So I feel like there's so much I could write about but it would be a huge novel and I might bore you. Rwanda is a great country. It has a past and the effects are still seen today, but their future is looking up. The genocide that occurred there took 1 million lives and it has effected the lives of almost everyone left behind. I've heard countless stories of loss and tragedy beyond what I can comprehend. It's easy to look at the million lost as a whole, but EACH life mattered. Each one was a sister, brother, mother, father, friend. Each person had a story to tell and I got to put some faces to the lost and to those left behind.
The hardest place was Nyamata Church in the Burgesera District. TEN THOUSAND people were massacred there. There were piles of people's clothes on the pews, blood stains, you could see where grenades went off, where the killers had broken through doors. Tutsi women were placed on the altar and had their babies cut out of them, people were killed over a period of days by having their limbs cut off, babies were smashed against walls, and if you had money you could pay the killers for a bullet so you could die quickly. We met a guy named Charles; he was one of 7 survivors at Nyamata. His mother and father were killed; his brother in attempts to save him covered him in blood and made him lay among the dead bodies. When Charles went to find his brother, he found that he had been decapitated by a machete. It’s taken Charles years to get back on track, but he is now a believer and is trying to forgive the killers. Throughout the genocide, women were raped, and some of those who survived contracted HIV from their rapists. Around 100,000 children were orphaned. Imagine watching your family be killed by a family friend or neighbor. That was reality for many Tutsis and moderate Hutus. I’m sorry to be so graphic, but I don’t know how else to describe it to make it seem real. On Sunday I met a woman at church who had us over for lunch and we learned that her husband and 5 children had been killed in the genocide. She was the only one left.
At Nyamata you can walk into these underground crypts. There are rows and rows or stacked coffins. Each coffin contains 25-30 peoples’ remains. We also went to the memorial in Kigali. There are mass graves located there where 258,000 people are buried. It’s crazy. More bodies are found each year. Rwanda is making moves to reconciliation. When you live in rural places, like some of the villages in Rwanda, you almost have no other choice because you need others to survive. Going to Rwanda taught me so much about what it means to forgive and my own propensity to want to hold onto wrongs. People who have admitted to killings have been allowed to have a shorter sentence and spend a good portion of it doing community service because the prisons were so overloaded. You can walk down the streets of Kigali and see men in blue jumpsuits- most of these men have been convicted of murder but they’re working off their time building houses for survivors, repaving roads, and terracing hills. I looked some of those men in the eyes as I passed them and could not imagine them killing someone else.
As you walk the streets you also literally sees the scars the genocide has left behind. A girl passes who is missing a leg, a man with no arm smiles at you as walk by, a man who is an orphan has reduced himself to begging and shows you the machete marks on his head. This part killed me. I see so many people in need who ask me for money and I’ve been given strict instructions not to give any handouts. The last guy I described found me outside a church and followed me inside saying “Genocide. Machete,” and he kept showing me the healed gash in his head. I struggled with the fact that God has a heart for widows and orphans and we’ve been called to help. But then I realized, money won’t truly solve the problems they face. They need people to love them, to let them know their worth, that they’re capable of doing great things, and that God has a plan for them. Long term, holistic development is needed. You can’t break the cycle of poverty by only giving money. Poverty is a tangled web and there are many factors involved. The sad reality is that many well-meaning people have only given money-which may seem like an instant fix. This has bred a mindset of “give me” instead of “walk beside me as you show me how to improve.” I’m still thinking this all through and trying to figure out where God’s heart is in it all, but I truly think it’s on the holistic side of things. I can’t fix everyone’s problems, God can, but I can seek to know His heart more, to ask for His eyes, and to love the way He’s told me to.