This week I went to Rwanda and an hour after arriving I was taken to a former-church where a display of 500 skulls acts as a reminder of the thousands of Rwandese who fled for refuge there only to be massacred. There’s no escaping 1994.
Andy, my husband, asked me if the genocide still hangs in the air. And it’s a complicated answer. On the surface, not at all. Kigali is a clean, tidy, growing city. It’s friendly. The pace of life feels slower than in any other African city I’ve visited. Things seem calm. But when I visit the memorials with our new friend, Steven (who is Rwandan), he asks us repeatedly to pray that it won’t happen again.
Coming out of the national genocide memorial, I’m chatting with Ginny, who works with me, and it just all seems so utterly inconceivable – the level of organised brutality – the skulls we saw were cracked, smashed. There was no impersonal gassing of victims, but people were beaten down with clubs and machetes individually. Babies were smashed against church walls. How do you find a way to keep living, let alone living alongside everyone else involved?
One answer is denial, and there’s plenty of that about.
But there are other answers. Our new friend Steven is Rwandan but he was born and raised in Uganda, one of the many families who fled the violence of the 50s, 60s and 70s in Rwanda. His parents were killed in Uganda when he was still a kid. And yet, despite his own trauma, following the genocide he felt called to return. Sometime after coming back, he felt he should go from home to home to share the good news he believed in with people. But in every home he visited he found only orphans and widows. And so his plans changed and he’d prayed about what he should do.
Today, Steven has 16 children in his household and a number of widows who all live together in community, and he overseas a project of 9 youth households, each made up of about 10 teenagers or young adults, all of whom have been orphaned. He has also helped established a sewing co-operative we visited, aimed at helping widows to find a means of supporting themselves.
It’s amazing to see. Although not easy. Everyone 18 or over carries with them an unimaginable level of trauma and there are no easy fixes. And the under 18s…well a tragic number of them have no parents.
So I’m leaving now with mixed feelings, and praying with Steven that it doesn’t happen again.
If you’d like to find out more about Steven, or even contribute to their ministry, have a look at www.africanroad.org and the current focus section.