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back home

I am home, and I am tired.

The flight from Kigali to Brussels also stopped in Nairobi. Little did I know at the time just what problems had started in this country. After my time in Rwanda, and hearing of the need for strong leaders in Africa, it’s sad to see what is happening – poor leadership playing to tensions across ethnic divides. It’s a dangerous situation, but I feel my prayers can now be better informed. A reminder to have the Bible in one hand, and a newspaper in the other.

After 5 hours in Brussels, and some amazing views over London as we descended below the clouds, it is nice to be home and I am looking forward to a belated Christmas with family.

day twelve

Woke to a misty morning that provided a few atmospheric photos.

There was a fair amount of to-ing and fro-ing today, and plenty of waiting around (I managed to read an entire book), but I finally made it to the airport in time to check in at 6pm.

James waited with me at the airport as the sun set on my last day in Rwanda, casting beautful light onto the clouds that were creeping over the hills. Across the road, the sound of singing from a church service that had just begun filled the air and completed the picture with a sense of innocence. It was difficult to remember that these very same hills, only a short time ago, echoed with sounds that should never be heard.

I have absorbed lots of information, heard lots of stories, taken lots of photos in the last twelve days. I am glad that the week ahead will provide some time to reflect on this experience before returning to the office.

day eleven

Today saw the last of the Bible expositions (was less an exposition, more a message about vision), the closing ceremony, and ‘Soiree Rwandaise’. This was my personal highlight of the day.

During more traditional dancing, some of the internationals were taken up on stage (fortunately I escaped this time), and a mat was laid on the floor. Augustin was then dressed as a Rwandan king and recognised as the new leader, given by God, to the region. Vinoth was invited to pray for Augustin in this role. It was a poignant tribute and a lovely way to affirm him in the task God has called him to.

Back to the guest house and all packed up. Breakfast at normal time tomorrow, but my flight is not until late evening. I have a feeling there will be lots of waiting around in the next 48 hours.

day ten

Tomorrow is the last day of the conference, and this is probably the last time I’ll have internet access before getting home to Oxford, and then a few days with family in Powys.

After lunch tomorrow there is the official “closing ceremony”, and after dinner there is Rwanda Night – I hope they don’t get me dancing again!

Today has been another good day, whose highlights have been the individual conversations.

After getting back from Hotel des Milles Collines (Hotel Rwanda) where I confirmed my flight for Saturday, James and I chatted for a while about his aspirations, and some of the things I have been learning from my being here and appreciating strengths in Rwandan culture and society.

Then this afternoon I had time to interview a local pastor, and once again was encouraged to see the strength of partner relationships UGBR has here. The pastor (from Africa Bible Church, and whose name escapes me at the moment), spoke warmly of the benefits of partnering with UGBR, and of how strategic student ministry is for the global church. He should come and work with us in the IFES advancement team – he was an amazing advocate for the work!

And then this evening, in what has become a pleasant daily ritual, Moise and I shared dinner together, during which time he really opened up and shared some profound things. He has already left a strong mark on me, and I must remember to pray for this dear brother when I leave here – this guy is a future leader, and it has been a real privilege to spend time with him.

Whilst I am really looking forward to coming home – and enjoying something of a more varied diet! – there are certainly things that I will miss from being here, not least the hills. It feels like I arrived here as a dry sponge, ready to soak up every experience afforded me. Now the sponge is full, and I want to take some time to let these experiences sink in, to affect me and my prayers, before squeezing the sponge out when I get back to the office. I know that the photos, interviews and other stories collected here will make a huge difference to the work I have in the coming months. Opportunities like this don’t come along very often, and it’s a real privilege to hear stories, to share life with people, and in doing so learn so much about yourself.

One more day at the conference, and then some time on the flight home to start processing this all. And then it’s back to the cold, English winter. But back home.

day nine

Am feeling quite tired tonight, so will give a quick resume of this very hot day.

