Please end the fear. Talk to people. All people. Pray for people. All people. Perhaps while we are praying, God will provide a holy space where we can make better decisions, choose better words, take a different course of action.
Death is a natural consequence of life We all have been touched by the loss of someone close to us. The initial shock of that loss begins at the moment the last breath was taken — a shock that can last for days, months, and even years. And then there are those milestone moments when, at a given day or time, we realize that we are facing those markers alone — without our loved one. After the crucifixion and death of Jesus on Friday, his family, friends, and followers awoke to a Saturday they weren’t prepared for. In this Saturday mourning, they found themselves with questions, wanting to believe in resurrection but faced with the harsh reality of a silent grave.
photo credit: Forrest Cavale/unsplash.com
This was a Saturday and a day of Sabbath for Christ’s followers that brought no rest. It was a day of doubts and fears. And, oh, such incredible sadness.
But Saturday mourning brought something else. A stirring experienced by even the strongest believers that plans should be made and new courses charted. The bits of uncertainty begin to clump together and the inner voices began to assert, “It’s all up to me. I am in control. Take charge and put aside all else.”
Yet, the message of Jesus’ life is one that says, “I am enough . . . Leave your burdens to me.” In the dark recesses of Saturday mourning, our earthly clinging causes us to desperately claw at what’s around us, demanding to understand, demanding to make things right, and sincerely pleading for all the broken pieces to be put back together again. And a stubborn determination to do it all ourselves.
Saturday mourning is a necessary part of the walk through the valley of death. For when we finally throw ourselves, exhausted, on the bed of our human frailty, we begin to see the outlines of sunrise on a new horizon. And in the waning moments of Saturday mourning, we begin to hear God’s voice, “It’s all up to me. I am in control. I am in charge and you need nothing else.”
On a day that held so much potential and that had generated so much anticipation, we couldn’t help but feel disappointed as we drove away from the refugee camp. For one thing, our much-loved Allison had not been able to make the trip in. Then, unexpectedly and somewhat dramatically, we were denied the privilege of leaving the gifts we had intended for the children and the adults.
It was hard to look around the bus. Disappointed is a mild word for how we felt. No one wanted to talk much about what had happened. Although, I believe that each and every one couldn’t think of anything else.
The donations of medical kits, maxipads, markers, papers, soccer balls, and other assorted items had been gathered by our team from family and friends. The duffel bags brimming with supplies weren’t just about stuff. They were a message to people who had been displaced from their homes and their native land that there were people from halfway around the world who cared.
And those bags and those supplies were leaving the refugee camp with us — a message undelivered.
As Benjamin Nkusi would explain to us later, he and the ALARM Rwanda staff had gone to a great deal of effort in arranging our trip to the refugee camp. He had gone through all of the proper channels and completed all of the paper work.
Yet, there in the camp, while members of our team were helping kids draw pictures and were inflating soccer balls, a camp official brought all of our good intentions to a standstill. The letter we had granting permission to make the donations was deemed to be lacking. One more seal, we were told. One more stamped insignia and we would have been allowed to leave our gifts.
You could tell from the slope of Ben’s shoulders that he was greatly disappointed. In fact, when I was trying to encourage him later he would merely say, “This was a bad day for Ben.” He, too, had wanted us to have that moment of charity that would bring a few nice things to these people.
So we were disappointed. As our bus made its way back toward Seeds of Peace Conference Center to pick up Allison, our disappointment turned to fatigue.
As we pulled up to Seeds of Peace, we were feeling some better. Ben had promised to follow through with the authorities in Kigali who oversee the refugee camp and to see to it that our donations would make their way to those for whom they were intended.
And, we were reunited with Allison. She wasn’t 100% and she, too, was disappointed seeing the bags left in the back. But we were encouraged by her good spirit and we set off toward Kigali with the hope of getting lunch along the way.
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.
Toward 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.
We 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.
As just 41 days separate us from our initial day of travel, we continue to think about the history of East Africa and of the horrific acts of genocide that occurred there. But in listening to today’s news, we are painfully reminded that history repeats itself.
Leaders who encourage and promote the torture and killing of innocent civilians — men, women, and children — are not acting in the name of a divine being or a superior bloodline or a better political ideal. Instead, they promote shameless violence in the hope that they themselves will be viewed as a god-like presence. Their followers, often confused and afraid, obey orders they will come to regret and, perhaps, never really understand. No glory and no victory result from such senseless acts of cowardice.
And the world is slow to act.
We have seen the power of reconciliation in many places. Reconciliation and forgiveness stories abound in places like Rwanda and Croatia. Our hope builds as we witness the coming of peace. God’s peace is a welcome relief. Forgiveness brings rest and hope. Our team will travel on both valleys and mountain tops as we come face to face with the horrors of the past and marvel at the resilience of the human spirit as it builds bridges to the future.
Bad things happen when people try to take the place of God. Our team hopes to be part of the peace movement that writes a much brighter future and a more positive history.