JULY UPDATE: And…..action!

Muraho, friends!

July has been a huge month for our family! Two major things have happened:

Matthew’s AGRI-FAITH TRAINING PROGRAM has officially begun its pilot season!
And….we finally BOUGHT OUR LAND!

We are so pumped about both of these things!

First, let’s talk about Matthew’s training.

IMG_4954Ababibyi B’Ibyirinjiro (Sowers of Hope) is an agri-faith training program Matthew has designed for the Anglican Church of Rwanda. Our pilot season is in the village of Gasura, a rural village outside of Kigali. We are working in conjunction with the already established Savings and Credit Association Groups (microfinance and savings groups for the win!) and training 3-5 members from each of the 6 local churches in the area, about 25 farmers total. These members have been elected for the training by their community. After the first season of trainings, graduating farmers will be commissioned as agricultural ministers, and for the next 3 seasons (18 months) they will be work as our teachers in their local churches.

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Farm Assessment Maps

This month, the farmers have learned about the principles of designing the farm (intro to permaculture), including specific techniques for harvesting rainwater. Here’s a video of a demo used during the training (not our video):

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3wbyUz4IkjM&t=279s

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Nutrition Training “Market simulation”

Another training was on nutrition: a mock market was set up and the farmers had a certain amount of money (a bit less than a dollar, which is a typical day’s wages in Gasura) to buy the most nutritious meal they could. Their homework is to make a “one pot meal” from a great local organization called “Gardens For Health.” Wanna try it at home? See picture for the instructions!1 pot

The main goal of the trainings is to give dignity to farming, teaching that to farm well is a ministry of the Church. Trainings include scripture memorization as we work through the “Fruits of the Spirit” (Gal. 5:22) asking, “What would it look like to farm with:___________ (Love, Joy, Peace…) We are investing a lot in these elected farmers, counting on them to be our catalysts in the community for economic, environmental, nutritional, and spiritual growth!

Working through the Anglican Church, we have incorporated an opening and closing “Call and Response,” into the training:

OPENING CALL & RESPONSE:

We provide for our community (BY FARMING WELL)

We heal our Land (BY FARMING WELL)

We worship God (BY FARMING WELL)

Who are we? (WE ARE “SOWERS OF HOPE!)

CLOSING CALL & RESPONSE:

God is restoring all of Creation (LET OUR FARMS PRAISE HIM!)

Please pray for this program. Pray for our farmers, for their farms, and for openness to the message. Because Rwanda has developed so fast, there is a perception here that farming is backwards and undignified, when in fact, it is one of our greatest responsibilities and joys and Christians, and the greatest hope for a sustainable future for the second most densely populated country in Africa!

And please pray for more financial partners specifically for this program. Within the next 3 years we hope to train between 600-700 farmers. Maybe your family wants to sponsor a farmer?

  • A gift of $130 can put one farmer through the full 2 year program.
  • A partnership of $160/mo can sponsor a training for a whole local church!
  • To support this training program, visit… http://www.hopeonathousandhills.org/donate
  • (memo line: “Gasabo: Sponsor a Farmer”)

And now… a bit about our land!

IMG_4826IMG_4705Through a generous, specified donation, we have purchased .7 hectares (roughly 1.5 acres) of land! It is in Gasura, (the same community as the pilot of Matthew’s Agri-faith program) on the top of a hill/mountain (it’s a big hill, ok?) just outside of Kigali. As you can see, the view is epic. The idea with this land is that much of the research Matthew is doing for his project will now be able to be done on this land….which will eventually include our home, too! We are excited that Matthew will be able to do much of his work at home, and that we will be able to spread our wings a bit and do more of the homesteading we’ve been missing for the past few years (chickens and bees! chickens and bees!)

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#homeowners!

We are also excited at the prospect of using our land for more official hospitality and retreat purposes. We are hoping to work with our future neighbors (who are friends of ours, yay!) to develop a fresh air, green-space escape for Kigali city-dwellers! The land is just about 30 min from the city center, so the location is ideal for something like this. We will be developing the land to be a model for agroforestry/permaculture farming, sustainable building, incorporation of native flora, and an eco-faith training site, and retreat center.

So now, we start planning: building a wall around the compound (necessary for security of both humans and plants, for real), designing our home, hiring an architect.

A few other things…

I (Karli) am delighted to serve on our church’s leadership team, doing things like coordinating volunteers and, soon, launching small groups. Our church community is extremely diverse (both racially and socioeconomically) and we are so grateful to be a part of it! Pray for us, as we seek the Lord’s vision for our congregation, that we would represent him well and worship him in spirit and truth.

Matthew’s truck is running again! Thank you all for your prayers and generosity. It’s getting painted right now- pics to come of the miraculous healing!

Speaking of generosity- we received enough donations for the truck repairs that we are actually able to pay for Halle to start preschool in the fall (!!!) without fundraising at all. The Lord provides so beautifully! Now, pray for mama’s heart…

PRAYERS FOR AUGUST:

Pray that Matthew would be able to quickly and peacefully hire a new assistant that is passionate and knowledgeable (and fun!)

Pray for attendance and dedication to the Agri-Faith Program to remain steady

Pray for the proper permitting for our home to come through easily

Pray for Rwandan elections (happening today) and for peace throughout the country

Pray that we find the right partners to build our home (architect, etc)

Pray for our church community to grow together in both vibrant unity and knowledge of the Lord

Pray for our community as we grieve the loss of our Archdeacon’s son

Pray for the start of a new term for our preschoolers, and pray God’s love over all of them as they receive supplemented nutrition from our team daily

Pray for us as we remember our son, Hudson, on the second anniversary of his birth (August 25)

Grateful for you all,

The VonHerbs 🙂

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TOP TEN

Recently, I was introduced to the website/online community Velvet Ashes (thanks, Esther!) and I have been loving it ever since. It’s mainly meant to serve as an encouragement for women serving overseas (and does so well) but honestly is just a general encouragement to any woman, I think! Anyway, each week they have a theme, and their daily blog posts revolve around that theme. They also encourage community members to blog on that theme- something that I’m going to try to do on this blog (with grace, of course). Especially if you’re a woman serving overseas, I highly recommend checking out Velvet Ashes! 