As it was excursion day I was told that breakfast would be an hour later. But my lift arrived at the same time. :(

After breakfast, a fair amount of waiting around (I could have been sleeping!), and some last minute changes to the excursion plans, a large group of us were transported over the the genocide memorial. I was glad to have been there already, and had a better opportunity to absorb it all in my own pace. This is a place you can’t rush, or have your thoughts crowded. It was quite heart-rending to see one of the students break down in tears as she remembered the horrors that happened all too recently.

The memorial was due to be closed today as it is a national holiday, but was opened as a favour to the UGBR president (who holds a senior position in the national bank). Randomly, there was also a couple from Ireland at the site too, and what looked like an outing for the cabin-crew of Brussels Airlines.

A small group of us were then taken over to the IBC offices, and had opportunity for discussion with the graduates who have set this enterprise up. It’s great to see graduates leading the way in business and fostering entrepreneurial initiative amongst their fellow graduates. Many of the projects they have been working on sound very exciting, and I hope they felt encouraged by our visit.

After getting back to KIST later than planned (and therefore missing my meeting with the local pastor – now rearranged for tomorrow), we had a rushed lunch before I found out that my meeting with the national director of World Vision had been set up for 4:00pm. We ended up chatting for over an hour, and am sure there is some great material that can be used in various ways. There’s a real synergy between UGBR and World Vision, and it’s exciting to see how God is developing people to work in some pretty difficult areas.

I then had a good couple of chats with various General Secretaries about the challenges of fund development in their individual contexts, and enjoyed dinner with a group of students keen to extend my grasp of the Kinyarwandan language. There was also one of those ‘laugh til you cry’ moments over dinner. For much of the conference there has felt something of a distance between me and many of the students, despite best efforts to break down these barriers. What a reminder this evening of how easily this is done when you make a fool of yourself and have a good laugh.

It has felt like a slow, but very full day. And because of the heat I am feeling really tired, so am going to sign off and get some rest. Until tomorrow.

christmas day in rwanda

Wow, so it’s the end of Christmas day already. And with the ‘excursion day’ tomorrow, I guess it kind of marks a mid-point for the conference too.

It’s been another long day, but I will try to summarise the last few in order to catch up.

Sunday: After breakfast, we were all despatched, in various groups, to a variety of churches around the city. ADEPR (Association des Eglises Pentecostal du Rwanda) meet in 3 different locations around the city, and together with Ando Ratovona (a member of the GBUAF team) and two students, we were sent off to the church that meets close to the genocide memorial. I had thought that my introduction to traditional Rwandan dancing was culture shock enough, but before we left, Phocas instructed me that there should be plenty of “Hallelujahs” in my sermon, otherwise the people would leave thinking they had heard a very cold message. Wow. Talk about having my starchy Britishness squeezed out of me in 2 easy lessons!

The church service started at 9:00, and we arrived at 9:15 (it didn’t take me long to adjust to the African pace of life – Augustin remarked that Africans may wear watches, but they still keep time by the sun). Together with Moise – who was going to translate for me, directly into Kinyarwanda – I was sat at the front, facing the church. There were four choirs arranged around the pulpit, and they did most of the singing. It was amazing to have some of the songs explained to me by Moise, hear the voices, and watch the dances that expressed many of the sentiments that were being sung. After the congregation had had opportunity to sing a few songs, to pray, and to bring their gifts, I was asked to bring the message. On arrival at the church I had begun to feel something of a headache coming on, and by the time I sat down after preaching, my limbs were beginning to ache rather worryingly.

At 12:15, after the service had ended with more prayer, and gifts taken specifically for the work of a charity working with orphans of the genocide, we stood outside in the sunshine, and were entertained by a group of local children. We were due to be back at KIST for lunch at 1:00, but at about 12:40 the pastor ushered us to a lean-to attached to the church, where a meal had been prepared for us. All I felt good for was some bed-rest, and I certainly didn’t have an appetite. But so as not to appear rude, I managed a few morsels of the food that had been lovingly prepared for their visitors. If only they had known the turmoil that was beginning in my bowels!

I’ll skip some of the details that could be shared between these two paragraphs.

Anyway, after several promises of a lift back to the guest house from KIST, I eventually made it back at 3:30, and promptly slept for four solid hours. After which I read for about 20 minutes before sleeping again, right through to 6:00am, and boy was I glad to be feeling better!

