A Christmas Lesson from Rwanda

Christmas is fast approaching. It’s impossible to miss…the twinkling lights, the holiday music on every radio station and in every store, the obnoxious commercialism (yes, obnoxious!), the delicious baked goods, the shopping lists, the maxed credit cards, the extra time with those challenging family members, the Christmas pageants and choir rehearsals, the fancy holiday attire, etc. We are all too fam

iliar with the stress that this season can bring. I bet a dozen pictures flashed through your mind as you read that list. Every year I try to figure out how to maintain the spirit, the essence, and the beauty of the Christmas season while not being too crazed by the details, but THE STRUGGLE IS REAL. I got some help this year from a rather unlikely source, the country of Rwanda.

In the beginning of November, my husband and I traveled to Rwanda with a team from our church. If you are familiar with this resilient country, you know that in 1994 there was a genocide in which 1,000,000 people died in only a hundred days, right after Easter. The sad thing was that one people group—the Hutus—were attacking another people group—the Tutsis—but all were Rwandan. After horrors that cannot even be explained, the country has slowly been rebuilding and finding love, peace, joy, and forgiveness. They literally have learned to forgive their neighbors if they want to survive, even if that neighbor had killed their family.

Though the country of Rwanda is still a third-world country struggling with unbelievable poverty, they are slowly progressing. My husband and I and our team had the privilege of partnering with those who have helped make this happen, their local churches and the staff of World Relief, a nonprofit organization that seeks to empower the most lost and vulnerable people in the world. After 17 hours in flight and a six-hour bus ride through the windy hills of Nyamasheki, the poorest region of Rwanda, we arrived in the villages where we met some of the most amazing people I have ever met. Their warmth and smiles were like that of sunshine. They welcomed us into their mud homes, worked alongside us as we built mud homes, and came to our kids’ camp with more thankfulness than I think I have ever seen. I stood in awe as I watched people, who sometimes literally wore rags, walked four hours just to see us, and used a primitive hole in the ground for a restroom, wear contentment and happiness like a fine garment. They are a work in progress, like all of us, of course I saw firsthand the way that World Relief had empowered their churches, villages, and individuals to gain the knowledge and skills needed to make a better life for themselves. They stood in pride, as some shared their entrepreneurial successes that allowed their children to go to school or increase their standard of living. They did not have the best in the world, but they had some of the best attitudes I had ever seen in the world.

Coming home to the United States in the midst of the chaotic holiday season was somewhat of a cultural shock. Seeing the ungratefulness and insatiable need for more “stuff” was a stark contrast to what I had just witnessed in Rwanda. I thought, how can people with so little possess the gift of joy that not even the most expensive gifts could give the people here?

So, my husband and I decided a few things. First, less is definitely more. We got rid of some of our excess, give to charity or the dumpster. We encouraged our families to give our kids experiences for Christmas (like memberships to museums), not just things. We also discuss Advent, the coming of Christ and his birth, and seek to find ways to give back. Most importantly, we want to be thankful for the many blessings we have because this cultivates the true joy of the season.

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