“Rwanda…..is it that next to Texas?”

No kidding. I wish this was a joke but it actually happened, when a Northeastern man, who shall remain nameless, approached one of my friends to ask where she is from. It is true, United States is massive, with many large states that I call countries. By the time you fly from New York to LA for example, someone who had left about the same time may have landed in London and rested. Rwanda is only 395.18 sq miles larger than the state of Maryland. Maryland ranks 42nd in size, out of 50 states. Per Wikipedia, the continent of Europe is only 135, 899 sq miles larger than the United States as a country (this includes water for both). So don’t blame me if I call states countries. It’s no wonder some Americans imagine their country as being almost the whole world and everything else tiny and surrounding it.

Some citizens, especially in New York City have this pride of thinking the city as it being the whole state. I attended grad school in Rochester, NY. Recently though, I met someone in Long Island who is from Brooklyn; when I mentioned that I lived in New York, this person answered: “FYI, we don’t consider upstate as a part of New York.” Go figure! Oh and by the way, there is a map that shows how a New Yorker sees the rest of the US. I did not want to attach the image because it uses some language I wouldn’t feel comfortable sharing, but New Jersey is apparently considered the armpit of NY. The mid west is called Tornadoes and Jesus and it has just one big city or something (Chicago!); the north west is a place you fly over to get to Seattle. And that’s the entire north, pretty much. I am sure a Texan sees United States differently too. You gotta love these people.

8391 miles apart
Kigali is about 8391 miles from Houston 😀

So you see, it’s not just the rest of the world viewed as a miniature by some Americans, it’s everyone else. As an advice, if you are from another country, don’t be offended if someone tells you that they never heard of your country before. Many Americans have not visited all 50 states either. But I just like the sense of humor in it all. One day, I volunteered for the Shepherd’s Table Soup Kitchen, a Christian organization that feeds the homeless. I met a very sweet woman, probably in her 60-70s. Shh, I am terrible at guessing age. On one occasion, I met an other lady on the plane and we became friends. During one hour flight, she insisted so many times that I guess how old she was. When I relented, I was 10 years off :(. She really looked like my auntie Angela who is 95.

So this wonderful lady at the Soup Kitchen asked me where I come from. By the way, some people think Africa as one country, so often I try to spare details and introduce myself as from Africa. Normally when I say just that and someone answers: “cool”, then I know they don’t really know much about Africa or where it is. But I wanted to keep a conversation going so I asked this lady: “Do you know much about Africa”?  And the sweet lady answered innocently with excitement: “Yes of course I do. I have been on a mission trip to HAITI”. YEP. True story!

Actually, I was not any different before I first arrived in the US. I thought that Canada was in Europe, because they speak French. I was shocked that just on the other side of the Rochester’s Lake Ontario lay the Canada’s Toronto. BUT this was my ignorance; since last year, I made it my goal to learn the world map. I must say that I am doing pretty good. My intention with this is not to point out anyone’s flaws or judging. I am just writing what I have seen, that’s all. We are after all brothers and sisters.

  • Weight versus Age

These two are a big deal in these two countries, and this is especially for just women. Back home, some women throw birthday parties until they turn 25, and after that, they just stop counting. The following year may be another 25th birthday. Unlike in the US, I don’t remember the last time I was asked about my age in Rwanda. At a birthday party, you come, eat and go. You simply don’t ask how old someone is. It’s not being rude, it’s just our culture I guess. After I arrived in the US, I was shocked to hear someone asking me how old I am, in front of a group of people. Seriously? Why? I wondered. But in the end, I realized that it’s just as asking your name. BUT the weight, it’s a no no. Do never ask someone around here how much they weigh.

On the other hand, the weight number isn’t a big deal in Rwanda; but the way we approach it, it can get sensitive and personal. It’s just more than asking you how much they weigh. If you gain so much weight in Rwanda, someone may walk to you and let you know that you might be bursting out soon if you do not stop eating whatever you are feasting on those days. They will remind that you should join a gym or starve. They don’t use polite or sweet expressions such as you have put on a few pounds; they will make you aware that you are fat. Facebook isn’t that helpful either; if you post a picture, someone may ignore a cute dress and shoes you have on to comment that you are simply huge and asks you what had happened to you. We somehow learned to laugh it out. After being in a culture that reacts differently, it made me wonder if it hurts people back home to be told such things.

