The week before leaving for Rwanda, Doug & I had dinner with friends, one of whom spent six months working in Rwanda for Unicef. (As the most stable country in Eastern Africa, Rwanda is headquarters for a lot of NGO's). She described this place as being sad, almost as though there's a continuing darkness looming over it.
Hearing this seemed to stand in contrast to much of what we'd read in preparation for this trip and to most of my impressions from Jen & Serge, our hosts, prior to the trip and indeed, I have not found this to be true.
What I have seen instead is that this is a land of contradictions. There is sadness, yet there is joy - more evident and perhaps deeper than I have ever seen. There is also hope - hope in Christ and hope for forgiveness, reconciliation, and a better tomorrow. There seems to be a great deal of idleness, as though people are waiting for something to happen. Yet, all around me there are people who are trying to sell stuff - fruit, various wares, etc - in order to feed their families. While we worry about tomorrow, our Rwandan brothers and sisters worry about today. There is also poverty (30% of Rwandans are unemployed) and yet a willingness to share what people do have. These are contradictions that we've seen continually over the last several days as we've journeyed with Jen & Serge, learning about this place and these people. They are shaping us and causing us to wrestle with deep issues of justice and faith. With that in mind, rather than share the events of each day with you (which the kids are already doing an excellent job of, I'm going to instead share some stories from the last few days that further illustrate these contradictions and the issues that we're wrestling with.
On Monday, when we went to the Genocide Memorial, each member of our team entered into the darkness and sadness of the recent history of Rwanda. We did so while Jen & Serge and our new friend, David, waited outside for us, knowing it was important for us to see, know, and understand this and yet not wanting to relive the horror for themselves. What they showed us - and what we've repeatedly seen - is that while the Western world knows Rwanda for the genocide and indeed, there is not a person here who hasn't been affected by this event - Rwandans are not stuck in the past. They have moved forward - forgiving people in a way that seems almost unimaginable to most of us - with people who only 17 years ago killed one another now living side by side. In Jen & Serge's church, two girls sing side by side in the choir, despite the fact that one's father killed the other's. This has challenged us - greatly - as to what it means to be truly forgiven, by God and by each other.
After spending Monday focused on the genocide, yesterday, we too moved forward - wrestling with the AIDS crisis. In America, we refer to this as the African AIDS epidemic; As a tragedy afflicting millions here. And yes - that is true. It is a tragedy - even more so because of the fact that many women battling AIDS have it because they were raped in the Genocide, when AIDS was used as a weapon against them. But what we were also challenged by yesterday is the fact that while we pay attention to AIDS in Africa - its in our news, schools fundraise for it, etc. - we overlook it in our own country. As we talked with Mama Deborah yesterday, someone asked our students, "Do you really think you don't have anyone with AIDS in your school? In your church?" This rattled each of us, causing us to remember that this is not just someone else's battle; It's ours too.
At Ubuzima - an AIDS foundation - yesterday we sat side by side with people truly living with AIDS. We sat with them - one person next to the other - receiving a welcome unlike any other we've experienced, humbly learning how to roll paper beads (Despite the fact this may SOUND easy, let me assure you, it's not.) We did so with a fraction of the 70 households involved in this association. According to Jen, only a handful actually attend the meetings on any given day because of poverty. If families have food for the night, they come and roll beads to make necklaces. Otherwise, they are out working - for the day - or selling fruit, doing anything they can to earn enough money to buy potatoes and rice for their evening meal. As with all things, poverty further exacerbates the reality of AIDS - causing people to deteriorate faster because they lack money for adequate food, nutrition, and medication. Yet, despite this, we experienced joy yesterday. Something that I've sung about, reflected about, and even taught about - despite the fact that I'm not quite sure I've never before seen, let alone experienced, to the extent we did yesterday
It's these stories that shape our conversations with one another in the evening as we come together and process the day's experience. It's through these conversations that we see - again and again - what God is doing in and through our students. Truly, words are inadequate to describe the depth an richness of these conversations. But know that they are happening... There is debating, and wrestling, and dreaming occurring each and every night that makes me excited to see how God will continue to use this trip in each of our lives - and in the life of our congregation - long after we return home.
Thank you - for your on-going support your comments, your encouragement, and your prayers. They are truly a blessing to each of us!
PS - Parents - I wish there was a way for me to express to you how much the letters you sent mean to your kids when they receive them! Your words - and your presence - are powerful, powerful forced in their lives!