Psalm 143:8 “Let me hear of your steadfast love in the morning, for in you I put my trust. Teach me the way I should go, for to you I lift up my soul.”
As we are in the commemoration period of the genocide against the Tutsi, I find myself struggling. This struggle is very different from anything I’ve experienced so far during my time in Rwanda. It’s a mix of emotions, which is difficult to explain. The best way I believe I can explain what I’m feeling is by giving you a brief Kinyarwanda lesson. Each of these words, or phrases I’m going to define will relate to what I’m noticing in my community and to how I’m currently feeling. I’ll give an explanation of both in hopes that you will have a glimpse into what life kinda looks like for me as I’m figuring things out.
Kwibuka – to remember
Remembering can be tough. The words I see frequently around are Kwibuka and Twiyubaka, the later meaning “we rebuild”. This pretty much sets the tone for the commemoration. Often times we want to move on with our lives and try to live in the moment. This is one way to live, but it short changes the experiences we’ve had and the things we’ve felt. Even in the morally/ethically grey areas of our lives, God still is working. In these moments we often times want to throw everything out and start over, but maybe we should instead do the hard work of remembering and seeing the truth in the grey spaces.
Before I left Chicago, my small group leader had the people in my small group write a letter to ourselves. This letter would, ideally, reach each of us around the mid point of our times of service in our various countries. My letter reached me in January, but I didn’t read this letter then. I had a feeling if I truly and deeply read it, that I would be extremely critical of my past self, or I’d cry. That is why I held off reading this until last Saturday. I chose to read it as a way of beginning the commemoration, maybe I thought it was my way of being in solidarity with my community, because I’d be doing some remembering of my own. Upon reading this, I became irritated, and I did cry. Stephen from mid August basically called present me out and was calling me to remember things that I had tried to shake off, or tried to not think about. I’m not a fan of being called out, or being forced to reflect, and I definitely didn’t appreciate past me for forcing me to do the hard work of remembering.
Yesu abarkunda – Jesus loves you (is loving you)
The love that I have seen people show each other during this period has been truly amazing. Many times it seems that community members are aware of the impacts of this time on those around them. The amount of compassion, care, and love I’ve seen in these past few days reminds me of the steadfast nature of God’s love for us. It isn’t present only in the fun, cheery, exciting times. God’s love is with us through the highest of highs and the lowest of lows and this is a love that never ends.
During this period of time I’ve been feeling a little confused as to what my role is in the community. I continue to go to work, go to the market, walk around town, teach, etc. but I’m not certain if I should adjust what I do to fit some role that I simply haven’t discovered yet. The first phrase I learned in Kinyarwanda was the phrase listed above and I’ve found that in this phrase, I might find part of my role. Maybe part of my role is to show people Jesus’ love and to simply continue to say it.
Ituze – silence
During this period, especially on the first day of the commemoration and almost every afternoon, the streets of Huye are fairly empty. Many of the shops close during the middle of the day and there won’t be any events held at the stadium for two weeks. This silence has played a large part in setting the mood for this commemoration period and it, at times, makes it feel like time is almost standing still.
I, for the most part, enjoy silence. A lot of clarity has been given to me during the silence leading up to the commemoration and during this period so far. The area where this silence is impacting me in an unexpected way is in my home. There is a somber atmosphere in my home. My housemates aren’t listening to music loudly, or choosing to be in the common area together much. It seems like a general feeling of needing time alone has hit the house and there doesn’t seem to be a determined time for when that might change.
Amahoro – peace
Rwanda has been pretty peaceful since the genocide against the Tutsi. The concerted effort to remember and rebuild has led to a peace that has lasted for many years. There seems to be a pride that comes from maintaining peace and many have a passion to find ways for peace to enter areas where conflicts persist.
I’m discovering in myself a sense of peace around some things I can’t control. This has been through a good deal of prayer, and quiet time. In this space I’ve received a lot of clarity. I’ve found in conversations, a sense of confusion when people don’t have the same level of clarity and I’m faced with some decisions. Often times I want to prove myself, or explain why this clarity is so obvious, but instead I’ve taken to being at peace. We each have different lived experiences and it’s okay if I don’t act like I have all of the answers because, put frankly, I definitely don’t. It’s best to simply be at peace and to trust that God will sort out the rest.
Kwitega – to wait for
In 1994, many people in Rwanda were waiting for something. People were waiting for peace, support, an end to violence, justice, and the list could continue. This waiting for something lasted many days and finally came in the form of liberation. This period of waiting for something finally had a result, but at what cost?
I may never know what this kind of waiting for something feels like. I wait for things almost every day, but have never had to wait for something in the midst of extreme adversity such as this. Most of my waiting for something is done in anticipatory excitement. During this period, I’ve found I too am waiting. I’m truly waiting for a world where suffering, devastation and sin don’t persist, or prevail in any way. Realistically, I believe this means I’ll be waiting for Christ’s return.
Gusenga – to pray
During the first two weeks of the commemoration period, at PIASS, intentional conversation periods about reconciliation occur daily. These conversations are held with people from various faculties and backgrounds. These conversations normally end with a period of silence and a prayer. Each of the events I’ve witnessed also seem to incorporate a prayer at the beginning or end of the event. There is unity found in this and that unity transcends the barriers we see or create.
