We turn off the main highway through Huye and onto a dirt road. The side of the road is a swirl of color and activity – bicycle and moto taxi drivers chat as they wait for customers, vendors sell live chickens and fresh vegetables, people crowd into waiting vans.
Larry inches the car through the crowd and drives into the countryside. The dirt road follows the edge of a hillside. We see farmers hoeing their fields in the valley far below. On a path on the opposite side, a boy herds cows from the forest toward the stream that flows through the valley.
We see our team’s van stopped by the side of the road in front of the Eglise Vivant, The Living Church. Alphonse, Isadore, Eric, and Damascene are painting the fascia boards for the gutter on the grassy hillside. The truck delivered the tank a couple days ago and it lies on its side on the new foundation. Larry calls the guys and they hoist the tank upright. We all cheer.
Their father walks out from a nearby house and comes over to talk with me. Arthur translates. He is the church caretaker, Alexander NTAGWERA. His wife, Yvonne MUTUYISA, sits on the ground sorting beans, picking out the best ones to plant for next year’s crop. Her dress is dirty and torn, one safety pin replaces the lost buttons down her front.
The girls are Lydia age 7 and Ettia 3 years old. At age 7, Rwandan children start school with a half day so Lydia has time to help her mother fetch water six times a day from the distant stream. Each trip takes about 30 minutes. Yvonne totes the big 40 pound jerrycan while Lydia carries a smaller one. I look at both of their stick thin arms and wonder how they manage the climb up the hill. They have another daughter, Kelsia 9, and a son, Promise 11, who are at school. They take their turns toting water on weekends. I ask to go fetch water with them but they say it is not an easy walk. I pick up on their concern that the task may be too difficult for me.
I ask if I may go inside their home and they politely show me around. The living room has a few dilapidated chairs and a couch without cushions on its wooden slats. In another room there is a small table with one chair. Dishes sit on the table and the dirt floor. In another room, the parents share a single mattress with rumpled sheets and a mosquito net. An old fashioned suitcase lies open and I can see a few pieces of clothing stored in it. I suspect that the children sleep on woven mats, mats the thickness of our place mats used to decorate our tables. There is no bathroom, no toilet or shower. They probably use the church outhouse and bathe in the river.
We go out back to see where Yvonne cooks. She gestures to a few pieces of charred wood on the ground next to an old foam cushion where she sits to cook.
I thank them and pray for their family. Alexander and Yvonne pray about their gratitude for the rainwater harvesting system. They are so nice. I want to buy them vegetables and fruit, a new dress, a stove, and… But, I know that we can’t. How could we do the same for 50 pastors and 50 church caretakers and so many other deserving people?
When Larry and I started this journey, the best advice we got was, “When you start doing mission work, you want to solve all of the problems. You can’t. You can’t take development from zero to ten. Accept that you might be able to move the dial from one to one and a half. Stay focused. Don’t try to meet all the needs. And, don’t imagine that everyone in the world needs an American style suburban house and two cars to be happy.”
We hear Larry challenge Isadore to a race painting two of the boards. When they finish, Larry has paint all over his hands and shoes. We laugh.
Alexander asks how long the work will take. The team says that it will be done by the end of the week. We smile. The dial is moving. Water is a big help. The rainwater system will give Alexander and Yvonne water, time, and energy to grow better crops and clean their house. The kids will have better nutrition, more time to study, and…maybe a little time to play and just be carefree kids.