This week’s theme is “Top Ten”! Now you see why I started blogging the themes on this week, ha! I love a good list, and I think this subject is pretty good. Here’s two lists for you! (Thanks, Kate Flikweert, for the subjects- so perfect!)

Top ten things I miss about America:

MY FAMILY. I think this goes without saying, but we miss our families sooooo much. Between our wise and God-loving parents, siblings that are also best friends, nieces and nephews growing up SO fast, and amazing grandparents- we miss our families terribly. Thank God for FaceTime!

MY FRIENDS. Y’all, we have the best friends. They are all over the map and are living all walks of life, but boy oh boy- we have some good ones. It’s hard to have to schedule FT calls or hope they check their WhatsApps and just not have the ease of communication you once had- let alone coffee dates, New Years traditions, late nights with bottles of wine, campfires, Thanksgiving leftover feasts, or beach trips. We miss our people so much.

AMAZON/TARGET/RETAIL THERAPY IN GENERAL. Okay, this is really me. Do you know how amazing it is to order something and sometimes have it delivered to you THE SAME DAY? You do. I do too, and I can’t do it anymore. And I miss it. Also, window shopping. And buying new clothes. And buying dollar spot things. And not having to be a hoarder. Things I hoard: makeup, medications, chocolate, spices, dry shampoo, essential oils and supplements, kids craft supplies, the list goes on…

EASE OF SERVICES/NO LANGUAGE BARRIER. This is sort of compounded, but being around all English speakers is SO NICE. Additionally, not having to drive all over Timbuktu (or, ya know, Rwanda) to find a doctor that is a native English speaker, or a mechanic, or an electrician, or a bank, or a….you get the picture. Kinyarwanda has like 12 different ways to count to 10, I kid you not. I don’t even know one of them.

STREAMABLE INTERNET. No, I haven’t seen the latest season of….anything. If I start at about 7am and turn off all other devices, I might be able to stream an episode of something. Otherwise…I can’t watch your videos on Facebook. Barely get through IG stories. But the freeze frames are cute!

ALL THE FOODS (without worry!). Guys. Cheese. Chocolate. GOOD BEER. GOOD WINE. Sushi. SUSHI. This is a landlocked country! I have had food poisoning/really bad indigestion more times than I can count since moving here. There is one kind of cheese here and it smells like feet. I can’t afford to pay $15 for a pathetically small wedge of parmesan. Or $10 for a bar of chocolate. I miss Chick-Fil-A so much. And Mellow Mushroom. And JeannieBird. And Hoffman’s.

OUTDOORS/GREEN SPACES. This was surprising to us, and will likely be to you as well- but there are virtually zero public green spaces in Rwanda. Definitely not in the city. There are parks, sure, but you are scolded for being on the grass…for show only, peeps. You wanna frolic in a field? Better be your friend’s field and you’re gonna have an audience. Or you can pay entrance to a national park and hike there….all at least 3 hours from the city though. Womp womp. I just wanna roll down a hill or hike in the morning!

FEELING CLEAN. This is compounded by it being dry season, but I literally rinse off in the shower like twice a day and still always feel dirty. Everything has a layer of red dust on it. Poor Shepherd has like 4 outfit changes a day because he scoots on his belly and gets positively filthy. Everything in the US just feels so luxurious because it’s so much CLEANER. Remember the time we went without running water for 23 days? Me too.

WORKING MY BUSINESS (the same old way!) I LOVE selling doTERRA, educating others about wellness, and strengthening families. I still do it, even here, but it had to look vastly different than it did before. I am still really working through this one, but I really really miss my business and working they way I did before.

NOT BEING A SPECTACLE. Eyes are on me everywhere I go. ESPECIALLY with the kids. I will sometimes walk past a crowd of 10-15 people on my morning walks, working on some kind of construction project, and they will literally all stop and stare at me. I try to disarm them by bumbling some Kinyarwanda greeting, but usually its just blank stares until I get far enough away. Used to it now, but over it. Ha.

Top ten reasons why we stay:

CALLING. Honestly, this is just where we are supposed to be. There’s no other way to say it- we couldn’t be anywhere else right now. There’s so much peace that comes from just knowing that this is where the Lord has us.

STRENGTHENED MARRIAGE. The challenges and bonding experiences of living life abroad have definitely brought Matthew and I together. There’s also something really special about being able to support your spouse when they are living in their sweet spot, and I think we both have that right now. We are both intensely fulfilled by what we do in our day to day, and it’s really great.

EXPERIENCE FOR KIDS. We have always wanted our kids to grow up with a well-rounded worldview, and they certainly are getting that here. It’s also notable that we don’t have to really “shield them” from anything- inappropriate TV shows, dress, etc- which makes parenting easier. A caveat to this- it’s much less commercial overload here, in terms of blatant consumerism. The ads we see around are for cheap Rwandan beer and for Blue band, their margarine. That’s basically it. Not exactly tempting us to buy stuff- or our kids.

EASE OF SERVICES. We may have to drive across town to get to an English-speaking doctor, but I do have my groceries delivered to me SAME DAY. Bye. Life changed. There’s also an app here that is a delivery service for like 70 restaurants around Kigali- meaning, I can have dinner from my favorite restaurant here in a little over an hour. Yes and Amen. (ps…wanna see what ordering my groceries looks like? Here’s the website!)

