We have now lived in Rwanda for one and a half years. Last April, I could feel something change in the air as April 7, the anniversary of the genocide, approached. I wasn't sure what to expect. In some ways, life went on....for me....I was fearful of large crowds (and the US Embassy Warden definitely advises staying away from them at this time of the year), so I did not attend the memorial gathering at the national stadium. The streets were quiet. We do not have a television, so we were spared the telecasts reminding people of the atrocities that occurred during those 100 days. I tried to talk with our staff, but I could see they were struggling. So it was quiet. And we prayed. And life went on...for me...
Now I have more Rwandan friends. And I've realized that it is not a question of "Did you lose someone?", but rather "Who did you lose?"
I asked our househelper how she was doing yesterday. She doesn't like to talk about it. She simply said that in the month of April everyone becomes 1994 again. Now she can forgive, but it is still hard.
Just today, as part of my work in doing communications for a USAID project, I was interviewing four farmers up in the northwestern region of Musanze. This region borders both Congo and Uganda. It was encouraging to hear them share how their life has improved since joining a cooperative that is progressing. I asked them what their hopes were for their children now that they are seeing progress in their economic life. I expected to hear the usual hopes of education, success. Instead, what all four said to me in different ways was, "When you have seen and experienced what we went through 17 years ago, all you want for your children is for that to never happen again. You want peace and stability."
I returned home to an email from a friend. We had invited him and his wife to dinner this Saturday. We knew it was the memorial week and said if they'd prefer to postpone until next month, we would completely understand. I have known him for a year. He was actually our attorney for Nathanael's adoption and I have continued to work with him. He shared how he and his wife both lost their parents in the genocide and he lost four of his sisters and brothers as well. Prior to this, what I knew of this man was his incredible heart. He facilitates adoptions because he loves to bring families together. He does free legal aid for orphans on the weekends. Now I know why and my heart broke.
Another friend and colleague shared his story with us. It is one of incredible tragedy. They all are. He is the only survivor. We asked him if he would rather be alone this weekend or would he like to join us for dinner. He said he is usually alone during this memorial, so he would love to be with our family for dinner. How do we honor the family he lost and let him enter into our family at the same time? Lian's response was simple, "I'll teach him how to play Uno! That would be something fun for him."
I met a woman from our church this past weekend. She has written a book called Frida: Chosen to Die, Destined to Live. I read it in a day. I have read so many of these stories. Sometimes I ask myself why I subject myself to them. But in reading them, I find incredible stories of forgiveness and grace amidst incredible evil. I see the hand of God in the midst of a world that denies his existance. I find strength. And in reading their stories, I somehow feel I am honoring the lives of those who were tragically killed in this place I now call home.
Rwanda may feel very far away. But today, I would ask you to just offer a moment of silence for the almost one million people whose beauty and talents this world has lost. May we never, ever see such tragedy again.