Posted in Celebration, Charity, Emotions, Freedom, God, Hope, jesus, Joy, Missionary, Rwanda, Sacred, Third Culture Kid, Travel

From the Fantastic to the Ordinary (#iwanttobuildashrine #rwanda)

“Honeymoon experiences cannot be sustained.  We must always return to the ordinary.” (Richard Rohr)

I am still trying to wrap my head and my heart around the fantastic, incredible, extra-ordinary, unbelievable, “other-worldly” experience I had in Rwanda.  There really are no words in our English language able to capture it in its fullness.  You know what I’m talking about.  You’ve had these times as well where it feels like it’s too almost too sacred to share.

I go from energy to exhaustion within the same moment.  I am energized because a new village has clean water to drink.  I can see and hear the girls jumping rope with their new gift from America and dancing as water pours out from the brand new pump.  However, I am exhausted because people are still wearing their same dirty clothes day after day and school girls don’t have access to feminine hygiene products, much less a private place at school when it’s their “time of the month.”  They have to stay home for the week, thwarting their learning and the prospect of a better life.

My heart wants to go back and stay here all at once.  Here in New Jersey, I have people I love, conveniences (like wifi that actually works consistently), and a bed that welcomes me (without a mosquito net).  But in Rwanda, there are new friends that I love and already miss, the simplicities of a slower pace without the constant dinging of cell phones, and a night sky filled with unhindered stars shining brightly.

I miss the excitement of my team and our trip yet I am happy for the silence of my kitchen in this moment.   There couldn’t have been a better group of people to travel with.  Our persons varied widely:  silly and serious, introverts and extroverts (#meandnatalie), newbies to world travel and those who have lived all over the globe, young parents to grandparents, singles and married.  We laughed at ourselves in all our Americanness and shed tears for and with each other, sharing how our hearts had been changed forever because of this precious time spent.  We danced in the afternoon and sat bleary-eyed at the early breakfast table,   We played soccer and sang praise songs, gave hygiene lessons and carried pipes.  We did our best to be utterly flexible while our “used-to-being-in-control” selves took a much-needed break.  Yet, now, I am happy for the normal, everyday life where I can take stock of these moments and process how I have been shaken on the inside, never to be the same.  It’s just my computer and me in my kitchen in my home, all activity quieted for the moment.

I met some of the brightest and kindest people serving their local community with Living Water International.  Graciously, they allowed us the opportunity to actually hold the drill rig in our own non-calloused hands.  I  danced with local church leaders who care day-in and day-out for the poorest members of their villages.   I stood in awed silence as one woman prayed for me as she squeezed my hand intermittently during the time given to the task.  I spoke with a government sanitation minister about her efforts to have working toilets in the schools (the funny thing being that the toilet in her government building actually over-flowed after I used it).  Tears flowed as I left them behind, yet hope sprang because they continue to do the work after I am gone.  We are connected not in body anymore, but still in vision and heart.

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I want to do something more, not waste my experience, make it count.  I don’t want to go back to my ordinary life of sending emails, brushing my teeth and getting my car fixed.   I want to buy a cow for three people that I met.  I want to write blog posts that the world will read.  I want to make a slide show, a scrapbook, something so that I won’t forget, and neither will others.  I want to capture it and hold on tightly.

But when it comes down to it, I am probably not buying a cow for anyone.  It might be not the wisest thing to do.  I also have had a really hard time writing down exactly what I experienced even though I have tried many moments.  Even looking at my pics and videos (and I know some of them are here in this post), they just don’t do the trip justice.  I’ve tried to share them, but they don’t really capture the beauty of the rolling hills or the sheer joy of the people met.  You know.  You get it.  You’ve had these experiences too.

Processing some of it out (at least for now), I realized that I just want to build a shrine out of this mountaintop experience like the three disciples did when they saw Jesus being transfigured during their literal mountaintop experience (READ IT HERE) . After all, they had just encountered something fantastic, incredible, extra-ordinary, unbelievable, “other-worldly.”  I’m with Peter.  Why not build at least some tents, something more permanent, so everyone could live there?  Why not have at least a blog post, a video documentary, something concrete to hold on to so that no one would ever forget?

But Jesus surprisingly and gently says to them, “Don’t talk about it right now.”  As Richard Rohr reminded me this week (Check out his whole article HERE), “Jesus knew that talking too soon would only weaken the experience. Silence seems necessary to preserve the sacred and the mysterious.”

