[UPDATE: Hey you amazing #GenEsthers? Our regular Saturday Multivitamins link post will be back next week, when us #FarmGirls get back to the farm? So while we’re travelling, yeah — begging you to come with us today — flat out begging you to come read this post, live from Rwanda –]
By a good God’s grace, you’d think it wouldn’t happen again.
They tell you that —
That we have to stop history from repeating itself.
Somedays, you gotta wonder if CNN guffawed loud and tossed that memo?
When Shalom walks in front of me across the floors the Anne Frank’s Secret Annex, I feel this wild urge to flip some elusive switch.
Flip some elusive switch and annex time and stop an Anne-girl as warm bodied and wide-eyed as our Shalom from being herded straight off the steep cliff of humanity.
On a cooling evening in late September, you can find yourself in Amsterdam on a layover to somewhere else. You can find yourself standing in a darkened museum of hushed voices looking into the face of evil and the brave face of a 13-year-old Anne Frank.
You can find yourself realizing that — The opposite of really living isn’t really dying — but not really caring.
The opposite of really believing isn’t really believing nothing — but not really caring.
The opposite of really being human isn’t really when you stop breathing — but when you stop caring.
You can find yourself walking with your daughters across creaking old floors that never silence their audible grieving and inside you can be a howl:
How in the world did we get to a place where an every day, tie-wearing dad and a soup-making mother and book-toting daughters like yours, are relying on someone to smuggle them hunks of bread in the middle of the night as they squirrel away behind papery walls?
Or other human beings will force them like cattle into cars to be shipped off to starvation and then gas them in stark naked horror. Because they have stolen nothing, embezzled nothing, hurt no one, committed no crime against anyone in the whole world in the least —
all they have done is believe.
God help us.
Who believes it anymore: One changed person can change culture.
Anne’s eyes haunt large from every black and white photo hanging on walls holding secrets. There is no escaping her hopes. There is no escaping her eyes that look like mirrors. Like she knows you. Like you are her. Like we all have to answer.
Our Hope-girl’s leaning over a page of Anne’s ink:
“I found that it was easier to think up questions than to ask them.”
Yeah. Yeah, that. But a whole lot of us better start asking the questions out loud or we all end up living the wrong answer.
Shalom turns and whispers it to me, her eyes literally begging, “Nothing like this would ever happen now, right, Mom?”
Our little girl’s standing in the room of another little girl who was hunted down like an animal.
I want to tell Shalom, No —- no, the world would never close their eyes again, we would never let anything like this happen again. The lie of it burns like an ember up my throat.
All I can do is cup her face.
All I can feel is the sharp intake of the words like something cutting free, what Anne scrawled on the foolscap on the 26th of a long ago month:
“Give and you shall receive, much more than you would have ever thought possible.
Give, give again and again, don’t lose courage, keep it up and go on giving!
No one has ever become poor from giving!
If you do this, then in a few generations no one will need to pity the beggar children any more, because they will not exist!”
The girl snuffed out, she echoes loud in my head: No one ever gets poor from giving.
And louder in my bones:The guaranteed way to get rich is to give.
Sometimes when you lose is exactly how you win.
When you walk through one of the door frames at the back of the annex, you can see these pencil marks on the peeling wallpaper.
Pencil marks measuring Anne’s height. All that boiled kale that grew Anne and her dreams in defiance of being hunted.
That grew her before they took her away and the child didn’t grow again.
* * *
In the morning, after Anne Frank’s eyes have looked right through us, we fly, flung.
Amsterdam to Kigali.
European layover over and on to Rwanda.
photo: Esther Havens
photo: Esther Havens
photo: Esther Havens
Rwandan streets never stop heaving under cars, these red brick roads choking up the sides of mountain.
and Rebekah says something quiet about a text she just got from friends.
ISIS is going house to house in northern Iraq. Rebekah reads the text word for word from missionaries who saw it, who testify. How ISIS is calling out children. Yelling at them to recant Jesus. And if they don’t recant Jesus, their parents are forced to witness the sharp edge of a blade lift their child’s thin neck from their quaking shoulders.
Rebekah’s chin quakes when she reads that: Not one child has recanted Jesus.
Bloody heads of children drip right now with their mother’s tears for the singular reason —
all they have done is believe.
This is days ago, this is hours ago. This is when we were standing in Anne Frank’s bedroom and Shalom’s eyes are begging me that things have changed now.
That we are changed now.
* * *
When that Rwandan sun beats down a thick humid morning on us, they take us first to the bones.
Sometimes the only way we can touch the promises of hope is to stand on the bones of the past.
“This river ran with bodies.” Augustine points out the window.
On the far side of Hope, Shalom turns around and looks at me.
Before I can reach out and touch her face, she turns away.