COMMUNITY. The community we have here is incredible. You gotta realize, when you’re in the middle of a group of people that have all moved overseas in pursuit of XYZ, you’re gonna have some common ground. Our friends are all involved in super cool stuff- from coffee companies to education to incarnational ministry to US government defense support- and they all love Jesus. We are just really, really blessed.

CHEAPER PRODUCE AND MEAT. This one is mostly me. I mean, come on- I could never afford to do Whole 30 or eat Paleo in the US. But avocados are about 20 cents here and beef tenderloin is like $7/kg…so, yeah, what we do have is great and cheap and we make the most of it. I’m a much better cook than when I moved here, too. Also- the coffee here is SUPERB. We grow the coffee that the Bux sells for like $$$$$ and we get it fresh, y’all.

CHEAPER VACATIONS. We can drive to places that celebrities fly halfway across the world to see. And if you’re willing to stay in a guest house, you can see the same views, hike the same trails, for fractions of the price. This isn’t lost on us. If I wanted to see elephants tomorrow, I could just drive and see them. !!!

VALUE OF SKILLS. This is hard to explain, maybe, but here it goes- as someone with a Western education and specialized skills, you’re much more valuable here than in America when everyone fits that bill. Does that make sense? Especially in a small country like Rwanda, it’s easier to be a big deal and feel like your expertise is prized. Also, every time I ask Matthew to trim his beard, he says “But I think right now I have the biggest beard in the country!” …and he’s probably right!

REALIZING OUR DREAMS. Especially for Matthew, living overseas doing missions work is the realization of the dream of an 11-year-old kid. A dream that couldn’t come true in the US. We are so grateful for this opportunity.

INSPIRATIONAL PEOPLE. Rwanda was the pit of hell in 1994, when the genocide against the Tutsi killed around 1 million people in 100 days. 23 years later, it’s a model of development in East Africa and is regarded as one of the safest and most stable nations on the continent. Each Rwandan we know is a microcosm of this resilience and healing, and it’s incredible to hear their stories when they are told- which is a privilege in itself.

I hope these lists gave you a little window into our lives and our hearts as we serve here in Rwanda! We love being here (even if we really miss cheese) and we think you should all come visit and see beautiful Rwanda for yourself! 

JUNE UPDATE: Visitors and Training Programs and Accidents, Oh My!

Mwiriwe, friends! It’s been a while- what an exciting and eventful few months it has been!

May started out quietly, nose to the grindstone for work (especially for Matthew, writing his curriculum) before the craziness hit mid-May!

First, we were blessed to host a team from Christ Church Waco for a week- including hosting two guests- now friends- in our home! The team came to do theological training for the pastors and catechists in the diocese, but was an encouragement to us, too. We had fun reminiscing about our time in Waco at World Hunger Relief and making new friends. Praise the Lord with us for Christ Church’s partnership with Hope on a Thousand Hills!

Shortly after hosting this team, we got to host Karli’s father for a few nights! Bill works for Samaritans Purse and was able to travel to Kigali (of all places!) for work, making this his second visit to Rwanda in a year! What a blessing. We took him to see one of our favorite places (Lakeside Fish Farm) and ate some good food and relaxed. It was such a sweet time- we are so grateful.

Bill flew home and basically switched places with Karli’s mom, Kelly, for her first visit to Rwanda! Mom was here for a week and it was well-timed. We got to show her lots of our favorite places, celebrate my birthday, and even take her to see the land we are purchasing (fingers crossed). However, halfway through the visit, I (Karli) got terribly sick, and was basically bedridden for the remainder of her time, and a week after that. It was a really terrible experience, but having your mama in the middle of Africa with you to make you chicken soup when you’re the sickest you’ve ever been is a strange and unexpected blessing 🙂 We miss Nana and Pop already! Praise the Lord for providing an opportunity to see family that we miss dearly!

The rest of June has been all about seeing big things finally come to fruition here in Rwanda: namely, Matthew’s Agri-Faith training program! The program was presented to the pilot community last week and was very well received. Each church has several delegates that will attend the training, with the hope that those delegates would return equipped to duplicate the training in their own nuclear community. There are a lot of moving parts and details to work out still, but everything is going very well so far! Pray with us as we see this program get off the ground over the next month, and pray for the farmers that attend- that they would be encouraged, gain wisdom, and that the church would be strengthened through this training and the community built around it.

One hard thing about this month was Matthew’s accident. A week ago, Matthew and his assistant (who was driving) were in a single-car wreck that roller our new (to us) truck several times and caused what will likely be several thousand dollars worth of damage. Miraculously, Matthew and Deo walked away from the accident with mere scratches and bruises, and no one else was hurt. So many circumstances could’ve changed and made this accident catastrophic- we are holding each other a bit tighter now, and praising the Lord for His protection over them that day. Pray with us as we discern how to handle the damages, and likely as we fundraise to help restore this asset! And pray also, continually, for protection over our family. Life just seems more fragile here sometimes.

June culminates the “leaving season” here in Kigali, where we have said goodbye to at least 5 couples that have been integral parts of our social circle for the past year. This has been harder than we probably anticipated, and we are still trying to pick up the pieces I think (we miss you all!) but we are praising the Lord for raising up new community around us and strengthening more long-term relationships. Pray with us, that the Lord would surround us with people who would challenge us, encourage us, and help us grow in Christlikeness.

In July, we are hoping to finally purchase the land we have been ogling over for several months! This would be a huge step for us in solidifying our ministry here in Rwanda and really committing our hearts to the people and culture. Pray with us as we continue to seek wisdom over this step, and that the details of the transaction would be seamless and clear (HA!)