Obviously, I have not been completely silent (I am Esther Goetz after all).  Here you are, reading this blog post that I have written.  It’s my third one (here are ONE and TWO).   However, I have found myself fumbling for thoughts, words and images to share here and with family and friends.  And no matter what I’ve tried, I sense that I’m holding back and not really wanting to speak about it very much.  Now I have a small glimpse as to why.  Richard Rohr is wise.  Jesus is even wiser.  He has invited me on a sacred journey meant just for me FOR NOW.   He has lovingly thwarted me from “building a shrine” and living there in the extra-ordinary, mountaintop place.  He has reminded me that yes, the fantastic has its purpose.  It shakes us to the core.  It shouts loudly to our souls.  It changes us forever.  Thank God for the fantastic.

However, we can’t stay there.  Nor should we.  Even though this week, I have really wanted to.  Coming back off the mountaintop back down into the ordinary is just as crucial for us, for me.  It must be.  Most of our time is spent here.  Our hushed, behind-the-scenes, gentle, seemingly dull moments are not wasted.  They are essential.  For it’s in those very ordinary moments that turn into days that form weeks and months and years, that a lifetime of long-lasting redemption takes place.  We are truly changed forever.


Thank you again, Rwanda,  your people and your land are beautiful.  Your redemption story is almost unfathomable.   Because of the light you shine, our world and my heart are much brighter!!  Again, I say, Murakoze Rwanda!!!

**THANKS SO MUCH FOR READING TODAY…WOULD BE THRILLED IF YOU LIKED THE POST HERE OR OUT ON SOCIAL MEDIA.  I WOULD ALSO LOVE AND WELCOME ANY COMMENTS*

Posted in Celebration, Charity, Childhood, Faith, Family, Freedom, God, Grief, Hope, jesus, Joy, Love, Missionary, Peace, Rwanda, Sacred, Thanks, Third Culture Kid, Travel

Dear President Kagame of Rwanda,

“In all my travels, I’ve never seen a country’s population more determined to forgive, and to build and succeed than in Rwanda.”  (Pastor Rick Warren)

Dear Mr. Kagame,

I visited your country this past week.  It was the first time I had ever been to Rwanda.  When I was growing up and then a young mother, your country was constantly in the news, and not for good reasons.  There was strife among your people groups and the politics that surrounded them and then ultimately horrific genocide in the spring of 1994.  Even I, an American child growing up in war-torn Ethiopia during the 1970s, would have been terrified to visit.

That was not the case about a year ago when I was invited to go on a clean water trip to your “Land of a Thousand Hills,” something I learned this past week was more true than I imagined.  I was elated at the idea and said a hearty “yes.”   About three years ago, having heard the basic story of the healing journey your people have embarked on for the past 20+ years, I became intrigued with your country and felt a pull to experience it personally and in detail.   Yes, I wanted to bring clean water, but more so, I longed to learn and know your people and their stories of utter heartache and unexplainable hope.

Your country that is now known for its clean streets and touristy treks to encounter mountain gorillas descended into the dark hole of savagery in 1994, only 24 short years ago.  Your nation was shattered beyond recognition.  Your people turned on their neighbors, their friends, their own families.  They murdered innocent men, women and children, leaving behind a completely decimated economy and environment, destroying themselves from the inside out.    This genocide lasted 100 days and over 1,000,000 (roughly one out of every seven) of your beautiful Rwandans lost their lives.

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When it was all over, there was a crucial decision that had to be made.  What do you do with a nation where 70% of your children personally witnessed the killing or injuring of a family member, 80% lost somebody in their household and 90% were afraid they were the next to die?  What do you do with a country where so many were perpetrators and even more were victims?  What do you do when all the light goes out and darkness appears to have definitively prevailed?

Only the most ludicrous options remained for your countrymen:  the excruciating, very personal and communal passage towards repentance, grace, forgiveness, reconciliation and restoration.   Under your humble and wise leadership, your brave people began their continuing journey towards hope and healing.  This incredible and very rare approach to this cruel tragedy provided the essential environment where each man, woman and child who remained could experience life and love again, in all their fullness.  Children could go to school.  Parents could raise their crops and their families.   Rwandan’s businesses could thrive.  Your country could move from tragedy to triumph.