By the way, did I mention that gaining weight may be a complement somehow? When a woman gets married and doesn’t put on few pounds, she must not be happy in her marriage. Losing too many pounds may be equally negative. When I first arrived in the United States, I lost several pounds; it took me a while to get used to the food around here. And guess what? Rumor had it that I must be poor and starving here. Yep. As a proof, most my Facebook pictures have such comments asking me why I am so thin. Of course this is nothing hurtful comparing to gaining weight.  Don’t get me wrong, Rwandans are the most hospitable people I have ever met. This is just another casual conversation. I will write more about hospitality in my next post.

One day I joked with friends about this weight topic. One of my friends made it clear to me that she would rather be asked how old she is than her weight. She is very tiny by the way. And I let her know that I would rather repeat my weight to everyone rather than my age. It is very interesting how different cultures can be. Needless to say, that night was full of laughter. Our mutual friends teased this friend that next time when they see her with a few extra pounds, they would ask her if she’s been feasting on McDonald’s. Another friend mentioned to me that if she came to Rwanda and someone told her that she looked fat, she would simply cry. Sadly, I told her that I was just preparing her in case it happens!

  • Being On Time

This is just a language we don’t speak where I come from. When I first arrived in Rochester, New York, I was blessed to have someone to give me an advice. He was a Rwandan Professor at RIT. He said that if I wanted to succeed in this country, I would have to be on time. He said that if it’s 10 am, I should plan to arrive anytime before 10 am and wait by the door if needed. He made it clear that if I was a minute or two late, they may not take me in. I was scared and in rush always. Why is that? Okay so in Rwanda, when you arrive at a place on time, it probably means you are not that important and have nothing else to do. If you were such an important person, you would have been busy with other things.

It took me a while to arrive at 7pm to a party that starts at 7. Not because I am important, but because I was used to show up when I can. Ceremonies in Rwanda end when everyone leaves! When you host a party, 7pm probably means 9pm. And people won’t even display any sign of remorse for making you wait for them, or arriving late. Everyone just somehow thinks that the time is there to get you going, not necessarily to follow it. One American writer who currently lives in Africa said it well: “the African time runs a couple of hours  behind the real time”. This is nothing but the truth!

If you have lived in another country, what were key takeaways in the new culture comparing to yours?

“This Is Hope: God Is REAL”

Thank you for stopping by. I hope and pray that you enjoy my story of how I found Hope in God, through disappointment and hopelessness. Be encouraged, even when those you trust the most turn out to be “not what they claim to be.”

Although almost two decades later, I specifically chose to write this page in the present tense, to truly describe the intensity of suffering in the eyes of a young girl I was back then.

Please click here to read my story under the page called HOPE.

Many many years apart. It looks like I haven't changed much!

Many many years apart. Have I changed much?

This is my story!

God bless you,

Alphonsine

Perseverance

“Perseverance is a great element of success. If you knock long enough and loud enough at the gate, you are sure to wake up somebody.” ~ H. W. Longfellow

I have to sadly admit that I am illiterate when it comes to car functionality. I am one of those people who lose their mind when a light goes off on the car dashboard. Of course I know when I am out of gas, or forget to release the emergency brake. That’s pretty much it. Oh, I almost forgot that if the gas cap isn’t appropriately twisted, the check engine light goes off too. Trust me, I know what I am talking about!

Few years ago, on my way to work, I had a flat tire. Since I was close to a gas station, I walked to ask for help, but to no avail. One customer offered to come with me and asked me to open the trunk. To my surprise, he pulled out a smaller tire. Until that day, I had no idea there was a spare tire that lived in my trunk! After he replaced it, he reminded me to make sure I buy a new one before the end of the day. I offered him the cash I had, but he refused it. When I insisted, he declined the offer and walked away. He actually disappeared.

