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Living Out the Ministry of Presence

A Letter from Kay Day, serving in Rwanda

June 2018

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Dear Friends and Family,

Greetings from Rwanda. This time next month I will be in the States and I look forward to seeing many of you. In the meantime, there is much happening here to share with you.

In March I taught a course in pastoral counseling that included a section on death and dying. We talked about the “ministry of presence,” especially as theologian Henri Nouwen talks about it, the idea of being present with folks in their situations of life as Jesus is present with us. But even as I taught it, from what I know of my students, this was not a theological ideal; it is a way of life. That has been demonstrated to me many times, but none as powerfully as this last week. My student Samuel and his wife Clementine, a couple for whom I officiated their marriage in August, were 8 months pregnant. Clementine did not feel the baby move and went to the doctor on Wednesday. They learned that the baby had died in the womb. Samuel called me and I passed the word to two students. The doctors induced labor and 24 hours later, she delivered the still born boy. In all that time, they were not alone. Four students, two men and two women, went to the hospital to accompany them through the night and all the next day. On Thursday Clementine’s parents arrived and the students ministered to them as well. When the child was delivered at just after midnight on Friday, the students moved into action to help make arrangements for the burial and the transfer home for Clementine. The young women stayed with Clementine at the hospital and then at home while the young men carried the casket to the gravesite they had arranged for. The gravesite, on the side of a steep hill, became a crowded place. More than thirty students walked the 5 miles from PIASS to be with Samuel. Some left classes and others came as soon as class was dismissed. I did the service in English but one student took the responsibility to translate for the few who did not speak English, including Clementine’s parents. Two students accompanied her parents throughout the day so that their needs were attended to. After the burial, they assisted those who needed it as we climbed the hill from the site to the main road. These same students arranged for time of refreshment and speeches at a nearby restaurant. Then many of them accompanied Samuel home, to comfort Clementine. They arranged that the grieving couple would not be alone, but would have privacy for the next few days. They attended to the household chores, men and women, who wanted to “be present with” their friends. I was humbled to see them live out the ministry of presence.

Samuel and Clementine on the day of their civil marriage

This is not the first time. This is the third student who has lost a child in the past year and each time these students have been present with their colleagues in a powerful demonstration of presence. When one of our Sudanese students from the Development Studies faculty lost his mother and sister, they rallied around him to comfort and support him. Yes, you may say that part of this is culture, as the culture is much more community oriented than the individualism of the USA, but a greater part is the heart of these theology students who stand with their brothers and sisters in Christ as the presence of Christ. They hold great potential to make a difference as that presence in the communities they will serve.

This ministry is not confined to Rwanda. As I have prepared to return to the States, several of you have ministered to me with offers of places to stay, with a car for transportation and with invitations to be with you in your churches. I am so grateful to each of you and look forward to being with you. Each Sunday I am there is promised but I have time during the week when I would be available for a small group meeting, a picnic presentation or individual conversation. Please contact me if you are interested. I am so eager to share with you all that God has been doing through you and your support to the ministry here in Rwanda. I couldn’t be here without you. Thank you so much. I’d love to thank you in person.

Yours in Christ,

Kay (Cathie to the family)

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