We just completed a truly amazing week in Rwanda, and feel refreshed, encouraged, and excited for our next steps. Nearly 50 other mission-coworkers serving in Africa gathered in Rwanda for this conference, along with several of our mission leadership staff based in the US. As you can imagine, the fellowship of people with similar experiences and passions is particularly sweet – and throw in the Holy Spirit and our connection as God’s children, and that made for a uniquely powerful time together.
The conference happened to be in Kibuye, a town in Rwanda that is right on Lake Kivu. Lake Kivu is dramatically beautiful, with hills along the shore, islands dotting the horizon, and a lush green landscape where bright flowers and birds are plentiful. Fishermen in large dugout canoes sing together as they head out onto the lake at night. In 2003, Bob and I first met at another gathering on Lake Kivu, so it was particularly meaningful to return after so many years.
The week started by visiting the genocide memorial in Kigali, which walked us through the tragic and horrible cataclysm that was the genocide in Rwanda. Each day after that, we heard from a Rwandan church leader about their process of healing and recovering from the genocide, starting with the Presbyterian Church in Rwanda’s confession in 1996 of their failure to be a prophetic voice speaking out against injustice and genocide ideology. One of the most tragic aspects of the geneocide was that massacres happened in the very places where people expected to find sanctuary – in churches, schools, and stadiums. You can imagine how hard it would be for someone whose family members were killed in a church to return to the church to worship, with all of the memories and trauma that experience includes. This is why one of the msot poignant moments in the week was hearing from a few members of a reconciliation group called Umucyo (light). Pastor Jerome was sent to Zambia to be trained in reconcilliation and conflict resolution. He returned to Rwanda, and realized the deep trauma and fear that many members of his congregation were experiencing. Many had lost spouses, children, parents, or close friends, and their homes and livelihoods had been destroyed. At the same time, around 2008, people who were in prison for participating in the genocide were going through a community judicial process – those who confessed their crimes were allowed to return home to their communities. Pastor Jerome gathered both survivors and perpetrators together, and helped them to gradually find healing, forgive, and be willing to pursue reconciliation. We heard from one woman, whose husband and 5 children were killed in the genocide. She shared how traumatized and immobilized she was for years after the genocide. Yet becaue of her participation in the light group, she has been able to forgive individuals who killed people during the genocide, to the point that she can socialize and appreciate other members of the group who were perpetrators. Seeing the evidence of that before our very eyes was powerful – a true miracle.
We also spent time getting to know our new colleagues who are based in South Sudan. We have a lot of respect for these fellow-mission co-workers who have walked with the South Sudanese in spite of long years of instability and conflict there. Most of them have been evacuated at some point from their homes in South Sudan because of conflict in recent years. Yet, they return and continue to be present and continue in partnership with the church in South Sudan. Over meals, we talked and laughed and continued to anticipate jumping into life in Juba in a few weeks and building relationships with our new South Sudanese collleagues.
After this week of refreshment and inspiration in Rwanda, we continue our journey of transition by going to Kananga. We look forward to reconnecting with friends and colleagues – important links in the chain of our life and experience on this amazing continent of Africa.