Another day, I was driving and all of the sudden, a light goes off on my car dashboard, and it’s one I have never seen before. As I researched on it, I found out that it was related to the airbag malfunction. I then took the car to the mechanic, who stated that that fault can only be checked and corrected by a Toyota dealer. He however assured me that I could drive the car with that light on, as long as I  don’t get involved in an accident. With his confirmation, I imagined the repair cost being super expensive, so I put that subject on the back burner, at least until the next inspection. Surprisingly, the car passed 3 inspections with no problem. Hence, I didn’t see an urgency to get it fixed. I then put the matter to rest, leaving it for the day I’d plan to sell it.

About 3 years later, I received a letter from Toyota Motor Sales, informing me that all the cars similar to mine, the same make, model and year, have been recalled because of a safety issue that may cause airbag inflators to rupture and propel fragments towards occupants in the event of a crash. I could not believe my eyes. As instructed, I immediately called the nearest Toyota Dealership to schedule an appointment, for them to take a look. The part to be replaced was on back order; therefore, I had to wait for a few months until it arrived.

Finally, I drove my car there. Once there, I was given a comfy seat and a cup of the Starbucks coffee. After waiting for about an hour and a half, one staff member called my name and handed to me a bill that noted $0, and pointed me to a shiny car, of which the service included a complimentary car wash. And I happily drove off, singing, grateful.

22

I am by no means calling “perseverance” my car coincidence fix, but I have learned that waiting patiently makes a difference. There was time that I considered getting it fixed, but I dreaded because honestly, I didn’t want to hear that it’d cost me thousands of dollars; so I dismissed the idea all together. That’s all I did really. There are so many things that I had been asking God and still do. I sometime want them in a certain way, certain circumstances or specific time, but it doesn’t necessarily happen in that order. Sometime I get answers sooner, sometime later, or different from what I had asked.

I really find it very hard to wait for certain things, especially when I cannot do anything to speed up the process. The bible gives us many examples of people who waited and those who rushed to resolve it in their own ways. But for the sake of “perseverance”, the stories attached here are for those who persisted: mothers whose dead children were brought back to life, diseases healed, the barren bore children: Luke 8:43-48 , 2 Kings 4: 18-37, 1 Samuel 1: 1-28 and many more.

As I pondered on what happens during the waiting period, I was intrigued by the story of Jacob, Abraham’s grandson. One of the meanings of his name is: “be behind”, because he was a twin brother to Esau, and when they were born, he followed his older brother holding his heel. Jacob can also mean “a cheater”, because he lied to his brother by tricking him into giving up his birthright for a bowl of lentil stew. Jacob also later lied to his father, Isaac, who mistook him with Esau because he exactly dressed up like him. Isaac, who was old and blind then, blessed Jacob, the youngest, when instead, the birthright blessings belonged to Esau.

When Esau found out, he vowed to kill his brother, who fled for his life. Fast forwarding to many years later, Jacob prepared to meet his brother that he has not seen for many years. Before he could get there though, he encountered something that would change his physical appearance, and his name of “a liar”, to receive a new name, that would carry on to many generations. He wrestled, physically, in preparation to find favor towards the brother he had wronged. Moreover, Jacob was put in a vulnerable position after his wrestling, which meant that he had to completely rely on God, in the presence of someone who had vowed to take his life.

“The same night he arose and took his two wives, his two female servants, and his eleven children,and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. He took them and sent them across the stream, and everything else that he had. And Jacob was left alone. And a man wrestled with him until the breaking of the day. When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he touched his hip socket, and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him.

Then he said, “Let me go, for the day has broken.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” And he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.” Then he said, “Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed.”

Then Jacob asked him, “Please tell me your name.” But he said, “Why is it that you ask my name?” And there he blessed him. So Jacob called the name of the place Peniel, saying, “For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life has been delivered.” The sun rose upon him as he passed Penuel, limping because of his hip.” Genesis 32: 22-31 (ESV)

As Israel cowardly gathered his people and started bowing himself to the ground, Esau ran to meet him and embraced him and fell on his neck and kissed him, and they wept.