She turns back to the window and the river and the courage of bearing witness of who we are and what we’ve done.
photo: Esther Havens
Augustine tells us in a slow, thick accent: 800,000 people were murdered right across this country in the span of six weeks.
That means the rate of daily killing? Augustine talks slow, like he’s seeing things we have no memories of —- that means the daily killing rate during the Rwandan Genocide was at least 5 times that of the Nazi death camps.
And Anne Frank’s face flickers before me in Rwanda. Anne asking How Again? Why Again? This isn’t ancient history. This isn’t grainy, black and white pictures from an era of the telegraph and women in gloves and hats. This is the year I was 20-years-old. When machetes and clubs were carving out skulls and these Rwandan hills, I was obliviously writing out my wedding invitations.
When we’re standing in the Nyamata Church, with heaps of rotting clothes, a visual memorial of the 11,000 Tutsi Rwandans who were slaughtered in and around this church, it’s Hope who asks it now, “Why?”
And Augustine looks her in the eyes and says:
“It began with the demonization of Tutsis. The government and the Hutus filled the papers and airwaves with the thinking that the Tutsis were snakes, were cockroaches.” And all I can think is: Whenever we demonize and dehumanize anybody, we can legitimize anything.
And whenever we want to break the bonds of prejudice and injustice and indifference, we begin by breaking a loaf of bread together.
It’s Augustine’s voice that breaks —
“So the Hutus saw the Tutsis as these snakes, these cockroaches, as less than, as inferior, and the Tutsis all over the country, they ran to the churches.” He points to the pulpit we’re standing in front of.
“They thought the churches were safe places. They thought the people of the church would save them, protect them. But the churches called the Hutus to say the Tutsis are here now, come kill them.”
He turns and points to the blood stained bricks where babies’ fragile heads met the mortar.
And Shalom leans against me.
It burns up my throat, how we’ve got to answer our young people:
History could stop repeating itself from Auschwitz to Rwanda to ISIS — because we could be the generation that decides to prevent injustice by deciding there is never a time that we’ll fail to protest injustice.
History could stop repeating itself — because human cries anywhere could move the people of God to first be on their knees everywhere.
History could stop repeating itself — because we could realize neutrality is a myth and the notion of a non-response is a universal scam. Faith can never have a non-response. We’re either responding with indifference or with intercession, either with apathy or aid, either with coldness or care.
You can’t turn from the face of suffering and just plead the fifth amendment. Your life is always your answer.
We’re the generation ready to live hard and holy things because we’re ready to live for Him.
Because that is the thing:History doesn’t ever stop repeating itself on its own — History only stops repeating itself when people start representing Christ.
The church may have horrifically let people down in the past, but the Church can categorically rise up now.
The church that wasn’t there in the past — it could be there now and that church isn’t anyone else — it is us.
Hope and I stand over graves, amongst skulls. We have no words.
Augustin murmurs it quiet to us: “Every time I stand among the bones of these children — I ask God if this could not be the times of Ezekiel? Could He not raise life up out of a literal valley of the dry bones?”
And I nod. He could. He does. He raises us.
He raises us — us who are not the anonymous GenXers, but the named and known GenEsthers who are unified, energized and revived for such a time as this, to risk everything inside the gate for those outside the gate.
He raises us and Anne Frank’s words rise from one genocide as resurrection for the children of another genocide: No one ever became poor from giving.
The hungry could find bread in our willing hands.
The Body of Christ — all of us together — could now be an edifice of grace to edify the broken and needy and weary and starved.
When I turn and witness it, our daughters and the handing out of bread, there is this burning in the marrow, there is still time for it to be said of us —
all they have done is live what they believe.
Why You are Here For Such a Time As This
More #FarmGirlsinRwanda God-stories coming…
The farm girls and I are here in Rwanda, asked by Africa New Life to speak at a National Women’s Conference marking the 20th anniversary of the Rwandan Genocide, a country where we the church can be here now in ways we weren’t 20 years ago — and offer a nutritious meal for just $0.83.
A very generous donor has challenged us —
If just 2,000 of us #GenEsthers rise up for such a time as now, and give just $25 by October 6th, joining with us farm girls, Esther Havens, Rebekah Lyons and her daughter Kennedy, and Lauren Chandler and her daughter Audrey, join all of us Mother-Daughters here in Rwanda, and be our #EstherGeneration sisters, changing the course of His-Story this time in Rwanda — that generous sister-donor will match that $50,000, effectively doubling your loaf of bread here.
Can we do it? Small Together is the New Big — Will you be one of the #GenEsthers and contribute $25 to ensure 30 student meals and the best care possible for these Rwandan kids at Africa New Life? Together us #GenEsthers can stop history from repeating itself — by being the people that are representing Christ…
It could be said of us — all they have done is live what they believe.