Monday: This was the first full day of the conference, and was an instruction on how events like this work in the region. In summary, there were two fantastic teaching sessions, a coffee break with no coffee (or refreshments of any kind), and a workshop that depended heavily on a DVD which we could have watched if only the sound was working. These guys have to work against all kinds of obstacles to put on an event like this, and it must be exhausting.

The warm climate kept me from recognising that it was Christmas Eve, although the big Hotel Serena that overlooks KIST had their lights on and Christmas carols were being sung – the sound drifting over as I waited for my lift back to the guest house. With a few logistical problems, I finally made it back at 11:30, and collapsed straight into bed.

Tuesday: And then it was Christmas Day. And although it felt nothing like it, there was a certain amount of childish excitement aroused as I got up this morning. I opened Deborah’s presents – a Christmas tree pen, some balloons, and a Christmas tie with flashing lights and Christmas music (I can’t imagine it was bought in Eynsham!) – and made my way down to the car. It appeared I was the only one in the car of five who had remembered it was Christmas day!

Other highlights from the day include attending a Bible study across three languages, eating “Christmas dinner” outside on a veranda, and the opportunity to speak with Moise again. We talked lots about African conflicts in the region over recent years, vision 2020 and Rwanda’s programme of development, and I was inspired by this young man’s dedication and enthusiasm. I look forward to adding his story to many others that I will bring back with me. Whilst there are many struggles and frustrations here – some of which I have been able to feel this week – there are some extraordinarily gifted and visionary young people being produced amongst students here. Moise is a quiet, humble, and determined leader; one to look out for in the coming years. Had I come to Rwanda just to meet Moise, I think it would have been worth while.

I believe the plan for tomorrow is for myself and some others to visit the offices of the International Business Centre – led by another inspiring guy I spoke with on Saturday – as our excursion, and then for me to meet and interview a church leader about their experience of the impact of student ministry in Rwanda.

Joyeux Noel a tous!

day five

It’s the end of another tiring day, and with preaching tomorrow I won’t stay up long.

After breakfast, I spent the morning working on the sermon, resting my eyes a little, and doing some reading. Vinoth and his wife, Karin, arrived today after a long journey from Sri Lanka. Vinoth is one of the main speakers for the conference, and it was good to chat to him and Karin a little today.

Phocas then transported us over to KIST for the opening ceremony. Not all of the students have arrived yet, but there were plenty of other guests there, including the minister of foreign affairs, the minister of education, the national director of World Vision, the director of a micro-finance scheme, and the president of UGBR. Plus others. The minister of foreign affairs is a UGBR graduate, and it was exiciting to see other Christians holding significant positions of influence.

At the end of the ceremony some students took the stage to display some traditional Rwandan dancing. Unfortunately, towards the end they started taking international guests onto the stage with them, and being the token white man, they took me too. And I really did dance like a white man. Anja would be proud.

Over dinner I got to meet a UGBR student who is currently studying in South Africa (on a placement for her course in public health), and a graduate who has set up the International Business Centre – an organisation to foster entrepreneurial initiative amongst Rwandan graduates. I had many questions for him, and realised the idea of microenterprise in developing countries really excites me. I worried I was exhausting the poor guy with my many questions, and was beginning to tire myself, when Phocas offered me a ride back to the guest house.

So, here I am, looking forward to getting some good sleep, and praying God helps me tomorrow. I spent some good time in preparation this morning, but still feel a little daunted about preaching after a such a long time, and in a very different context. I also found out this evening that I will be preaching at Phocas’ church. He’s a very encouraging guy, and I know I have nothing to worry about – but still praying God gives me clarity and wisdom to speak.

On that note I really ought to sign off, and also pray that I find some internet access tomorrow. I believe we’re back on site after church, so will see what I can do.

day four

I don’t think I will write too much tonight. The day has exhausted me in different ways, and I’ve just found out I will be preaching on Sunday, so am going to try and get some rest and spend tomorrow morning in preparation before the conference starts.