We also have a dear friend, Leah, coming to visit us in July! Leah is a friend from the Farm and is passionate about gardening, educating kiddos, and changing the future through teaching kids about their food. We are excited to have Leah here! Pray with us, that her journey would be safe and that her time would be fruitful.

Friends, we are so grateful for all of your love and support. You cheer us on best days and hold us up on our worst ones. We can’t do this without you, and it’s a privilege to serve Rwanda for the Gospel on your behalf. ❤

All our love,
The VonHerbs

PS> We have had some shifts in supporters in the last few months, and would love for you to pray with us for more monthly partners! We currently need about $150/month to get back to budget 🙂

 

APRIL 2017 Update {ONE YEAR!}

Hey friends! It’s been quite a few months!

Thing on the home front for me (Karli) are mostly business as usual. Most of my time is spent going to playgroups, nursing Shepherd, planning and preparing our meals, and doing laundry. And I love it! I have such a vital role in keeping our household peaceful and productive, and I am full of joy in it, most days 😉

I have started hosting a monthly Ladies Night at our house- I am so grateful to have the space to do so! Community is so important (even to us introverts) and especially as a stay at home mama in a foreign country- connecting with other women in all stages of life has become really vital to me, and helping others find those connections is something I really believe in. So, every first Thursday, I have started opening up our home to any ladies who want to come- no frills, no show to put on, very laid back- and it’s become something I look forward to and value greatly. I have made new friends and seen others do the same!

KIDS UPDATE

Hallelujah is continuing to wow those around her with her adorable Kinyarwanda phrases and sassy antics. She loves to dance and sing and wear lipstick and paint her nails (she gets it honest). She has recently started mostly skipping her nap (sad face for mama) but it transitioning into a daily “quiet time”- she’s doing really well with it and it’s so fun to see what she does with her two hours! Crafts, songs, all kinds of things. She’s a trip. She’s also a stellar big sister who loves to sing to her brother and help mommy by doing chores like clearing the table, etc. We also have started doing a daily “devotional time” together where we each read our bibles and then pray together. I am so blessed to have the opportunity to disciple this little firecracker!

Shepherd is still the sweetest and is still…a baby. Ha! I am grateful for him every day. He doesn’t sleep very long stretches anymore, sadly, but he makes up for it in sweetness and smiles. He has recently started batting at and grabbing things and pulling them towards him- almost like playing! He loves to have his feet clapped together and his cheeks tickled, rolling around, and chewing on everything. He is a joy!

We also just enjoyed a great visit with Matthew’s parents! We had almost a week with them (kinda short in overseas visit time, darn you Winter Storm Stella) but we managed to both give them a good taste of what our daily life is like here and also explore some more “special things” along the way. The highlight was a 2-night trip to Akagera National Park, home of giraffes, elephants, baboons, hippos, crocs, and more!

I told a friend the other day, in reflecting on the visit- it is always really encouraging when we have friends and family come, for multiple reasons. First, we get to show them all the things we love and remind ourselves of those things too (which on difficult days can be hard to do). We are also affirmed that we actually HAVE come a long way in cultural acclamation and language learning and just generally becoming at home here- sometimes it feels like we have so, so far to go. And, of course, it’s just nice to have people back in America understand what our life is like here! We try to give you the best tastes we can online, but there’s nothing like being here, shaking hands, tasting food, etc….

All that to say- if you’re thinking about making a visit, DO IT! Message me ASAP and let’s make it happen! We would love to have you. 🙂

MATTHEW’S UPDATE

Matthew’s work is varied and exciting as always. The rainy and dry seasons have become a bit muddy (ha) for the past few months, but out yard is brimming with new life. We are harvesting passionfruit and hibiscus daily and are looking forward to papaya and tree tomato, as well as our medicinal and culinary herb gardens we recently started!

A joy of the past month has been Matthew’s two practicum students (Ahyeong and Hannah) who have been living out in Rutunga (where our farm is located) and helping do health assessments for the preschoolers in that village. Praise the Lord, we have had both great attendance from the kids and great parental participation as well! These assessments are vital in tracking and shaping our work here, and these two students have made a huge difference in their few weeks in Rutunga. We are grateful for them! We are taking this information and beginning to strategize more sustainable solutions for our supplemental nutrition for the kids, too.

Matthew continues to work hard at developing our Farmer Training Program and managing the demonstration farm. Each day, there are new things to learn about both Rwandan culture and the typical Rwandan farming practices. Matthew has also had the opportunity to preach at our church several times- something that he is so skilled at and really enjoys, too. If you haven’t heard his first sermon yet, listen here! His second one will be this Sunday- please keep him in your prayers as he prepares!

We also celebrated our ONE YEAR ANNIVERSARY of our move to Rwanda! Even though we had a maternity leave to the states, this is still a BIG deal and we were intentional to acknowledge it over Easter weekend. Praise the Lord for his providence in bringing us here and the refining, teaching, growing, and healing we have seen in our family in the past year. To God be the glory!

PRAYER REQUESTS:
-Continued health (mentally and physically) for our family
-Joyful times as we host a missions team and much of my (Karli’s) family this month!
-Wisdom regarding decisions about residence & school for kids as we look at long term plans for staying in Rwanda
-Endurance for Matthew as he finishes his sustainable agriculture training curriculum, to start in August
-More long-term financial partners to come alongside our ministry
-For deeper relationships with our Rwandan friends, and a more thorough understanding of the culture
-For continued growth in our church, and for commitment and intentionality of attendees
-Peace as we say goodbye to several very good friends in the next few months as they go back to America

February 2017: Our First Month Home

Our first month back in Rwanda has absolutely flown by! We are all finally adjusted to this time zone (ahem, Shepherd) and getting into the swing of life back in Africa.