You have come a long way in just these 24 years.  Your country is beautiful, the rolling hills once stained with blood, now dotted with crops and livestock.  Your streets are exceptionally clean, unlike anything I’ve seen.  Your people, adults and children alike, are filled with joy.  Your neighborhoods are safe.  Your unity and respect for each other, from the highest nobleman to the lowest pauper, abounds.  Your visible equality among men and women in places of authority and leadership is highly telling of the mutual, inner esteem you have for each other.  Your desire to become the first African nation where 100% of your people have access to clean water reveals the spirit of hope and excitement that I witnessed in spades.  From your bustling capital of Kigali to the poorest, remote village where we dug our well, positivity and hope-filled energy permeated each person we met.

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We were welcomed with bright smiles, waves and shouts of “Muzungu” (look that up on Google, you readers) as we rode past adults and children performing their daily tasks of fetching clean water, transacting business in the marketplace and taxiing their neighbors on the backs of bicycles and motorbikes.  Never for a moment did I feel as if I was not wanted there.  As I very sadly pondered your blood-stained streets only a few short years ago, I witnessed first-hand the miracle of this very “other-worldly” and one-of-a-kind route you and your people have taken.

Instead of revenge, you have given each other forgiveness.  Instead of continuing hatred, you have learned to “love your  neighbor as yourself.”  Instead of war, you have an authentic peace that surpasses all human understanding.  Instead of continuous destruction, there is marked restoration.  I do not say this lightly.  It’s palpable.

It’s as close as my eyes that saw church and political leaders working together, diligently creating plans to help the least of their countrymen.  It’s as close as my ears that heard joyful singing of villagers as we watched together the water spurt out of the dry ground.  It’s as close as my mouth that tasted the delicious fruits of your harvest, from bananas to coffee, sweet potatoes to cassava.  It’s as close as my nose that relished the unique smells of the bustling city of Kigali to the rural countryside of the Ruhango District.   It’s as close as my arms that received hugs and high-fives from soccer players and church goers, government workers and school children, the wise elders and the curious children.  More completely, it’s as close as my deeply-transformed soul that I carry with me out of your beloved land.

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From the bottom of my heart, I salute you and your people.  You have courage beyond my comprehension.  You have chosen great love in the face of extreme difficulty.  Each one of you shines like a bright beacon in our dark world.  Thank you.  My heart has captured your dream to bring clean water to every Rwandan father, mother and child and wish to make your vision a reality:  “hope for the hopeless, rest for the weary and love for a broken heart.”  Godspeed, Mr. Kagame!

Esther Goetz

 

PLEASE CLICK HERE FOR OTHER THOUGHTS ON MY TRIP TO RWANDA!

 

*If you liked this, please go onto social media and give me a thumbs up or a like.  This one especially shares my heart and it would mean a lot to me.*

 

 

 

Posted in Charity, Faith, Freedom, God, Hope, Missionary, Sacred

I Want A New Name (Six Days and Counting) #40Days

“The poor are not a problem to be solved, but a portal to the very heart of God.”  (Richard Galloway)

I couldn’t stop crying for 45 minutes.  Tears kept streaming down my face as I tried to wipe them away pointlessly.  No, I was not watching This is Us (although that has happened many times).  I was sitting in church.  From the moment my friend, Juan Galloway, Director of New York City Relief, appeared on stage, I was overwhelmed with emotion.

You see, Juan’s prior week had looked a lot different than mine.  I had spent the week moving Jared into his new home in Pittsburgh, spending time at Target and Big Lots, and going out to dinner with family.  I had slept in Allen’s 10th floor apartment overlooking the beautiful Monongahela River, enjoying the sunrise over the water each morning.  Yes, it was very chilly, we worked hard and I was exhausted by the end of it.  But I had food in my tummy, a coat on my back, and love from my family.  Juan, on the other hand, had spent six cold days and nights living as a homeless man on the streets of New York City.  He panhandled the first day enough to buy a blanket that became his lifeline to stay warm.  He slept on the E-train, at homeless shelters, and only ate what he was given or could buy from his labor.  He wanted to find out the answers to these questions:  “What does it feel like when people look down on you all day?  What does it feel like when someone blesses you and helps you?”  He also desired to SEE those who were homeless, HEAR them, and KNOW them.  He believed that in that process, he would SEE Jesus, HEAR Jesus and KNOW Jesus.

As some of you know, Allen has been on the board of the New York City Rescue Mission for about 20 years and now he serves on the board of the Bowery Mission, as those two have joined forces to serve the poor more effectively.   Our son Jared interned one summer at the Rescue Mission.  Our daughter, Sarah, teaches second grade to children in poverty.  We do serve the poor.  We give our time and resources, go to fund-raising galas in fancy clothes and hand out meals on occasion.  However, I have always viewed the poor as a problem to be solved.  And boy, am I a problem solver.  I fix things most days from sun up to sun down and do it all again the next day.  Makes me feel good about myself.

