“Rwanda” should be synonymous with “genocide.” I say “should be” because the reality is that it took reading history books for this person who didn’t know to know. The world looked the other way when over a million Tutsi men, women, children were macheted to death in 1994. If I hadn’t had the chance to go to Rwanda myself my head would most likely still be turned in the other direction. After all, it happened halfway around the world and not in my comfortable and neatly manicured back yard.
While our few days in Rwanda were filled with face-to-face interactions with amazing people, it was only appropriate for us to spend our last few hours in the country walking in silence through the Genocide Memorial in Kigali. When you walk the halls and look at the walls filled with photos and words that tell the harrowing story of those 100 days, you can’t help but realize that even the hearts of amazing people are – as the Scriptures say – “deceitful above all things, and desperately sick” (Jeremiah 17:9). Rwandans share that heart with all humanity. A case of traveler’s diarrhea already had me feeling like I had been punched in the stomach. Viewing the Genocide Memorial images added to the feeling. There were times where you feel the need to look away, but you can’t.
There are three memories from our visit to the Genocide Memorial that I hope will never fade. First, there’s the dark, circular room bordered with glass cases holding clothing and bones. The clothing tells stories of poverty and violence. What was already beaten and old bears marks of additional violence through holes, slashes, and dried blood. The cases hold neatly stacked skulls, leg bones, and arm bones. Growing up in a country that celebrates Halloween with the all-too-familiar skeleton precipitated my need to keep reminding myself that each bone represents a human being. In the center of the room sits a circular bench. It’s a place where people can sit and look and reflect on what happened in 1994. I walked into the room alone. Once my eyes adjusted to the dark, I noticed one other person in the room who was sitting on the bench. It was our Rwandan Compassion host, Eugene. During the days prior, Eugene had told us the story of the genocide. Parts of his story were very, very personal. There he sat, staring into space while surrounded by the remains of victims. Out of a speaker in the ceiling spoke a droning female voice. The voice recited names of victims in endless succession. I looked at Eugene and wondered what must be going through his mind.
Second, there’s the mass graves that sit outside the building. They are long concrete slabs. One has a glass section through which you can see stacked, flag-draped coffins. Over 300,000 men, women, and children are buried at this site under the slabs. It is difficult to comprehend. After doing a little research I discovered that there are more people buried at the Genocide Memorial than are buried at Arlington National Cemetery.
Finally, there was the attendance at the Genocide Memorial. . . or lack thereof. When we pulled in, our vehicle was the only one on the lot. By the time we left two hours later, only three more vehicles sat on the empty lot. I wondered. . . is this indicative of the fact that we still don’t want to know?
After plummeting fast on the emotional roller coaster, a quick flight to Nairobi was followed with a fast climb as our group met four of Compassion’s Leadership Development Program students for dinner at Java Junction. Again, I found my already-heightened respect and admiration for Compassion’s work go even higher.
Our team divided into three groups for dinner. Lisa, Rich Van Pelt, Beatrice (a Compassion staffer), myself, and Daniel sat at one table. Daniel is an LDP student. The amazing thing about LDP is that it is one more indicator of Compassion’s commitment to facilitate spiritual growth and independence, rather than dependence. Compassion is not a welfare program. Their stated philosophy and actual outcomes prove that point over and over again.
Compassion Kenya describes the Leadership Development Program this way: Compassion’s Leadership Development Program identifies and provides university-level educational opportunities to outstanding Christian youth that have previously been assisted by Compassion under the child-sponsorship program. The strategy of the Leadership Development Program is to educate, train and disciple gifted young adults through sponsorship. Our vision and goal is that as these young people are mentored, they will play a strategic role in providing new leadership paradigms in their families, churches, careers and country. (Sounds like something we need to do with our kids here in the U.S.!).
LDP’s desired outcomes for the young person are these:
1. Demonstrates commitment to the lordship of Christ.
2. Chooses good health practices and is physically healthy.
3. Exhibits the personal and professional skills to be economically self-supporting.
4. Displays positive self-worth and healthy relationships.
5. Demonstrates servant leadership.
Judging from what we saw and heard from Daniel, LDP is an amazing success. Daniel has moved from a childhood of poverty (thanks to his Compassion sponsors), to a life that includes plans for pursuing a theological education in the U.S. so that he can return to Kenya to pastor a church. For those of you who have the economic wherewithal and who would like to extend your Compassion support beyond child sponsorship, LDP is an investment that reaps great dividends. If you’re interested, just let me know.
Again, I went to bed even more amazed at what Compassion is doing in the lives of kids.