When I moved to Rwanda—once I decided to join Word Made Flesh—I had an idea of the kind of community that I wanted to be in. Word Made Flesh (WMF) excited me because of the way it celebrates community as part of a life of service among the poor. This was beautiful to me. I spent three months living with the WMF community in Romania and loved being part of a community that was established and with people who worked well together. I came to Rwanda excited about the possibility of getting to build the community from scratch. However, this came with its own dangers, as I could not keep myself from dreaming of the community that I wanted to create.
In Life Together, Bonhoeffer says that the person who loves the idea of community more than the community itself will destroy it. That person’s vision for what the community should be can cause them to enter into it as one who is demanding God to meet their vision, rather than a thankful recipient of fellowship and communion. “If we do not give thanks daily for the Christian fellowship in which we have been placed, even where there is no great experience, no discoverable riches, but much weakness, small faith, and difficulty; if on the contrary, we only keep complaining to God that everything is so paltry and petty, so far from what we expected, then we hinder God from letting our fellowship grow according to the measure and riches which are there for us all in Jesus Christ.” (Bonhoeffer, 29).
Many of you have been following the story of our dear friend and WMF community member, Immaculee, who has had complications and health issues surrounding pregnancy over the last year. Much of the season of Immaculee’s pregnancy felt like a dry season for our small community. Immaculee was bedridden for the final four months or so, and Annie and I were still struggling to learn Kinyarwanda and could not lead our programs without her. Many of my dreams for the year fell through the cracks in those months as we cared for Immaculee. Every two weeks I borrowed a car from a friend and spent hours driving Immaculee to and from various doctor’s appointments all across the city. Those days spent in waiting rooms rather than participating in ministry among the most vulnerable in our city felt like days without discoverable riches.
At last, after a year of struggle and loss, baby Hope was born. As we left the hospital the next day, Immaculee said to Annie and I, “Now that she is here, I don’t even remember yesterday.” All of the days she spent bedridden in pain over the last several months, the fear she felt as we rushed to the hospital the day before, the pain of labor—all forgotten in the full joy of carrying her baby out of the hospital. I felt the same. In the wonder of this new life, I forgot my frustration with the weakness and difficulty experienced in our community over the last year. When we arrived at Immaculee’s home, all 15 women we have been working with over the last year were there waiting for us, and together we celebrated new life in our community. We don’t get to choose our community. Moreover, we don’t get to choose whether that community experiences joy or lament. We have to carry both and celebrate what comes to us.
Shelbye is proud to be an Oregonian. She and her younger sister were raised in the suburbs of Portland by two incredible, encouraging parents. She grew up surrounded by a loving church community who challenged her to seek Jesus with her whole heart from a young age.
Shelbye had the opportunity to travel several times to both Kazakhstan and Mexico as a teenager where she was deeply moved by the injustice and poverty that she witnessed. During her senior year at George Fox University she spent a semester in Kigali, Rwanda where her worldview was forever changed. She graduated from George Fox with a B.A. in International Studies and a passion for seeking peace and justice in her daily life.
Shelbye has been working with Word Made Flesh since May of 2014 as an intern in the US office, and later on a servant team with WMF Romania before returning to Rwanda to start a WMF community. She will be beginning graduate studies in Global Development and Justice through an online program with Multnomah University early next year. Shelbye has been living, working, and eating goat brochette in Rwanda since November 2015.
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