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matthew gives a tour of the farm to a visiting missions team from roanoke, va

I would be lying if I said that I was 100% looking forward to coming back here- while I was ready to be back in a familiar space and feel like I wasn’t living out of my suitcase, the difficulties of our first six month here were a hard thing for me to get over. Being pregnant and sick and anxious made those months incredibly difficult for me, and I was worried that I was going to fall right back into those same patterns.

However- I can’t begin to explain the healing that has happened in my heart since that time. I love being back here, I love our home, and I love the work we are doing. Do I occasionally get caught off guard with a difficult cultural situation, or struggle a bit with anxiety? Sure. But nothing like before, when I barely wanted to leave my bedroom somedays. Our home feels like a haven of peace and light, and I am so grateful.

I am really enjoying reclaiming my role as a stay-at-home-mama and really feeling like my home and my family are my ministry. We no longer have a house helper, and so all of the cooking, cleaning, shopping, and child-rearing are my responsibility again, and I couldn’t be more grateful. Yes, some days are hard and exhausting, but I wouldn’t trade it for the world. My mental health is better because of it, too. It also helps that delivery services are plentiful and cheap here, and I can have my grocery list delivered to me next-day for about a dollar. Cheaper than gas to shop myself! I have also been loving hosting people for dinners in our home- something very life-giving for me that I just didn’t have the energy to do previously. I’m so grateful for this new season!

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my daily life: equal parts cute and crazy

 

Matthew’s work continues to expand (if you haven’t read his full update, go! Here! Right now!) and now includes over 1000 preschool students in our nutrition program! (For a fun write-up of a recent visitor’s experience, click here) He is currently experimenting with different ways of fortifying the existing supplements with even more nutrients, and creating a plan to do so sustainably, from our own farm! He is so smart and not afraid to try things that he thinks will work, and he’s coming up with remarkable ideas that could make a huge difference in the nutrition these kids are receiving. Have you ever had moringa-fortified peanuts? I have, and they are delicious!

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children receiving their daily snack of 75g of peanuts
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our project roasts over 800lb of peanuts per week for our children

Matthew and his assistant, Deo, are also busily working on developing the curriculum for our sustainable farming training program, slated to begin it’s first class in July. With our ministry funding, we were also able to send Deo to an important conference in Tanzania last week, where he was able to learn from other East African organizations and network with other people doing similar work!

One of the little joys we have had as a couple is getting to lead worship together a few Sundays. We attend the English-speaking service at our Anglican church, which is a pretty even split of Rwandans and other expats. We have always enjoyed playing music together, and this is a real blessing to get to serve together in this way.

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halle helps remove cloth diaper inserts from the drying rack

Halle continues to thrive here, and is even learning bits of Kinyarwanda from her daddy! Matthew is taking lessons each week (in addition to several weekly study hours on his own) and has been teaching/reviewing the vocabulary each week with Halle. I’ve even picked up a tiny bit, too 😉 Halle loves going to our several weekly playgroups, helping me with cleaning and laundry, holding her little brother for 2 seconds and then saying “okay, I’m done,” and our weekly tradition of Pizza and Movie Night 🙂 She also has discovered that if she asks for a piece of candy at the checkout of most local convenience markets, she will typically be given one….aka mama’s worst nightmare. Ha!

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our littlest love!

Shepherd is doing well and taking everything in stride. He is finally sleeping at normal hours and continues to give us one long stretch at night- typically around 7pm-3am. This gives me the freedom to host dinners after his bedtime, go to my accountability group kid-free, and enjoy watching West Wing with Matthew without feeling like he will wake up at any moment 🙂 He sleeps soundly in his own bed, under a mosquito net, and goes right back to sleep after feeding. What a dream!

Thanks so much to everyone that prayed for me this week while I was sick. I am still technically on bedrest (though really feeling about 90% today) and so I am getting time to blog like this! I am grateful for the opportunity to rest, and to see what a wonderful husband and father Matthew is- taking everything in stride and kicking butt at the stay-at-home-dad role for a few days. My body was clearly telling me that I needed to rest, and I’ve been trying to take that seriously.

This next week, in addition to our “normal” work, we will be hosting a dinner with the Archbishop, Archdeacon, and Chairman of the Board of Hope on a Thousand Hills (what to cook?!). We also are looking forward to Matthew’s parent’s coming- they will be here in just a few short weeks! It’s such a joy to show the ones we love what our life looks like here, and to even “play tourist” for a few days and go places that we wouldn’t normally go. That said, if you would like to send a card or something small/lightweight our way, feel free to email or FB message me and I will give you an address to send it to! We love surprises!

Agriculture & Nutrition: ’16 Highlights, ’17 Vision, & What We Need to Get There

Mwiriwe! (that’s good afternoon in Kinyarwanda). This post is long and has many parts so let me break it down for you. If you only have a couple minutes, you can just check out the section that appeals to you (though I do hope you will read it all.)

-First: An update on the progress of the Agriculture & Nutrition program, including what’s on the horizon. Mostly an elaboration (and more eloquent version) of the video.

-Then: Our needs for 2017

-And finally: A “Farmer’s Only” section with details of our first planting season.

AGRICULTURE & NUTRITION PROGRAM UPDATE

Kacyatwa Farm

An attempt at Moringa coated peanuts. Not too bad if I may say so myself!
An attempt at Moringa coated peanuts. Not too bad if I may say so myself!