Do you have something that God promised to you but it had taken many years to become true? Have you been praying but nothing seems to happen? You and I have good news: God does not change His mind: “I will not violate my covenant or alter the word that went forth from my lips. Once for all I have sworn by my holiness; I will not lie to David.” Psalm 89:34-35. Go ahead and replace David by your own name in the above verse. Don’t take shortcuts! The bible says that those who put the Lord to remembrance shouldn’t take rest.

Keep praying and seeking the kingdom of heaven, everything else shall be added. Don’t stop fighting the good fight, keep the faith, keep running towards the finish line. Hold true to the good news you have attained. Don’t be silent, until God establishes and makes you a praise on earth, your righteousness goes forth as brightness, and your salvation as a burning torch. God is not deaf; His calendar is different from yours and mine, but His plans are to prosper us, not to harm us. The waiting time may be that God is still molding and toning your character to prepare your future.

Sometime God answers prayers by giving you what you would have asked, if you had known what He knows. ” DON’T GIVE UP, hang in there!

“You Are All Invited”

This is probably not a phrase you hear or see often, at at least not in America, especially on a wedding invitation! However, this sounds all too familiar to anyone who has been invited to a wedding in Rwanda.

Before you are pronounced “husband and wife”, or more specifically say “I do”, it is customarily to go through THREE different types of wedding ceremonies in the Rwandan culture: the engagement party (dowry distribution), the town hall (before the mayor), and finally the church wedding. The engagement party is in normal circumstances a 2-3 hour ceremony where the groom’s family & friends metaphorically bring a dowry to the bride’s parents’ house, to ask her hand in marriage.

My best friend during her engagement party (2009). Probably the most beautiful bride I've ever seen!

My best friend during her engagement party (2009). Probably the most beautiful bride I’ve ever seen!

Traditionally, a dowry used to be mainly a cow (a symbol of wealth in Rwanda, and still applicable in some areas); but nowadays, it’s mostly money in cash. Depending on the arrangement between the groom and the bride’s family, this amount of money is most of the time handed to the bride-to-be in advance for the wedding shopping spree. Even so, there still has to be a gift exchange during the ceremony(if not a cow), as a symbol of a dowry. The second part to the engagement party is that it’s the day the bride actually receives her engagement ring (in the western term: the proposal), in front of all guests.

Engagement Party Decoration Example

Engagement Party (Traditional) Decoration Example

Few days or weeks later, the groom & the bride, along with their witnesses have to show up before the district mayor in order to become legally married, since churches don’t have a power to legally marry people in Rwanda as of this writing. The process lasts about an hour or so, and is followed by a small reception.

Finally, few or several days later, it is the final day in the process where, in a church, the priest or a pastor officiates the wedding and the couple exchanges vows, rings & I do’s. This is followed by a reception (it can last up to 5 hours), and everyone, I mean “everyone“, attends. You purposely have to rent a gigantic reception hall, unless you can’t afford it or don’t know a lot of people.

The wedding invitation cards are distributed a month or two before the wedding, and not only it reminds guests that it would be the couple’s pleasure if everyone could be there to celebrate with them, but it also specifically stresses: “you are all invited“. In other words, you have to hand out an invitation card to everyone you know: co-workers, classmates, neighbors, church members, acquaintances, friends, relatives etc. Even better, now with the use of social media, people either post the entire wedding invitation on Facebook visible to the whole world, and/or create a Facebook event where they invite you without even knowing if you are in the country or not.

Therefore, if you have a cousin/friend who’s in town visiting and other friends you were supposed to hang out with that day, you all simply make a trip to this wedding reception. In the end, the total number of guests may range anywhere from 300-1,000 people, sometime more, depending on how famous you are, not to mention that since the invitation card isn’t required at the door, anyone can show up as they please. For that reason, most of the time you cannot feed them all, and you may never know that they were at your wedding.

