Light From the Land of a Thousand Hills

csm_kwibuka21_1a363811deWhat is 21-years? For some 21-years is the amount of time it took to watch a child grow into adulthood and get married. For others it is their age at college graduation. In the life of most people any given 21-years is nothing special or nothing to be remembered. For some 21-years is the duration of a nightmare that began on April 7, 1994.

For those who suffered the horrific genocide of 1994 in Rwanda it is the time passed since hugging loved ones. It is the time passed since sitting at the dinner table with other family. It is the time passed since running, hiding, and seeking refuge from the evil hatred perpetrated at the end of clubs, guns, and machetes. Twenty-one years is how long the nightmare of 1994 has gripped the hearts of many. Twenty-one years is long ago and yet it’s like yesterday for some.

I don’t remember specifically what I was doing 21-years ago today. I expect it was just a normal day of graduate school. For some it was the day the Yankees beat the Rangers 18-6. For Jews around the world it was the day that the Vatican acknowledged for the first time the Holocaust. For many Rwandans it was the beginning of another holocaust as nearly one-million men, women, and children were massacred over the next 100-days.

In the days that followed April 7 I can remember sitting on the couch watching three specific things on TV and struggling to process them. First was a nation fixated on a white Bronco moving through the streets of LA with police in chase and news helicopters overhead. The second image was that of international “leaders” in essence debating at what point mass killing becomes genocide. Third, was an image far less prominent on the TV but much more impacting to me. That image is one of machete wielding men in colorful bandanas and shirts with death at their feet.  I didn’t really understand what I was seeing and why the international body created to prevent such was packing its bags to leave. What I did understand was that the fixation on a famous athlete in white Bronco compared to the relative disregard for an entire nation in apparent collapse at the hand of genocidaires reflected a world out of balance. I grieved for the two families that had lost loved ones in LA and I grieved for people of a little nation being emasculated of a segment of its population both of which occurred at the hands of pure evil.

Although I didn’t know at the time that I would eventually find myself in Rwanda I prayed then that God would intervene, that healing would cover the land, that hope would return, and that the world would open its eyes to an evil that will not discriminate with its terror and hopeless ideology.

Today, I am proud to call many Rwandans my friends, my brothers, and my sisters. I am proud to say that I have learned much from them and that the world has much to learn from them. There is nothing anyone can do to change what happened or who was lost in 1994, yet many Rwandans will tell you there is much we can change about tomorrow. While Rwandans remember the past they look to the future.  For Rwanda 21-years is a marker of remembrance, of resilience, and of hope. According to Dr. Dusingizemungu, the president of Ibuka, the umbrella of associations advocating for survivors, “we want to step out of the shadow of death to life, we want to focus on resilience…”

Genocide may be the world’s current trademark for Rwanda. Rwanda’s trademark for herself may be resilience. My trademark for the people of the “Land of a Thousand Hills” is “light” as described in the following paraphrase from the Gospel of Matthew:

“Here’s another way to put it: You’re here to be light, bringing out the God-colors in the world. God is not a secret to be kept. We’re going public with this, as public as a city on a hill. If I make you light-bearers, you don’t think I’m going to hide you under a bucket, do you? I’m putting you on a light stand. Now that I’ve put you there on a hilltop, on a light stand—shine! Keep open house; be generous with your lives. By opening up to others, you’ll prompt people to open up with God, this generous Father in heaven. (MSG – Matthew 5:14-16)

Rwanda, we remember with you and we pray for you. May you continue to grow in resilience and in hope as His light from the hills of Rwanda. (Bryan Hixson, 7 April 2015)

(image from

Relationship Matters

shaking handsI hate that moment you see a picture and realize that it doesn’t come close to reflecting what you saw in person. I think that would be true for most pictures I take.The same can be true when trying to paint a picture in words. I have found myself struggling at times to describe to my kids what I miss about America and yet I know I miss much about it. With each trip to America I also find myself in the fruitless task of trying to explain what it is I love so much about Rwanda. There are so many things in life that simply require seeing to believe or living it to understand it. That is how I feel about what I want to explain now and yet it is worthy of some form of explanation as it begins to explain part of what I love about Rwanda.

