I couldn't quite imagine what would someone trained in law from Zimbabwe could bring to the justice system of Elkhart County, Indiana. But we had space and were located very close to the Center for Community Justice, the location of the assignment, where both my husband Ron and I have connections. It certainly seemed reasonable to offer our home. Information was traded back and forth between us and Rufaro Manyureni. Some details emerged. We have two cats — Rufaro was hesitant about these beasts with claws. Cold weather and snow seemed intimidating but intriguing. The downtown area where we live, somewhat raucous with a steady stream of traffic and sirens, had challenges.
We are now four months into the experience and so grateful for what has emerged. Rufaro keeps a very full schedule with mediations in the courts and in the schools. She is also conducting conflict resolution training and meeting with victims and offenders to craft restitution agreements. Meanwhile on the home front, the cats have won their case, welcoming her as another attendant for the food dish and using their furry skills to win a new admirer. Rufaro has jumped in to help inside and outside the house, one day offering to rake leaves after work in the last light of post-daylight savings time. There was a strip of leaves by the driveway I figured would not take long, but as darkness grew deep and time passed, I finally searched for her. I found Rufaro out in the yard in complete darkness, raking the whole yard and now at ease in the neighborhood.
The changing temperatures offered us an insight into built-in human patterns. Heading out the door in colder weather, Rufaro would be carrying her coat instead of wearing it. Many places in Zimbabwe have no heating or air conditioning, and it's expected that the inside temperature would match the outside temperature. It was a vivid way to recognize how bodily habits take precedence over our head thinking.
Rufaro has generously shared some of the challenges of living in her own country as well as the hope she has for the future. We have heard about her own family members encountering powerful and real difficulties in their lives. We feel how hard it is to be so far apart when those you love struggle. We marvel at the gift she offers to be with us and serve in our community.
An extra blessing has been connecting with the larger group of IVEPers in the area as they gather for group events. Friendships have grown with lots of shared humor and growing relationships — Zimbabwe, Chad, Indonesia, Mexico — I see a treasure and a hope. Understanding has been created and nourished across international boundaries, young people invariably going back to their own countries, but now with new experiences and connections. What impact will this transformation bring over the years to conversations and communities across the world? We are deeply privileged to join in this welcome and the journey of opened doors.