Rwandan Traditional Dance

Rwandan Traditional Dance

Needless to say, the Rwandan wedding ceremonies are amazing and I still believe they are the best out there: the music, songs, outfits, cultural dances, beautiful people, extremely eye satisfying! And like they say “the more the merrier,” you do not need to hire a wedding coordinator: your friends do everything for you at no cost. Besides professional tasks such as photography, video shooting, hall decoration, food preparation, etc, friends are likely and eager to help out as if it’s their own, as well as contributing some cash.

With this in my head, I was extremely sad when a co-worker at my first job in the United States got married and I wasn’t invited. I wondered what wrong I had done, to not be included. And I was even surprised to hear her sharing the wedding details and excitement; in Rwanda, if you aren’t planning on inviting someone, you simply don’t say anything to them. Only later I learned that around here, people invite a specific number of people, just family and close friends. And the ceremonies are much more smaller, private! It makes sense.

While the newlyweds in Rwanda will definitely not know every single person who made it to their special day, at least not until they watch their wedding DVD and see pictures, in the United States, the bride and the groom specifically walk around to say hi to their guests and thank them for coming. They also make sure everyone who attended feels welcome, gets food, and a seat!! Back home, if you arrive late to a wedding (not to mention that the “Rwandan time” runs a couple of hours  behind the “real time”), you may risk to stand in the back, since seats are first come first serve, unless you are a family member, a close friend or an important person in the wedding.

Church Wedding Day Convoy

Church Wedding Day Convoy, it may consist of a large number of cars

So this week, I received a wedding invitation from a friend I had known a little bit over a year. I was deeply touched because I am not that “very close” to her. Now that I learned that to be invited to someone’s wedding is an honor, I treasured her invitation and couldn’t wait to tell her how excited and special I feel by her invite. I am honored!

Tour D’Europe, In My Own Words!

In the warmth of the European summer 2012, I was honored to be invited to my best friend’s wedding. I was very thrilled and looking forward to walking past the European airports ‘walls, at last. In the past, as I navigated between terminals to reach connecting flights at the London’s Heathrow or the Netherlands’ Amsterdam, I’d peek through the bus or airport terminal windows to gaze upon the city’s beauty. I wondered when I would be able to get out and wander in the streets of London but I was anxious to reach my destination at the same time.

On July 6th, we touch down in Milan, and are immediately waved onto two buses that would take us to the gate for immigration purposes. I have never seen more confusing signs than the Linate airport. As we step out, the driver signals everyone in our bus to go left. I follow the crowd only to find myself before a sign that says “EU residents”. I quickly switch lanes to go to the “Non EU Residents” when a policeman rushes in my direction and harshly points me to go back. Exhausted and jet lagged, I gather my courage to explain to him, in English, that I am not a European resident. He does not understand a single word that comes out of my mouth. Unwillingly, I turn around and join a very slowly moving line. The female Immigration Officer that checks our passports is the slowest I have ever seen.

After what seemed like eternity, it’s my turn and I hand my passport to her. She doesn’t seem to have a clue about the Schengen visa that is stamped in my passport and proceeds to asking me questions. In Italian! I respond to her that I don’t speak Italian; she keeps talking and I grow silent. She calls her supervisor and they chat in a language I don’t understand. Few minutes later, she comes back with my passport. I grab it as quickly as possible and disappear to avoid the possibility of being asked further questions I don’t get. I let out a sigh of relief and annoyed by the fact that this is the most touristic country I know, and yet, an Immigration Officer who speaks no other language besides Italian, at the airport. My friend on the other side begins to worry about what might have happened to me because I am already more than an hour late or so since after I landed.

Duomo di Milano, Italy

Duomo di Milano, Italy

The very next day, Honorine and I board a flight to Paris, and Geneva afterwards. I don’t remember any question asked in either of these two countries; perhaps because I understood their main language: French, of course! I enjoyed touring the city, visiting the Eiffel Tower, the United Nations Headquarters, the International Telecommunications Union HQ, riding in the Geneva Trams etc.

