Previous visits to Kenya and Uganda did not prepare me for the experience of Rwanda. First impressions surprised me, it is untypical of East African countries. Kigali International Airport was extensively modernized in 2002 and the dual carriage way into the city is well maintained and lined with palm trees. The capital itself is spacious, clean and there is an extensive programme of road improvement and housing development. The poverty is evident but it is a thriving city with a sense of purpose and momentum. This was not what I had expected. I was not sure what I had expected from what I knew of the country. I had seen the news reports at the time of the genocide and I have since watched Hotel Rwanda which gives some insight into the tragic history. Rwanda has a history of conflict between Tutsis and Hutus with it origins in Belgian colonialism. In 1994, in the space of 100 days an estimated 800,000, approximately  20% of the entire population were brutally massacred. The victims were mostly Tutsis but included some moderate Hutus. It was hard to imagine that this was the same place. 

A visit to the Genocide Memorial Centre leaves the visitor in no doubt that it is the same place. The full extent of the atrocities that took place is enshrined in the gardens of remembrance, gruesome cabinets of skulls and bones of the dead, poignant sculptures, video testimonies of survivors and the pictures of children, which lists the details of their family, hobbies, interests and method of death. Only after a visit to the memorial centre did I begin to appreciate the depth of the wounds, the extent of the healing that has taken place and the determination of the people  to move forward.

It was a great experience for Jeremy Sisley and myself from New Community Church, Eastleigh to spend a week at the Remera Revival Church with Godfrey Gatete and his wife Peace. Jeremy taught on the Doctrine of Man and myself on Growing in Christ to a group of 25 enthusiastic students. The first week of a three week programme of teaching.  This was a unique School of Ministry experience in that the hotel was less than a mile from the airport and we could walk to the church from the hotel.  Consequently our travelling time was significantly reduced allowing us to spend more time with our hosts and the students. This gave us some insight into the impact of the history on the lives of the people and the role of the church in rebuilding the country.
 
Godfrey’s family are Tutsis, they fled the country in the 1959 conflict, living in Uganda where Godfrey was born in 1973.  When he was 8 years old civil war broke out in Uganda resulting in the death of his father and brothers. People fled for their lives and Godfrey ‘lived in the bush’ for 5 years constantly moving away from the sound of gunfire. At the age of 13 the war ended and he left the bush, now a skeletal frame suffering from disease and malnutrition. Godfrey became reunited with his mother and sister who, unbeknown to him had also survived by living in the bush. Together they eked out a meagre existence, until he joined an orphanage. Here Godfrey gained an education and found salvation.  Godfrey talks passionately about the dreams, visions and sense of God’s calling on his life that enabled him to rebuild his life and eventually led him back to his own country in 1998.

Back in Rwanda Godfrey made a living teaching English and ministering in his spare  time. At a church meeting he met his wife, Peace, whose family had been wealthy prior to 1994 but had fled to avoid the genocide, losing everything. In 2002 Godfrey’s  vision led him to found a church in the Remera district. At the time a lawless area of Kigali with high crime rates, including frequent murders. Now completely transformed, day and night Jeremy and I walked in complete safety through the district to and from our hotel. Political stability has played a part in the transformation of the country but it is trust in the power of God and  love and forgiveness in the name of Jesus Christ that shines through in the lives of Godfrey, Peace and others that we met. 

 

It was an amazing to see first hand the regeneration of a people and nation so devastated by the events of 1994 and a privilege to be involved through the School of Ministry bringing teaching to leaders and churches. Looking forward to my next trip.

Location: Kigali, Rwanda

 

Date: October 2010

Teachers: Jeremy Sisley and Eric Skates