesus. And He is enough to use us in the broken places in our world to bring the promise of a better tomorrow—already and not yet. Having my family here was a wonderful time of love and reconnection. But they did have to go home to their own world. And still everyday as we build and continue our lives here, we work and volunteer and use our skills in the places we’ve been blessed to serve. But we also see hard things in our work and even as we drive home…but we will sit and be thankful and lean in to the brokenness because we know where our Hope is put—in this sweet juxtaposition found in Christ.

In The Simplicity

7 WEEKS. That is how long we wandered; suitcases still packed and living with precious families who let us invade their world for days and weeks at a time. Now we finally have a home (and a dog, and transportation, and some dishes, and a water filter and a myriad of other life essentials that make us feel a little more settled everyday). We are so excited as we continue our journey and spend our first holiday season in Kigali.

In the last month we have both begun the transition into feeling more and more at home and secure here. Everyday brings new challenges, but we adapt and feel more settled with every victory. From figuring out how to navigate buying a car together to finding Butterfingers at the grocery store, we are learning so much about how to love each other better and celebrate every moment. Really though, finding Butterfingers at the grocery store is truly a simple moment worth celebrating.

The last month has proven busy for both of us. I have been volunteering at a local prenatal and postpartum clinic for low resource moms as well as working on a variety of different health projects with new friends and connections here. Not to mention the seemingly thousands of errands and projects for life: setting up a home here takes more than I was expecting. Chase has been busy at work, spending long days getting to know the staff, the business, and the culture. Life here has found a purpose now for both of us. There is not much of a rhythm yet, but we are learning to build in routine and create space for work and rest. Simplicity is a new discipline for us, and we are leaning into a new season of understanding what it means to invest in the most important aspects of our days.

Thanksgiving was a wonderful weekend of food, new friends, and much needed time together. It didn’t feel quite like home—missing family and the changing leaves, pumpkins and apple cider—but it definitely felt special. We didn’t get to visit a corn maze or turn on the Thanksgiving Day Parade or watch football for an afternoon or eat leftovers for a week. It was all strangely but sweetly simple with just a few hours of good food and good friends. Also, side note: trying to explain Thanksgiving (what it means, why we do it, what exactly we’re celebrating?) to our Rwandan friends is rather difficult.

Now we move into the Christmas season and get ready to celebrate the birth of Christ! As someone who craves the comfort of the aesthetic to soothe the soul, a “simple” Christmas is hard to swallow. Our second hand tree with our eight little ornaments is not the expanse of beautiful seasonal décor I am used to. Especially coming from a family where my mom spends hours and days preparing our home to celebrate the Christmas season with the most beautiful trees (at least three) and garlands and nativities. But it is in this “simple” that I am reminded that the greatest gift, which this Advent we anticipate, was humbly sent in the most simple circumstances. The lights around town and in our homes help make warm celebration natural. The ivy and berries and candles and cocoa help to prime hearts for quality time together as a community. The carols and colder weather and Christmas baking add to precious memories of love and family. But it is truly in the most humble and simple environment that our Savior came into the world, and in our simplified environment this year we will celebrate all the same.

So as we expectantly rejoice in the birth and the coming of Jesus, we also rest and revel in our new simplicity. Our mismatched belongings that make up our sweet home bring us comfort in a new season of thankfulness and joy. Simplicity is not something that comes naturally in this season of holiday cheer and sugar cookies and presents and candy canes. Nor is it something that comes naturally to me in my desire to create home and to build our life. But as we all celebrate, in whatever way you and your family celebrate, let us remember the greatest and most remarkable Gift that came in the most simple of circumstances. And let us rejoice in His coming as we find sweet moments to lean in to whatever simplicity looks like for us this season and in the new year to come.

The History We Write

I’ve always had an interest in history—really more in people’s stories, strictly on a hobbyist level. I was never passionate enough about studying it to do it formally, but I do find joy in knowing where other cultures, populations, and people have come from. To me, a person’s story reveals so much about who God made them to be and what He’s doing to weave their days into His magnificent plan for the world. History demonstrates a viewpoint in which we can see what has already happened, and hopefully glean wisdom in how to live in our present hours. Sometimes, though, in studying these stories in history, we uncover accounts of tragedy and heartache. Unfortunately, often our history books paint entire timelines based on wars and tragedy.

