Rwanda is amazing. It rains every other day, mostly the sun beams on the papaya and jacaranda trees. We have power outages many days sometimes for an hour but usually shorter. Birdsong loudly blooms overhead or whenever a clutch of trees clings to the hillside. Flowers bloom all year round‚ lavender, red, yellow and magenta.
By 6am it’s dawn in Kigali and you see people on the move. Besides language and smells, the roads, and city transport are challenging. I get up, tie my mosquito netting overhead, take a shower (sometimes even a hot shower). I go onto the back terrace for 20 minutes of yoga. Some mornings I’m out for a brisk walk, accompanied by birds whistles. I can understand the Rwandan bird chatter about as well as I understand Rwandans speech.
On Sundays, Jonathan and I hurry through breakfast. We plan what songs we can sing. This takes discernment since Jonathan and I have different tastes in music. We can’t just sing our Cuban Quaker songs. Songs that we have success with have lots of Aleluja choruses. Rwandans like Give me Oil in my Lamp; Day by Day (Godspell); some songs for grace. Once we were asked to give the message, or to pray aloud. Maybe next Sunday I will share this favorite Jesus story.
Remember the story of the crowd listening to Jesus, and the people were, well, it was crowded. So four friends lowered this paralyzed man on his cot from the roof down so the man could be healed. Some elders were upset with Jesus, testing and doubting him. Jesus had compassion on the paralyzed man. He spoke to the crowd, “what is easier, to forgive this man’s sins or to heal him so he can walk?” I can just imagine how I would squirm if I had such a question. Who can forgive someone’s sin? Much to the astonishment of the people he said to the man, “Your sins are forgiven. Stand up now, take your mat, and go home.” And the man did, his legs were healed. (Mark 2:5)
Now here I am in a strange land, joining with Rwandans to build the peace. Whenever there is mass killing (as often happens in the US), the fabric of our community is damaged. There is fear. That fear cripples us, Certainly the fear, the desire for revenge, the missing family members that stunts our children.
So in Rwanda the Quakers are offering AVP (Alternatives to Violence Program) as much as possible. Rwandans are luckier than some places, because of the past genocide they are more intentional about building the peace.
My second peace workshop with Rwandans has finished: Help Increase the Peace (HIPP) is very similar to AVP but for youth. If we get more donations, Rwanda Friends will train 60-80 youth this year. If we can end the 2016 year with 60 youth trained, Rwandans want to take these peace skills into other churches and to schools.*
In the three-day HIPP training I was impressed by the eagerness to learn. About half of the participants are trained as Quaker pastors, but they still found the exercises of cooperative games, stating your feelings, avoid judging and advising to be refreshing, even novel. They loved the game Jailbreak and Who is the Leader. They added Rwandan games like Birds Fly, Some Went to Venice, and Jump In the River. They asked good questions: Is it ever helpful to blame someone? Does HIPP only give the experience or does it ever preach? Is violence hereditary?
I often let them sort through these questions of the source of violence, and who can judge another’s behavior. I am not in Rwanda to pass judgement. I am here to cheer the youth on, to tell them in no uncertain words that they can rebuild their society, they can heal from the crimes of the genocide. I can assure them, “You are children of God, your country needs you and you are important to the fabric of the new Eden.” What is easier, to forgive sins or to walk? Stand up, Rwandans. Stand tall and move forward.
*Rwanda youth hope to raise another $5,000 this year for HIPP. Contact me if you want to contribute.