Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The Treasure in the Heart of Africa

Sunday was a day of reflection. Celia and I attended an early service at St. Etienne Anglican Church with Shannon Lair, who is coordinating the teaching efforts of all 3 teams. Shannon is a teacher and lived in Kigali for almost 2 years, so she considers this city one of her homes. She is a great help in educating us: how to get a taxi, how much to pay, how to honor the customs of the Rwandans. Our experience would be much more challenging without our trusty guide, Shannon!
After church, we visited the Genocide Memorial Museum in Kigali. Much like the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C., the exhibits chronicle the time line of genocide in recent history. In Germany, Sarajevo, Namibia and Cambodia, entire races have recently been targeted for destruction. Some of these horrors have taken place in my lifetime and I am embarrassed to say that, at the time, I was unaware of the gravity and impact of the tragedies. Now that I meet survivors of the Rwandan genocide every day, it is impossible not to feel emotionally about the inhumanity that still flourishes in parts of our world. Here it is not uncommon to meet a person between the ages of 18 and 30 who is the only surviving member of their family. These are young men and women who were deprived of any family connection or support in the early and formative years of their lives. Many saw their families killed and were left to fend for themselves as children and teens. Others were left to care for their siblings, to provide food, clothing and shelter in any way they could. All were left to struggle with the emotional impact of all they had experienced, without a mother or father to lead or reassure.
The second memorial that we visited was quite a drive outside of the city. There we saw a church, benches filled with stacks of clothing belonging to the dead. Underneath the church, the skulls and bones of those massacred in that very church building are kept. This graphic and gruesome display was heartwrenching The situation is mind-boggling, but even more so is the spirit of forgiveness and reconciliation that lives in Rwandans today. These people realize that bitterness, unforgiveness and hatred will only harm themselves and so they choose to move forward, grateful for what they do have, rather than to focus on the horrid past. They remember, hopeful that history will not repeat itself. But they also provide an atmosphere and opportunity  to heal and grow, learning from the past and moving into a bright future.
The walls in Kigali are topped with broken glass, to keep intruders out.
On Sunday morning at St. Etienne, a handful of Americans worshipped alongside their Rwandan Christian brothers and sisters. We sang familiar songs and heard scripture and a sermon in English. The priest’s challenge to us was to work with our hands, mind our business and live holy lives (1 Thessalonians 4:1-12). This is a great charge and for this next week, it should be an easy task. The great challenge for me will be when I return home and am tempted to fall into old habits. When 4 classrooms of eager students don’t demand my attention, what will I fill my time with? But more than the lesson of the sermon, will I carry with me the lessons of forgiveness and reconciliation? My prayer is that I will take the example of Rwanda back home, becoming more forgiving, more involved in others lives and more eager to enjoy all that is around me, because this truly is the treasure of the heart of Africa.

No comments:

Post a Comment