Day 2 – Special Edition

I hesitated to post the earlier entry, “Hallelujah!”, because I was hoping to snag a video from the church service from another team member. Several tried to connect me to theirs last night. But the file was too big and the bandwidth too small. So, after several days of frustration, I’m pleased to announce that I have video from church on Sunday.

These Rwandans are singing people. I hope that you enjoy this little slice of heaven on earth.

Day 3 – Flexibility

Day 3 was a learning day for us. We had been told that flexibility was a key to our success while in Africa. We began to learn about flexibility even before we began to train security forces in Rwanda.

Our training session was to take place in a meeting room of the Top Tower Hotel in downtown Kigali at 8 a.m. Our transportation convoy (a Toyota Prado Land Cruiser and a Corolla) was eventually ready to roll from the ALARM Training Center at 8:15 a.m. That departure time put us in the midst of rush hour traffic.

Rush hour takes on new meaning in Rwanda. Pedestrians, buses of all sizes, bicycles, cars, and the ever-present motorcycle taxis swarm like ants on a fallen ice cream cone.

Apparently, stop signs serve only to warn you that there may be vehicles coming from other directions — because you don’t stop. Evidently, the stop sign doesn’t necessarily indicate which vehicle may have the right of way either.  And crosswalks seem to be designed to inform motorists the areas where they should speed up. Those on foot enter the crosswalk at their own risk and then run as fast as possible. Both the pedestrian and the driver bearing down on them seem to enjoy the game.

You also need to know that is apparently acceptable to drive your vehicle in any open space on the road. And everyone uses their horn as a declaration of the assumption of that space.

Yet, we saw little anger or frustration. Perhaps its because this is a culture dominated by flexibility.

District Executive Secretary, Raymond, & ALARM Rwanda National Coordinator, Benjamin Nkusi

District Executive Secretary, Raymond, & ALARM Rwanda National Coordinator, Benjamin Nkusi

We arrived at the hotel about 45 minutes late and then waited another 15 minutes to begin. Why? Because the executive secretary of the district had stepped forward to encourage the security officers. And since he had the floor, our arrival as the training team didn’t seem to dampen his desire to continue. Over the next 2 days, we learned to love this man, Raymond, and all of those who worked for him.

We spent a great deal of time engineering our presentations and the overall schedule. Our event organizers noted that and then worked out the final schedule in coordination with the hotel in regard to breaks and lunch. Then, pretty much, we were on our own to try and fit our materials into whatever time we actually had.

And it went very well.

The participants were totally delightful. In their role as security officers, these men and women walk the streets of the district at night and are the first responders — the unarmed first responders — to any problem. Behind them stood the National Police and, if necessary, the military. But most conflict is handled by these fine folks. And, even though they are night-time workers, they came to the training prepared to listen, to participate, and to learn.

Sixty-seven participants.

Flexible. When breaking for tea and coffee, they stood patiently and happily even though the hotel had assigned only one person to pour beverages. And the breaks were rarely at their scheduled time. Fifteen minute breaks stretched to one hour.

Practicing flexibility. The participants listened respectfully as each word we said was painstakingly translated into Kinyarwandan and just as patiently when what they told us was translated into English.

Whereas our American cultural background would have led us to believe that we had a right to complain, these people simply sat back, enjoyed the moment, and smiled.

One of the biggest delights was coming back from our first break and having the participants spontaneously break into song. While we might have felt a slight edge of frustration from the delays of the day, they were telling us that flexibility and calm would make all seem right.

They were teaching us about peace and the release of internal conflict.

Odd . . . wasn’t that what we were supposed to be doing?

Well, yes. In fact, we were.

Security Training 1And, in fact, we were. We were teaching and they were teaching. We were sharing and they were sharing. In our bonding in a required environment of flexibility we were forming an international bond of peace.

And that’s exactly what we were meant to do.

Flexibility is an integral part of peace. We just about have that part down.

Day 2.2 – Genocide

After attending church and sharing a relaxed lunch back at the ALARM Training Center, our team loaded up and headed to the Kigali Genocide Memorial Center. From the time Dr. Betty Gilmore envisioned this trip for us, this was the moment that we had the most questions about. How do we come to understand one hundred days of history in this small country where ordinary citizens were persuaded to join military forces in the brutal murders of their neighbors and friends?

