Tuesday, June 10, 2014

The Power of Forgiveness

The first Saturday here our group traveled to the Millennium Village as a way to learn more about Rwandan culture and to see more of the country.  Prior to the trip, we didn't really know what to expect of the trip except that we would be visiting a village and their local genocide memorial site.  The day turned out to be magnitudes more than that and was certainly filled with many impacting experiences.

The Millennium Village is an initiative that was started in 10 countries throughout Sub-Saharan Africa as a means to lift a village out of poverty.  Goals such as reducing extreme poverty and hunger, improving education, health, gender equality, and environmental sustainability are set and are supposed to be achieved within 10 years from the start of the program.  Mayange was selected as the village for this program in Rwanda.  Before the genocide in 1994, Mayange was mostly a jungle and was the most fertile area in the country.  In 1992 when turmoil began, thousands of Tutsis were sent here as the government's attempt to quietly kill them, hoping that they would die from natural causes in the jungle.  When fighting broke out in 1994, tens of thousands of people were killed there.  During the aftermath when refugees were returning to the country from Tanzania, many people went there to re-start their lives.  As a result, heavy deforestation occurred and the area went from the most fertile to the most infertile.

Since the start of the Millenium Village in 2006, Mayange has had several school buildings built, their health clinic underwent major improvements, multiple cooperatives have been established, their village as a whole has seen major improvements, and they have built one of the most amazing communities that I have ever heard of, let alone experienced.

Our guides first took us to the school area to show us the classrooms. The school buildings were built by various organizations, including World Vision and another relief group.  Although it was Saturday, some kids still flocked to the schoolyard and were eager to tag along with our group.  The principal at the school showed us around and told us that the school teaches 1, 035 students with only 16-17 teachers!  That's about 62 students per teacher which always makes me think of how teachers in the States would probably go on strike if they had that many students in their classroom during elementary or middle school.  After seeing the school, our group participated in muganda (see previous post).

Once we finally cleaned ourselves up from being a muddy mess after muganda, our group visited Mayange's health clinic.  Here they had several nurses on staff, but no doctor since it was only a village health clinic.  Entering the health clinic, the waiting room was overflowing with dozens and dozens of people waiting to be seen.  At most hospitals in the States, there are 1-3 people per room, but here there were about 14 people all in one giant room with no curtains to serve as dividers.  Walking from ward to ward, there were people everywhere, including sleeping in the middle of the courtyard.  We got to visit the PICU and check out the equipment in there and even see some patients being treated.  Going to the maternity ward, they showed us this one room that was the size of a large bedroom in the States and told us that was the old maternity ward before the Millennium Village project started.  For all of you mothers out there, imagine sharing that size of a delivery room with several other mothers!  Since the project began though, they have built a new maternity ward which is much bigger and can better accommodate the village's needs.

I didn't really think about Rwanda having health insurance before the trip, but during our visit they explained that most people buy health insurance so that they can actually afford medical care.  Through the government, anyone can buy health insurance and then they only have to pay 10% of any care they receive which is typically the only way people can receive medical care.  Also, mosquito nets are given out for free to anyone to reduce the amount of malaria cases.

After the health clinic, we visited a local farmer who showed us his animals and crops.  The stalls for cows and pigs were really interesting because they were just constructed from bamboo.  Walking through the banana groves was a pretty awesome sight and we even got to see how they harvest cassava roots.

As part of the Millennium Village project, several cooperatives have been established to provide income opportunities for groups of people.  One of these is a women's basket-weaving program that involves about 120 women and allows them to sell their baskets in a store and at some markets.  Their store there was packed with beautiful baskets made with intricate details and each basket included the name of the person who made it.  Afterwards, they even showed us how they make the baskets!  Using a small bundle of straw, they just continuously wrap embroidery thread around it and sew it through the previous circle of the basket.  I only did 2 small loops and I'm amazed at how they can make the baskets, let alone add designs to them.

From the cooperative, we visited the Nyamata genocide memorial site which is by far the most intense place I have ever been.  Prior to 1994, the site had been a large Catholic church but due to the events that happened there, it is now a memorial site.  During 1992 when some fighting occurred, Tutsis fled to the church to seek protection and were able to remain safe.  When the genocide began in 1994, thousands of people again fled to this church since they heard how people were protected there and also because they thought people would respect the holy space and not kill anyone.  Unlike in 1992, soldiers  broke into the church where 11,000 people had taken refuge and killed everyone there.  To honor everyone who lost their life there, survivors gathered the victims' clothes and brought them back to the church.  Unlike any other memorial I've been to, they showed you every detail.  Walking through the doors of the church, you could see the grenade marks in the concrete where the soldiers broke in.  Inside the church, there were piles of clothes laid on every bench, hundreds of bullet holes in the roof, and blood stains on the walls.  Walking past the piles of children's clothes was definitely the toughest part.  Outside, they had 3 mass graves for the 45,000 people who were killed in the area.  To the group's surprise and horror, they actually let us walk down into the graves and look around.  Walking down the stairs, there were shelves and shelves on either side filled with skulls and bones of all the victims and you could see how they were killed.  I really don't know any other way to describe the sight other than it being a real-life scene from a horror movie.

Our final stop of the day was at the village of unity and reconciliation.  Here, survivors, perpetrators, and refugees of the genocide live next to each other and serve as a living testimony to the power of forgiveness.  We were welcomed with singing and dancing by girls from the village and it seemed like everyone in the entire village was there.  After that, we listened to a perpetrator talk about his experience during the genocide and then listened to a survivor tell her story during the genocide about how she hid after both of her parents were killed.  The head of the village then told us how after the genocide, 2 American pastors sat down with both sides and helped each other discuss what happened.  The perpetrator who shared told us how the pastors worked with him and eventually he asked God for forgiveness.  Just the concept of living next door to someone who killed your family would be considered insane by most people, but the people in Mayange are actually living it.  At first it was far from easy, but they said that through prayer and asking God for forgiveness, they now live as one community and can ask anyone for help.  No one is identified as Hutu or Tutsi, and all of their children grow up together being taught they are all equal.  Simply experiencing their love was definitely a life-long memory.

So many times at home, I hear someone saying how they were wronged by another person and want to get even.  It's my prayer that everyone would be able to experience a fraction of the forgiveness that the people in Mayange have because the world could be flipped upside down from that.  It's definitely not any forgiveness that us feeble humans are capable of, but rather a forgiveness that God delivers through us if we choose to allow him.


  1. Laura,
    Thank you for sharing about the history of the Rwanda genocide and the way the Lord is restoring this broken place. This is exciting stuff!! Wow!

  2. Wow Laura. Thanks for sharing in such vivid details what you are experiencing there in Rwanda. Praising God for the healing and restoration that has already been taking place there. what an amazing experience this trip is turning out for you. You continue to be in my thoughts and prayers.