Paris, France

Different parts of Paris, France

Paris

Paris, France

Different parts of Geneva, Switzerland

Different parts of Geneva, Switzerland

Genève, Suisse

Geneve, Suisse

Fast forwarding to several days later, I set for Croatia, my main reason for this trip. On the way, my flight connection is in Berlin, German. I face exactly the same issue: an Officer who speaks only German and he is yet to verify my visa to Croatia. Similarly, he talks to his supervisor before I am directed to the Security Check. Couple hours later, on a hot afternoon, I land in Zagreb. Lining up to show our passports, I silently pray that someone will at least speak some English, so that I can be able to explain that I had applied for the Schengen visa through the Italian embassy. This time, I am more concerned with the process mainly because I was told that I can use the EU visa as Croatia was scheduled to enter the European Union in 2013. I am very afraid that the Officer may wonder where I got that information. To my surprise, he doesn’t ask a single question, and with a smile, he says: “Welcome to Croatia”. That was the beginning of my adventure in the most beautiful country I have ever seen.

My best friend was running a little late. In the process of finding a pay phone and exchanging my cash into Croatian Kunas, there I see my friend’s fiancé, and we both walk to my best friend. It was great to see an amazing woman I met in school six years earlier, and haven’t seen her in 3 years. Later that afternoon, my best friend and I go to tour the city, run errands, chatting, exploring, talking and what not. However, every turn I make, there is at least one person staring at me. I check my outfit to make sure I didn’t spill food on my clothes or have stains. Everything is fine; a brown polka dot blouse and a light blue knee length jeans don’t look any different from what other women around me are wearing. Children, older people, eyes on me everywhere I go.

Zagreb, Croatia

Zagreb, Croatia

Confused, and with million questions into my head, I decide that it’d probably be a perfect time to figure out what’s so different about me: not another single black person anywhere. None! Not in the super market, shopping center, ice cream shops, restaurants, nada. Only then, I come to a realization that many Croatians have possibly never seen a black person in their life time. I figure that this is probably the part of the globe where only white people live, almost exclusively. To this day, I wonder if my best friend even noticed people looking at me or if I look different. Ms Z. is the most diverse and loving person I have ever met. To seal my anticipation, her parents are just like her: wonderful people. I have never liked the sound of my first name than when Ms. Z’s Dad called me. Their warm welcome overwhelmed me. I left a part of my heart in Croatia!

On the wedding day, the DJ was hired for the entire night. I am not a dancer by any means, but I was determined to make it up as I go for my best friend’s special day. We danced until about 2am. When I took a break and sat outside to chat with other guests, two men and their wives approached to ask me about myself. They knew much more than I expected about my home country, Rwanda. In the end, they confessed that they have been talking behind my back, as I danced, saying that Beyonce had arrived in Croatia. I was not sure if I should say thank you or that’s nice. I gathered a smile and explained that it was just creativity, nothing of experience. And a “thank you” of course.

Zagreb, Croatia

Zagreb & Bjelovar, Croatia

During my days in Croatia, I am sure that I counted almost all black people in Zagreb and Bjelovar: a teenage boy and girl who looked like tourists at one restaurant, and one couple at the Zagreb airport on my way back to Milan. A little girl (about 5 years old) one seat over, looked at me without blinking for about two hours during my flight from Zagreb to Berlin, leaning forward because her mom was sitting between us. Her mom was super nice. She patted my hand when I was scared from the turbulence. She offered a hug, should I need to be comforted.

Without a doubt, I fell in love with this beautiful country, and its people. I hope to go back when I have more time. In the end, I had traveled to 4 countries, boarded 10 flights at 10 different airports in just 11 days. I doubt I would do it again. Next time, I will plan my trip better! My very first night back home, a cold finally caught up with me and I was down for two weeks! Nonetheless, it was quite an experience!

