Contributed by Laura Walls
At my first child ambassador conference in 2012, I heard two World Vision staff members mention Rwanda in hushed tones with faraway, transported smiles. "Rwanda. It's a special place." They looked at each other as if sharing a secret. "There's just a special spirit there - the forgiveness. The reconciliation…"
Their description seemed almost mystical and, in curiosity when I returned home, I went to the library and checked out the first biography I could find about Rwanda. In it, I learned more about the shocking genocide in 1994 when an estimated 800,000-1,000,000 people were killed in just 100 days. It's incredibly hard to imagine the reality of a number that big.
To put the numbers from the Rwanda genocide into perspective, it means that 6 men, women, and children were killed every minute of every day for 100 days.
But as shocking as it is that the ethnic Hutus brutally killed their Tutsi neighbors and friends, almost equally shocking is the way the rest of the simply world looked away. (Rwanda: The World Reacts is an excellent short video was produced by the History Channel that recounts not only the refusal of the world to get involved but also the withdrawal of UN troops after the genocide had started. It's worth taking a few minutes to watch it, if you can.) Former President Bill Clinton has called the US response to Rwanda one of his life's greatest regrets. Four years after the genocide, in an emotional speech given in Rwanda's capitol of Kigali, Clinton described that inaction, "It may seem strange to you here, especially the many of you who lost members of your family, but all over the world there were people like me sitting in offices, day after day after day, who did not fully appreciate the depth and the speed with which you were being engulfed by this unimaginable terror."
People like me.
I only vaguely remember Rwanda being in the news in 1994. At 19 years old, I was caught up in the self-made dramas of my own life and the atrocities happening in a tiny country, halfway around the world didn't even seem real. But for little children like these, the suffering was unimaginable. The world around them, that had once been safe and secure was now filled with chaos, anguish, and blood. That no one would come to their aid was incomprehensible.
It was into this troubled, grieving context that World Vision dove deeper into its work in Rwanda in 1994, initially providing emergency aid to unaccompanied children and the displaced and later helping those returning home after fleeing the violence. (Learn more about World Vision's response to the genocide in the video below.) Since 2000, World Vision has been focused on long-term, child-focused Area Development Programs serving more than 600,000 people!
In the years following the genocide, Rwanda has become a nation known for its justice, healing, and reconciliation - efforts that have led to continued restoration and hope.
In just one week, our Child Ambassador Vision Trip team will be crossing an ocean and traveling between continents to visit this small country, nestled between Burundi, Uganda, DRC, and Tanzania - a nation that appears to be located like a heart in the body of Africa. We will learn firsthand about the genocide from survivors and visit one of the genocide museums. We'll see World Vision's work providing clean water, economic opportunities, and education as well as have the opportunity to meet our sponsored children! And through our time there, our goal is to be used by God to carefully steward these stories to the rest of our team as well as to the many others the Lord places in our paths. Together with God's help, we can help the important work being done through World Vision to exponentially GROW!!!
Ultimately, this work, this restoration and hope is all His! And we are His witnesses to it - whether we are His witnesses in the field in Rwanda or experiencing it vicariously through the connection of video and print. We are witnesses to the hope, forgiveness, reconciliation, and restoration that only He can bring!!!
But buried beneath the hope that we will witness in Rwanda, is also a deeper truth. Many of the events that we see unfolding today with the current refugee crisis bear a disturbing similarity to the world's apathy to Rwanda in 1994.
Perhaps Clinton, in his speech to Rwandans in 1998, said it best (emphasis is mine):
"I know that in the face of all you have endured, optimism cannot come easily to any of you. Yet I have just spoken, as I said, with several Rwandans who survived the atrocities, and just listening to them gave me reason for hope. You see countless stories of courage around you every day as you go about your business here—men and women who survived and go on, children who recover the light in their eyes remind us that at the dawn of a new millennium there is only one crucial division among the peoples of the Earth. And believe me, after over five years of dealing with these problems, I know it is not the division between Hutu and Tutsi, or Serb and Croatian and Muslim in Bosnia, or Arab and Jew, or Catholic and Protestant in Ireland, or black and white. It is really the line between those who embrace the common humanity we all share and those who reject it.
Reading the words from Clinton's speech, I can't help but sense that the world is repeating history and once again turning away from the deep suffering of millions of children. But as child ambassadors, rather than turn away, we turn toward that pain, seeing in each child's face the image of God. The weight of that pain is not an easy task. This isn't a popular issue these days, is it? But "Let us not become weary in doing good for at the proper time we will yield a harvest if we do not give up" (Galatians 6:9). We can't stop - in part because. "If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them" (James 4:17). We must press on and take hope from the history of Rwanda, a land that was so besieged by violence and pain that it seemed impossible that there would ever be Tutsi and Hutu living beside one another in harmony and friendship. We may see the devastation in Syria and feel it's impossible that there will once again be peace. Or maybe we even feel skeptical that Christians and Muslims here in our own nation could be friends, sitting down at a table to share a meal. But isn't that what Christ asks of us? "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God" (Matthew 5:9).
In just one week, the Vision Trip team departs for Rwanda. Lord, please prepare the hearts of those who are going but also prepare the hearts of those who will hear their stories when they return.
Want to learn more?
To read testimonies from survivors of the genocide, check out this page from the UN's Outreach Program.
For more background on the genocide, the History Channel has put together a series of videos that are worth watching.
To find out more about World Vision's work in Rwanda, you can read their semiannual report. It's loaded with great information and stories!
Greater Together is a collaborative blog written by volunteer child ambassadors for World Vision.