how the land (& people) of 1,000 hills changed my heart

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if i were to pen a short list of life’s most memorable events, like 5 or less, traveling to rwanda last summer would certainly make that list. i find myself sitting here this morning struggling to even articulate how my heart changed and opened and broke and bubbled over during that trip. and friends, i’ll be the first to state the obvious…anytime one dares to try to speak of injustice or things that are painful like the rape of a young child or trafficking or that slavery still exists, the words often times don’t sound right. they come out clunky and awkward. especially from someone like me. i’m a simple mom from atlanta who has barely traveled within the U.S. and i surely doesn’t know foreign policy. so my words are clunky and my descriptions fall short and may lack eloquence but i share my heart just as i do all the time right here amongst you sweet friends. so when i speak of the things i saw in africa, it’s just all magnified! sometimes i share my heart a little more beautifully through the art of my photos…so here we go~

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i humbly sat meal after meal, bus ride after bus ride, long flight after long flight among a group of women each of whom i hold in high esteem. they’d all crack a joke & roll their eyes if they were sitting here and give me some major element of grief for even going there. but really. we played games, busted out some truth or dares, and laughed…we belly laughed. we shared dreams & hopes for our futures, back rubs & essential oils, ate funky food & perhaps a few late night fun drinks. we prayed & cried and shared hilarious stories of sketchy, some might say, illegal border crossings. we held hands as we solemnly walked through a genocide museum. wept together quietly a few hours later while we listened to horrific stories at an actual church were hundreds were slaughtered. i think our hearts needed the silly moments at meal time & over coffee to give our hearts time to catch up with what our minds were introduced to over & over. we saw magnificent views of a once war torn country and we saw hope and healing in it’s rebuilding. we ate together under a thatched roof at a little coffee shop created as a place to provide economic opportunity as well as friendships. and we danced together & bowled ( yes, we bowled in africa!) with a group of young girls, formerly sexually assaulted, now on the road to a new life. and we wept beside mothers who cried out to god in a verbal language i could not understand, yet that of a primal universal language of emotion and heartache.  we looked deep into the beautiful eyes of  a young little girl violated in horrific ways a few years prior. we cheered loudly as another young girl, once burned & left to die, learned to walk on her new prosthetic legs. we saw love in the beautiful and the broken. and i humbly walked into the orphanage where jessica’s little boy jack once lived. i saw babies being cared for by caregivers whose love for those babies seemed to be a glorious and raw radiance around them. broken and loud and heart wrenching  and yet full of love for those babies, that african orphanage.  and then at night, i laid in bed underneath a mosquito net & was lullabied by the sounds of african birds in a country representing heartbreak like none other and hope even more.

from the moment we landed in kigali, essentially a day & half after leaving atlanta, the women there embraced us as if we’d been friends forever. we tearfully walked down the ramp as we heard loud singing & cheering. it was late at night & our flight had been delayed, but those men & women waited for us for hours. i glanced at my girlfriends with a look as if to say, “here we go ya’ll. we’ll never be the same after this” and then fell into hugs & blessings & words of “be free” and “you are free here”… and i thought to myself, finally. i’m finally here with these women who represent so much to me. oh how my heart changed just a couple years prior when i joined noonday. back then there was only about twenty ambassadors representing them…now there’s close to a thousand of us. finally, finally here with them.

i knew meeting each of them would represent many things to my heart. primarily i yearned to see this world outside my own. i wanted to touch something that represented more than me. to glimpse even if only for a few days brothers & sisters of “nations”. the whole world in his hands. they are precious in his sight. jesus loves the little children of the world. that world, in their world…that’s what i wanted to see. i know those baby children are here in america.for goodness sake, i can see that in my own diverse community which is only minutes away from the most diverse square mile in america. but i knew my heart needed to see the bigger-than-me world out there on their soil and in their homes and worship with them. i longed to meet these women that represented so many others.

we were served and blessed and prayed over. it was almost too much for my heart to take.

i’ve proofed this post a few times & each time i get to this point i hear myself making an audible sigh and i feel the tears in my eyes and that lumpy thing in my throat. oh how i long to see more. do more. touch more & feel even more.

sigh.

it’s a gift right now, being able to serve & represent the artisans through noonday. it may only be for such a time as this, but it brings me so much joy to share their stories & their art with you whether on social media or in your home.

so…

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part of our trip was to design pieces for a #styleforjustice line….& ya’ll voted…and the winning pieces are now available! ( please note images of projects above are not the final size dimensions. so please review descriptions on line)

the vibrant tote designed by jennie & me along with artisans Fanny,Asha,andClementine. 

the fierce clutch designed by jen hatmaker, MeredithToering with artisans Charlotte,Anastasie,andAstrida

& a beautiful journal created by my dear friend emily of jones design company.

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we’re launching our spring line in just a few weeks! if you’re local to atlanta & would like to come along side and host a show, it’s easy peasy!! feel free to email me at paigeknudsenimages@comcast.net

thank you africa….you and your 1,000 hills changed me…and i’m forever grateful….

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January 14, 2015 - 3:09 pm

jodi - paige…I love to hear about your trip; what an amazing and heartfelt time. I can’t imagine how rewarding it is and I hope to someday be able to fulfill a dream like this.

I just ordered the vibrant tote; I am a lover of bags and totes and can’t wait to use this! 🙂

always….jodi