The Truth Behind My Smile

I will tell of your name to my brothers; in the midst of the congregation I will praise you.” Psalm 22:22

Thank you for stopping by. God has put something on my heart that I hope and pray will encourage you. Even if everything else I write here is forgotten, I hope this post forever remains a testimony of my gratitude to God Above ALL.

Bene

It is doubtful whether God can use a man greatly, until first He wounds him deeply.”
– A.W. Tozer

The reason that I am deeply rooted in God does not revolve around all the great opportunities and choices the first world countries have to offer. It is not measured by the credibility of schools I have had the privilege to attend, a job I always dreamed of, the greatest company I work for, the wonderful church I am honored to be part of or things that I achieved in my life. And it’s definitely not because I have nothing better to do.

My life song is about the God who picked me up right after I lost parents at a very young age, hopeless and homeless. It is about the Most High, the Father of the Fatherless who never left me alone. He was there as I juggled and learned what it was like to figure out life all alone when no one else cared. He is the strength behind my growing up in Rwanda. Through struggles of all kinds, He alone kept me going. He is the Comforter who walked with me through the days I spent in the college campus clinic. Attached to an IV, I could not attend most of my classes because of stomach problems resulting from the Genocide aftermath. Yet I graduated with best grades.

Most of the time, materialistically I had nothing, but Jesus shined through every little thing I possessed to make me look like I was just a regular happy college girl. When I didn’t have food for a couple of days, my physical appearance didn’t change a bit to reflect the starvation. It is God who provided for my siblings when I was a student and didn’t have any income. He was right on time and didn’t let them drop out of school or starve. He was our shelter when we’d have been homeless. It is God who patted my back, and with a soothing voice told me that I was not alone as I prepared for the state exam at the end of high school to qualify for college, when the only door to my promising future seemed to be closing.

He raises up the poor from the dust; he lifts the needy from the ash heap to make them sit with princes and inherit a seat of honor.” 1 Samuel 2: 8

I have done nothing to deserve to make it to this day. My parents and many other nice people didn’t make it to see what I see today: It is GOD’S GRACE, LOVE & MERCY. He is my only REFUGE. “For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate me from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8:38-39

My faith in Christ my Savior, is beyond the shadow of doubt. It has been perfected by the pain, suffering, loss, poverty, disappointment, shame. If there is one thing I am so certain about, it is the hands of the TRUE GOD on me. I am very grateful that I don’t have a “to-do list” to be accepted by the Lord. Jesus endured it all, on the cross, on my behalf. And GOD accepts me just the way I am. He Has won my full attention and captured my heart, for all my days.  To this day, what He has done in me is far ENOUGH to ensure me that every promise He made will be fulfilled, in His timing. Because God is not a human being that He should lie. However long it takes, I will wait. Yes, because the one who started the good work in me is capable of bringing it to completion. Until that day comes, I will still pray, love, hope, trust, seek and rely on Him.

This is what keeps me going, even on the worst of my days, when fear cripples me. I don’t have it all figured, but I have GOD.

What is the reason behind your courage, testimony, brevity? If everything else fades, where is your safe refuge? If it’s the true God, cling to Him, you will be truly SAFE in His arms when trials and tribulations come.

God bless you.

God is not “Fair”. He is JUST!

By definition, being fair means: “free from bias, dishonesty, or injustice. A fair decision; a fair judge; legitimately sought, pursued, done, given, etc.; proper under the rules.” When we get what we truly deserve, in a good way, it’s called fairness. The jurisdiction system should be fair.

On the other hand, God is not “fair“. This is simply a definition we give to “justice”, in our eyes, not God’s. A simple example is Psalm 103:10 (NKJV): “He has not dealt with us according to our sins, nor punished us according to our iniquities.” If you read the definition I shared above, this is not fairness at all. If you continue and read a few more verses up to 14, in lieu of fairness, we see mercy.

So, digging deep into the meaning, if God was fair, there shouldn’t be tragedies. Of course God does not cause them but He is mighty to stop them from happening, right? But we, as human beings, have ways of justifying what we “think” is right, or fair. But this does not necessarily mean that God sees it the same way, although we tend to believe so.