I had the opportunity to visit one of the genocide memorials today. I was met by one of the UGBR volunteers, called ‘Bien-Fait’ – what a great name – which is the French translation of his father’s name in Kinyarwanda. We walked up the road to where many of the government ministry buildings are found to catch a ‘taxi’ – which in reality is a small Daihatsu van with 4 rows of seats crammed into it. I thought the taxi was packed, until we stopped again to let another two people on!

As we walked the last part, up hill to the memorial site, I asked Bien-Fait if he was living in Rwanda at the time of the genocide. It was at this point, only yards away from being confronted with the details of Rwanda’s horrific recent history, that I discovered that Bien-Fait lost both parents and siblings in the genocide. I think that just about set the tone for what was to be a difficult and moving experience.

The memorial site is a fantastic resource and a great tribute to Rwanda, tracing its history from pre-colonial times, through German colonialisation in 1895, to the genocide and beyond. It was shocking to be reminded how avoidable this devastating event was, and how much blame the international community must take for ignoring what happened here, and responding in an unhelpful and untimely manner. It is said that the number of troops that evacuated expatriate workers and dignataries of the regime that orchestrated the genocide, would have been enough – given the proper mandate – to have stopped this terrible event from happening in the first place.

There was a room that contained the remains of some of the unidentified victims, another room with rows and rows of photos of victims, and another with some of their last belongings, which included a child’s “Superman” duvet cover. Upstairs there was a tribute to some of the children, some as young as 9 months old, who were tortured and killed in unimaginable ways. Walking around it is difficult to believe that humans are really capable of this level of brutality to children, some of whom were considered family friends.

Outside I discovered that this site is the burial place of more than 300,000 victims. There is a wall that holds the names of some of those who have been identified, but the scale of the remainder of the wall is a painful reminder of how many people are buried here without even the dignity of their identity.

There was simply too much for me to comprehend and accept, both intellectually and emotionally. Bien-Fait had been my guide, but for nearly two hours barely a word had been spoken between us.

I don’t think I am going to write much more than that today – I think I need a bit more time to fully appreciate what I have seen and heard.

The afternoon was spent in a meeting of the regional staff and general secretaries. I’ve been doing my best to follow the discussions in French (and even contribute in a couple of places!), so I am just about spent.

The day has been a bit overwhelming, and I returned to my room feeling mentally and emotionally exhausted. It’s strange how times like that can affect you, and I sat here – having spent nearly all day with people – feeling lonely.

I would really appreciate your prayers over the next couple of days. I really don’t feel capable of preaching on Sunday (so maybe it’s good I’m preaching on 2 Corinthians 4!), and I’ve realised today how tiring it is going to be observing and participating in a conference conducted in French. However, on the positive side, I am so grateful that at the times when it has really mattered, I have known your prayers in having the confidence and ability to converse in French.

Que Dieu vous benisse. A demain.

day three

Looks like I’m not going to get online today, so thought I would write this post anyway, to publish whenever I next get opportunity.

The meeting with Antoine Rutayisire happened today. We drove out to the office of AEE (African Evangelistic Enterprise) via the UGBR office to collect Syldio.

The UGBR office is literally round the corner from the president’s “office” (more like a large compound), which I think is where Charlie and Ewan met him. Lambert explained a little about how Paul Kagame is viewed within Rwanda (mostly very positive), and told me he is now 4 years into a 7 year term. He can be re-elected into office at the end of his term, and 7 years – while longer than you might expect – does seem to be a good idea for a country finding its feet after war. Particularly when the president is universally liked.

While we waited at the AEE office for Antoine to finish in another meeting, I was shown around the buildings by Emmanuel, vice-chair of the UGBR national board. Emmanuel is a graduate of UGBR and is now involved in evangelism training and arranging conferences for pastors. AEE works both to develop and train leaders, but also in areas of social need, such as with street children and those infected with HIV/AIDS. A lorry was being loaded with various equipment for a school of childred orphaned by HIV/AIDS. In another classroom, a group of adults infected with HIV was receiving some training. There was also a guest house on site, dedicated to Israel Havugimana, one of the first UGBR staff who, along with his family, was killed in the genocide. He is buried at this site, and there is a plaque in tribute of him and his work: lived what he preached, died for what he believed – reconciliation.

