"Pastor Pascal," is how he introduced himself. We were sitting on a small wooden bench hunched over a table sized for an eight year old. Light green walls lit the otherwise drab cement hole-in-the-wall restaurant. We drank umutobe, a pungent banana juice that would make even the most stoic face scour. That was back in February. Many conversations and just a few cups of banana later, Pastor Pascal and I share a special friendship.
Pascal works as a shoe repairman at our local market. Originally from the DR Congo, he recently moved his family (wife, two daughters, and a three year old boy) to our random village of Nyakarambi, in hopes of finding a job as a pastor; but until that materializes, you'll find him sitting on a cement slab every Tuesday and Friday polishing, stitching and gluing soles back onto the bottom of shoes, and making sandals out of old rubber tires (very durable I must say). Each job he does, each pair of sandals he sells, is a profit of fifty cents to a dollar, and this only two days a week, and this for a family of five.
This evening I visited his home for dinner. As usual, a visit to his house included several detours to visit his neighbors and chat over fanta. Walking from house to house kids swarmed around me, kicking up dust from the parched dirt road. They ran ahead of me, trailed behind me, came close to touch my arm. They sang, shouted "abamaraika," ("angels"), danced in their beige and blue school uniforms and toted their toy cars made of plastic bottle bodies and bottle caps for wheels along side me as we paraded ahead.
His house was simple, typical. Cement walls, crumbling on one side, and sticks supporting corregated metal sheets above. A wooden table and two benches furnished the room where we sat. Kids peared through the square hole window, their heads bobbing up and down, appearing and suddenly disappearing like the hammerhead arcade game. Gabby, his youngest son, sat on the floor. His pot belly stuck out, exposing an inflated belly button atleast five inches long. Pascal's wife served our dinner: cooked banana, rice, beans, and sardines mixed together in one enormous heap on an 18" diameter plate. The sun was setting as we finished (still half the food left on the plate). We walked to the road; this time neighbors silenced the crowd of kids they were so loud. Pascal hailed a passing policeman who let me hitch a ride on the back of his motorcycle, sitting comfortably against the rifle slung across his back.
"If God lent us many forgivenesses, we will have many benedictions." Pascal repeats this phrase every greeting, salutation, and just about every ten minutes in between ("benedictions" in kinyarwanda is the same as "blessings"). I don't know if Pascal needs many forgivenesses, many jobs, or just a bit of good luck, but I do know that for a family and a community so generous, so caring, so eager to learn and work hard, many bendictions is the least they deserve.