I remember when I first read the story of Anne Frank and learned intensely about the Jewish Holocaust and World War II and all the devastation that was left in its wake. It was horrific, heartbreaking, and I remember wondering how such a thing could have happened to so many people. Over six million Jews and five million non-Jewish victims were needlessly murdered over the course of four years. When we even attempt to digest those staggering numbers, it’s unfathomable. And yet, it was generations ago. I was not alive during this particular human persecution; I can only learn about it from books, movies, and reports. Still, all these years later, I beg the question, “How could something so horrifying happen and no one do anything to stop it?” How could an entire generation fall victim to a worldview that allows them to see the systematic killings and oppression as “other.” Obviously there are so many more complexities that go into this time in history, but still my mind wanders and wonders—would I have been a voice for the sufferers?

Fast forward to my studies in college and graduate school when I knew I wanted to live in an African context and be hands and feet in alleviating poverty and suffering. Whenever we had research projects or papers I would always choose an African country to focus my studies. For one of those projects I chose to study Rwanda. I had heard of Rwanda and the genocide and the suffering a whole generation faced, but I was entirely ignorant to the true reality of all that those words and stories entailed. Even after all my research, I was able to dismiss the war as “other” because I was too young to have known, even as my heart begged the question again, “How could anyone let this happen?”

Once we arrived here in Rwanda, I had no idea that my framework for understanding the genocide was far too lacking and left much to be desired if I was going to begin to understand the history of this country we now call home. For those of you that don’t know, Rwanda is a very small country in Eastern Africa that has faced many versions of tribal (really ethnic and racial; the word tribal doesn’t really translate this type of discrimination sufficiently in our Western context) unrest and warfare. A country that was first occupied by the Germans and then Belgium until independence in 1962, Rwanda has had many broken parts in her history. For a full picture of how the entire story culminates into the Genocide of 1994, go read the Wikipedia page, or better yet, check out a whole book on the subject. The colonization of African countries and the turmoil of tribes and governments are all worth being educated about.

In 1990, a civil war between the Hutu government and the Tutsi-led Rwandan Patriotic Front broke out. After the Hutu president was killed in early April 1994, the massacres of Tutsi people and Hutu moderates began. Over the course of 100 days, an estimated 1 million people were murdered. This was not systematic, but brutal neighbor-to-neighbor killing. Overnight, an entire people group went from living life among their Hutu counterparts, to being hunted by their friends. Tutsis that were lucky enough to find favor with a Hutu hid for their lives in bathrooms and forests and hidden rooms for months until the killings subsided and the RPF gained control.

I do not describe it this way to be crass or provoke distress, but to help you to understand, in a way that I did not, how gruesome and shocking the story really is. And this was not many decades ago, but here in my lifetime. An entire people group, young and old, was targeted for the tribal name on their identity cards and discriminatory (and inaccurate) physical markers such as height or facial structure. Crimes against humanity such as these should be old history, something we read about happening long ago, when we didn’t have the resources to know what was going on. Again, I don’t pretend these situations are simple, but I do believe they beg our attention.

After recently reading the book Left to Tell, written by a miraculous survivor of the genocide, Immaculee Ilibagiza (*HIGHLY recommend*), I saw this part of Rwanda’s history come to life in a young woman’s story. Her story brought to light for me how inhumane and graphic this event in history was, and showed how astonishing that an entire [modern] world stood by as it happened. These are heavy realities to face, but where were we when an entire people group suffered at the hand of evil? An entire generation of Hutus was trained through systematic biases to value Tutsis as less than, to the point of slaughter. This war did not start in a day or even years, but over decades of racial and ethnic discrimination through school systems, government policies, and generational sin.

