Heart to Heart with Lydia Corriveau – Part II

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PART II

            In late winter, Lydia Corriveau flew to Rwanda for two weeks and volunteered as a post-operative nurse with an organization called Team Heart. During the two weeks, the team conducted heart valve replacement surgeries on young adults who had suffered cardiac damage from untreated cases of strep throat. I wanted to hear more about her trip and asked her to share some of her experiences with me. This is the second part of our conversation.Click here for Part I

Lydia with Diane and Lilianne

Lydia with Diane and Lilianne

Abby: A few years ago, you volunteered for five months in Guinea, West Africa, with Mercy Ships. What was it like to go back to Africa? Did you gain any insights into life in Rwanda?

Lydia: I was reminded of the beautiful complexities of Africa. Africans have such rich culture, language, family life, landscape, food, and sense of hospitality. Yet they also live with very real difficulties, injustices, and obstacles. From what I could observe, Rwanda is more developed than Guinea and has made incredible gains over the past twenty years. The recent history of Rwanda’s genocide and its significant impact in the country was very felt, and it made for a very different learning experience in Rwanda. I kept on thinking to myself that I could not imagine a genocide taking place in this beautiful country full of beautiful people only twenty years earlier.

In Guinea, I observed strong tribal tensions and unrest, while, in Rwanda, I was amazed at the shared sense of national identity. I’ve been told that if you ask a person their tribe, they simply reply, “I’m Rwandan.” They now focus on their oneness as a people rather than their smaller differences.

 

Abby: You went to Rwanda to volunteer as a nurse, but knowing your adventurous spirit, I’m sure you explored a bit as well. What did you do outside the hospital?

Lydia: I had amazing opportunities to visit the Rwandan Genocide Memorial, attend a Rwandan-Mozambique football [soccer] match, attend a local church service, have dinner in two Rwandan’s homes, visit the market, and I even got to go on a day-long safari.

12 - Safari (44)

 

Abby: What was the hardest or most challenging part of this trip for you?

Lydia: The sense of guilt I feel when I am treated with such high respect and care. Coming from a small town in Vermont, I see myself as a simple person—small and insignificant in the larger world. When I’m in Africa, my white skin and blond hair represent money and power. Rather than going to serve, I end up being served. Rather than having something to give, I am given such attention.  I wrestle with the injustice Africans (any many other exploited people groups) have suffered, and I see the disparities between my world and theirs, disparities that result from greed and corruption. I feel like a representation of the economic imbalance. I hope the respect, kindness, and care I show through my actions can play a small part in acknowledging and working against the disparities between our two worlds.

Abby: Do you feel this experience caused you to grow in your relationship with God? If so, how?

Being on a team really helped me to see the value of living life within a community of people working together toward the same goal, whether this is in Christian community or on a medical trip. “Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up!” Ecclesiastes 4:9

I can easily despair if I look at the world around me and fail to filter it through the lens of the gospel. My time in Africa has added new dimensions to the way I think of God at work in the world and the ways in which I would like to join Him in this work. The following quote by N.T. Wright highlights much of what I’ve been thinking about since returning from my travels:

“What we do in the Lord is not in vain and that is the mandate we need for every act of justice and mercy, every program of ecology, every effort to reflect God’s wise stewardly image into his creation. In the new creation the ancient human mandate to look after the garden is dramatically reaffirmed, as John hints in his resurrection story, where Mary supposes Jesus is the gardener. The resurrection of Jesus is the reaffirmation of the goodness of creation, and the gift of the Spirit is there to make us the fully human beings we were supposed to be, precisely so that we can fulfill that mandate at last. The work we do in the present, then, gains its full significance from the eventual design in which it is meant to belong.” (N.T. Wright, Surprised By Hope, p.210)

I’ve been thinking about God’s commitment to this world He created and has called “good” from the beginning. As broken and imbalanced as this world is, I believe and hope that God is in the midst of restoring His kingdom here “on earth as it is in heaven.” Each time we commit ourselves to this good work, recognizing Jesus’ invitation to join Him, we participate in God’s reconciling work. This participation can look a thousand different ways, and there is room for each of us to contribute by using our particular skills and passions.