Until last Sunday.  And then all week as tears continue to well up even this morning as I ponder what God spoke through Juan to me.  You can see by my tagline that the whole point of this blog to bring hope and healing to the heart-broken.  That’s you and me, all of us.  And God promises that healing to us.  But how?  When?  What kind?  I may have just stumbled across an answer.  I am mostly uncomfortable with “if then” statements because it seems to reduce life down to formulas, removes the complexity of brokenness and tends to create a fix-it mentality.  Therefore, I don’t take what I am sharing with you lightly.

As many of you also know, I am at the tail-end of my forty-day fast from chips, chocolate and cheese (only six days left).  I have been praying over my “Hosanna” (COME SAVE US!)  list intermittently during this time (Happy Palm Sunday, BTW!).  I have continued to ask the questions:  what is the point?  why am I doing this?  will you really come save God?  what really matters?

Enter the reading of Isaiah 58 last Sunday.

Is not this the kind of FASTING I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
    and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
    and break every yoke?
Is it not to share your food with the hungry
    and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked, to clothe them,
    and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
Then your light will break forth like the dawn,
    and your healing will quickly appear;
then your righteousness will go before you,
    and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.
Then you will call, and the Lord will answer;
    you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.

If you do away with the yoke of oppression,
    with the pointing finger and malicious talk,
and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry
    and satisfy the needs of the oppressed,
then your light will rise in the darkness,
    and your night will become like the noonday.
The Lord will guide you always;
    he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land
    and will strengthen your frame.
You will be like a well-watered garden,
    like a spring whose waters never fail.
Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins
    and will raise up the age-old foundations;
you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls,
    Restorer of Streets with Dwellings.

 

I naturally want self-preservation and self-advancement.  I spend a lot of time and energy on those two things.  Just look at my to-do list and my calendar.  Thank God His heart is the opposite.  He joyfully gives Himself to me.  He doesn’t need to preserve or advance Himself.  He knows those things only enslave me and He wants to gently move me into the place where He lives, the best place of all, the place of healing and freedom.

But how am I moved there?  The “treasure map,” as Juan calls it, of Isaiah 58 makes it plain.  There just doesn’t seem to be anything complicated about it.  One true path to my healing includes the poor, the downtrodden, the outcast, the oppressed, the broken.  Of course, when we see how Jesus lived, He seems to have clearly understood this unpopular path.  He engaged with and loved those who were on the fringes.  He spoke of the poor, the prisoner, the needy, the sick, the outcast and their value to Him.  He believed that the poor are the portal to the heart of God because as we see, hear and know them, just like Juan did, we see, hear and know Him, the one who reflects this best.  They are the portal to the heart of God, not because they are a problem to be solved, but a people to be loved.  I am not God’s gift to the poor.  They are His gift to me.

I want as much healing for MYSELF as I can get in this lifetime.  I want my heart to be fully and deeply satisfied.   I want to remove the “pointing finger” of judgment from my life and replace it with the loving hand of grace.   I want to hear God’s inner voice of love on this journey rather than my own voice of condemnation.  I want supernatural strength for my human frame as I am approaching the next years.  God promises all that and more as I take the uncomfortable journey towards the poor.   I’m not sure how it works, but I am hopeful to take another step towards compassion and connection.

I also want as much healing for OTHERS as they can get in this lifetime.  I want that for you.  It’s my overarching goal.  I want my personal inner garden to be well-watered so that I can be a place where other can come and drink deep the love of God, especially those who are thirsting for meaning and hope.  And mostly, I want a new name.  I want to be called (and Allen, take note for my  grave headstone) REPAIRER of Broken Walls and RESTORER of Streets with Dwellings.  I want the broken to be healed and their true homes to be found in God Himself.  REPAIRER.  RESTORER.   What really can be better than this?  Nothing.  And God promises this to me.  I’m counting on it.

This is and is not about the poor.  This is about God.  This is about your healing and mine.  This is about hearing God’s words of love to my heart.  There are broken, hurting, poor people all around me.  I don’t have to travel far to see them and to go after them in their brokenness.  God came after me in mine.  This is the best stuff!  Right now, there are people who are just waiting for me to come to them.  I want more of God.  They are the portal.

REPAIRER.  RESTORER.  It has a nice ring to it!

