I couldn’t help but notice the variety of faces as we bounced along the dirt road to Hope Haven Rwanda in our dusty Toyota Hilux. Shouts of “Mzungu! Mzungu!” flooded through our open windows as children grinned and reached out their hands excitedly. In the midst of the chaos, there was a special connection between us as we exchanged glances, waves, and smiles.
The word “Mzungu” has its historical roots in Niger-Congo languages and is thought to have initially referred to people of European descent who “wandered” or “explored.” The interesting thing about “Mzungu” is that it can be used in an affectionate or insulting way. Like some English words, the meaning of the word is often dependent on the nature of the relationship and the context in which it is used.
The variety of humanity is both stunning and beautiful! Do we see every person we encounter as created in God’s image, what the Church Fathers referred to in Latin as the “Imago Dei?” When we view people as intrinsically valuable, as image-bearers of God, we are able to develop healthy reflections of the intimacy shared by our Triune God.
When Jesus washed the feet of His disciples on the night He was betrayed, He challenged them to reflect God’s love in the way they loved each other: “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:35). Jesus calls us to treat everyone we meet with deep respect, to treat them as we wish to be treated and to convey His love to them as fellow image-bearers of God.
At Hope Haven Rwanda, we want to promote a culture of love and respect within our staff, faculty, students and the families that we serve. My prayer is that every time we hear a child cry out “Mzungu!” it is a term of affection because they sense that our team loves them, that we want to listen to them and to honor them with the dignity that they deserve as image-bearers of God. This is a critical part of our mission to transform Rwandan families through a holistic approach to education and discipleship, actively demonstrating the love, hope, and truth of Jesus Christ.
No matter who we are, or where we live, we are deeply loved by God and we are called to love others deeply. In the fast-paced bustle of daily life, how can you be used by God this week to hear the heart of someone in need? May God help us all to be willing to listen to His promptings and to love and serve whomever He places on our path.