As an eighth-grader, I would read the tiny blurbs in my local newspaper about the atrocities happening in Rwanda with great horror. Occasionally I would write up reviews in my current events notebook when I could muster up the courage to repeat the unbelievable awfulness. If you had told me then that I would be visiting this country 25 years later with my three small kids, I would not have believed it.
Yet here I am. Fresh from two weeks in Rwanda with Ben and all those munchkins of ours. And I’m completely smitten about it.
Things we love about Rwanda:
- The food is NOT spicy, and while I enjoy the burn of berbere in Ethiopia, my kids do not. I’m just happy to see them eat, and if that’s a plate of rice and beans washed down with Fanta, so be it.
- When you order a beer, sometimes they just go ahead and bring you two.
- The women in vibrant kitenges (traditional dresses), sometimes with a baby tied to their back. I can’t get enough of it (says the American in frumpy neutrals).
- We can’t get over how clean and orderly it is. And not just in Kigali. Even the rural areas are tidy with almost no trash and breathtaking landscapes. A sense of pride in the country is apparent, and considering where things were 25 years ago, rather extraordinary.
- Rwanda is the land of a thousand hills. So basically, every time you drive from one town to another, you get an INSANE view of the valleys between all the hills. Neatly arranged plots of land make up a patchwork quilt of vegetables, tea, and banana trees, dotted with tidy brick and cement homes and perfect rivers and streams meandering through it all. To say it is lush and green and beautiful is like saying Mother Theresa was a nice person or that chips and guacamole is an alright snack.
- The traditional Rwandan greeting is three alternating kisses on the cheek. Physical touch is one of my love languages and what with the kisses and also lots of hand holding and sitting close and nary a hint of personal space, I was living my best life. You can imagine how much Graham loved this.
- The local language, Kinyarwanda, just sounds cool. For instance, we took a hike on the Igishigishigi trail in the Nyungwe National Park. And you can’t say Igishigishigi without smiling. I dare you. Also, there are a lot of eh’s for fillers and active listening cues, reminiscent of the Fonz, and if that isn’t cool, I don’t know what is.
- Seeing monkeys and baboons will just never get old for us. We are easily entertained.
Just real quick about why we are here in the first place.
Over the last several years, we have come to know this spirit-filled man, a Rwandan Catholic priest, who frequents Jackson Hole, of all places. I won’t go into all the details, but we have been captivated by his overarching message of forgiveness and reconciliation as the secret of peace, as well as his gift of healing prayers (which have helped to heal our oldest daughter of a food allergy). And we wanted to know more, so we decided to head straight to the source and make Rwanda a part of our journey.
Father Ubald has been a prominent leader in the country, urging people in Rwanda and throughout the world to break the cycle of hatred through the only method that really works: true forgiveness. It is a hard pill to swallow for many, and understandably so. Forgive someone who has mercilessly slaughtered my mother, my child, my husband? Unspeakable. I hate that many Rwandans are faced with the difficult choice of offering this kind of forgiveness. Yet for the brave ones who have stepped forward, their stories are powerful examples that love can and does conquer evil.
The idea of forgiveness is so important that Jesus, even in his final moments, demonstrated it on the cross, forgiving his perpetrators and showing mercy to the convicted souls at his sides.
Even Jesus said it’s easy to love our family and friends. Anyone can do that. But loving our enemies, really loving them, takes courage, intentionality, and mercy. We heard plenty of stories from our Rwandan brothers and sisters that gave us a glimpse of what that might look like: attending their weddings, bringing them food when they are ill, praying for them, helping in their fields, assisting with their finances, celebrating in their triumphs and grieving for their losses, adopting their children. Can you imagine?
Loving our enemies well means getting up close and personal, crazy hard as it may be, until evil is crowded out and cowers in the corner. Because when we love our enemies the way many of our Rwandan friends have done, they cease to be enemies. And when that happens, evil is out of a job. Love wins. Bye, Felicia.
The people of Rwanda have made huge strides in reconciliation and the country is thriving in so many ways, thanks to the leadership of people like Father Ubald. There’s still a lot of hurt. But there’s also so much hope.
Ben and I are both so deeply humbled to have spent this time with him in his home country, learning from his wisdom, faith, leadership, and unshakeable joy.
If you are curious or inspired, listen to his words yourself. May you too find renewed hope, knowing that if love and forgiveness can transform people after genocide, it can surely transform you and your people too.
Head to http://frubald.com for info on The Center for the Secret of Peace, excerpts from the documentary released last year, and his book just released this year.
And here’s a video of the healing service at the Center on June 13.
Trust me, you won’t be disappointed!