Monday, April 28, 2008
Keynote address by Mukarabe Makinto-Inandava at 110th Goshen College Commencement on Sunday, April 27, 2008
Good afternoon! It is a high privilege for me to be here in Goshen with you, and to participate in the 2008 Commencement celebrations of the Hundred and tenth graduating class of Goshen College. This is the place to be! At least for this afternoon. What makes Goshen even more special, for us orphans who were left behind in California, is the relationship of direct competition Goshen has with Los Angeles.
By this I mean the struggle we undertook to keep your president and our friend Jim Brenneman on the sunny side. As it stands, you had the privilege of winning the contest!
Allow me to respectfully acknowledge the presence of President Brenneman and his wonderful family. Also I want to acknowledge the presence of Dean Anita Stalter. As well here with me is my youngest son and travel companion, Joel who is 5 months old by tomorrow. Then, last but not least I want to acknowledge my husband and best friend Makinto. But my most heartfelt thanks go to my Father and God. By my simple presence here in front you, he is assuring me, like he does every day that he loves me.
Almost 2 years ago, in August 2006, I was invited by my good friend Cindy to join her in climbing Mount Whitney. Mount Whitney is the highest mountain of the contiguous United States with an elevation of 14,505 feet (4421 m). I had never done this before. The only elevation I was climbing during my youth was the road to elementary school at mount Mugongo Manga in my home country of Burundi, which has an elevation of about 5000 feet. Mount Whitney was a challenge that I took up with my usual adventurous spirit, bordering naiveté-I should admit, and you will hear all about it in these following minutes. After a time of preparation, we started off for the mountain, early in the morning. What followed was an ascension that paralleled much of my life story. But during the endless slopes, the ravines, the false summits, the breathless pauses, the pain in my thighs, the moments of sheer despair facing this seemingly untamable peak, my heart continued beating one rhythm: Keep climbing, keep climbing. This is the life-lesson I want to share with you today. Keep climbing!
To fully appreciate our brief time together here, you need to know a few details of my personal life. I will share these with you, not to direct a vain limelight upon my own life, but to illustrate the fact that our gracious God has a plan for everyone, and that He can turn seemingly impossible circumstances around and direct us from the valleys and low lands of life to the mountain top, if we dare to take him up on his word and keep climbing.
I was born in Mugongo Manga, a remote village in Burundi, East Africa, the last of 7 children. My father died before I reached the age of 2. My mother was a simple, un-educated woman who knew barely how to write her name. I wore my first pair of shoes at the age of 11. Many people in my community, including family members, kept telling me that, a last born girl, my place was in the kitchen and not on a school bench. But my mother had good insights and wisdom and, inspired by her late husband, she knew about the power of education.
Now, you have to realize that the population in Burundi in the seventies consisted of about 90 percent peasants, and that girls were not encouraged to go to school. But against the collective pressure, my mother kept on insisting and encouraging me to pursue a higher education and an academic career. She taught me to press on! I guess part of her motivation was rooted in the fact that I was constantly burning the rice on the stove, which I still do today! …This is considered a crime in the Makinto house hold! But luckily, there is grace…Thank you my husband!!
After graduating from high school, my family refused to support my choice for college. They wanted me to study Law for reasons of politics and social standing. I wanted to study English! They dropped all support, and my name was not on the list of registered students. I reported to the English department any way and added my name manually in my usual naïve way of stubborn determination; I pressed on and graduated with honors! I kept climbing!
In 1993, civil war broke out in Burundi and soon the Rwandan genocide was to follow. I sought refuge in Kenya. But as all Burundians and Rwandese were pushed into refugee camps, God opened up a well paid position with the United Nations: I was made International overseer of the distribution of food, and non-food items to millions of refugees all over the great lakes region. Many were the same people who had forced me out of my own country. By that time I was 29 years old. And guess why I got the job: Because I could speak fluent English! God knew what he was doing! I kept climbing!
On my next U.N. assignment I was sent to Madagascar as a supervisor for a world food program development project. Apart from culture-related challenges, I encountered three major problems I could do nothing about: I was young, single and a female. This caused disrespect, sexism, distrust and pure discrimination. But I also learned another important lesson: “If you are connected to the main source of power, you will prevail”. In this particular case my supervisors didn’t know that I had direct connection to the U.N. headquarters in Rome, and every manner of evil they planned turned around against them. At that time I didn’t even know the Lord Jesus yet, but God had already started to teach me His principles. So I continued to press on!
My English language ability eventually opened the door for a continuation of studies at Portland State University in Oregon. Although I had passed the Test of English as Foreign Language (TOEFL/ESL) with the highest score, I was not admitted. When I pressed on, I was enrolled conditionally and was assigned two of the most difficult courses taught by the toughest lady in the department. I did so well that she volunteered to become my advisor. The dean wrote a letter requesting my immediate admission and I graduated with a double Masters in Public and Health Administration. I was still climbing!
Since then I married, had 3 lovely boys, became American citizen, addressed the General Assembly of the United Nations in New York City, talked to heads of states, speaking out boldly for the needy in many worldly meetings, and together with my husband, co-founded Amahoro International, a worship and mission agency advocating for AIDS orphans in Africa.
