I stood under a small, concrete gazebo in east Africa and watched the rain pour down all around me. I took a deep breath and looked out at le pays des mille collines (the land of a thousand hills) – Rwanda.
It had been 8 years but I’d made it back to one of the only places on earth I’d ever felt like one of my missing pieces found me.
Being on the African continent a second time was still as unreal as the first. Somewhere (and now I can’t find it), I remember writing that when I woke up the first time I touched down in Zambia right before we headed to Zimbabwe, I remember thinking, “Holy shit, I’m in Africa” and this time I had the exact same thought.
I’d gone with professors from two of my classes and about 28 other counseling students pursuing master and doctoral degrees. We were there to learn about the Rwandan genocide and the reconciliation process that came after.
This trip packed so much emotion into it that it’s hard to explain what happened. We went right when Russia invaded Ukraine, and all of us felt that very deeply as we learned about the genocide as well as our (lack of) involvement in it. We had debriefings most nights that were group counseling sessions each of us took turns leading. Our frustrations with America, our leadership, the complacency of the church on racial issues, and our past inaction – it all boiled over again and again as we shared, cried, and argued.
I’d only heard about the Rwandan genocide before going and honestly didn’t know a lot about it.
That completely changed after our first walk-through of the Kigali Genocide Memorial.
I’ve been to memorials – the most recent 9/11 and that was a hard one to go through. I was 17 in an airport off to see Sam graduate from Marine Corps boot camp when the planes hit, so I remember those days vividly. The memorial in NY is a powerful one.
The one in Kigali isn’t like anything I’d ever imagined. It was – raw. I was in the halls for about five minutes and thought to myself, “I don’t think I can keep going. I’m going to be sick.” Physically and mentally, I wasn’t prepared for what they showed in pictures, videos, or images just brought on by words.
I almost left. I think one of the main things that kept me going was remembering how when I lost the twins in the way I did, I read comments like, “I just couldn’t read this” and “I don’t know why this needs to be shared.”
And I was so angry reading those because I had LIVED it. So I’m really sorry you don’t like to read that I unexpectedly birthed my live babies in my hands over a toilet – but I had to stand there and watch it all unfold and take those moments home with me for the rest of my life.
So I kept going through the memorial because I felt like, in my own small way, the people who suffered through the unimaginable and built this memorial deserved at least my ability to sit in their pain for just a bit without turning away.
I can’t do the memorial justice in any way except to say it was a profound experience. We laid flowers on the mass graves of the Rwandan people, and I felt like I had no tears to shed. Numb.
That was the first memorial.
The second was a church.
Before we went to the Ntarama Memorial, I knew – I just knew – it was going to be a hard experience. There’s something about it being a church that instantly broke my heart.
5,000 people lost their lives there.
Which is a really cleaned-up way of saying that 5,000 men, women, children, infants, and unborn babies were brutally slaughtered there in the most unimaginable ways. By their friends and their families.
In some cases, the ministers refused to protect them.
We stepped inside what I believe was a classroom. Artifacts from people who had huddled inside, hoping to survive, were displayed. One was a little book, the cover was a little boy trying to lift the cross off of Jesus.
Lift. off. the. cross.
There were Bibles and crucifixes. Books of prayers.
They’d fled their homes and brought these with them.
These people waited and prayed and pleaded with God in there to save them. In a church.
And He didn’t.
(I’ll write more when I can process the rest into words.)