A Holiday Reflection: Finding the Light
A few years ago, I was researching some international destinations that we were considering for our portfolio of programs. I have always been drawn to those destinations which would offer not only ecological wonders but might also offer a cultural landscape and history that could inspire our students.
During my research, I became fascinated by African wildlife and specifically gorillas. That interest in the gorillas lead to my interest in Rwanda. And when it came to Rwanda, Catherine and I already had some basic working knowledge.
A few years prior we had been introduced to, and later befriended, a Catholic priest named Fr. Ubald. Fr. Ubald, who was from Rwanda, is well known in Jackson. For those who have never heard of him, he is known as a man who strives to heal the world and bring it peace through forgiveness. Ubald is an expert in this, as the spirit of forgiveness has been his life’s purpose. In 1994, he survived Rwanda’s genocide while having many of his family members murdered. After his escape, he then spearheaded efforts to help the country heal by forgiving the perpetrators of these atrocities.
Rwanda’s genocide occurred in 1994. Estimates state that 500,000 people died. Now, the country is one of the most stable in Africa, and the eco-tourism industry is growing. Their current success is due in large part to the leadership of the country who have worked diligently over the past few decades on healing. They often turned to Ubald to help with these efforts.
Catherine and I met Ubald some years ago. To hear his story in person is truly remarkable. No matter your beliefs, when you are in Ubald’s presence, it is hard not to feel as if you are in the presence of a holy man who has been touched by God. When we became interested in ecotourism and service programs in Rwanda, we turned to him.
There he sat, in my office, sharing his concepts of peace and healing and also talking about the wonders of seeing gorillas in the wild. He spoke of ecotourism and the service opportunities that could exist for our students. He spoke of work that could be done in his orphanage and the opportunities that our students get on Wilderness Adventures. He was eager to find ways to help us in our efforts to bring students to his country, a place he is so proud of. With his soft voice and radiant smile, he encouraged us and urged us to appreciate the blessings that allows us to do this work with kids.
I share Ubald’s story, because he has positively impacted my life, Catherine’s life and the lives of our children. And today, his story continues to impact us. Ubald currently is in a US hospital, on a ventilator, battling the long-lasting effects of Covid19. He was here in the US, spreading his message of peace when he contracted the virus-and now he, a survivor of genocide and a real- life peacemaker and saint on earth, struggles to make it through 2020 and the mess of Covid19 that has impacted us all.
The holidays are about reflection. About looking back and looking forward. Catherine and I also use this time to count our blessings. It’s no secret that 2020 was immensely hard on small businesses, summer camp programs and programs like Wilderness Adventures. But as I sit and contemplate the present state of our world, I feel so immensely lucky and fortunate. I think of the very nature of Fr. Ubald. To find light when there is darkness. To find hope when your fortunes are down. To look for love while avoiding the hate.
And so, we count our blessings. To live where we live. To do what we do. For the family and friends that surrounds us. For the fortune of having been able to meet so many people through this work who have shaped us in positive ways. For our staff, who are the backbone of this organization. For you, the community of WA, that surrounds us with support. And for all the kids of WA that engage in our programs, as they are the dreamers that motivate and inspire us daily.
Fr. Ubald’s life and his teachings have always made us seek out the joy and peace that can be found in all moments. He continues to do that to this day.
Here’s to the day when we see adventure together in Rwanda, seeing those gorillas in the wild.