In short, things are going very well and progressing very fast. Our Nutrition program, which was started with 150 children before my arrival, has grown to 980 children in the beginning of 2017! That’s 980 children across 12 church preschools (several of which didn’t exist 2 years ago) now receiving 75g of peanuts a day to help fight malnutrition, and give them the “brainfood” they need to develop properly to become the leaders who will end the cycle of hunger with their generation!  And the peanuts are just the start of it. We are working on creative ways to improve this program to meet other nutritional needs (iron, vitamin A, etc) and do so in ways that develop local farms as well. If you’ve been following on Facebook, you may have seen that one of the options we are exploring is the use of Moringa; a super-nutritious tree that grows very well here, and has the potential to also generate income for our farmers.

For the Agriculture program we have developed 3 acres of land in one of our rural parishes to serve as a research and demonstration farm. At the end of my first season here, we are looking at a healthy harvest of maize (corn) intercropped with climbing beans and pumpkins. While we have a lot to learn from and improve on, the glaring truth is that we look to have the ONLY successful maize crop in the area. Driving to our farm you see acres and acres of failed maize dying below the hip, and producing no fruit. Their failed crops are nothing to celebrate. Indeed the rains this last season were very difficult, but for the the first crop of a demonstration farm, this proves how necessary our program is, and the value of simple principles like timely planting, compost, and mulch. (REMINDER: I’ll give Ag. details for my Farmies at the end of this post)

Deo, Minani, and Irimaso shucking maize.
From Left: Irimaso, Minani, and Deo shucking maize.

The real life-blood, and the greatest passion of my work here is the training program we are developing. For this last year, my assistant and I have been researching our farmers’ needs, meeting with other agriculture projects in Rwanda, and dreaming up a structure for our own training program. We are very excited about the model that we have come up with, and we are filling in the specific curriculum points now as we prepare for our pilot class starting in August. Once we have a program we are confident in, there are already over 1000 farmers in our diocese waiting to enroll!

The training will include things like specific farming practices (like mulching, minimal tilling, crop rotation, etc.), family nutrition and kitchen gardens, hygiene, and agri-business. But the thing that will really set our program apart is the overarching principle of Creation Care. With the assistance of local pastors, we will teach our farmers that farming well is an important and honorable ministry, and that caring for creation is a biblical mandate and part of our worship as believers. Upon graduating from our program, we plan to have a public commissioning ceremony, sending our farmers back into the community as ministers of the soil. We hope that our training program will come with a restored dignity, and potentially change the culture of rural communities in a way that will be a catalyst for economic, ecological, nutritional and spiritual development.

OUR NEEDS FOR 2017

As you can see, big things happened in 2016 and it looks like huge things are coming in 2017!… BUT, this does not come without a cost. Thank you so much to so many of you who have already partnered with us financially. Your money has done great things for the people of Rwanda and the Kingdom of God in this last year. Now, as my programs grow and expand so do our needs. We use to have an Agriculture and Nutrition budget that could be shared and drawn from for both peanuts for the students, and seeds for the farm, but we have outgrown those days. The Agriculture program needs to have its own budget and I’m asking you to consider helping. We are still a small organization, which means your donations can go a very long way to making real, in-the-field change. Here are some of our specific needs that you can give to directly.

$400/mo: Salary for Assistant Director of Agriculture & Nutrition

Deo BAYINGANA
Deo BAYINGANA

My work does not happen without my Assistant Director. After 8 interviews and many more applications, I hired Deo BAYINGANA to join me in our work, and I continue to be so thankful that I did. I knew that Deo was the man for the job mostly based on his answer to one question during the interview. I asked, “What do you think Rwandan farmers need to improve on most?” Having a 4 year degree in Science of Agriculture, and experience working for “Gardens For Health,” I expected he would say something about the need to mulch, or access to better seeds, but he surprised me with an answer that made me want to hire him on the spot. He said, “In Rwanda we are Christians, and our farmers need to learn that if you are a Christian you farm differently- to provide for your community and to leave good land for your children.” I had trouble staying in my seat!

Deo translates for me, puts my plans into action, and tells me which of my plans are bad ideas. His work is getting better and better as I train him up to take over most of my current roles. He is a key element to the sustainability of our program and probably the best bang for your buck if you believe in the value of our training program.

$300/mo: Farm Expenses

One of the principles of our training program is the value of farmer innovation. We encourage our farmers to always experiment, but experimentation is a big risk for Rwandan farmers. They don’t have much land to start with, and to spend any of it on a crop or technique that may fail doesn’t just mean less profits. It may mean going hungry. So while we teach farmers to take measured risks for the sake of innovation, it is important that we use our land to take the risks that they can not afford to. And that is why we call our farm a research and demonstration farm. While we shoot for harvests that will cover our costs, we need the freedom to fail so that our farmers don’t have to. And we need to invest extra time and resources into being excessively thorough for the sake of our research. The information gleaned from our farm it’s incalculable value and our greatest expense.

$300 a month goes towards paying day laborers, buying materials like seeds, tools, etc., and also giving us the freedom to try things like different models of solar dehydrators, rainwater catchments, kitchen gardens, rabbit hutches, compost toilets, etc. Our bottom-line is not the bottom-line. We are trying to maximize the livelihoods of our farmers and make lasting change.

$200/mo: Training Program Expenses

Training for planting preparations
Training for planting preparations

As our Training Program kicks off this summer, we will meet a whole new list of needs. This will include trainings for class facilitators, renting small plots of land for each class to use as a “test plot,” paying transportation for training our facilitators, printed curriculum and seeds/compost for “test plots,” graduation gifts (t-shirts, etc.), and the costs of a graduation ceremony/harvest celebration. We are trying to design a model that will allow the program to expand in a way that is self-sustaining, but these overhead costs are expected to be consistent. 

