This post is 1 year in the making. Because coming home from Rwanda one year ago, I wasn’t ready to share it. Unsure why I was called to go, to witness. And understanding now that God is a master designer. He works in pieces and doesn’t often let us know the picture he’s creating.
So, here’s a little piece of my Rwanda story…
Last year studying Revelations in CBS, one woman shared a story about a couple vacationing in a remote village somewhere exotic. They were out hiking one day and came back to their little hut in the jungle only to be met by this huge snake slithering about the inside. Not sure what to do, they ran to the village for help. A man came back with them armed with a machete and while they waited outside, he calmly walked in and chopped off it’s head and gave them the advice not to go inside until it was quiet. They waited helplessly outside listening to this snake thrashing about, breaking who knows what inside. A snake whose body hadn’t yet realized it didn’t have a head anymore.
How does this relate to Rwanda?
I can’t tell you about visiting Rwanda without giving you context. Without trying to paint a picture of that time in history only 23 years ago that Rwandans will tell you Satan reigned free among them.
We parked outside Nyamata Church with a sense of dread. Knowing what we were about to see would change our world view forever. We passed the original door of the church, with it’s gapping hole blown out by a grenade and you could sense the fear of 10,000 souls huddled inside. We walked into the sanctuary where death and sorrow hits you in the heart. And it’s hard to breathe. Hard to walk around a memorial where Satan reigned. Heaps of clothing piled one after another on the benches throughout the church. My eyes were drawn to a dirty, faded yellow dress big enough for a baby. Nothing more than decaying rags now but it’s the first time the numbers meant something to me. 10,000 slaughtered in that church alone. 800,000 total in the genocide in only 100 days. 5 times the daily killing rate of Jews in the Nazi death camps. 10,000 people thought their lives would be spared in the walls of the church. Tutsi mothers brought their children, huddled together, praying, trying to be invisible. And the churches called the Hutus to come kill them. Husbands turned on wives and their own children. Neighbors turned on neighbors. Pastors turned on their own congregation. Teachers turned on students. The snake swallowed up everyone he could take hold of. He thrashed about the country leaving a wake of blood in his path. And all of this happened 22 years ago while I was in the pains of middle school completely oblivious.
23 years ago, Satan reigned in Rwanda. He reigned while he didn’t realize his head had already been cut off and God had amazing plans for this beloved country.
22 years after the genocide, I was in a car headed up to Volcanoes National Park in the western part of the country early one morning. The sun was slowly rising over the land of a thousand hills and for the first time in Rwanda, I felt God’s presence as we worshipped Him right there in the car.
We walked over green hills and pastures. Past mud huts, goats, cows and farmers. Far off in the hills we could hear a faint sound and then we could make out a hand furiously waving to say hello. And then the children came running. Heaps of them, with their ratty shirts and fungus growing on top of their shaved heads. Dirty and barefoot they brought with them the most overwhelming sense of joy. For although they had little, they had everything.
And they started singing and dancing.
Our translator told us they were singing: “Sing and dance and praise the Lord to make Satan angry.” That’s what these children choose to greet us with. In just one generation, God has filled them with love and pure joy that we can’t even fathom. And my face hurt from smiling that day.
Did you make that connection? In one generation. Imagine that for a minute. Not one person over the age of 22 hadn’t been personally affected by the genocide. Each one has a story they could tell you. Stories of husbands turning on wives. Neighbors killing neighbors. Each adult has a scar forever imprinted on them. Each child today is being raised by someone with that scar. Forgiveness and revenge are both choices. And Rwandans choose forgiveness. To ensure love and faith was passed down to the next generation…not conflict and hate. In an interview being played at the Genocide Memorial Museum one of the Genocide survivors said “To give forgiveness you have to know who to forgive.” You can’t forgive a group of people for one persons actions. And I love this quote from author and genocide survivor Immaculee Ilibagiza, ” I knew that my heart and mind would always be tempted to feel anger-to find blame and hate. But I resolved that when the negative feelings came upon me, I wouldn’t wait for them to grow or fester. I would always turn immediately to the Source of all true power: I would turn to God and let His love and forgiveness protect and save me.”
I want to leave you with Ezekiel 37 and a Lauren Daigle song.
37: The hand of the Lord was on me, and he brought me out by the Spirit of the Lord and set me in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. 2 He led me back and forth among them, and I saw a great many bones on the floor of the valley, bones that were very dry. 3 He asked me, “Son of man, can these bones live?”
I said, “Sovereign Lord, you alone know.”
4 Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones and say to them, ‘Dry bones, hear the word of the Lord! 5 This is what the Sovereign Lord says to these bones: I will make breath[a] enter you, and you will come to life. 6 I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the Lord.’”
And there, lies the glory of God’s plan all along. After the genocide, Rwanda was left a hollow shell. Indescribable shame, anger, grief, sorrow, hopelessness, pain. Their bones were dry. Lifeless. Hopeless. Their forgiveness required action though. To give themselves life they had to prophesy the word of the Lord. They had to forgive like Christ forgave. And when they did God breathed life back into them. And transformed a country in one generation. A generation that now believes knowing Christ is a matter of life or death. It’s a matter of being saved or unsaved. Being joyfilled or not really caring. I love that Rwanda reminds me that He has already won the war and even though you or we may appear defeated, He alone has the power to breath life into our hopelessness and we can rest in peace and joy and love with the privilege of already knowing the end of the story.
Dry Bones- Lauren DaigleThrough the eyes of men it seems
There’s so much we have lost
As we look down the road
Where all the prodigals have walked
One by one
The enemy has whispered lies
And led them off as slavesBut we know that you are God
Yours is the victory
We know there is more to come
That we may not yet see
So with the faith you’ve given us
We’ll step into the valley unafraid, yeahAs we call out to dry bones
Come alive, come alive
We call out to dead hearts
Come alive, come alive
Up out of the ashes
Let us see an army rise
We call out to dry bones, come alive