Talking further with Emmanuel I found out where other UGBR graduates are now working, and was surprised to hear of those working in government and other top levels of leadership who meet once a month to pray together, and to study the Bible concerning their particular contexts. The president, Paul Kagame, who openly supports the work of the Church in Rwanda, is known to attend these meetings at least once a year.

When Antoine finally arrived I was suddenly overcome with the significance of the man I was about to meet, the work he is involved with, and the influence he carries in this country. He is a very visionary man, who spoke passionately about the difficult lessons learned through the genocide, and of the power of God at work here. It was a great meeting, with Antoine answering many of my questions before I had even asked them. I really hope the material gathered will be useful in exciting others about the work here.

After lunch there wasn’t much else planned for the rest of the day, so having caught up on a few things in my room (transferring photos and audio files to the laptop), and spent a good amount of time on the balcony watching the world go by, I decided it was time that I ventured out on my own for a walk. Although a little nervous, I hoped that the walk would provide opportunity to get some good, unplanned photos of Rwanda.

I did feel rather conspicuous walking down the hill, and could tell how much I stood out when three children playing in a gutter across the road called out in a strong accent: ‘Good morning!’ At the bottom of the hill I turned away from the tarmac road into a dusty track which I thought lead down to a school. If I felt conspicuous earlier, it was even worse now.

I slowly walked about half a mile down the road, with various children quietly following behind me short distances. The younger, less fearful ones would try to touch me as I walked past, or reach my hand to shake it with a little ‘bonjour’. At the point I turned around there was a family harvesting maize in a field opposite the school, and I decided it was time to take the camera out. Trying to be as discreet as I could I took a few photos before being spotted by two young boys who wanted to have their photo taken, and were pleased to see themselves as I showed them the picture.

Having been spotted with the camera, an old gentlemen with deep, wrinkled skin and the light smell of alcohol on his breath came to introduce himself in French. He was from Congo, and made traditional crafts, of the sort he thought I would like to take home with me. He pointed to where he lived, and as I hadn’t plucked up *that* much courage just yet, I explained I had to return to where I was staying. Not to be turned away so lightly, he wanted to know when I would be leaving, and to give me his phone number so I could call and arrange to see his handiwork. On discovering that neither of us had pen or paper, he promptly leaned over and began writing his phone number in the dusty road together with his name. I duly photographed his particulars – maybe I can add him to the IFES mailing list now – and after being introduced to his brother (who also didn’t live far away), we parted with a handshake and big smiles.

A little further along I found some nice fencing dividing the road in two, that would provide a nice focal point in a photo of the road as children carrying bottles walked along it. But of course, as soon as I was spotted, the children broke out into a run towards me, and then all jostled for the attention of the camera. Having taken a few photographs and appeased the children by showing them their faces now imprinted on the back of my camera, I began to walk away but was stopped by a woman who wanted her daughter to be photographed. With mother making sure the other kids kept out of the way, I managed to get capture one of my favourite photos of the trip so far. Just what I had hoped for, and now the walk was a complete success.

I can have been back only 30mins when I heard a car arrive. Phocas and his daughter, Jessica, and popped in to see how I was doing. We sat on the balcony and chatted a while. Jessica can only be about 8 or 9, but her English is great. I’m sure this young lady is going to go far. It was lovely to have met Phocas in Oxford, but equally as good to see him here in Rwanda. He has invited me to visit his house – just up the road – and to spend some more time with his family; his wife Jackie and twin sons Eben and Ezer.

As Phocas and Jessica left I discovered that Augustin (IFES regional secretary for francophone africa) had now arrived and was staying here too. I joined him, Josue, Syldio, Pierre and Lambert as they discussed some of the final plans for the conference. I think I understood about 70-80% of what was said, but still found it difficult to find the confidence to say very much in French.

Once the meeting was finished and the others left, Augustin and I had dinner together. It was great to get to know him better, to hear of his dreams for the region, and of some of the steps they are planning to achieve those goals – some of which start tomorrow, as General Secretaries from many of the region’s movements arrive and meet during the afternoon and Saturday morning before the conference starts.

