On Saturday night, forty-five minutes before we were supposed to board our flight home from Kigali, an airline agent ushered us from the boarding area. "You'll need to follow me," he said in the same broken English he'd used hours earlier when guaranteeing us seats on the standby tickets he issued. I had trusted this as standard procedure for the Kigali airport. Perhaps every passenger was assigned her seat at the gate? But that was unfortunately naive. Several hours later, we discovered that KLM had overbooked our flight (as I've learned since that they routinely do), and Audrey and I were randomly bumped.
When it is 10pm, when you and your fourteen-year-old daughter are left stranded in Africa without anyone to contact, you will find reason for panicking, especially when you don't consider first the possibility of praying.
"I paid for these tickets, and we are going to board that plane," I said defiantly, assuming my most American I-won't-be-pushed-around face.
Once I could finally be convinced to leave the boarding area (by armed security guards), I stood at passport control, refusing to let them cancel our stamps. "You're getting us out of this country tonight on the tickets we've bought," I demanded.
The minutes ticked by. The gate eventually closed. When the plane was minutes from taking off and it became undeniably apparent that we were not leaving Kigali on KLM, I finally conceded and followed an airline agent, Audrey trailing silently in my fuming wake.
In her office, the KLM manager began her routine apologies.
"We can get you out of Kigali on Kenyan airways at 4 a.m.," she began, describing the multiple connections we would need to make in order to return to Toronto.
"No, that's not going to work," I said flatly.
"Well, you can take tomorrow's KLM flight out of Kigali at the same time, and we'll put you two up in a hotel close to the airport," she offered.
"No, that's not going to work either," I declared. "You'll have to take us back to the hotel where we stayed this week, you'll need to pay for our transport to and from the hotel, and you'll of course cover our meals tomorrow."
At midnight, those were the terms to which we finally agreed.
Once we had finally settled into our hotel room at 1am, I turned the situation over in my mind, wishing I'd handled myself more calmly, especially with Audrey at my side. What had made me so afraid?
The truth was: I'd felt so alone, so vulnerable. Of all the passengers to bump from the plane, they'd chosen a woman and a child, who were two continents away from home.
But were we as alone as I'd felt? Were we as vulnerable as I'd feared? And why couldn't I have been more mindful of God and his presence with us in those anxious moments when I'd failed to reach anyone by phone?
Those were the questions that kept me lying awake, my heart racing. And as I prayed through those fears and anxieties, I suddenly remembered the verse we had studied together with a HOPE savings group the day before:
"Fear not, daughter of Zion: behold, your king is coming, sitting on a donkey's colt," (John 12:15).
John cites this prophecy from Zephaniah as he describes Jesus making his triumphal entry into Jerusalem.
A day earlier, in a small, remote village north of Kigali, our group from the States had attended a meeting of one of HOPE's saving and credit groups. For three years, these nearly 30 Rwandan women and men had been meeting together, learning not only about the value of saving money, but also about the grace of Jesus Christ. Every week, they've come together to contribute a small amount of savings (for some, a little less than $1/week), to borrow from the group's collective savings (as means for improving their businesses), and to hear the word of God.
On the day of our visit, they began the meeting by opening the Scriptures together and asking these simple questions of John 12:12-16: What do we learn about God? What do we learn about humanity? What must we obey? What truth can we share with others?
When the text had been read aloud several times, the large group was broken up into three smaller groups. An older, thin Rwandan woman with a scarf tied around her head took charge of the eight of us seated on two wooden benches. She read the questions from her small notebook and recorded our answers as we shared.
What do we learn about God? He has sent Jesus, his Son, who is also a king.
What do we learn about humanity? We are slow to learn. We often fail to remember the promises of God.
What must we obey? We should not fear. God is always faithful to his word.
What truth can we share with others? We will share his promises with our husbands, our children, our neighbors. The discussion lasted a mere ten minutes, and while it wasn't tremendously earth-shattering at the time, it was apparently just the lesson I would need little more than twenty-four hours when lying anxiously awake in a Kigali hotel.
In the short week in the Rwanda, my sisters taught me something about fear—and about faith. I suppose of all the terrors a woman might face, they have experienced some of the worst. For those who survived the 1994 genocide, many lost their husbands and children to brutal violence. Some were raped. Others were left for dead.
And yet they continued to gather together and remind each other about God's faithfulness.
War exposes the vulnerability of women. Even this morning, reading from Judges 5, I was reminded of the cruelties to which women are subjected in war. When Jael had driven a tent peg through Sisera's temple, Sisera's mother wondered at his delay. She consoled herself with this terrible thought: "Have they not found and divided the spoil? A womb or two for every man."
In war, women are no longer women. They are wombs: to impregnate, to disease, to splice open and kill.
This is the reality that Rwandan women know firsthand, and yet their faith has survived those terrors.
They tell me this as we read the Scriptures in the church they have built by their offerings (contributions made possible by their collective savings) and their hands.
They remind me that there is nothing to fear, not even death itself, when we see the king who is coming.
God is faithful. I am grateful for the time Audrey and I spent in Rwanda last week, learning about God's work through HOPE International. And I am even grateful for having been delayed twenty-four hours and being reminded that God is always in control.
"Fear not, daughter of Zion: behold, your king is coming, sitting on a donkey's colt," John 12:15.