Today we saw the heart of God for Rwanda. We experienced the love He has for His people and learned of the immense need this country still has for the redemption, salvation, and love provided through Jesus Christ. Though an incredible, daunting task, the mission Africa New Life has here in Rwanda is one that is surely God breathed and by His will shall come to full fruition.
Rwanda as a country has seen and eperienced many horrific things. Most notably the genocide against the Tutsi in 1994. In less than 100 days 800,000+ ethnic Tutsi and moderate Hutu were killed throughout the country. More than 20 years later the effects of this genocide, and the evidence it took place, are everywhere. It is impossible to travel anywhere in Rwanda without being surrounded by the dark history of genocide.
This afternoon we visited the genocide memorial at Nyamata. What was once a Catholic Church and house of faith is now the final resting place for 50,000 people who were killed in the surrounding area during the genocide. At this particular church more than 10,000 people were murdered by militia and government troops. The purpose of this memorial is to show the horrific nature of the genocide so that Rwandans, and others, never forget or repeat the genocide of 1994.
As explained to us by our guide there were more than 10,000 people who sought refuge at this church shortly after the genocide began in April, 1994. Churches were considered a place of safety and as a result many, many people gathered here. The women and the children were killed inside the church while most of the men died outside the church. These men spent their final moments on earth defending their families, even until death. A fact that caused the men of our team to take pause and reflect on how all men have this desire to protect their families in common. I can't help but cry as I write this, a response shared between the honorable actions these men took for their families, and the horrific actions of the killers who murdered them.
Evidence of the killings is seen in vivid detail throughout the grounds and building of the church. From the bullet holes in the ceiling to the grenade shrapnel damage on the brick walls and concrete floor. Darkened blood stains are still visible on the ceiling and walls of the church, and the bones of the victims are displayed throughout the memorial. Though extremely hard to process I believe this memorial is an important experience for anyone who desires to minister to the people of Rwanda.
One of our team members was so impacted by this experienced that they needed to leave before the tour completed. A touching moment (that I didn't personally witness) was had when our Rwandan driver, John, came and offered the comfort of a warm embrace. Surrounded by the evidence of hatred, evil, and death the love and light of Christ still shown brightly and won the moment in that hug. And really, that's exactly what Africa New Life is doing here in Rwanda. Christ has lit His lamp and they're holding it high, for all to see!
After the memorial we made our way to the ANLM church at Bugesera, an area that was impacted the most during the genocide. Before the genocide took place the government began sending the Tutsi people to Bugesera as a kind of concentration camp. As a result the highest number of deaths happened in the Bugesera area.
We spent some time talking with Fred, the man in charge of the Africa New Life case workers in Bugesera. He told us some more about the history of the Bugesera area and pointed out a hilltop nearby (clearly visible from the church) where 500 people were killed in less than two hours during the genocide.
The most important part of our conversation involved the power of child sponsorship and the incredible forgiveness of Christ that's at work in Bugesera. Fred explained to us that, when a child is sponsored it impacts the family spiritually, physically, emotionally, and economically. The change it makes for them is HUGE! When a sponsor writes their child and says I love you it may be the first time that child has ever heard that they are loved. Child sponsorship has been changing the country.
Fred told us about the forgiveness of Christ that he's seen in Bugesera. There are children in the Bugesera area with no parents who live nextdoor to children with parents. The children with parents are the parents who killed the parents of the children with no parents. And the incredible part is that these children have forgiven their neighbors for killing their parents. A forgiveness that is only found in Christ, and I'll be honest, hard for me to fathom.
As with the other areas, we met with the sponsored kids in Bugesera and had a party! We served them a meal, played games, prayed with them, and told them about their sponsors. One of the more touching aspects of this trip is when the kids ask us to tell their sponsors to come and visit them. We explain that every sponsor would love to meet their child one day but given the cost of traveling to Rwanda it isn't always possible for sponsors to visit their children. They understand, and I suppose the fact that they desire to meet their sponsor shows how important a sponsor is to these children.
During the party some of the kids from the surrounding community began to gather outside the church. Though we were there to meet with the sponsored kids we also had an opportunity to spend some time with the kids from the community. Eventually when they made their way inside the church Mary and Lisa gave them some of the stickers and sunglasses we brought with us. It was so obvious these kids needed love and no accident that they showed up. I'd consider it a divine appointment. Nothing more touching than a child who simply wants to hold your hand and stand close to you!
Today was a day that showed us the extremes of sin, but more importantly the depth and height of God's love for His people. The forgiveness of Christ, and the true transformative nature of Jesus's bride, the church.
Here's a little more of what we saw today.