On April 7, 1994, decades and even centuries of ethnic violence, inflamed by civil war, detonated genocide at a rate five times that of the Jewish holocaust in Nazi Germany. You all know the story. Africa’s most densely-populated country. Eight weeks. Upwards of 800,000 people brutally murdered on ethnic lines by neighbors, colleagues and militant mobs.
When the horror stopped, one in five Rwandans were dead — and nearly the entire remaining population carried the bloodguilt. The systematic use of rape as a weapon led to a steep spike in HIV rates, the number of child-headed households soared, and the economy and infrastructure were in ruins. If ever there was an entire nation suffering from trauma, it was this one.
In 2002, on the other side of the world, Rebecca “Becky” Byrd proudly received her school guidance counselor credentials. For more than a decade, she would invest her skills and her heart for kids in a high-poverty public high school in Washington State — and then she would transition to the sticky hugs and giggles and tears of a nearby elementary school. Becky loved her work with the kids, and esteemed her colleagues — but she began to have a hunger for … more.
It wasn’t more accomplishments or relationships or adventure, more money or pleasure that Becky was hungry for. It was more of God. More intimacy with Jesus, more of the life of the Spirit, more of the fruit of an active faith. And as her yearning grew, she began to hear God calling her to an extraordinary step.
Today, in 2015, Rwanda is a country of paradoxes. Its Reconciliation Programs, led by many Christ-following organizations and embraced by the government, have inspired the entire world by the repentance, forgiveness and friendships modeled between victims and perpetrators. And yet, the tensions simmer and Rwandans speak of their fears of returning violence – some of which played out in last week’s attempted military coup in neighboring Burundi.
Rwanda’s government has achieved a remarkable level of stability, economic growth, and gender equality — and stands out for its zero-tolerance for corruption. And yet, the authoritarian regime continues inflammatory engagement in armed conflicts in the region, allows no opposition, and severely limits freedom of expression. Just last week, the US House Committee on Foreign Affairs held a hearing specifically dedicated to the deteriorating human rights conditions in Rwanda.
Perhaps there is also a paradox of hope in one of Rwanda’s most challenging features: Children younger than fifteen represent more than 40% of the entire population.
Enter God’s call to Becky. In July of this year, Becky will leave for a minimum of two years to work as a K-12 school guidance counselor in Kigali, the capital city of Rwanda. Kigali International Community School serves both Rwandan children and the children of the many Christian missionaries who are giving their lives to partner with the people of Rwanda in the journey toward physical, spiritual, and relational health. Becky’s training and heart for counseling children will enable her to expertly support these front-line missionaries by caring well for their children. In addition, Becky will also work with the African Transformation Network which conducts sports camps, outreach ministries and even a home for the staggering population of street children in Kigali.
Two thousand years ago, while in a boat in the middle of the Sea of Galilee, Peter saw Jesus walking toward him on the water — and he was overcome with desire to be with Jesus. It wasn’t desire for an exciting experience or a great accomplishment — when you read the account, it is as if those things didn’t even cross Peter’s mind. He just wanted to be where Jesus was. And Jesus, knowing his heart, invited him to do just that — to leave the familiarity of that boat and join him on the water. Here’s the deal with stepping out of a boat in the middle of a stormy sea: It means sure disaster if it wasn’t Jesus who called you, if it isn’t Jesus whom you fix your eyes on and trust every step of the way. And ultimately, Peter’s step, faltering though it was, made him a unique part of God’s great story that would transform not just Peter, but countless millions of people since then.
As with Peter, so with Becky. In her desire to draw closer to Jesus, He is calling her to leave familiarity and step into a place that looks like it could hold all kinds of disaster — and yet, she declares this step for what it is: “This is my Step-Out-of-the-Boat Moment”. The step when she moves closer to Jesus, fully engages her need to fix her eyes on him and trust him for every moment — and ultimately takes a greater part of God’s great story of transformation.
Becky, we celebrate with you. We wait eagerly to hear of the ways God meets you, grows you, uses you. Again and again, may you hear the voice of Jesus say to you as he said to Peter “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.” And may you find your heart responding with those first disciples: “Truly you are the Son of God.”
And now, my friends, I ask: To what Step-Out-of-the-Boat act of faith is God calling each of us?
**If you are interested in hearing from Becky on her journey, you can connect with her at https://www.facebook.com/rebeccAfrica. Becky is currently working to raise $3500 in one-time costs, and $3000/month to sustain her costs of living, insurance, transportation, etc. — and you can be a part of her team by giving a one-time or a monthly donation at http://www.rce-international.org/support-a-missionary/.