Prayer has been a part of my daily routine since I arrived in Rwanda, but what I’ve prayed about has changed throughout my time here. During this time, I find that I’m not really praying for myself. I don’t know why, but at least during this first period of the commemoration I find myself deeply relating to the song “God Help the Outcast” from The Hunchback of Notre Dame. This is informing parts of my spiritual life.
Here’s the song as a reference if you don’t know it.
Umwanya – time
The commemoration period in Rwanda lasts until liberation day, which is July fourth. During this period, I’ve been told, celebrations will be minimal. Also, during this time, events will be held every month at various locations in order to focus groups on remembering and rebuilding. This is a reminder of the time we are in and a reminder of how the genocide against the Tutsi only occurred twenty-five years ago.
Time feels so strange right now for me. At times it feels like time is standing still and then I realize days have flown by. In moments I find myself becoming aware of all of the things that have happened since I arrived in this country and I become a bit overwhelmed. I want to live each day fully and to completely feel all of my emotions, but I’m not certain I can truly know if I’m doing either of these things. This is where a sense of stillness seems to find me and I’m reminded that this part of my journey isn’t finished yet and God isn’t finished with my larger journey.
Ndagukumbuye – I miss you
This is something that some people will never be able to directly say to their loved ones. In stories I’ve heard from 1994, there seems to be a common theme of not being able to say this to loved ones. A part of remembering is also knowing the things that were left unsaid and the stories which go untold.
I’ve thought about this phrase a bit recently and I’ve come to realize that I miss some people, but I haven’t said it because of the general stigma around men expressing their emotions. I also don’t want others to feel obligated to say it back. More surprising than this is that I miss aspects of who I was before I came to Rwanda. Most of these things I miss about myself are ways that I was able to slip into complacency and ways I’d doubt myself and go with what other’s might say because of my uncertainty. It’s good that through God’s working in my life these traits are falling away, but I’m very aware of how that could effect my relationships and lead to sequences of difficult, discerning, and relational conversations.
Umva – to listen, to understand (to hear)
During this period a lot of listening has occurred and this listening is to understand. 1994 is only twenty-five years ago and there are people who have many different experiences from this time. This level of intentionality and genuine care is very evident. To listen to others and to make efforts to understand is a part of rebuilding and pressing on to a future full of hope.
I’ve struggled quite a bit with this recently. If you haven’t picked up on it yet, I’ve been experiencing many things in the matter of ten to fourteen days. I find that I’m concerned about how much I’m saying, if it’s enough to convey what I want to, or if it’s not. This leads me to ask questions like, “Does that make sense?” Or “Do you have any questions?” This desire to be understood I think is natural, and at the same time I don’t want to overburden those who listen. In this space I sometimes feel defeated, but know that somethings simply can’t be understood until the conversation is face to face and maybe, just maybe, I’m being to hard on myself. This is when I’m reminded that I can also give some grace to myself.
Umuhigo – promise
The promise of a peaceful, hopeful, united Rwanda is very clear. Community members, NGOs, elected officials, and everyone in between seem to strive for this. This promise has inspired many great initiatives in Rwanda and has created cooperation between people from diverse backgrounds. This promise has held true for twenty-five years and is continuing to hold true.
In the letter I wrote to myself many months ago (shout out to my small group leader Julie for being so insightful and having a knack for suggesting some great ideas) I made some promises that I had forgotten about. These are promises to myself and promises to people, even if they don’t know I’ve made these promises. I became frustrated when I read this letter because I knew that past me was holding current me accountable for these promises. I could choose to blow off these promises by saying I didn’t know what I know now, or that those promises don’t actually matter now, but something in my gut tells me that’s not right and I shouldn’t turn my back on these promises. I believe these promises are meant to be kept and it makes sense that during this time of commemoration and remembrance, where part of that remembering is in a promise, God would be inviting me to remember promises as well.
Turi Kumwe – we are together
Throughout this commemoration period we are together. I can’t think of a better way to say this. We, as an international community, are interconnected in amazingly beautiful ways. Even if the struggles we’ve experienced are not the same, we are connected. There is One who has gone before us, guides us and travels alongside us. In the wake of this information, why not take risks for the betterment of the world? We should choose to be in solidarity with one another and strive for a future where wrongdoings cease to triumph.
I’m still trying to decipher some of these feelings and to clarify my role in all of this. I know that God is working in all of this and it’ll all be sorted at some point. Until then, I hope the things I have noticed give you some insight into my community, you have a some grasp of things I struggle with and that you’ve enjoyed having a bit of a Kinyarwanda lesson.
Below are images from the places I work.
1) This sign greets me and will greet me each day I go to PIASS. It has a twin at the other entrance. It roughly translates to, “To remember the genocide committed against the Tutsi in 1994, it’s been 25. (years)” I could be slightly off, but that’s due to the fact Kinyarwanda doesn’t utilize as many prepositions as English.
2) The is a similar sign at the primary school I teach at.
3) The flags at PIASS at half mast in remembrance.