During my recent incident leaving me in the hospital my mind captured what seemed profound with respect to my understanding one piece of what makes me love living in Rwanda. As I sat and waited on assistance I was doing everything possible not to vomit, which technically was nothing. Thoughts of all sorts  were crashing through my head. They ranged from wondering what was wrong with me, to wondering what the observing crowd was thinking and doing, to trying to convince would be assistance that I had help on the way and so on. I knew within a few seconds that I better call for assistance although I really had no idea what was happening or how long it would last. Had I been in America I might have called 911 but 911 in Rwanda is pretty much your contact list.

As I struggled to make a call due to the numbers spinning, along with everything else, I began to realize I wasn’t going to be able to make out a specific number and would have to call whoever’s number came up in the phone. For a brief second there was concern. That concern left as quickly as it came because I realized that it would not matter what number I dialed, help would come in either the form of direct aid or the recipient of a potential call finding someone who could get there more quickly. I realized that had I reached someone up country or a block away the response would generally have been the same whether national or expat. Someone would have come or started using his or her relationship network to get someone to me as quickly as possible. In a land where relationship trumps almost everything else it is nice to know that regardless where in the web, known or unknown, help would find its way.

As it turned out I had texted a friend and colleague a half-hour earlier and I realized that the message was probably still open on my phone and I could just press the top corner call button.  If I had to chose one person in my contact list to call that is who it would have been and yet I knew that no matter who I had reached that I lived in a place were there wouldn’t be thoughts of, “do I have time,” “I’ll be late for X,” “give me a few minutes,” “I’m too far away and wouldn’t be of much help.” I’m not saying that if I had been in another country that people wouldn’t have come to help or looked for ways to find me, but the first thought that may have worked its way through the mind would potentially have looked quite different unless it was a parent or very close friend. I know my thought process as the caller would have been different.  Of course, this reaches an aspect of America that is great and that is that a passer by probably would have dialed 911 and emergency personnel would be on their way in most places. In Rwanda we can’t depend on such systems as they either don’t exist or are way overtaxed. Instead the “system” is your relationships.

I recognized that had I reached the President of Rwanda with access to anything and everything, to a friend from a slum with access to almost nothing, that help would have come. Whether I reached a colleague or an expatriate who might only know me in passing, help would have come. Whether it had been a Christian or an atheist, help would have come. Whether they owned a vehicle or had to call a taxi or beg a passer by, help would have come. I feel blessed in the safety net called relationship. As I awaited my friends to arrive one man tried repeatedly to help me. He found a driver who could drive me in my car. Then he stopped someone asking them to drive me to the hospital. He offered whatever he had which was himself and relationships he was building on the street in that moment.

On the flip side I recognize that the color of my skin and position in society give me an advantage that someone living in a slum would not have. That saddens me and yet I know that within their network the same efforts would be made because relationship matters.

I am thankful for the relationship network and willingness of people in Rwanda, national and expatriate, to drop anything on a dime and help. I am thankful that meetings, ballgames, TV programs, concerts and any number of other things will usually take back seat to relationship and helping others. I know that I could have called almost any number in my contact list and gotten nothing but immediate assistance regardless of what they were doing because in most cases, nothing trumps relationship.

I am thankful that in America the systems are in place to aid the citizenry. I am thankful that most will make that call. I am thankful to be from America where I believe you will always find the most generous people in the world, whatever form that takes.

For both there are lessons to be learned. For Rwanda – systems, institutions, and good governance of them matter. They save lives. The vast improvements since 1994 are encouraging. For America, relationships matter in all directions from all people and time is important, but not over relationship. Relationships save lives. Thankfully, the number dialed was to an American who grew up in Africa bridging the best of both worlds. My life was not in danger, but if it had been relationship matters and I’ve got my contact list.

Christmas in Kigali

Christmas season in Kigali looks like pretty much any other season in Kigali.

There are a few things that we generally do not see in Kigali that we would see in North America or Europe. There are no Christmas billboards, no lights on houses or outdoor decor. There are no window dressings or Santa in the park. There is virtually no Christmas music in public places or the hustle and bustle about. There is no snow or potential of snow. There are no sleds or rolls of Christmas wrapping, no nativity scenes and very few Christmas programs.

