Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Rwanda, Part 2

On our second day in Rwanda I tried to explain to our driver, Saidi, that where we are from in the lowcountry it is nothing like the beautiful, mountainous landscape of Rwanda, i.e. "The Land of 1,000 Hills."  Saidi told me to pick any hill I wanted in his country and I could have it as my own.  I believe he meant it.

In my life and travels thus far, I've never met people who were more proud of their country or more eager to share.  The hospitality we experienced was overwhelming from the hard-boiled eggs offered to us in Pastor Ildephonse's home, the bottled Fanta's and Coke's given to us by coffee farmers on the top of the mountain in Mbilima to even the barbequed rabbit legs cooked especially for us by the headmistress of the school in Kiryamo Parish, Bukonya. (for the record, I didn't actually eat the rabbit legs).

We went to Rwanda with the expectation of giving so much, but as is usually the case, we received so much more.  We gave them soccer balls, they gave us handmade banana leaf balls.  We gave them shoes, they showed us what it means to literally walk by faith.  We gave a home for orphans to live in, they taught us what home really means as we met widows who take in and care for children who are not their own.  We taught them to sing "Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes," they sang us a song that said, "One night while I was sleeping somebody touched me, I know it was the Lord."  We paid rent for land to provide a sustenance farm and food for the orphans, they carried pineapples by the dozens on their heads up steep mountains for miles in order to offer us some sustenance for our travels.  We brought them hope, they brought us joy.
Some of the kids crowding in to say hi and welcome us to Kiryamo Parish School in Bukonya

Beans ready to harvest from the sustenance farm!
Saidi and John (my brother-in-law)

The team with our banana leaf balls.

This home will provide shelter for 12 orphans and two widows

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

RWANDA, Part One

“Rwanda was dead.”

So read the marker in the genocide museum in Kigali, Rwanda.  In 1994, over a million people were killed in the space of 90 days.  It was a people turned on itself and led to do something so horrific that the world needed to look away to survive. 

We started to glimpse the reality of the genocide on our first day as we stopped by one of many genocide memorials – little did we know getting out of our vehicle that we were about to walk into a church where 10,000 people were killed after seeking refuge in the house of God.  The wooden benches were piled high with clothes left behind to represent the lives of those who wore them.  The walls and ceiling were littered with bullet holes and dark blood stains. 

The story would be devastating if it ended there.  But we serve a God who brings life from death.  Today, Rwanda is alive again and I bring you overwhelming news that Jesus is again making a way where there seemed to be no way.

After leaving the church, our team sat in a village with a man who shared his testimony of killing some 30 or so people during the genocide.  He told us that he was dead as well, but then God forgave him.  When he sat down, the woman sitting next to him handed him her 6-month old baby who would not settle.  When we left, we were told that the same man who calmed her baby was responsible for killing several of her family members.

Forgiveness.  Reconciliation. 

Pastor Deo Gashagaza told us, “Reconciliation is not a philosophy.  It is a practice.”  He should know.  Forty-five of Pastor Deo’s family members were killed in the genocide.  He was a refugee.  When he returned to Rwanda at the end of the genocide, God called him to go into the prisons and start talking about forgiveness and love and hope.   Pastor Deo was the first pastor to go and share that message with the perpetrators of the genocide. 

Today Pastor Deo runs a Prison Fellowship Ministry in Kigali and has facilitated the establishment of several reconciliation villages throughout Rwanda where perpetrators of the genocide and people who lost their families live side-by-side, farming the same land, building homes for each other, starting again.  In addition to the Prison Fellowship Ministry, Pastor Deo runs a ministry for street kids.  Three times a week, he and his wife provide a meal for 85 kids.  Our team helped serve one of these meals.  We watched as the kids eagerly scooped up rice and spinach with their hands.  I cried as I saw one little boy eat ravenously and then move some food from his plate to his sister’s whenever she wasn’t looking.

Joy.  Hope.  Heartbreak.

This was day one of our trip.