Monday, October 03, 2016

RWANDA: LEARNING ABOUT THE GENOCIDE

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It would be hard to tell the story of our trip to Rwanda without mentioning the genocide that took place in 1994.  This event informs and underwrites every person's history there and stands as a marker in time for all of their lives.  And what a hard marker to have to revisit.

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(banner reads: Genocide Never Again)
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On our second full day in country, we went to the Kigali Genocide Memorial which gives a sweeping overview of what led to genocide and more specifics about the atrocities that took place in that 100 days when over 1 million lives were taken.  The scope and scale horrified me, and I wanted to look away.  When I walked through the room with the skulls and bones - I wanted to look away.  There was also a children's exhibit which shared stories and pictures of children and included the brutal ways that their lives were taken.  Tears ran down my cheeks as I tried to take it in.

Over 250,000 people are buried in the mass graves at that site- a number that is so hard to comprehend.

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On Wednesday morning, we stopped at a smaller memorial housed in a church that serves as a reminder for the ways the church failed during genocide.  Victims fled to this church for safety, and instead, it served as a slaughterhouse for over 10,000 people.  Their clothes were placed on the pews as a reminder, and we walked throughout the church and over all the grounds, taking in the bullet holes left in the roof, and the grenade marks on the ground.

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Over 40,000 people are buried at this site, because this area of the country was one of the hardest hit. Honestly, all of it was too much.

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But - I made myself look and learn.  It was the least I could do to honor those lives and share in the collective burden that the genocide remains.  I wanted to feel the depth of the tragedy (as much as I could 20 years later as a visitor), because I didn't think it would be fair to benefit from the great joys and gifts that the Rwandan people have to share without also knowing some of what it cost them.

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A country divided by colonists and pitted against one another was rife for the kind of mayhem that was unleashed.  But - in the wake of the tragedy - the scale of which I cannot truly fathom - the Rwandan people are stronger than ever, and are also creating one of the most stable countries in all of Africa.  They just finished hosting all of the African presidents, and Kigali was chosen, in part, for all of the security that it provides.

God has also played an undeniable role in the reconciliation, because the kind of forgiveness required is simply not possible without God's grace and mercy.  His face has been on Rwanda, and many people there have walked forward with forgiveness in their hearts and unity for their country.  The spirit is truly astounding.

Though the genocide marks every Rwandan - it does not define all of their lives.  Though seeing these things was challenging, I know it is what I needed to do to be prepared for being there and understanding where people are coming from.  There is a collective consciousness that does not forget this tragedy, and I was thankful to have the opportunity to understand it a bit more.

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