By Stephanie May
There are bullet holes in the side of the Parliament building in Kigali.
There are mass gravesites in the city that have yet to be discovered.
On every street corner, dressed in full camouflage, is a member of the military, carrying a gigantic loaded gun. Daytime and nighttime security, they’re called.
As I walk down the streets, I’m walking over soil that at one point was piled with bodies and soaked with blood.
As I catch eyes with people on the street, or sit next to someone on the bus, I can only imagine what their story is.
Are they one of the people who had to watch as their families were murdered? Probably.
Was that woman one of the 300,000 raped during the genocide by a man with HIV? Maybe.
Was that person hiding in a corner as their neighbor was beaten to death, shot, or murdered with a machete? Most likely.
And it’s not over.
The genocide of ’94 was the third genocide Rwanda has seen and with such tragedy, such violence and such wounds in the country’s past… the possibility of Rwanda seeing another genocide is real.
Today we prayed for a Tutsi family that had been poisoned by their Hutu house-girl in an attempt to kill them. Our pastor told us that there are still rebels hiding out in the Congo, paying people to work for Tutsi families and then to poison them.
Our pastor- a Tutsi- told us that he never eats anything offered to him, unless it’s offered by a close friend.
There are still rebels who want to see more Tutsis killed. There is still division, and there are still deep wounds in the hearts of all Rwandans. Nobody’s lives were left untouched.
I visited the Genocide Memorial yesterday.
I walked through the rooms, reading stories, my eyes huge as my mind tried to absorb the horrifying pictures that lined the walls. I wandered into a room full of hundreds of family pictures- all Tutsi families that were murdered, and into the next… struggling to breathe as I walked past cases of skulls and bones.
This is what’s left… bones, pictures and horrible memories.
I walked into the last room.
Next to the door was a sign: “They should have been our future.”
There were pictures of children, happy, giggly children. Each looked hauntingly like the three rambunctious little boys we live with and the children who happily shout “MUZUNGU!!!” (White person) and shake our hands as we pass each day.
And under each photo is a plaque.
The running theme throughout the hallways lined with devastation, was how LITTLE anyone did to help.
At one point, soldiers came in from various countries. The Tutsis were overjoyed, thinking that deliverance had come. But the soldiers weren’t there for them. They came, evacuated the white people… the ones that mattered… and left.
The number of soldiers that showed up were EASILY enough to stop the killing. But they didn’t.
The US allocated 50 people to go help. 50. And it took the troops a MONTH to get to Uganda. A month.
I hate when people blame governments for everything that happens… and I really don’t want to get political as I talk about this, because to be honest, I don’t know enough.
But here’s what I do know.
I know what it’s like to sit on your couch watching the evening news. I know what it’s like to have the top story at 10 o’clock be so disturbing that it keeps you up at night. I know what it’s like to feel like you’re getting slapped in the face with just how little hope there is for our suffering, dying world.
I know what it’s like to sink into the couch wanting to close your eyes, wanting desperately to avoid the despair that’s knocking on the doors of your heart, should you choose to allow yourself to care.
…And I know what it’s like to change the channel.
After all, as jacked up as the Kardashians are, it’s easier to swallow than genocide.
Sometimes I wonder if I actually care.
There’s some pretty crazy stuff going on in Libya right now. Do I know what? Nope…
Do I have much of an idea about what is going on in Honduras right now? Not really.
But do I really WANT to know?
Sometimes I wonder if my heart is strong enough to care about the hurt of the whole world all at once.
I feel like nothing I do will make a difference, so why try?
But as I was walking through that museum, past tattered articles of clothing, and videos of children getting their machete-attacked heads sewn up (the lucky ones), a fire rose up inside me that I thought was long gone.
A few years ago, journalism was the energy that got my heart beating each day. I saw the most beautiful, noble and vital purpose in going to places in the world- places that often nobody else wanted to go- and bringing back their stories to people who can help.
One time (prophetically- it turns out) my mom DVR-ed a CNN special for me on Genocide. My parents and I sat together and watched Christian Amanpour (my hero at the time) report on the history of genocide throughout the world. I hate to admit that she was describing things that I knew nothing about.
Every few minutes, it would show footage of her and her photographer sporting their bright red CNN jackets running through allies, ducking and dodging bullets that were whizzing past them.
My parents watched in horror- that increased as they saw my face. My jaw was set in determination and my eyes were flashing… “I HAVE to do that!”
In the past few years, I honestly thought that passion was gone- I thought that fire had been extinguished, or contained into a nice, yet stylish, suburban fireplace- you know… something sensible, something safe.
I was right… it has changed.
But not into something more sensible… God took that passion and is reshaping it to match the fire raging in HIS heart.
Those stories need to be told. Because when those stories aren’t told, we are able to live in ignorant bliss, not doing anything to help our fellow man in their time of greatest need.
But even when the stories ARE told… they often don’t do us much good.
Watching a story that’s briefly explained from the safe distance of being an outsider- squashed down into a 90 second, dramatic, depressing snack of what’s actually going on… it’s hard to engage. It’s hard to follow. It’s hard to act. It’s hard to care.
