Sunday, June 12, 2011
Theo works for Rwanda Partners, particularly dealing with the reconciliation projects and workshops that are happening throughout the country. Reconciliation is more than employment for Theo. As he explains in Wounded Healers, the movie that tells his story, Theo hid in a stifling attic during the 1994 genocide. From his musty perch, he watched the Interahamwe militia roaming the road in crazed packs looking for the few Tutsis who were still alive. When the attic became too risky, Theo moved to a garbage heap, where he hid, covered in stinking refuse for weeks.
During our time in Rwanda, we had the privilege of spending time with Theo as he introduced us to a few key groups of people and acted as our gracious translator. We studied his even manner and the gentle way he listened to interlocutors on both sides of the language divide and carefully chose the words that seemed to honor the integrity of the original message. We listened when he spoke in a clear and steady timbre. Spending time with Theo is like having your feet in a cool brook with a warm summer sun at your back. His presence is as calm and refreshing as it is warm and wise.
When we were with Theo, we also laughed. Because he is playful, a dry-witted sarcasm thinly veiled behind his quiet demeanor. For example, three hours into a budget safari, where we were sharing a vehicle with Theo and two others, he adopted a few signature grammatical “errors” of our four-year-old son, gleaned from the stories I had been telling. He continued to use Mister’s endearing phrases the rest of the trip with a sly smile. “I very want to ask you a question…” and “Ummmm, but did you know…” During a serious dinner, he had my husband stifling juvenile giggles as they added food to one another’s plate and took the liberty of scooping heaps of sugar into the other’s cup of tea.
But when I think of Theo, what comes to mind first, before his harrowing tale of life during the genocide or his deft ability to set people at ease in cross-cultural communication, is a three minute window of conversation on our way back to Kigali after nine hours of our dusty-road-and-biting-fly safari. Everyone was tired and had settled into the rhythmic stillness of the paved road. I had pulled my hat down to shade my right cheek from a blazing afternoon sun and was pretending to sleep. From the corner of my eye, I saw Theo twist his body around to face my husband who was stretched out in the cargo area where he had set up shop as Lead Fly Smasher earlier in the day. Theo the Prophet began, without introduction, to tell my husband about his responsibility to bring peace to his household. He talked of praying earlier in the life of his family for peace in the home. God had answered his prayer by tasking Theo with bringing the peace he asked for home himself. “Jason, you are responsible to bring peace to your home. Do not wait for it. You cannot just bring bread. If there is no peace, it is your responsibility. You must do it. What is the point of having money and enough food to eat if there is not peace? You cannot only feed your family and provide for their physical needs. You must also bring peace. This is your responsibility.”
It was a beautiful moment of unprompted pastoral care. I do not know for what specific occasion or season my husband will need that word, but I doubt he will ever forget it. Nor will I. Because when a man who has known the depth of human suffering and has forfeited his right to harboring anger tells you to make peace your business, you listen.