Christmas Traffic Circle 2There is a tree the local brewery placed in the middle of a traffic round-about that thankfully highlights Coke rather than their preferred brew.The display comes complete with a guard and his umbrella to protect from the sun. A Kenyan grocery store has a couple 70’s Santa’s awkwardly moving about in the entry until the electricity goes out and relegates Santa to a statue. A big Chinese store that is akin to a mega Dollar Store has an inventory of the cheapest quality Christmas trees and décor one can find.

nakumaatxmasSome among my Western friends will say they enjoy the non-commercialization here. Commercial or not, the images, sounds, and activities of an American Christmas make me think fondly on family and faith.  The music in malls brings funny memories of never knowing what to get my Grandmother, yet loving being in her cold home with a warm furnace just across the room from the Christmas tree, on Christmas Day. The bell ringers remind me of a shopping trip for a Christmas meal with my Grandfather who was fairly lost in a grocery store. The smell of bacon, cinnamon, & coffee always take me to waking up in my grandparent’s home Christmas morning following a Christmas Eve gathering with all the aunts, uncles, and cousins. Wrapping paper reminds me of love wrapped gifts. Santa’s hat reminds me of a family tradition around”Sandyclause’s (my mother) bag of surprises. Christmas music reminds me of hope that was instilled by my parents. It reminds me of my favorite annual gathering in Kigali and people around the world taking at least a moment to consider God as a child, sent to bring joy, proclaim hope, and demonstrate ultimate love.

The greatest gift in the season comes through faith that points us to Jesus. Family and friends give that faith relevance as fellow believers in a virgin birth or those we desire to have our same hope. That relevance is not in a new piece of technology or new clothes, rather in the blessing of giving and receiving just as we were given a Savior and received hope. Giving doesn’t require a trip to the mall. A call, a card, a hug, or a smile are gifts we can give year-round as is the gift of our Savior.

Christmas in Kigali may not look like the Christmases I grew up with. It may not look like your Christmas or that of many worldwide and yet I see now that whether recognized or not, from wherever one is, it is the Christ part of Christmas that brings people together as there is no Christmas without Christ.

by Bryan Hixson (Dec 2014)

Hating Theft – Seeking Blessing

Is there such a thing as blessing in theft? Are blessings only found in what we characterize as good? It is hard to see the blessing in being stolen from and yet the Word tells us to”rejoice in all things”, “blessed are those who are persecuted” and so on. Recently we are tested as Alexis, following a tough loss in basketball, had her computer stolen from our locked car. I found my emotions ranging from anger to pity, from frustration to disappointment, from blessing to curse.

Anger – that someone would violate another’s things generating some level of hardship. At the same time I looked across the street at people living in conditions that would almost guarantee they can’t afford a computer. Then I wondered, did they have my daughter’s computer. I was angry for my daughter because her coursework and study materials for a comprehensive class have all disappeared along with this valuable tool she uses for her education.

Pity – that someone would be so desperate to find it acceptable to steal from others. Pity that this person obviously doesn’t know God or follow His will.

Frustrated – that my daughter has been hurt by another’s selfishness. Frustrated that my locked door didn’t withstand the intruder’s devices resulting in the loss of something of value that contains my daughter’s possessions.

Disappointed – that I thought we were in the absolute safest location possible and took every precaution short of a person in the car. Disappointed that there are those who would prey on others. Disappointed that God hasn’t found His place in the heart of this thief.

Cursed – This may be an overstatement and yet, I have no doubt that Satan wants such to pull us off course. It happens over and over as he attacks in every form he can to try and gain a foothold among the believing.