In the year 2000, the most important event in my life happened: I entered the kingdom of God by accepting Jesus Christ as my Lord and savior. A whole new world of spiritual reality and deep truth opened up for me. Three characters in the bible, with whom I deeply identify, taught me some valuable lessons I would like to share with you.
Joseph: Envied, misunderstood, sold by his own family into exile, he was chosen and equipped by God to save his own people. In spite of terrible set backs, nay-Sayers and physical hardship, he kept on climbing and reached the top!
Esther, an orphan and immigrant, was placed in a situation of privilege that came with a heavy price tag. In the moment of challenge she did not hesitate to step up to the task to save her community, even at the risk of her own life.
Nehemiah had a great burden for his people, was a courageous leader and a wise community organizer . He knew where his source of power was. He knew how to delegate, and against many Nay Sayers he prevailed and kept on climbing.
Dear graduates, you are at an amazing moment in your life. I am not here to tell you what the purpose of your life is. But I want to share some of the excitement I feel about the awesome journey life represents, even amidst the whirlwinds. And I want to give you three encouraging lessons that can help you as you make your choices. But before I do that, let me say this:
As improbable as it seems for an African country girl bound for illiteracy to stand in front of you to deliver your commencement speech, so it may seem highly unlikely to you that one day you might find yourself in the position of an astronaut, a missionary in Burundi, president of Goshen College or President of the United States. Well, it seemed completely out of reach for Joseph before he became governor of Egypt! But God had a plan for him; and He has a plan for you. The only thing you have to do is trust him, catch His vision and pursue it. Keep on climbing!
Lesson Number 1: When you start climbing the Mount Whitney of your life, you will encounter many obstacles. Maybe you got the wrong family name! Maybe your dream job is already taken! Maybe the girl or boy you want to marry is in love with someone else! But if you take these obstacles as opportunities and refuse to be discouraged by them, they will actually make you stronger. There will be people on your way to the top whose job will be to discourage you. They will want to push you down; but without knowing they will be pushing you down at the feet of Jesus. Know your source of power! Be a Nehemiah! Keep Climbing!
Lesson Number 2: Don’t disconnect yourself from you community! Your community will do as much for you as you should do for your community. You are nothing without your community! It might be your local village or your global village. You need your community and your community needs you. Love your people! Serve your people! Be an Esther and keep climbing.
Lesson Number 3: You got talent! You got a vision, you got a dream! You got passion! And suddenly everything crumbles, everything goes wrong. Let me tell you: If you know your God and trust him completely with your life, relax! You might think that leaving this college for the workplace, you will make a million bucks in your first year! Guess what: Life doesn’t always happen that way. But this is certain: God has you on a journey! His Journey! Be a Joseph! Keep climbing!
Back to my Mount Whitney: As I continued to follow the steady and reassuring steps of my friend Cindy, I saw the journey of my life in the context of climbing Mount Whitney. I realized that there was a purpose in all the hardship I had endured. There was a reason God allowed genocide, exile and discrimination to enter my life. Part of the reason was to sensitize me for the plight of my own people, so I can speak up for them. Today many children in my country Burundi are able to go to school; they have access to clean water, shelter and food because I pressed on and kept climbing. My husband and I started Amahoro International which operates under the umbrella of Shalom ministries, an agency of Pacific Southwest Mennonite Conference. By the way, Amahoro is the word for “peace” in my native language Kirundi and Kinyarwanda. Amahoro International is an agency that advocates and supports orphans of war and HIV-AIDS. Some of them are children left behind by the same people who wanted me to keep the cows. During my mission trips to Burundi, I speak to children who are attending the same local elementary school I attended as a child. I tell them what my mother told me: to get an education and to press on! God has used me to speak to people of all social levels, from the orphans on the street to the president of Burundi and his cabinet members.
I realized that my particular life journey was orchestrated by God so that I could serve my people, just as Esther was made Queen for the purpose of saving her own people from annihilation. You, my friends are the Esthers and Nehemiahs of our time. You have been seated in the King’s palace for how many years now? You have been grounded in sound teachings; you have been eating good spiritual food which will sustain you. You know the truth; you know the real source of power; you know the way to everlasting peace.
Today I am your Mordecai. I am calling you to be sensitive to the misery of the world out there; be alarmed about the injustice and hardship people are facing. And I say to you: Go out there, be an Esther and advocate for the hungry orphan, the hurting widow and the desperate immigrant. Go out there and be a Nehemiah and rebuild the broken walls. Where there are injustices, bring truth. Where there is wars and strife: bring peace, proclaiming the word of the Prince of Peace. Listen! If the world had any peace to offer, the genocides in Burundi, in Rwanda, in Darfur, in Tibet and elsewhere wouldn’t have happened. Because as people are dying, the World around is engaged in peace talks, and will continue talking and talking.
But you my friends, are men and women for the occasion; you have been prepared in the ways of peace; you have an awesome responsibility. Take it with joy; catch the vision and run with it.
As I go, I want to leave you with a quote from Dale Carnegie. He said: “Most of the important things in the world have been accomplished by people who have kept on trying when there seemed to be no help at all.”So wherever you go from here, I encourage you to press on and keep on climbing. Thank you very much.