Let’s look at these few examples:

  • The city of Moore, Oklahoma pummeled by the tornado is beyond comprehension. Emotions of lucky parents reuniting with their survived children from the two elementary schools debris were simply contagious and very moving. The news of some other parents who waited on what may be their loved ones’ fate was simply heartbreaking.
  • Watching the news as the death toll climbed every minute, of people whose lives depended on the little money they made for hours in a country half way across the world, at a Bangladesh garment factory, didn’t make sense at all.
  • Words cannot depict the earthquake that reduced the Haitian capital city to rubble, where more than two hundred thousand people died in January 2010 and the country incurred heavy irreparable damages. My heart was overwhelmed with fear as I waited for the news of a good friend we met in grad school: Katarina, her husband and their baby boy, who was less than 6 months old at the time. By God’s grace, although they lost everything they owned in Port-au-Prince, they were safe and later returned to the United States. My friend’s survival story is unthinkable.
  • Last but certainly not least, the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda remains the worst atrocities of the 20th century; about a million Tutsi (and some Hutu who opposed the genocide) were killed in a period of 100 days. Roméo Dallaire, a Canadian UN Force Commander (UNAMIR 1993-1994), with an objective to assist the implementation of “Arusha Accords” between the Government of Rwanda and the opposition, the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), wrote about his experience. I highly recommend his book: Shake Hands with the Devil.

Romeo Dallaire

You can add a lot more stories, and sadly more are happening as I type. Of course the cause of these tragedies always has little to do with people who encounter them. Also, the conclusion is not about who suffered the most or who deserves the most attention. I personally believe that it’s about what we learn from the experience and finding God’s Power & Plan amid the situation.

In my human mind, of course it’s not fair for children to die, or innocent people to suffer, or bad things to happen to good people. It is very hard to understand that some people may be in abundance while in some places others die from hunger. When all this happen, we start blaming God and wonder where He is as everything happens. Many expressions in Rwanda later quoted that the “God of Rwanda” was absent starting the evening of April 6, 1994.

In some scenarios, we even take it further, by suggesting the Mighty God what would have happened, had He been there! We’re not the only ones though. When Jesus arrived 3 days after his friend Lazarus died, his sister Martha started to blame him. She instructed Jesus that if he had been there sooner, that her brother wouldn’t have died (John 11:21). Of course Jesus was there to not only raise Lazarus from the dead, but to also glorify His Father’s Name. If Jesus healed him instead, I am pretty sure that the miracle may have not been as powerful to them as bringing him back to life.

The truth is, no matter how one may seem to have it all together, we each have struggles on our own levels. We face different challenges in life, but the good news is that God cannot give us more than we can handle. “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it“. 1 Corinthians 10:13

To sum up everything, I know without doubt that God is omnipresent, omnipotent and omniscient. It’s absolutely not because certain places or people are cursed that they should deserve what happens to them. “For God makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust“.(Matt 5:45). God is Just, Almighty, a Healer, a Counselor, a Father to the Fatherless, filled with unwavering mercy and everlasting grace. Along with that, His calendar, schedule, curriculum, budget, judgement are NOT reasonable to our terms.

God does not cause earthquakes, hurricanes or tornadoes, but He is right there when and as it happens. After all, we hear survivors’ amazing stories. After all, it’s not by their own power that those are spared. God is forever on the highest throne; His ways are not ours, nor His thoughts are like ours. You cannot advise Him nor question what He’s doing. He does according to His will on earth as it is in heaven. He rules the world with Truth, Grace and Justice. If you trust Him, when everything falls apart, you will be safe in His arms.

Weep with those who mourn and rejoice with those who celebrate. Treasure each day you have, tomorrow is not granted. Be eager to lend help, you never know when you may need it, too. Be considerate, mindful and sympathetic. Just as you want others to do for you, do the same for them.

May God comfort those who mourn today and ease pain for those who are suffering, in the name of Jesus. May today all those who are in distress hear His soothing voice and may their hope be lifted high.

May His Holy Name be praised, now and always!