Blessed – that nothing more was stolen, and there was certainly more that could have been taken. Blessed that no one was hurt. Blessed that Alexis had a version of her paper on my computer that was not stolen. Blessed that she is so bright she will overcome the loss of a full semester of comprehensive material. Blessed that this was not a computer with lots of important data. Blessed that this is the first theft of substantial value that we’ve experienced in 7.4 years in Rwanda. Blessed that Grace (11) immediately reflected “at least when Jesus returns this kind of thing won’t happen any more.“

I don’t think Alexis was feeling too blessed at that moment, yet she also reflected that it could have been worse, that much worse things happen to people than the loss of some technology and notes. I feel for her and I’m proud that her character could see beyond this sin to a level of blessing however thin it felt in the moment.

by Bryan Hixson (November 2014)

Letters to God

Since I met Holly in 1988 she has journaled her prayers to God every day. Apparently that began for her around age 12. Having observed this in her mother this became a spiritual discipline for Alexis around the same age and now Grace at age 11 has decided that she too wants to be a part of writing her prayers to God. It didn’t hurt that she loves the movie “Letters to God” that her Bebe (Grandmother) gave her last Christmas. At this point she is not using a journal rather a random piece of paper, a notebook, or the whiteboard in my office. In the picture above I decided to capture one of Grace’s prayers written during the hour before school in which Holly takes to “prayer walk” the KICS campus each day.
Grace never forgets the orphans. She always remembers others in our world who are fighting poverty, disease, or religious persecution. She never forgets the hearts of the lost and usually ends with something more personal like doing well on a test or that she doesn’t have bad dreams or for each of her family members in the U.S. Sometimes she ends “in Jesus name” and other times she simply says, “Love Grace”.

When was the last time you remembered the poor, diseased, or persecuted? When was the last time you prayed for your friend or neighbors’ soul? When was the last time you told God you “love” him? Children have a way of reminding us of things that are so simple we sometimes fail to remember and act.

Grace loves Rwanda and being among some of the world’s lesser privileged in a local orphanage or at a nearby preschool in a slum area. She loves to use what God has given her (her heart) to make some difference in the lives of others.

We appreciate your prayers and ask for your continued prayers for each of us in our ministry in Rwanda. Without your prayers and support we are not able to be here.

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Lead Where You Are

ROC Partners Global Leadership Award Winners attending Global Leadership Summit 2014 - Rwanda
ROC Partners Global Leadership Award Winners
attending Global Leadership Summit 2014 – Rwanda
LEAD WHERE YOU ARE  -by Alexis Hixson

“When Esther’s words were reported to Mordecai, he sent back this answer: ‘Do not think that because you are in the king’s house you alone of all the Jews will escape. For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for a time such as this?’”Esther 5:14

Esther was afraid. She was in a foreign country, had no parents, and her people were about to be destroyed. She didn’t have to do anything. She could have let the Jews die while she reveled in the protection of the palace, but she didn’t. Instead, Esther “put on her royal robes,” faced the king, and saved her people. Esther chose to lead. She was afraid, a woman, and a Jew, but she took a stand. Esther stood – not for fame, not for glory – but to serve others. This is a clear portrait of what an effective leader looks like, whether she lives in the Old Testament Bible times or the 21st century.

Just like Esther, a godly leader sacrifices him or herself for others. Esther didn’t choose to be in the spotlight. Likewise, leaders aren’t meant to go looking for attention. Leaders are here to guide and help others when they need help, just as Esther did.   Nelson Mandela, another great leader, said, “A leader . . . is like a shepherd. He stays behind the flock, letting the most nimble go out ahead, whereupon the others follow, not realizing that all along they are being directed from behind.” 

Everyone has a choice to lead at some point in their life, but not everyone chooses leadership. Often leadership is the harder path to take, but a leader can lead anywhere – in church, in school, at home, at work, in the community, or with friends. Nelson Mandela also said, “There are so many men and women who hold no distinctive positions but whose contribution towards the development of society has been enormous.” Leading where you are means taking advantage of the situations where there is opportunity to lead, no matter your age, location, or social status.

Leading can be difficult and it can be frightening. Esther had the fate of an entire nation resting on her shoulders, as did Nelson Mandela, and both led in those extremely dangerous situations. Even though most people don’t have to worry about defending their entire race, everyone has someone that they can lead. One can lead peers at school, colleagues at work, or even siblings at home. As Christians, we are all called to lead the people we interact with every day to Christ.

Esther led from a palace. Mandela led from a prison. They both led in extreme, unfamiliar places, and likewise, each and every one of us can lead from ‘where we are’ today.

(Alexis was one of the three ROC Global Leadership Award Winners in grades 10-12. The finalists and winners pictured above are KICS students from (L2R) Uganda, USA, Canada, Rwanda, South Korea, & Kenya.