Every last Saturday of the month, the village wakes up earlier than the sun.
Children, mothers, fathers, grandparents and even officials and the village chief go about their usual morning rituals and routines and then pick up their hoes and stroll down to the small rocky dirt road that winds out of our village.
Together, we begin to expand the road inch by inch, trying to make our village a better place. This is Umuganda, and it’s not the only time people in the village come together to help one another in the community.
Umuganda is a nation-wide day of service to give back to the community and to emphasize there is unity in the country, regardless of differences.
A couple months ago at Umuganda, after hours of intense labor where I had to prove by working on the road like a madman that Americans aren’t always fat and tired, we headed to a meeting place to talk about the community.
We slowly moved in a single file line up a mountainous path snaking up the lush green hillside, joined by thousands of villagers from surrounding communities.
As we walked, my friend Sosthene told me that when someone needs help cultivating their field, every person in the village grabs their hoe and helps them turn the soil.
“With all of us? It takes minutes,” he said.
As we shouldered our hoes and walked together to this meeting, I looked at the people around me and I was blown away by the power of a unified community. Minutes. Minutes to cultivate a massive field. (Admittedly minutes in Rwandan time is a little longer than minutes).
Yes, there can be bitterness and major disagreements in the community and there is conflict.
But they continue to pick up their hoe when it’s time.
It’s natural to help your neighbor when you realize you’re all equally working through good and bad days.
People say (me included) “Let’s stand up for those in need! I’m going to donate [X] money, because I’m inspired to end this suffering.”
This isn’t an innately bad viewpoint, but imagine if serving others didn’t have to come from a place of inspiration or emotion–what if it came from a deeper love that permeated our entire being?
That is a love that exists even when you dislike someone. A love where your natural instinct is to pick up your hoe and help your neighbors cultivate their field.
Personally, I want to see Jesus in every person I interact with. I know the day I truly learn to see people as faces of a beautiful creation, it will become natural to pick up my hoe and let my hands blister for love of another.
That is a beautiful kind of love. An unfeigned love that comes from deeper than anything we can understand. A love filled with action not just words.
A love lacking the poison of pride. A love that is so deep, when someone asks about our good deeds towards someone we respond as though they complimented us for brushing our teeth or holding the door for someone.
The villagers are not perfect and Umuganda and the community interactions aren’t some fairy tale.
But that is exactly what makes this love special and much deeper than emotion.
A love that always wins.