$100/mo: Salary for Farm Manager

Minani (in blue) managing the morning's work team
Minani (in blue) managing the morning’s work team

One of the specific expenses for our farm is the salary of our Farm Manager, Minani. After having to let go of our previous farm manager for several reasons, having Minani for this last season was absolutely essential. Minani moved to our farm in the rural village of Rutunga, hours away from his family in the north. He manages our labor teams, keeps all crop and financial records, guards our farm from theft 24/7, and will act as a tour guide/teacher when our training program classes take field-trips to the farm. The general process at the farm is me spending a couple hours with Deo teaching a technique, or making a to-do list with Minani, then Minani translating that to 5-15 laborers working on those tasks the next day. His competence is a linchpin for the success of our farm.

This is a great opportunity to stretch your money to impact the lives of Rwandan farmers and the growth of the Kingdom of God. The fact that I am starting a new “fundraising campaign” within our first year of working here is a testimony to our growth. This program has proved itself to be necessary and we have a vision of our work creating ripple effects that will far exceed our ability to measure. Please consider giving towards our Agriculture budget and join us in praying for the Rwandan church and her farmers.  Reoccurring and special gifts can be made at our giving page at:

www.nmsi.org/give/matthew-karli-vonherbulis

There is also the option of giving directly to a budget item through the Anglican church. Both options are fully tax deductible. Contact me for details: mvonherbulis@hopeonathousandhills.org

So much work is being done, and we are so thankful to already be seeing the fruit of our labors (sometimes literally!). Whether or not you are able to give, please take a moment to send up a prayer of thanksgiving, and celebrate the grace and provisions being witnessed in Rwanda.

AMAHORO! (Peace)

POST-SCRIPT: FARMERS / “FARMIES” ONLY!

For this last seasons crop we tried out the 3 Sisters: maize, climbing beans, and pumpkin (subbed in for squash). We used a sort of Concervation Ag/FGW planting method with planting stations spaced 75cmX60cm. I planted each crop by itself, then maize with beans, then all three together, to compare yields. I chose this planting method because it proved to be an effective use of compost, which was difficult to come by. I ended up paying almost $300 to get 3 dump truck loads from the landfill (so as not to take from local farmers), and still ran out before we were done planting an area of about 2 acres.

I chose to plant the 3 Sisters for a couple reasons. 1.) Government programs have started pushing monocrops, which I think is super dangerous for subsistence farmers, and I wanted to prove the viability of traditional polycropping systems. 2.) My farm was bare when I inherited it and I had to watch it lay freshly tilled and exposed through a 4 month dry season. It broke my heart and I vowed to start producing enough biomass that it would never happen again. At the end of this season, I won’t quite have enough biomass to mulch the whole farm, but the second rainy season is already beginning so I have 3 more months to prepare for the next long dry season.

We are beginning to harvest our first crop now, so I don’t have the final results yet, but I can give you a few of my initial observations plus some general principles I have learned so far:

-Timing is sooo important. Areas that were planted even just a week later, look much poorer for missing that first week of rain.

-The section we planted that had previously been bananas (not left bare in the dry season), far out performed the rest of the farm.

-Because mulch is so hard to come by, I am experimenting with different green manure cover crops. Mostly working with mecuna. No results yet but I’ll keep you posted.

-The maize with beans looks to have clearly outperformed the maize without beans, but the beans were attacked by aphids and required pesticides.

-Most of our pumpkins failed except for one section (that was previously bananas), so its value as a living ground cover will be inconclusive. I doubt that even in the good section the pumpkins will offset the cost of planting half as much maize.

-The bit of healthy pumpkin is still immature and so I now have to figure out how to harvest the maize without damaging it, and if that is even a good idea as it will mean spending 2 seasons for one harvest of pumpkin.

-That said, I am considering planting pigeon pea (a semi-perennial, nitrogen fixing, pea producing, permaculture-staple shrub) in the pumpkin replacing the maize, in hopes that it will be able to grow slowly under the pumpkin, then survive into the dry season relying on what is suppose to be a sturdy taproot.

-Shovels are inferior to hoes. If you plan to work in Africa, leave your shovel at home and start learning to use a hoe. Shovels are for scooping, not digging.

-We planted 3 varieties of maize; 2 hybrids and 1 local open-pollinated (OP). The OP grew pretty well and is finished and ready for harvest now, which is good because I need to be preparing for the next planting season already. The hybrids are just a bit taller and don’t look all that much healthier until you look closer and realize that they are all producing 2 ears, while the OP is producing one. I expect the difference in yield will be substantial, but I don’t know what to do about their taking longer to mature and cutting into this next season.

-We also made swales and planted trees on contour about every 20-40 meters depending on the slope, which ranged from 1/10-1/5. I was able to measure the slope of the whole farm with a Bunyap level, and draw contour lines with an A-frame.

-The trees we planted were: Leucaena, Calliandra, Sesbania, Pigeon pea (all nitrogen fixers), Moringa (miracle tree), and Grevellia (a tall timber tree to be pruned for a high, small canopy.) With about one meter spacing I planted: Grevellia, 2 n-fixers, Moringa, 2 n-fixers, Grevellia…repeating. Many of the moringa died and will need to be replanted. I plan to let them mature longer before planting next time. I am also planting faidherbia albida throughout the farm aiming to have one ever 30 meters or so. (It’s a really awesome agroforestry tree. Totally worth looking up if its new to you.) The swales are also planted with napier grass, which produces lots of biomass and is great for erosion control.

