It is another day and the sun is rising sheepishly as if to say that its rays are afraid of trespassing through this quiet area of eternity. Here thousands of Rwandan kids, women and men lie quietly in their graves. For many of them here, they met their deaths suddenly and unprepared. I just listened to a testimony where a survivor said that at the point of death, many people received their last baptism using blood as it flowed from the bodies of those who had been slaughtered or butchered to die.
Ohh!!! For many it was just a glimmer of time to say, “God the father, the son and the Holy Spirit” while smearing the fore head with blood”, then waited for their turn to die.
I have chosen to call this place where these bodies are resting, a city. True indeed, this is their city until Christ comes. And for this, I remember the day we arrived here as a team of students from the American Baptist Seminary of the West. We moved in quietly and with little ceremony. When I returned here for a special day of reflection and a memoriam, I was challenged by the fact that this is another world, where as in the United States of America, you cannot just walked into somebody’s doors without waiting to be ushered in or even given clearance and acceptance.
Wow!!!! Deep thinking here made me this morning to suddenly seem to see men, women and kids coming out of their underground story buildings. The hard blocks and hard cement separating these citizens of their own world seemed to give way as I reflected on the day they were brought low. Low!!! Low!!! Their stories and especially those of innocent kids will never be known or sufficiently told. God are you there????????
Doctor of Ministry Program
A Journey toward Equality. . .a Continual Work in Progress
It’s difficult to write about one experience that stood out most while in Rwanda, because every moment of the entire trip was a memorable experience. There were so many memorable moments and experiences that were impactful; from having the opportunity to meet with the Minister of Gender and Family Promotion, to meeting the Governor of the Eastern Provence. From attending an inter-faith peace celebration commemorating Rwanda’s twenty-three years of peace, solidarity and reconciliation after the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi, to facilitating discussions with community faith leaders using the book of Jeremiah, to being Disciples–going out solo to preach in the villages in the Eastern Province, to contributing as a group to the giving of peace cows for community village members in need. Visiting the Kigali Genocide Memorial allowed us to put into a visual context what we had read in course readings about the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi and understand why such a tragic event in Rwandan history is so important to be remembered. We then ended our visit by going on a real life African preserve safari.
Every moment of every day was filled with once in a life time experiences and opportunities to learn and encounter the unknown and take part in experiences that would surely take us all out of our realms of comfort and require us to lean on faith.
But for the sake of time and space, because I could go on forever, the one experience that stands out most for me in reflecting on our trip to Rwanda is our meeting with the Ministry and staff of Gender and Family Promotion.
The Honorable Nyirasafari Espérance serves at the Minister of Gender and Family Promotion, she and her staff were very gracious and welcoming; given our sit down meeting was somewhat impromptu. Yet and still even on short notice Hon. Nyirasafari was gracious enough to take time out of her busy schedule to talk with our group about her country’s great efforts and progress toward rebuilding a society based on gender equality.
In our short conversation, Hon. Nyirasafari provided lots of insightful information on Rwanda’s progress toward gender equality with their President, Paul Kagame at the helm of the effort.
According to Hon. Nyirasafari, the Ministry of Gender and Family Promotion is charged by the Rwandan government to ensure collaboration, coordination and implementation of appropriate policies on gender equality, women empowerment and family promotion are a success.
The Rwandan Constitution mandates that women must occupy 30% of positions in policy/decision making processes. To insure policies are kept, goals are achieved and exceeded, as a means of accountability these policies are monitored and overseen by the Republic of Rwanda’s Gender Monitoring Office, which has key responsibilities in advocating for gender equality, being a point of contact/reference for information and documentation on gender equality and monitoring to insure the ratified International Gender Commitments are kept.
Rwanda’s achievements in the areas of unity, reconciliation, peace, security and prosperity have given way to all citizens equally participating in the development processes. Girls and women acknowledge and cherish the value and empowerment President Paul Kagame and his leadership have given women and girls to fully live up to their potential and contribute to the nation’s development process. The President’s initiatives to remove all legal and social barriers that keep classism in place and many citizens from fully participating in public life have encouraged women in Rwanda to emerge successfully in the economic and social transformation of the country.
Due to his commitment to ensure gender equality and justice, President Paul Kagame has been recognized among the Global Champions for Gender Equality and Women Empowerment through his “He for She” campaign. This initiative aims at encouraging men and boys to support gender equality and women empowerment, President Kagame is committed to bridging the gender divide to attain full equality by the year 2020.
