Father Ubald held his chin and furrowed his brow. Several moments passed as he considered our request. Traveling with kids is not a common practice for him, and we knew we were throwing him a curveball here.
“Yes!” Came his response, emphatically. “We shall go and make joy for the children!”
Relief washed over us. We suspected spending the day at a pool and playground for the kids was probably not in the original itinerary he’d created for us, but our kids had been going hard and they needed a break from all the adult stuff. They needed to get out of the car. They needed to stop being shooshed. They needed to run and play. In essence, they needed to make joy.
Father Ubald used this phrase many times while we were with him and I couldn’t love it more. It is both participatory and intentional. Joy doesn’t just happen to you; you have to get off your butt and do something about it! And if anyone knows how to make joy, it’s the Rwandans.
Our visit to the Missionaries of Peace in the village of Janja
*Missionaries of Peace are brothers and sisters of the Catholic faith living in communities thoughout Rwanda where they teach love and forgiveness and offer assistance or programs for people in the surrounding areas. In Janja, they operate a school and therapy program for kids with special needs.*
Ben: “Father Ubald, tell us about the city of Janja.”
Father Ubald: *deep, hearty Santa-like laughter* “No, no,no!” He said, still chuckling. “Janja is not a city. Janja is a village.
Did I mention we had minimal input on this itinerary? No matter. We could hardly wait to see what a Rwandan village was like. The more off the beaten path the better.
We arrived to the village of Janja in the dark of night. The brothers and sisters, looking smart in their forest green robes and bright red rosaries, greeted us warmly, bustling our bags up and down the steep stone steps leading to the rooms prepared for us, their guests.
No sooner had we arrived than Father Ubald got to work saying the mass for the brothers and sisters, fluorescent lights buzzing in a humble chapel while we sat in the back trying to keep our kids from fits of giggles over one of their, um, noisy bodily functions. The praises they sang were rich and lively and- hold on to your pearls- there were even drums and clapping and dancing! It was sacred and restorative, even though we couldn’t understand a word. But it was what happened next that took our breath away.
After mass we were ushered through an inconspicuous blue metal door into what we thought was just dinner. Instead we were caught completely off guard by what can only be described as a holy dance party. A welcome to Father Ubald, and us by proxy as his guests, the harmony of voices, drums, and clapping filled the room. Joy was contagious and it wasn’t long before we were all dancing together, hand in hand, goofy grins plastered on all our faces, as though everyone agreed it had been far too long since all our souls were in the same room together.
When at long last the celebrating was over, the meal was literally unveiled (a curtain had been pulled to conceal the dinner table), revealing oversized pots containing rice, veggies, cooked bananas, beans and maize, ugali, and fresh fruit. Simple, savory, nourishing, satiating. We were all given gorgeous bouquets of dahlias, and the feast was blessed and partaken of by all. If you think we sat down only long enough to eat before more music and dancing broke out, you are right.
Tears of joy pricked my eyes and it hit me that this is what it might be like to be ushered into heaven one day. It all ended way too soon. We fell into bed in our tiny room in the convent that night, well past 10pm, with full bellies and joy positively oozing out of all our hearts. With a kid snuggled at each of my sides, the mosquito net tucked tightly around the mattress, I realized that this was, in fact, heaven right here.
But enough chit chat. I’ve got some joy to go make with some of my most favorite people.
And probably so do you. Now go get after it! Go make joy in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Then come back and tell me about it!