Where in our lives, in our world today, are atrocities happening that beg our attention but we have turned a blind eye? What systems in the United States are breeding discriminatory policies and circumstances that are keeping entire people groups from being valued as equal to all? (If you don’t see it, I promise it’s there, educate yourself). What global wars and tragedies are entire cultures or ethnicities or religions facing in our world that we as Christians and as those who live in abundance are being begged to participate in? How can we be agents for change? How can we be a voice to the voiceless? Where can we step in to bring justice, to be defenders of all of God’s children? Where do we need to lend a listening ear?

All of us, no matter our stage of life or income or political party or race or physical location are called to be a part of the redemption of the vulnerable. We are called to be the hands and feet of Jesus in love and in justice. I firmly believe we can all be agents for change right where God has placed us. By God’s grace and guidance, this concept has been a common thread throughout the last few years of my life: whether it’s sharing love and teaching value to a bunch of high school teenage girls through YoungLife, attending our church in Birmingham that stands for racial reconciliation in our city, working in a children’s hospital with the most incredible group of kids and adults with Spina Bifida, or moving to Rwanda to continue the story that God has set in motion for Chase and me. Who is vulnerable in your world, who can we stand for? Research, read, talk and listen to people that are different than you. Learn where it is that we can be an influence, so that as we teach our children and their children history from a story or a textbook, we can stand confidently and say that such atrocities did not go unnoticed and evil did not reign unchecked.

Ultimately, our Savior has the victory and the most beautiful part of Immaculee’s story is her constant, unwavering faith in the Lord her Father to care for her and protect her. She preaches a story of forgiveness and justice, one of trust with action. Our God is so much greater than our weakness, failings, and the sin in this world. But what are we doing to be a part of His story; how are we allowing Him to weave our stories into his master plan for reconciliation and redemption? When we look back, what stories will have been written in our generation’s history chapters?

***One current global crisis that weighs heavy on my heart always is that of refugees from Syria and Iraq as the tensions still rise and war rages against militant groups like ISIS. How can we be a part of ensuring massacres of the vulnerable do not continue in our world? Check out the documentary on Netflix, The White Helmets to educate yourself. Follow Preemptive Love Coalition on Instagram to see what an awesome organization is doing on the ground (particularly in Iraq as forces invade Mosul) and check out World Relief’s “Act” tab on their website for tangible things you can do to stand with the vulnerable.

Divine Appointments

We have almost finished out our first month here and we are just beginning to process all that has happened in this transition. We have been granted visas and set up a bank account; big steps to becoming official! We have met friends, visited churches, searched through {so many} houses to find home, and have worked to learn and to begin to love.

This transition has wielded some unique and unexpected challenges, but we will continue to confess the faithfulness and truly Holy Provision of our Father. Folks, God is real and living and active and at work and it only takes a moment of our story here to see evidence of just that! He knows and hand crafted all of the details and today was no exception.

Around lunchtime we went for a meeting with the landlord of a house we have been hoping to call our home soon. While we are so incredibly thankful for the blessing of places to live with families here, living out of a suitcase is not a glamorous concept for us and we are ready to plant our roots somewhere more permanent. After our search took us to over thirty houses and we began to lose hope that anything would work, this property fell in our laps in a way that is only God’s handiwork.

First of all, we just so happened to read a post on an expat Facebook group from a woman who was advertising her house to be for rent soon. The name of the neighborhood caught my eye because it was our ideal location so I decided to message her. We had seen so many houses with real estate agents with little success, so it was worth trying a different route if it seemed promising. I went to message her and it turns out she had already sent me the details in a message that I must have overlooked when we first got here. We had requested on the same expat Facebook group for people to share any available properties they knew of; somewhere in the flood of responses several weeks earlier I must have missed hers. While some of these details may seem mundane, I am sharing because I can’t describe in any other way than recounting the story, how truly supernatural it is that we stumbled upon this place. Not only is it in our budget and perfect for all of our needs, but it is in the perfect location for us. I went to see the house with my friend over a week ago while Chase was working. I had such a peace and excitement about it that I couldn’t wait to share it with him. Without even seeing the house for himself, he trusted that it was perfect and we moved ahead with plans. We had to wait for a meeting with the landlord for over a week, which just made the anticipation grow.