-About 1/4 of our land has a greater slope (more than 1/5) and so I am preparing it for full perennial systems. A large portion of it was planted in old, huge eucalyptus. I have come to hate eucalyptus as it is everywhere here, produced for charcoal, and aggressively competitive, letting nothing else grow anywhere near it. I painfully had it all removed at great time and expense, and expect to barely brake even after selling it all as charcoal.

-There is a small patch (maybe 60mX40m) of coffee that is not producing much and I may look to revive next season but didn’t have the time or resources to address this season.

-We planted 2 sections of bananas (one cooking/plantain, and one sweet). Bananas are a staple of the Rwandan diet and while everyone grows them, more than half are imported to meet demands. I came across improved varieties producing up to 100kg (a lot!) per tree, so I planted some on my farm (174 total). They’re just about knee high now, but looking good. They’re consuming a lot of my mulch, but should provide a lot of mulch once established.

-I am considering pushing moringa for our farmers to plant on contour because not only would they provide a great source of nutrition for our farmers’ families (vitamin A, and iron being some of the greatest deficiencies), but they also could provide some extra cash as I have found a buyer willing to sign a purchasing contract with any farmer who will plant them. That and of course they stabilize soil, which is a top priority in the “Land of a Thousand Hills.”

-Other perennial crops I am exploring include pachira glabra (known here as peanut tree), inca nut and jack fruit. There is a host of others I’m considering, but these are the only ones I have done anything with/had successful germination from.

-I have delayed getting into any livestock yet because I want to produce enough biomass first for mulch, then for compost, then I can consider giving some to a cow or goat.

-As far as sustainable development goes, it has been super valuable to be working through the structure of the local church. The muzungu (white person/foreigner) isn’t introducing new crops/techniques, or feeding your kids peanuts. The Anglican Church of Rwanda is. I have a great network in place and an inherent credibility. Not to mention a bunch of people to cover my behind and keep me from doing anything too stupid.

Well, I’m sure there is more I could mention, but that’s what I can think of off the top of my head. I’ll try to do better to share things like harvest reports as they come up for the few of you who are interested. I’m eager for any feedback. Thanks!

Our First Week Home

And just like that- we’ve been back in Rwanda for a full week!

We returned home a week ago, short just one bag (honestly a miracle, and we got it the next day) and greeted by wonderful friends who had stocked our fridge and pantry, cleaned our house, and made sweet signs. It was amazing! People told us that leaving and coming home to Rwanda would make both Rwanda and the US feel like alternate realities, and they were right. It feels like we never left, but it felt that way in the states, too. And yet it’s hard to imagine that the other still exists and is going on without you when you’re gone. It’s wild!

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Shepherd is finally, really HOME!

Jet lag hasn’t been very fun (especially for Shepherd, and therefore for me) but we are being gracious with ourselves and taking things slowly. Halle is excited to be back with her beloved pup, Lucy, and her fantastic green potty. Matthew made it out to the farm for a site visit last week- where things are looking great!- and the kids and I even made it to a few playgroups!

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Halle & friends during storytime at playgroup
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The famous Leucaena (Lucy), sleeping on a table

One highlight of our first week home was our church service! We attend an English service of a large local Anglican church and we really love it- but a few things happened while we were gone. One- the service has nearly doubled in size, with new families (both Rwandan and expat) worshipping regularly! And two- there is now a childcare rotation which makes a HUGE difference to those of us with little ones. What a blessing it was to listen to a whole sermon without running laps in the back with my kid!

Kids playing during sunday school at Kibagabaga Anglican Church
Kids playing during sunday school at Kibagabaga Anglican Church
halle and friends dance during church
Halle and friends dance during church

It’s been really interesting how coming back to this house feels more like “home” than anything else ever has before. We spent a lot of time pouring into furnishing our house well and planting functional and fun landscaping in our yard before we left, and it has really paid off. Our house has become a place of peace, respite, creativity, and inspiration- one where I feel I can be welcoming but also comfortable- and I am so grateful. Also, the plants in our yard are taking over in the best way! We have everything from papaya and pomegranate and passionfruit and gooseberry to beautiful hibiscus and rose bushes to moringa and chaya plants. Our homesteading hearts are happy, and Halle loves going out to the yard for a snack 🙂

our yard! below was taken just before we left. amazing what a rainy season can do!
our yard! below was taken just before we left. amazing what a rainy season can do!
passionfruit bloom
passionfruit bloom
moringa harvest drying in our guest room. wanna visit? :)
moringa harvest drying in our guest room. wanna visit? 🙂

As we look ahead, we are eager to keep building relationships in our community. Matthew is continuing to work on the development of our agriculture training program as well as the expansion of our preschool nutrition program (which grew by 250 students in our absence- praise God!). Between breastfeeding and being up in the middle of the night with a wide awake little one, I’ve gotten a lot of reading and reflection time lately. I am reading through Tish Warren’s Liturgy of the Ordinary,  which I highly recommend. It’s all about finding holy rhythms throughout your day and connecting daily occurrences to our life as the church. It’s inspirational to me as a wife and mama and I am enjoying finding ways to incorporate worship into our home each day.

Some quick prayer points:

-Pray for our sleep schedules (ahem, Shepherd) to even out so we can all feel rested during the day
-Pray for our preschool program, as we are feeding almost 900 students each day, and most (if not all) live in poverty and suffer from malnutrition
-Pray for Matthew as he continues to learn from our first harvest season and build relationships with local farmers
-Pray for our team as we continue to seek to serve the Lord in the most effective ways we can within the work we’ve been called to
-Pray that I have renewed passion and inspiration for making our home the best it can be, and supporting my husband well
-Pray for wisdom as I become more intentional with teaching Halle
-Pray for us as we begin fundraising for some larger, more specific gifts for our project to help make the farm self-sustaining. Pray that the right people are reached to meet those needs!