My first day in Rwanda was a joyful one. Behind me was the ten hour bus ride, the border crossing, and the first night of malicious mosquitoes. I wiped the slate clean for Rwanda and faced it on its own terms.
That Sunday, I entered God’s house with fellow Americans and Rwandans and found pure jubilation. We sat at the front as undignified guests, attempting to muster serious faces as the congregation inspected us. We smiled at children who seemed interested in us, only to find them terribly shy. The choirs made me think of heaven and really long for that distant promise. The pastor stood and declared a time of worship and praise to God. As the music began, the body rose and began to dance. Then, we were invited to dance with these beautiful people. We danced and jumped and gasped for breath and the presence of God was truly evident.
My friend shared a simple sermon and then it was my turn. I stood before the congregation and began to tell my testimony. I paused between each sentence for the translator and watched their faces and listened to their reactions as they experienced my story. I experienced joy and freedom in this action and it is my hope that these things were passed on to those listening.
There are many, many stories I could share from my time in Rwanda. After getting into the Southeast district of Kibungo, we stayed at a guest house and attended church there. We visited waterfalls at the border with Tanzania and marveled at the beauty of God’s creation. After Kibungo, we journeyed into the heart of the country, Kigali. Here we visited the memorials, the sites of the genocide, and heard from the survivors, the victims and those working to rebuild the nation.
What I found was a great deal of hope, a great deal of beauty and joy and mystery. I wrestled with big questions (and still am) and marveled at the wonderful sight of Kigali at night from my guest house. I drank a lot of tea and coffee and even tried Marinda powder on my food. The land of a thousand hills became a familiar land with friendly faces and waving families. I heard from missionaries and pastors, and listened to the unique perspectives of my fellow students and the Ugandan students that traveled with us.
In a church where hundreds were killed, I looked into the eyes of one of five survivors as he retold his story. As an eight year old, he was kept alive when his brothers covered him in the blood of those around them. He is a Christian and his life embodies forgiveness and the unique task of making the name of Jesus famous. He now works to teach others about the causes of genocide and speaks to those who visit this place.
There are many things I do not completely understand yet. I have been taught a great deal about the genocide and the other things that have gone on in the country. There is a lot of debate about the current president’s leadership style and the right way to rebuild this country. Regardless of these things, I can say firmly that Rwanda has come very far in 15 years. There are still scars on this place, but they are healing. The spirit of joy I first met in Kibungo and elsewhere is evidence of this truth. Rwanda is a place I will hold in my heart for many years and I will continue to process my time there.
Pictures coming soon I promise!