The Kigali Center, one of several genocide memorials in Rwanda, is a somber place. Our team slowly made its way through turn after turn of narrow halls packed with photographs and the stories of that dark time in history.  Cold, calculating individuals manufactured this slaughter set within the context of a Rwandan civil war. Slowly at first, propaganda achieved its inevitable purpose as a tribe of people, the Tutsis, were targeted as undesirable and labeled as insignificant. The consistent cry was heard across the nation — “Kill the cockroaches!” When the genocide finally ended, close to 1 million Rwandans were dead.

Burial Place SignToward the end of the exhibits were three rooms that cut deep into our souls. In the first were displayed countless human skulls, bones, and some of the weapons that were used to maim, torture, and kill. In the second were thousands of pictures of individuals who died. No stories. Just family photos clipped to string after string after string. Each picture a story and a sharp pain in our consciousness.

The last of the three exhibits was most likely the most chilling. Through several rooms, large photograph enlargements were accompanied by simple plaques that provided the name, the favorite foods and activities of the little children who were killed alongside their parents or hunted down like animals. Oh, and one other item on those plaques — the method by which each child had been executed.

The Kigali Center is built on the side of a hill looking back toward the downtown area. Outside the center, on its grounds, are buried some of the victims of the genocide. Two hundred fifty thousand is what we’re told. As Dan pointed out, in the space provided, it would be difficult to have 250,000 people standing close together, much less buried. Yet, that small piece of land that we trudged over in less than an hour, is the final resting place of a quarter million people. We left that area dazed and wished the story was make believe — a horror story.

Hotel RwandaWe were uplifted a few minutes later when we visited the Hôtel des Mille Collines. This Belgian luxury hotel was where hundreds of Tutsis and moderate Hutus were sheltered by a caring hotelier, a Hutu who was married to a Tutsi. Known popularly as “Hotel Rwanda” because of the movie by that name, we were reminded of the fact that, even in horrible times, the goodness and the resolve of individuals stands as a testament to the greater good that God has placed in all of us.

In the days to come, we know that we will see the great effort being made by the Rwandan people to claim that greater good.

Temporary Delay in Africa Posts

I know several of you are watching for our Africa peace mission posts. Just wanted you to know we are doing fine. Our internet bandwidth is limited here and I’ve been trying to upload a 1 minute video for the past few hours. The good news is that many of the team are getting their pictures uploaded and they’ll have them ready for you on their social media outlets.

I would persevere, but we’re also sharing electrical adapters. It’s not my turn until tomorrow and I’m down to almost nothing on this computer. So, I will try again tomorrow. I doubt that I’ll catch up, but I will continue to file daily updates — even if they are several days old.

Thanks for reading and for your prayers!

Day 2.1 – Hallelujah!

Looking forward to our first full day in Kigali, we questioned — perhaps even dreaded — one item on our schedule. It wasn’t that we didn’t want to go to church on Sunday. We just wondered if we would be in any shape to survive the projected 4-hour service with somewhat serious jet-lag. Hallelujah! God had other plans.

As we were escorted to the front pews — actually plastic lawn chairs — on the front rows of the Itorero Methodist Church, we became fairly positive that nothing about this service was going to make us sleepy. (That thought proved optimistic by the time we got to the visiting preacher’s sermon, however.)

Full of energy, we were treated to a kids’ choir, a young peoples’ choir, and the main, serious-dressed choir. And the kids and our new friends blessed us with praise and volume. We even had a guest appearance by a famous Rwandan Gospel singer, whose name escapes me at this time. A number of personal translators came to our sides. We heard announcements, were greeted warmly as visitors, saw 2 new members embraced into the fellowship of this church, heard more and more songs.

And we learned about “Hallelujah!”

“Hallelujah!” a speaker would call out and the audience would answer with “Hallelujah!” and “Amen!” It became our rally cry as well.

Invigorated from our time inside the cavernous church building — with open screens to permit ventilation and open windows below — we made our way outside to be greeted by the congregants and, of course, the children.

And all we can say is, “Hallelujah!”