Westmont Magazine Finding New Villages Away from Home
by Marie Odile Ndayishimiye Uwineza
It was about to be my first flight, my very first time out of my home country, Rwanda. The community of my friends and family, my village, had gathered at the airport to say their goodbyes. I could see pride in my parents’ eyes but I could also see terror, the fear of letting their first daughter live in a country they have never visited. During my flight here, I remember talking to God, surrendering my life to Him, because in this new place, his presence was the only familiar thing I had. It was the conviction that God will always be with me and guiding me into his purpose over my life that gave me peace and exciting hope about what was going to be the most transformative four years of my life, here at Westmont.
When I left my village as I flew away, I knew that God was going to give me new villages. I just didn’t know how. You would not believe how big my village has become, how many people came together to make sure that I had all I needed to thrive even in times when social distancing was the way of life. Fellow students, you would think that after mudslides, fires and multiple evacuations, we had seen it all. But oh no, Covid couldn’t resist to top it all off. I know everyone here has a Covid story. Some stories are more painful and tragic than others. There are those among us who are still recovering from the losses we suffered, be it the loss of loved ones, loss of finances, loss of options, loss of mental and emotional rest. My Covid story took place in South Bend, Indiana, where I was doing remote learning at Westmont, taking classes and exams online, trying to stay motivated. As the semester neared the end, we started receiving emails about plans to move out of our campus dorms. And then it hit me, where will I move out to? To what homes are international students going? It was during the time when most borders in and out of different countries around the world were closed due to the increase in Covid cases. The majority of us could not go home nor afford to stay here. Due to our immigration status, we could only work on campus. But even then most offices on campus were closed. Those of us who were a part of the graduating class, this class, could not work anymore because we were no longer students; therefore, some of the privileges that came with our student visa status no longer existed.
So I talked to God, I reminded him of our conversation during my first flight here and told him that I trusted Him to take care of me and my friends. And He did. But I didn’t just pray. In mid-April of 2020, I reached out to Westmont adminis- tration and told them my concerns for international students, the challenges we were facing, and the help we needed. A couple days later, Westmont waived the housing fees that they would normally charge for staying in Ocean View apartments for a little over three months. A few days after that, a generous donor made it possible for us to have stipends that helped us to afford weekly groceries throughout summer.
I think about all things that held me up during those times, and really nothing tops this kind of support that made it possible for international students to have a summer village. We became each other’s family, lifting each other up, while trying to make sense of what the world was facing at the time. This an- swered prayer, this support system I had during one of the most challenging times our generation has ever seen, reflect what
is my message for us today. God has and will always use the villages he surrounded us with as his channel of love in order to make his presence known and felt.
When we finished college the way we did, I had little hope that we would get together again as a class, to celebrate with families and friends this milestone. Today, I am so grateful we get to gather, maybe not in the way we had planned or hoped, but this is beautiful indeed. Now, we have graduated from Westmont College, hence the Commencement today, but life after college awaits. There are so many variables out there, so many unknowns, and so many changes, some good, others not so good. I am sure we have all had a glimpse of that already.
May we always know that when we feel like our lives are up in the air, when our plans fall through, we can be confident in the simple truth that God is always going to be there to catch us and that his purpose over our lives is good, and will prevail. May we seek his face and long for his presence, so that we don’t miss it when he is working.
I want to leave us all with a challenge: as someone who has been carried by God through the generosity and kindness of so many people and whose life is better off because of it, I challenge us all to make someone’s life better by asking them what they need, by showing up, and by being active listeners of people’s stories of joy and pain.
Thank you and congratulations!