Day 4.2 – Alone

Following the training on Tuesday afternoon, we loaded our duffel bags of donations for the refugee camp on a large bus, grabbed a few things for overnight, and began our first trek into the Rwandan countryside. Our destination for the night was the Seeds of Peace Conference Center on Lake Muhari in the eastern province. We were together, but about to discover the world of alone.

Our spirits were high as we wound our way up and down the hills with countless banana trees and valleys where farmers were working their fields with hand tools. Unlike my drives through West Texas where you might travel miles and miles without seeing anyone along the road and where country homes are built far away from the road and the prying eyes of passersby, there were mud houses and people distributed pretty evenly along the roadway.

Photo Credit: Betty Gilmore

Photo Credit: Betty Gilmore

My mind captured snapshots of the rapidly passing scenes as we alternated through countryside and villages. I frequently saw people who were alone . . . working alone in a mountainside field . . . peddling alone on a bicycle . . . playing alone in the dirt in front of a mud hut with a tin roof . . . sitting alone on a rock with seemingly nowhere to go and nothing to do.

As I considered this posture of aloneness, I wondered if that’s all it was. Aloneness, but not loneliness. And somehow, I felt like these Rwandans were, at the moment I saw them, alone but not lonely. They seemed content.

Photo Credit: Betty Gilmore

Photo Credit: Betty Gilmore

Capturing these solitary portraits of humankind brought a new perspective as I remembered times through my life when I had been alone, but not felt lonely. Perhaps these lovely people, like me, thought of these times as mere intervals before they were reunited with others — a more telling view of their role in the world and the timing that places them with people and without people.

Or, perhaps it was more something about their connection with God as creator and his creation. A tie to a larger purpose for all things that seemed to transcend the momentary silence of individual existence. A joyfulness simply to be a part of a larger story.

Barreling along the countryside with six companions who had become like family, I looked forward to meeting the Congolese refugees the next day and I wondered if, even in the midst of a crowded camp, we would see individuals who were experiencing some things alone.

And, I began to connect with these people as individual souls. No longer a nameless, faceless gathering of people. Each and every one of them, alone, an essential and important person in our world.

Day 4.1 – Serious

As indicated in the previous post, the training of the district security forces, along with a number of other leaders in law enforcement and government agencies, was a tremendous success on Monday and only got better on Tuesday. One thing for certain, the men and women gathered for the training were geared up and ready to receive all they possibly could from the time together with our team. While kind and gracious, our crowd was downright serious about getting as much as they possibly could from this event.

The national coordinator for ALARM Rwanda, Ben, and ALARM’s Director of Peacebuilding and Reconciliation, Cecile, served as our interpreters. I can’t imagine how incredibly difficult that was — and tiring. But they were serious about helping us communicate our message.

During the late morning and early afternoon on Tuesday, a special committee of participants convened during our training to evaluate the sessions and to make recommendations to leaders of the community at the closing session. Their evaluation was amazingly thorough and their primary recommendation was to expand the program to security forces outside the district and across the entire nation. Serious recommendations.

The African people are also serious about ceremony. Our training session ended with an official closing with the major of the district, the executive secretary of the district, and the director of security forces for the district all in attendance to hear the committee’s recommendations, to congratulate the members of the security forces for their excellent participation, and to thank us for coming to share.

And the entire occasion was capped off with a serious photo session and times for goodbyes.

What is apparent is that we have a serious, top-flight training team with Betty, Malcolm, Allison, Robyn, Aaron, and Dan. Seriously.

 

 

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.

2 Days and Counting – Balance

So, our heads are filled with visions of what we will see and tones of what we will hear. In 2 days we will wait for our boarding groups to be called and we’ll make our way down the jet bridge to our plane and find our seats. As we settle in for the first of two 10-hour flights, we will wonder about what directions our first exposure to Africa will take. We’ve prepared well and we know that the things we will experience will range from sobering to exhilarating. We pray for balance.

Back in Abilene, on the campus of Abilene Christian University, one of the favorite fitness hotspots is the Lunsford Trail. A two-mile ribbon of pavement wrapped around the home of the ACU Wildcats, the loop is known for the special messages and symbolism portrayed on inset stones and on monuments of various stature.

At the head of the trail, Mile Marker 0, a large stone pillar is set to the side and bordered by shrubbery. It’s a favorite spot of mine because of the scripture etched in that stone.

“He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” Micah 6:8

2014-09-17 18.53.03In our studies of conflict and peaceful resolution, we rely on concepts of men to determine our best practices. One of the cornerstones of our teaching is the Dual Concern Model. From it we derive some sense of the ways that each of us deals with conflict. I’ll save you the long lectures and more tedious explanations. But basically, the “dual concerns” are that of self concern and concern for others.  Most theorists also 2014-09-17 18.53.06equate self concern with a sense of justice and concern for others with a predisposition toward mercy. And while  much can be said for either the pursuit of justice or the pursuit of mercy, those who seek lasting peace have learned that it’s the balance of justice and mercy that brings us peace.

In keeping with the teachings from the Old Testament book of Micah, we see that God provides what is good. And for us to claim what is good, He asks us to act justly 2014-09-17 18.53.12AND love mercy — to balance those two forces. That balance, plus a humble spirit, will bring us God’s good — His perfect peace.

As an overarching prayer, then, we ask for that balance and that humility as we meet and serve the good people of Rwanda and Kenya. “He has shown us, O mortals, what is good.”

God, bless Robyn and Malcolm and Dan and Allison and Aaron and Betty and Joey with peace that comes from acting justly, loving mercy, and walking humbly with You.  Amen

13 Days and Counting – Credentials

When we start boarding the plane in just 13 days, airline personnel and government officials will be paying a lot of attention to our credentials. Boarding passes and passports will be the key items of the moment. And, even though a lost boarding pass or a defective passport has caused many a problem at the gate, those things aren’t nearly as terrifying as a lack of credentials in some other key areas.

Team4When Dr. Betty Gilmore selected her Africa team, she was looking for some specific characteristics. Fortunately, she had the advantage of having the SMU students in her classes. She had talked with each one, seen them interact with large groups, and read their assignments. Yet as well as she had come to know each and every one, there was something else she was hoping for — a dedication and commitment that’s a little hard to foresee.

An experienced hand at assembling student teams to travel to other countries, Betty knew, perhaps better than any of us, how much time and work would be required in preparing for this trip. Just as a passenger’s credentials are carefully scrutinized, Betty had to look carefully at each one of us.

Team3While the best case scenario would be a perfect fit, we all know it’s rare for that to happen when assembling a team. For a team to come together, it must experience struggle. People have to learn to deal with the blemishes. For in seeing the good and the bad in our mission partners, we begin to develop a real sense of the strength of the team. And, fittingly, we come to love and respect each other in a very special way.

In the day-to-day world, credentials are things that are earned. A degree, a license, an honor. We love people with credentials. And once credentialed, it does feel rather nice to have someone take notice.

On this trip, the hope of each and every one of us is that our special credentials are noticed by everyone we meet. Our special credentials will be well earned. We’ve worked hard. Yet, the magic ingredient is our willingness to stick together.

Team5When Betty, Robyn, Aaron, Malcolm, Allison, Dan, and I set foot in Africa, we want to be seen as a peace movement. Holding each other up, carrying each other’s burdens, looking out for one another, respecting each other. These are the credentials that will speak most loudly as we move together to train others and model peace.