Monday, June 15, 2009

Rwanda revisited

Exactly fifteen years ago, the tiny African nation of Rwanda was in the throes of ethnic genocide.

If you've seen the movie Hotel Rwanda, you have a snapshot of what happened there: in 100 days, nearly one million people — one-fifth of the country's population — were brutally murdered by their own countrymen. Neighbors. Friends.

One million people — the population of Detroit — in 100 days. Using only guns and machetes.

That's ten thousand people every day.

To wrap your mind around that, imagine the casualties of 9/11, times two. Now imagine that same number of people dying on September 12th. And then again on the 13th. And the 14th. And the 15th... and so on, every day, until Christmas.


Exactly four years ago, just a few months after Hotel Rwanda was released, I boarded an airplane bound (eventually) for that tiny country. I was on a team with nine other IT professionals on a 12-day ministry trip sent by Mars Hill Bible Church. (You can read a little about that trip in the archives.)

I went on the trip to help with software training for the staff of World Relief's Rwanda office, located in the capital city of Kigali. I walked into the experience thinking I had something to offer them. I had no idea they were about to turn my world upside down.

By the time I left Rwanda, my heart was broken open by the country's gracious, brave, incredibly beautiful people. Although the horror of the past continues to affect them, they are not pitiable victims, but rather strong, faithful, forgiving people whose joy and hope seem boundless.

I wanted to stay there — a sentiment echoed by every member of the team — to learn the language, to worship side-by-side with Rwandan friends, to teach software classes and explore the hilly green countryside and talk to people without need of a translator.

I don't mean to romanticize this too much — Rwanda is the only place I've ever seen RPGs up close and personal — but I can honestly say I left a piece of my heart there. The Sara Groves video I Saw What I Saw, inspired by her own trip to Rwanda, wipes me out every time I see it. (If you can watch it without reaching for the Kleenex, you're made of sterner stuff than I am.)

But family and work beckoned me back to the U.S., and I never got much further than mwaramutse ("good morning" in Kinyarwanda) and sawa ("OK" in Swahili). Several months later our family decided to change churches, and my Rwanda connection was seemingly lost.


A few weeks ago, I met a Rwandan woman who recently moved to our area, and I felt my heart tugged again. Maybe a few more phrases in Kinyarwanda would help our conversation along the next time we meet.

Soon after that, a new friend wrote me a note on Facebook: "I was checking out your blog and saw you went to Rwanda... I'm certain there is not one other country I have devoted my studies to more, or maybe even my heart."

Recently I learned that a Christian psychologist whose blog I follow is going to Rwanda with three other psychologists later this month. Their goal, he writes, is "to immerse ourselves into the culture to learn how best to provide trauma training and counseling education at the graduate level for pastors and key leaders of the church right in Rwanda." (The moment I read that statement, I was ready to dig up my passport and pack a bag.)


Last week, I was looking on Zondervan's Web site for a book recommended by one of my professors when I came across three other books, all by Rwandan authors. The titles reflect the joy and hope I witnessed firsthand — joy that is not determined by circumstance, and hope born of forgiveness, born of faith in the One who forgives.

It seems to me that in the midst of my own struggles — fiscal, relational, personal — this is just the message I need.

Maybe I need Africa more than Africa needs me.

Maybe we all do.



  1. Anonymous10:33 PM

    Thanks for this post. It is good to go with others experiences in my ears. I covet your prayers

  2. Pam, what can I say except "Thank-you for sharing."

    "I Saw What I Saw" was the single most influential song in my life about a year ago, and continues to challenge and bless and move me.

    If you don't believe me, link back to my blog and read the sub-title in the page header.

  3. Thanks, Rachel. It's such a moving song, especially when you've seen similar things.

  4. I haven't been to Rwanda, but I worked on the Cheyenne River Indian Reservation for a little bit a couple years ago. Though I was only there a couple weeks, I saw a lost culture-- enough desperation, hopelessness and perpetuated alcoholism to last me a lifetime. It was my "Rwanda" experience, and I still feel the pull to return. Those who have not witnessed it cannot carry the burden in the same way.


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