Wednesday, 26 September 2018

Christians for More Than Sunday: Student Reflections on Rwanda

From left to right: Rachel Baker, Amanda Trout, Jenny Jobson, & Lauren Nagy


What exactly can I say to describe one week packed full of deep heartache juxtaposed with some of the deepest love I have ever experienced? Truth be told, it’s hard to put into words what I saw and experienced during my time in Rwanda. Together, with 28 students from the US, 10 students from UCU’s honors college, and 10 dedicated staff members, we embarked on our pilgrimage to Rwanda.
— Lauren Nagy,
    USP Global Health Emphasis, Fall 2018

We began our pilgrimage to Rwanda on August 24 at 4:30 am. 

We enjoyed a beautiful sunrise, delicious food, restful naps, and a long bus ride of meaningful conversations. After crossing the equator, I entered the southern hemisphere for the first time. We made the second big step in our journey, crossing the border and entering Rwanda. 

— Jenny Jobson
    USP Global Health Emphasis, Fall 2018

Every semester, the Uganda Studies Program packs up and travels the long road through western Uganda to Rwanda in a week-long study trip and pilgrimage. Together with USP & UCU staff, USP students, and UCU Honors College students, we travel with the hope of better understanding the suffering and triumphs in one of our closest neighboring countries to Uganda. We travel together in a close community, studying the complexities of faith and politics in Rwanda; we go with the hope of understanding the importance of faith in the unity of a nation. 

We leave with an urgent discovery that the divisions in Rwanda cannot be passed off as solely “African” or “foreign”. They are the result of a complex history of hurt in which we are deeply involved as Americans and as the Church. We discover the deep divisions within our own lives with new eyes through the lens of Rwanda. A huge thanks to two Fall 2018 students—Jenny Jobson and Lauren Nagy—for sharing their experience with entering Rwanda not as a tourist, but as a pilgrim.

On Saturday, we participated in Umuganda—a Rwandan tradition that takes place on the last Saturday of every month. They dedicate the day to working towards rebuilding the community and participating in community service. We helped to construct a church building by forming an assembly line from a large pile of bricks to the building and passing the bricks one by one. Seeing Rwandans working together side by side just twenty years after such a horrific genocide that was caused by divisions was such an incredible sight.

We spent the next three days in Kigali, visiting genocide memorials and meeting with survivors. We visited the largest genocide memorial in Rwanda, containing mass graves of about 250,000 people. It’s one thing to hear the number of 800,000 deaths but it is another thing to learn about the individual stories of each of the people killed. There was a quote at the memorial that I still remember—that genocide is not mass murder, it is one murder after another after another. 

It is hard to describe all the things that were seen and the array of emotions that were felt. I felt grief, anger, and disbelief but also hope. Despite learning about the tragedies of the 1994 genocide, we also learned about the amazing growth and reconciliation that has intentionally taken place in the last twenty years. We got to witness a panel of survivors and perpetrators sit side by side and speak of what life has been like since the genocide and how they have been able to forgive one another. In that moment, many students felt God’s presence and power in new ways and were led to examine un-forgiveness in their own lives. 

Leaving Rwanda, we all left deeply impacted by all that we had seen and learned about. Despite all of the questions and difficult emotions, it was an honor to step into the individual stories of the genocide, to meet survivors and perpetrators, and to hear about the hopeful efforts towards reconciliation.


Jenny speaking at church in Rwanda near the Tanzanian border.

I had learned about the genocide that happened in April of 1994 in Rwanda in my high school geography class, but our discussions did no justice to the atrocities that happened there. This was an experience that brought to light much of what happened historically and socially in the country. It answered many questions, but it also brought many new questions.

At the end of the day, there is certainly one thing that I will always carry with me: That is the idea that through Christ, anyone can be reconciled to their past. The key to this is Christ. Reconciliation is not something that we can fully achieve without our savior. Countless times I saw people grant forgiveness in situations that I couldn’t imagine forgiving. It is nearly impossible to understand, but it’s a lesson that has been imprinted on my heart. Through conversations with fellow students, I have been able to reflect on my experience and realize that there is so much in my own life that I can reconcile with the help of Christ.

— Lauren

Sunset on the road to Kigali.

One of the most powerful and difficult things about traveling to Rwanda as a learner is the inevitable realization that the history of the West—our history—is tied up with the history of Rwanda. As Christians we’re hit again by the realization that we are a part of the same church that allowed the genocide in Rwanda to happen; and we are not so dissimilar from the Christians in Rwanda who were able to go to church and worship on Sunday and resume killing their neighbors on Monday.

For how many of us does Christianity get left in the building when church ends on Sunday morning? For how many of us is the Church irrelevant Monday through Saturday? 

These are some of the questions we explore as we travel in Rwanda. Through visiting memorials, museums, development and reconciliation organizations, and through hearing from Rwandans, we explore this central question:

So we call ourselves Christians. How should that make us different? 

USP and Honors College students at a stop on the Equator during our road trip.

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