Its the time of year when Rwandans remember the genocide that happened here 21 years ago. The entire 100 days from April 7- July 4 (Liberation Day) are considered a time of memorial, but the first week is particularly intense, with community meetings every day, (only a half day of work) and large gatherings on the 7th & 14th.
As a team, we offered our services to the community leaders and said we wanted to help in whatever way we could. Our team members with vehicles transpored sound equipment and chairs to the large meetings.
I went on several home visits, taking a little food and my presence, to hopefully bring a little comfort.
The area we are in is populated mostly by people who were in Uganda during the genocide, and returned when this area was opened up for resettlement of refugees. However, there is a population of people, mostly women who were widowed in the genocide, who have decided they don’t feel comfortable living among their neighbors who carried out the genocide, and thought this area would be better. These women come with nothing except their trauma, and rely on people to help them scrape up $10 a month for rent, or land for growing food, or small jobs they can do to earn money.
I always imagine these visits will be awkward: I’m obviously there because of their suffering, but I don’t want to make them talk about it. I can’t ask about their kids or families without reference to their loss. What else do we chat about? Do I talk about myself? And there’s only so much you can say about the rain… My concern about how awkward it could be, or that I could just cause more pain, sometimes makes me not want to go. It would be easier for me to just stay home. But I’m prodded on by a few bible verses: what Jesus said about welcoming strangers and visiting those in prison in Matthew 25, and what James said: that true religion is to visit widows in their distress.
However, once I get there, I usually find that the visits are not so awkward. There are others there, so I am not solely responsible for the conversation. One of the visits we made was actually quite amusing; it seemed that the woman had a sense of humour and was genuinely enjoying the company of others. I am amazed, encouraged, and humbled to see the way that people work to take care of those suffering in their midst: having one of their kids help gather firewood, offering free rent for a month, or even giving them a small job in the midst of their own poverty. And I am thankful that these women are willing to open their homes and their lives on these occasions for a little bit of connection.