Rwanda Journey – Day 3
On the Ground and Running
Today is our first full day in Rwanda and we started it running. David Nkurunziza, the Program Manager of the Bible Society of Rwanda took us to a ministry site for She’s My Sister and the Genocide Memorial. If I were to follow our schedule I would talk about She’s My Sister first, but I feel it is better to reverse the visits.
In 1994 somewhere between 700,000 and 1,000,000 people were slaughtered to rid the country of it Tutsi minority. We spent a couple hours in the Genocide Memorial reading and seeing pictures of this bloody chapter in Rwanda’s history. It is one of the most disturbing experiences I have ever had. We read about how the Tutsi were depersonalized by having them repeatedly referred to as cockroaches in the popular media. We saw horrifying pictures of many of the victims and we went into a room that had four glass cases of human skulls and femurs. One room just had photographs of victims and another of personal items that were recovered from locations where the victims had been slaughtered. We saw mass graves that we were told contained the remains of over 250,000 victims. Could it get worse? The answer is a resounding YES!
There is a room dedicated to children. There are small posters dedicated to children. Each poster has a picture of the child, his/her favourite food, age, best friends and favourite colour and here it changes from what you might expect to see on a Sunday school classroom wall – it gives the mode of their death. I won’t go into the lurid details but let me just say that looking at the eyes of these beautiful children was like a baseball bat to the stomach. How could I not see the faces of my grandchildren? How could I keep from hating the perpetrators of these terrible crimes? The answer to this last question was found at Mageragere.
There we met an amazing group of 17 (I don’t want to call them survivors because they are overcomers.) The predominant emotion we experienced was one of joy. As they identified themselves many said they were widows or whose husbands were in jail. A lot of reason to be depressed and feeling sorry for yourself, but these women refused to merely survive. When we walked into the room they were singing and dancing a welcome song for us (see video below). It was translated for us. They were singing: “God has made a miracle for us, for all to see”.
And there were more than enough miracles to go around. During their time of testimony I recorded some of their comments.
“Before the meetings many didn’t know God, now no meeting can take place without prayer because they know God cares.”
“We can overcome problems, not problems overcome us.”
“The Bible taught us to fight problems and plan for the future. Now we know we can do something. We are pushing ahead, raising children with hope.”
“No one can help himself, but together we can help each other emotionally, spiritually and work together to make a living.”
“We were angry with women with husbands and families, but we learned to share life with these women.”
They are often called in to mediate in families where there is violence. Do these sound like comments of survivors or overcomers?
We were at a regional meeting of the leaders of groups in the area. The groups had names like Love One Another, Fight for Peace and Build Peace. Once a month the women share the small amount of money they have with those in need. They have learned to work together on small farms and much of the healing takes place as they work together on the land.
This took place on Saturday morning, but before I conclude the morning activities I want to jump ahead to Sunday afternoon. We were taken to a training centre where 18 Bible Society volunteers gathered to meet with Harriet Hill of the American Bible Society who is co-author of the trauma healing book that is used. These volunteers were nurses, clinical psychologists, teachers and a lawyer. They told us that not only were those traumatized who had family members killed in the genocide, but many others as well – the children of the perpetrators and the stigma they carried because their fathers were murderers. The women who had been raped during the genocide and some were infected with HIV. The many children who were born because of the rapes and their trauma. The women whose husbands were released after serving their sentences for their part in the genocide. Many of these marriages ended in divorce and sometimes murder.
While the causes and effects of the trauma were varied, what was uniform was the steadfast belief that trauma healing was bringing healing, not just to the victims but to the country of Rwanda. Over and over I heard “Rwanda is broken.” But I also heard “Thank you to the Bible Society for making this material available to us.”
In a private conversation with a woman named Hildegard, after the public meeting, she said to me “I don’t know how to thank the Canadian Bible Society for making this healing possible.” I told her, “You are thanking us by continuing the healing of Rwanda and perhaps the rest of the world can learn something of the healing that is available through Jesus.”
Let’s backtrack to Saturday and the meeting at Mageragere. When the meeting ended, gifts were given to Bev and Eleanor – hand-woven baskets. We were told it took one week to make a basket if a woman worked four hours per day. A gift that cost someone twenty-eight hours of loving labour. After sharing a soft drink we went to the homes of two of the women. Boniflid was widowed when she was pregnant with her son Steven. Her hushand had been killed in a car accident. We had to walk up a very steep path to her home. It was so steep that one of our ladies had to hold the arm of man named Partais who is a pastor and a Bible Society volunteer. (Watch this space for his testimony about losing his wife, two children and 46 members of his extended family.) Boniflid lives in a modest mud hut with a dirt floor. She is an accomplished seamstress wearing one of her creations to the meeting.
Gifts from grateful hearts. These eggs represent the love and gratitude from those reached by the She’s My Sister program.
We also went to the home of Secilia and her son Florian. He is twenty-two years old and wants to save enough money in his construction job to be able to go university to become a civil engineer. Secilia is also widowed and lives with her mother and two children. She has two other children that are grown and living on their own.
After all that, they overwhelmed us with a gift of eggs. Eggs! What could we do with eggs but it represented their love and gratitude. Out of their meagre resources they gave us all they could. I don’t know if I will ever receive a more wonderful gift.
The next post will describe a beautiful worship service with a Baptist congregation.
Follow the CBS Team’s journey. Read Rwanda Journey – Day 4 blog.
Day 4 Blog
Follow CBS team’s journey. Follow this journey. Read Rwanda Journey – Day 4..
CBS in Rwanda
Follow our team’s journey through this series of blogposts. Read about their travel from Day 1 to Day 7
Please continue to pray for the staff of the Bible Society in Rwanda, their partners and the thousands of people reached by the programs, She’s My Sister and Where is the Good Samaritan?.