Tuesday, October 6, 2015

"When everything was nothing"--Remembering and Rebuilding

Rwanda is "The Land of a Thousand Hills"
One of the most memorable moments for me of the past few months occurred when I was in Kigali, Rwanda. 

I met a young woman named Egidia. She was the picture of vibrancy and life to me--young, educated, articulate, and passionate about her work at the Kigali Memorial. Being curious, I decided to ask-

"How old are you?"

Egidia told me she was born in 1989. That struck a chord with me because I gave birth to a baby girl in 1989 (Lynn). 

"Did you grow up in Kigali?"

Oh no, she explained. Her parents, Tutsis, fled to Uganda during the attack on the Tutsis by the Hutus in 1959. 

"Oh, I see. So, when did you move to Rwanda?"

I have to admit that I was not prepared for her answer. She said "We came to Rwanda in July of 1994."

I had just viewed the film "Hotel Rwanda" again and finished reading literature on the Rwandan Genocide. I knew one of the world's worst atrocities took place between April and July of 1994 and that by the end of July, more than 800,000 people lay slaughtered across this small country (the size of Vermont). Bodies were left to decompose in fields, houses, churches, in the streets, and in latrines. 

I knew Egidia would have been five years old, so I asked her...Do you remember what it was like then? 

Then she said it. She said the phrase I will always remember...
Loading"Do you mean when everything was nothing?"

Yes. That is what I meant. You see, Rwanda lay in ruins. There was no government, no streets, schools, hospitals, electricity, running water. No currency of any value. Many Hutus had fled to Congo (then Zaire). What was left was unconscionable devastation and death everywhere. 

"Yes" she said. She had some memory of it. But mostly, she has decided to focus on the healing process. 

Egidia is the personification of the healing and growth of this small country that has taken place in just 21 years. It is nothing short of remarkable to visit Kigali today and to see a clean, developed city with Hutus and Tutsis working together. The economy is doing well. It is indeed, a different world from the one that existed when Egidia and her parents made the journey back to their homeland at the end of the genocide of their people. 

Today, the people of this small country generally do not refer to themselves as Hutu or Tutsi. They are Rwandans. Perpetrators of the genocide and survivors live and work alongside each other. Thousands of people have sought and received forgiveness. Kwibuka! The Kinyarwandan word for "remember" is a watchword throughout the countryside. Memorials are there to help all to never forget what happened here, and the story of remembering and rebuilding is as compelling as it is instructive.
A picture of Kigall that I took in July of this year, 21 years later

The question for our WATS Doctor of Ministry (DMin) students who are studying Transformational Leadership for Peace and Reconciliation, is how did Rwanda transform from a failed state and probably the poorest country in the world in July of 1994 to being as vibrant and beautiful as Egidia herself? 

How will the northeastern part of Nigeria arise from the decimation and destruction it has experienced at the hands of Boko Haram? Once this terrorist group is defeated, many of our students will go back to their northern states and find "everything turned into nothing." Houses, schools, churches, and farms have been burned and destroyed. Millions have been displaced. More have been killed than we know. Our graduates, leaders for Nigeria, will need to be as resilient, strong, loving, forgiving, and wise as the Rwandans who have rebuilt their country.

What did the Rwandans do? How did they do it? What can we learn from them? 

Stay tuned. We plan to spend our two-week immersion residency (in January 2016) in Rwanda with all 22 students of Cohort 1 of the DMin program. Egidia is helping us now to plan our activities, and she will be there to welcome us when we arrive. We will meet with key leaders from different sectors of society--especially and most importantly, the church where the Gospel and message of forgiveness offers the best and most powerful way forward. We will also meet with leaders of schools and officials in government and nonprofit organizations dedicated to the peace process. I believe we will return to Nigeria with many new deep understandings to help us as we march into Nigeria's future.