This afternoon when we walked into the house it just felt more like home than anywhere else we had been. The landlord was running a bit behind so the current tenants started Chase off with a tour. After a few minutes of walking around to see the rooms, asking questions about power bills and trash day, Chase and the husband began to talk. The husband is a businessman and the wife is in health (what?!). The husband worked in partnership with HOPE International (the non-profit that Chase has done a lot of work with, part of how we got connected to Karisimbi and Acacia) and was actually AT the Leadership Summit Chase attended here in Rwanda the Summer of 2013. Turns out, Chase thinks he MET the husband at that conference! The two are believers who were here to share the good news through development. As he and Chase continued talking, the man shared that he is involved in Business As Missions (BAM) and KNOWS people from Birmingham through this network. He even knew about the Lions Den competition, a business plan submission program that takes place AT SAMFORD! The connections continued to click and the tears welled up in my eyes—this was clearly a divine appointment. Peace washed over me in a fresh way.

So many times here we’ve met people and shared moments that have clearly been divine appointments. When friends in the states buy coffee in honor of us because it says Rwanda on the bag and it turns out that we are staying with the CFO of the very company that made the coffee they bought: moments like these are not just coincidence. When we get invited to attend a banquet for YoungLife Rwanda, and the Lord knew it would be just the thing to make Kigali feel like home that night: that was not just happenstance. When we start to make connections with new friends that lead to new relationships that lead to new opportunities: those things don’t just happen by accident. Divine appointments are all around us, and we are invited to engage. We just have to be brave enough to listen and to walk.

It’s difficult to explain to friends and family that we are OK and we are still entirely confident that this is our home for now, but some things are HARD. And all things here take TIME. Getting settled is and is going to continue to be a slow process. Some days we miss home. Some days we are entirely overwhelmed by the weight of what we are doing. And then some days God takes us by the hand, leads us into His perfect plans, and invites us to take a seat at the table that promises His holy provision. We don’t have transportation yet. I don’t have a job yet. And we still don’t officially have a home yet. But we are reminded by sweet, small gifts like today to be patient, to press on, and to revel in the goodness that He is showing us with every step of obedience.

More Than Sparrows

“Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Fathers care. And even the very hairs on your head are numbered. So don’t be afraid. You are worth many sparrows.”

Matthew 10:29-31

One of the most inspiring things that we have gotten to witness in our very short time here is the abundance of different efforts that are taking place to provide for the needs of the people of Rwanda. One method or model of doing this is through co-ops, or groups of local people working together on a project that brings in income or progress. Many of these co-ops are groups of Rwandan women who have been left vulnerable through cultural circumstances, financial distress, human trafficking, or poverty in general. These women are trained in a skill or craft and are then able to create and sell for one specific branded group in order to provide a sustainable income for their families. Many of these groups also have programming and resources available to help the women heal their souls, grow spiritually and develop personally.

One of the co-ops that I have had the opportunity to visit is called More Than Sparrows. An expat woman who has since gone home and left an incredible legacy started it many years ago. Now a Rwandan woman, we’ll call her J, is there pouring her heart and soul into this ministry. She had the opportunity and dream to study sciences in university and be a doctor. Instead the Lord closed doors that eventually steered her towards leading this group of women in healing and learning to value themselves a daughters of the King. Just the way that J talks about her opportunity to share and carry the burdens of these women is inspiring. J devotes her entire life to the growth and development of the women at More than Sparrows. They get to be in a safe place where they feel loved, cared for and cherished, as they learn and lean into the idea that they are more than sparrows to our heavenly Father.

This country has seen heartbreak, pain, suffering and tragedy. But they are resilient. And in our short few days here we have already experienced this. People have hope for today and for a better tomorrow. They inspire me to believe even more earnestly that the Lord will provide for us in his timing and within his plans.