(If you would like to hear the talk from Juan that changed my heart, please click HERE.  You won’t regret it!)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Charity, Ethiopia, Missionary

charity:water

We believe in a world where every single person has clean and safe water.  (Scott Harrison)

Clean water is one of our family’s passions.  Loving others with no strings attached is another.  I’m shouting out today to an organization that combines both and changes the world one “cup of cold water” at a time!

Rachel’s college essay captures the heart and passion of Scott Harrison, the founder of charity:water!  This organization changed our lives and hearts.  I pray their story will change yours.

One individual who has influenced me profoundly since I was a young girl is Scott Harrison. He first came to speak at my church when I was eight years old. He told the congregation his story, shared his passion in its entirety, and truly won my heart.

Harrison’s story is not what one would expect of someone who is now devoted to serving those less fortunate. Harrison grew up in a Christian home and went to a Christian school until he convinced his parents to let him go to public school. While attending public school, Harrison joined a band and began straying from the Christian faith. At the age of eighteen, he moved to New York City with his band and played gigs at various clubs until his band broke up. Harrison then began working to promote the same nightclubs where he played. He spent the next 10 years flourishing in this business and used his money to excessively “party.”  He used alcohol and drugs to numb the boredom of his life, while constantly searching for the next big thing, eventually becoming morally and spiritually bankrupt.

At that time, his father gave him a book called, “The Pursuit of God,” by A.W Tozer.  He had a crisis in his conscience that sent him on a path to rediscover his faith and reflect on his lifestyle.  He posed the question to himself, “What would the exact opposite of my life be?” (charitywater.org)  Shortly thereafter, Harrison went from making lots of money promoting clubs and alcohol, to serving with Mercy Ships as their volunteer photojournalist.  This organization is a fleet of floating hospitals that provide medical care to those who don’t have this crucial need. During this time, he met another volunteer on the ship who also had a passion to dig wells in his spare time for communities who had the worst water resources. Harrison began to ask questions about the link between dirty water and the very diseases the ship was providing treatment for.  He discovered that 80% of these diseases were caused by dirty water. He decided to devote his life to removing what he deemed the biggest obstacle facing the poor: access to clean drinking water.  

Harrison’s vision became one of bringing clean drinking water to the 663 million people who walked miles every day to fetch dirty water for themselves and their families. However, he realized there would be obstacles, one being that people have hesitations when donating to charity, primarily because they don’t know how much of it is going directly to the work and and how much is funding the overhead of the organization. To ensure people their money was being used for their designated purpose, Harrison decided that 100% of the money that was donated to the charity would be given to funding clean water service projects. He personally would have the challenge of raising the money for the administrative side of the organization. He even took it one step further and told the donors that he would track each dollar using GPS so they could see exactly where and how their money was being used. On his 31st birthday, in September of 2006, Harrison decided to use his skills and connections to throw a huge birthday party for himself in New York City and charged $20.00 to all 700 of the people he invited.  He shared his passion that evening, built three wells with the money and sent the pictures of those wells to each person who came. Less than two years later, Harrison came to my church and shared his vision, inviting those who had September birthdays to follow his lead and use their own birthdays as a way to raise money for charity:water.

As a soon-to-be nine year-old girl with an upcoming September birthday, I caught Harrison’s vision for a world where everyone has clean drinking water.  I was so excited and decided that I would have a birthday party and instead of asking for gifts, I would ask for a donation for charity:water.  I am sure that the money I received was not nearly enough for a well, but my heart was changed.

The mission of charity:water is something that effected my whole family. We have gone into the charity:water headquarters, been to their fund-raising Christmas galas, run in 5Ks to raise money and awareness, and currently, we have three pictures sitting on our counter of completed wells in my mom’s birth country of Ethiopia.  Last Christmas, my siblings and I pooled our resources and donated our own well. I will be excited when it’s the picture of our well on the counter along with the others.  I am so glad that Scott Harrison came and shared this need with our church, and that I have had a part in meeting it.  He not only won over my head, but my heart.

Scott Harrison is changing the world one well at a time, and in turn, one heart at a time.

Update (back to Esther):  our family has another well in the works for 2017 in Tigray, Ethiopia.  25 years ago, more than 3.2 billion people had no access to clean water.  That number is now 663 million.  One well may not seem like very much, but if each of us does our part, the number could one day be zero.

Second Update (World Water Day 2018):  Allen and I will be traveling with Living Water (another clean water organization) in September of 2018 to the country of Rwanda to build a well and meet the amazing people of Rwanda, whose country’s president wants to be the first African country where 100% of the people have access to clean water.  If you would like to donate to our trip, which would mean the world to us, click HERE.