And to focus on the hopelessness of the situation doesn’t help our hearts engage… it makes us retreat, close our eyes and change the channel.
However, I still do believe that the most powerful tool to incite change and inspire action is a story.
As humans- it is written into our hearts to care about our neighbors. It is part of our original make up to see others as bearing the reflection of our Creator. But sometimes, in our brokenness, we forget. Sometimes we’re calloused by the hardship of this world that we feel helpless to stop.
Sometimes need someone to remind us that we care, and remind us that we have an invaluable, world-changing role to play.
But who will remind us of that?
THAT, from what I understand, is the call on my life- or at least part of it.
Forgive me for a moment, as I borrow the phrase ‘God forsaken.’
People use that phrase to describe places, people or events that are absolutely without hope.
After standing in front of the mass gravesite of 250,000 people… I would agree that if there was a place to use that phrase, Rwanda would be it.
But that’s just not the case.
Scripture PROMISES us, that nothing is ever ‘God-forsaken’
“Never will I leave you, never will I forsake you.”
And walking around the streets of Rwanda, you can SEE that promise to be true.
Rwanda is a country that is bloodied, battered and scarred by one of the most disgustingly tragic events to ever happen on earth.
But there is still light here. There is still love here.
Even during the worst of the killing… there were glimmers of light. There were people hiding Tutsis in the bathrooms behind their homes, people sneaking others out of the country. There were people fighting for their families, friends and neighbors- defending them, usually at the cost of their lives.
And even now, forgiveness and healing is doing it’s very best to break through the hard shell of hate covering this country.
A friend of a World Race contact was a victim of the genocide in the worst way. She and her kids were forced to watch as her husband was killed- and then she had to watch as her children were brutally murdered, one by one, leaving her alone and incredibly broken.
Several years later she gave her life to Jesus, and felt the Lord telling her to forgive the man responsible for the death of her family. After resisting for a while, she forgave him. Really forgave him.
Meanwhile, the man had run away to the Congo, and there gave his life to Jesus. He felt God telling him that he needed to ask for forgiveness of the survivors of the families he had murdered. He initially refused, knowing that they’d kill him if he admitted what he did.
But he went anyway.
He showed up at the woman’s house and introduced himself as the man responsible for her family’s deaths. He said, “I have come to ask for your forgiveness, but if you do not want to forgive me, I’m at your mercy. You may kill me if you wish.” She hugged the man and told him that she had forgiven him a long time ago.
Now they travel around Rwanda preaching the Gospel. Together.
THIS is hope.
And even with wounds deeper than we can imagine… Rwandans are joyful people! They are beautiful people that love and laugh and dance harder than anyone I’ve ever seen.
Not only that, but they LOVE Jesus. They pray for hours at the top of their lungs, sweat pouring down their faces, as they connect to their savior.
Rwanda… even Rwanda, is not God-forsaken.
Even the worst situations still have glimmers of light and hope.
And so through all of this, through seeing that CNN report come to life, I’ve realized that the fire that burned in my belly… COMPELLING me to run into the fire and not out of it… hasn’t gone anywhere. It’s just changed a bit.
I want to share the stories of people around the world. I want to BE THERE, and understand from a ground-level perspective the hardships that our brothers and sisters are enduring each day. But that’s not all…
I want to share the beauty in their stories as well. Because God is in their stories… he’s everywhere. There is always redemption, always hope, always love… even when it’s hard to see at first.
I want to give us, people on the couch in the United States, a real picture of what’s going on overseas. And I want to give us tangible ways to help, so that we can allow compassion and understanding and love for these people to fill our hearts- with purpose, instead of hardening ourselves against the force of the pain.
And I want to share stories of hope. I want to inspire people with the fact that our world is a BEAUTIFUL place!
I want to tell stories of love: of two people pledging to spend their lives together, of children being born and the elderly skydiving and going on first dates.
“Beauty is all that is glory and God is beauty embodied, glory manifested. This is what I crave: I hunger for beauty.”
Quotes from One Thousand Gifts.
Jesus came to earth to:
preach the good news to the poor,
bind up the brokenhearted,
proclaim freedom for the captives,
release from darkness for the prisoners,
comfort all who mourn
provide for those who grieve.
He came to bestow a crown of beauty instead of ashes,
oil of gladness instead of mourning
and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.
And as followers of Jesus- we are supposed to follow in his example.
As different parts of the body of Christ, we all have different gifts, different skill sets, and different ways in which we can do just that.
Love and joy and peace and hope and laughter and JESUS are the only ways that the world is ever going to change. Those are the anti-genocide. Those are the solution. And we all have a way to fill the world (or our corner of it) with goodness.
Mine is storytelling. Mine is spreading truth and hope and love through words and photos and videos (and whatever other crazy ways Jesus throws at me.)
Yours may be very different- but make no mistake. You’re equipped. We all are.
That is my call.
Stephanie May is a recent graduate of the University of Colorado. She is on the World Race with Adventures in Missions.http://stephaniemay.theworldrace.org/