In scripture, Matthew talks about how evident it is that the Lord provides for our needs as we look at the birds of the air: they do not reap or sow. Yet he provides for them. So how much more should we trust that he will provide for us? Later in Matthew he explains even further that even a lowly sparrow is seen and known by our Father. He describes the hairs on our head as being known; that every intimate detail of our hearts is known to a good Father who will meet us in our dark and difficult places. As we have stepped into this new context we have had to refuse the lies of the enemy and hold strong to truth: we are more than sparrows. We have a Savior who knows us intimately and he hears the cries of our hearts. When we aren’t sure how to process all that is happening and we miss our people at home, we are loved deeply by a King who is enough. When visas are complicated, we see dozens of houses, and we adjust to new life here, we know that we can stand on the faithful promises of our great God.

While we have struggled to set up life, we have also been met with the sweetest people who have provided so consistently for our needs in this interim. We have had meals provided for us, a house with the most precious family (who answers every “how to” question with grace and patience!), friends to do brunch with, guys to play basketball with, girls to have coffee with, and rain to reveal the most beautiful landscape. We feel safe and cared for. We feel loved by strangers who will hopefully continue to become close friends. Things here take time, and sometimes a few failed attempts first. But as we battle through the details we are reminded that we are more than sparrows and we are loved and sent by the Creator of the entire universe, and nothing is unknown to Him.

Mind the Gap

We aren’t moving to England. We’re not even moving to an African country once colonized by the British. But in this season we are feeling the need to mind the gap; stick with me as I describe what is probably the most dramatic metaphor for life you’ve read this week.

As we board for this incredible journey we see the potential, we see the excitement of the move, and we feel eagerness to meet the people we will meet and to do the work we will do. But right now we stand in this transition phase—that moment just before you step onto the train. We are standing just before the moment we begin our journey, preparing our feet, making sure we have an idea of where we are going.

This infamous phrase makes the most sense in this season of transition. We have been learning to mind the gap—to give ourselves room to learn, grace to mess up, and motivation to keep going. We have been saying goodbye to places and people that have made such an impact on us. We have left behind friendships and community that mean the world to us. And right now, we are in the gap. This phase, this gap of a transition, requires mindfulness—something we sometimes fail to give it. As we learn to be mindful in our leaving, be mindful in our marriage, and be mindful in preparing our hearts we feel the weight of this gap, this in between, these moments before the change.

The weight of this gap, this “transition phase” before we leave on the most exciting adventure in our marriage to date is heavy. This is hard. But we know that as we are mindful in our gap, we will learn and grow. The Lord has been so sweet and gentle with us during this time. In the days leading up to our departure we have been blessed with family, friends, and precious moments that have served as reminders of why we are doing all of this. A sweet friend of many years reminded me the most simple truth that gently guided us back to our purpose: keep your eyes fixed on Jesus.

Here we are, ready for our departure and overwhelmed doesn’t even begin to cover how we are feeling. We are overwhelmed by the packing and preparation. We are overwhelmed by the lists and the errands. But even more, we are overwhelmed by the grace and the provision we have been shown in the seasons we have both spent here in the states. This transition is the culmination of so many experiences, so many dreams, so many years of waiting. And as we step out in obedience we are overwhelmed by the blessings we have been given before we leave.

We have said many times over the course of these last few months that the leaving is absolutely the hardest part. It has been our biggest fear—leaving all the people and the things that have been a part of our lives to this point. Stepping away is easily one of the most difficult things we have ever done. But we are confident as we walk in obedience that this is where the Lord has us, and so we go. We go knowing we are cared for and loved. We go with expectant spirits and faithful hearts. And we go holding on to this truth:

“Whom Shall I Fear” by Chris Tomlin

I know who goes before me, I know who stands behind

The God of angel armies is always by my side

The one who reigns forever, He is a friend of mine

The God of angel armies is always by my side

My strength is in Your name, For You alone can save

You will deliver me, Yours is the victory

And nothing formed against me shall stand, You hold the whole world in Your hands

I’m holding on to Your promises

You are faithful

You are faithful