Already, efforts by the Head of State have made Rwanda a global leader in political, empowerment of women where 64% of women hold a public office and are in Parliament. This gives the Ministry of Gender and Family Promotion a great opportunity to strengthen policies that promote gender equality, the protection of families and children and gives space for women to be equal in the development processes of the country; as Hon. Nyirasafari stated, “In Rwanda, the journey toward equality isn’t a new one, rather it is a continuous work in progress”.
Since our time was short the many more probing questions we had for the Minister couldn’t be asked or answered, however we committed to stay in contact to follow their progress toward gender equality, so that we might be able to learn by their example how we might as a nation implement and to progress toward the same standards of equality among genders here the U.S.
Master’s in Community Leadership
I’d never been on a mission before. I don’t know exactly what I was expecting. Nothing I saw should have been a surprise. Yet, somehow, the level of poverty and the lack of resources and development were, in a word, shocking. Let me explain with one example.
I grew up around neighborhoods steeped in poverty. That mostly meant lack of: food, or certainly healthy food; reasonably accessible non-emergency medical care; adequate shoes and clothing, as a few examples. It may have meant lack of water, but that was usually because the water was turned off because the bill hadn’t been paid. It was not because the mechanics of getting water consistently to households, or even businesses, were simply not in place. It did not mean those poverty-stricken households were accustomed to going someplace else to get “unclean water” to bring home to boil for cooking and drinking, or to use to pour down toilets as the flushing mechanism.
But in Rwanda, a country devastated by internal genocidal war, poverty, for me, was redefined; the picture redrawn by a new and humbling experience. On arrival, the first toilet I used was a hole in the floor. I experienced a variety of temporary living accommodations; some with running water, some with none, most without hot water on tap. Nearly everywhere I went, using the toilet meant using a pitcher or bucket to pour water into the toilet to flush it; including in the Governor’s office.
A classmate and I wondered, “Why is it that no government or corporation has stepped in to provide villages with clean, running water?” This had been done in other “under-developed” countries; why not Rwanda? I posed the question to Bishop Alex. In his understated and politically correct manner of speaking, he said: “We find it is more expedient to partner with private investors. Others usually come with their own interests and the process takes much longer.”
Shame on us! No matter what one believes about the catalyst for the Rwandan genocide, we cannot honestly deny the complicity of government and church. Now, through tragedy of unimaginable proportions, a country of humble, proud and resilient people has learned that it is safer to do without than to partner with entities that have the greatest ability to expediently provide a healthful creature comfort that we take for granted daily; clean, running, hot and cold water. So, without complaint or curse, Rwandans patiently partner with private entities that genuinely care about and respect them.
No water trucks were visible, no heavy construction machines laying pipes; just people, young and old, carrying and bicycling yellow containers of water. Water drawn from the river, they buy it to bring home; to cook with, to bathe in, to flush a toilet. If it were us, we would be appalled. We should be appalled.
LaDonna M. Harris
Master of Divinity Program
My experience in Rwanda is life changing. It was heartbreaking, yet inspiring to listen to stories and testimonies of the people on how their Christian president uses knowledge, gender equality, unity, and forgiveness to heal wounds that could have left many hearts bitter. Instead, they pull together for the better. Their stories may have started with separation, pain (emotional/physical), and anger, but as they turned each chapter I could see forgiveness and love working together as they (the survivors and the perpetrators) united in rebuilding their country.
As a minister of the gospel and a registered nurse, my duties and responsibilities were to work in four different communities for two days ministering to their health needs and giving different gifts to the children. We served 472 adults in screening for high blood pressure and diabetes. This resulted in the findings of 20 adults with very high blood sugar and fifteen with very high blood pressure, and they were advised to see their physician as soon as possible. Many were recommended to go immediately. Two hundred and thirty received reading glasses. It was incredible to see the brightness in the eyes as the villagers gave their testimonies on how they could read their Bibles immediately.
We served two hundred children in the villages, donating toothbrushes, tubes of toothpaste, pens, pencils, pencil sharpeners, erasers, and other treats. We also visited the children unit at the hospital where we gave pens, pencil, pencil erasers, and treats. There were over fifty children in an overcrowded unit with two kids in one single bed. This was devastating for me, but the children’s smile and their “thank you” brightened the moment. I was so amazed at the love that I experienced and the appreciation that was shown to us (ABSW students Kwee Say, Peter Ngong’s wife and myself).
You should have been there. Please plan for the next trip, next year; I will see you there.
ABSW Graduate 2017
Master of Divinity Program