I believe I have a meeting with World Vision tomorrow morning, and possibly a visit to the genocide memorial. After which I may join the preliminary meetings to gather some more information and photographs.

On which note, I really ought to sign off and get some sleep. Breakfast at 7:30, then off at 8:00 to my meeting with World Vision.

day two

The morning was pretty much spent at the airport as we waited for 2 delegates to arrive from other parts of francophone africa. However, I got to meet Lambert (who has been the key staff worker responsible for organising the conference, and who has kindly given me his laptop and modem overnight), and James, a student here in Kigali.

Some amazing stories already appearing. Like James’ really. He was born and grew up in Uganda, although his parents were Rwandan. Then after the genocide in 94, aged 12, he and his family moved back to Rwanda. Most of James’ schooling has been in English, and this year he has just completed a 1 year intensive French programme to prepare him for studying biology and chemistry in French. And I thought I had it bad!

James speaks poignantly about the genocide, and powerfully of the depth of reconciliation experienced here since. A reconciliation I think it wil be difficult, even in these days here, to even begin to comprehend.

As it happens, the meeting with Antoine has not yet happened – I believe that it is now planned to happen tomorrow morning, but that could change again. The guys here are really busy getting ready for the conference, with people starting to arrive already. James has been assigned to look after me and other international guests. He is a quiet, thoughtful guy, and has really taken care of me today.

After meeting Pierre and Josue at the airport (later than expected), we drove them (I think UGBR have their own driver, who they’re keeping busy these days) to their host family. To get there meant leaving the tarmac road and heading into what can only really be described as slums. After an earlier rainfall the dust road had become a little muddy, and there was little other traffic on this route – other than an old truck laden with sacks of bananas, stopping every so often and unloading a sack or two at a local store. People were walking all over the road, as you might expect, and at times I was worried for their safety. As we turned into the final road, a vey steep uphill climb, we had to reverse out to let an old pickup truck down the hill first. I could see a group of people standing in the back of the truck, with a younger child holding a little cross in the air. I hoped my initial fears were wrong, but as the truck rounded the corner, loaded with a small crowd, I spotted the small coffin on the back. The child it held can’t have been any older than 8 or 9. It was a stark reminder of the reality of infant mortality here.

Having dropped our guests with their host family, and in the process enjoying a pinapple drink, we headed back to the Scripture Union office to collect my things. I have now been moved to the place where I will stay for the rest of my time here. It’s a little embarrasing to be lodged with the ‘international guests’, but very nice all the same. James and I had a late lunch of vegetable and chicken omlettes, before heading into the city centre.

The journey there was quite exciting. James hailed two moto-taxis (motor bikes that appear to be driven, at quite some speed and with incredible skill, by 16 year old boys), which I immediately recognised as the form of transport not advised by the guide books. However, 5 minutes later we were safely delivered to the city centre where I was able to change some money. This part of the centre was typical of most capital cities in that it housed many banks, ministry buildings, and insurance offices, but still looked very different from what you might expect otherwise. We walked down the tree lined Boulevard de la Paix to where the large, national hospital is found. Nearby is one of the most outrageously plush hotels ever designed, and two universities. The Kigali Institute of Science and Technology (KIST) is where the conference will be held, so I hope to explore these streets more in the next week – and in particular, find the Hotel des Mille Collines, which we know more commonly as Hotel Rwanda.

Having sped back on the moto-taxis, this time in the growing dark, I was left to a meal of rice, runner beans, carrots and fish! As I was the only one eating there was no way out of it, so managed to get most of the way through it before going to give my thanks to the lady who had stayed late to cook a lovely meal that could easily have fed 3 people.

As my phone isn’t working, James reckons that we can find a Rwandan SIM card in the next few days: mostly so that I can contact him if there is anything I need. That’s how well they’re looking after me.

Anyway, I guess I ought to think about heading to bed. Lambert is popping by at 6:50 to collect his laptop, and then I can get a little more shut eye before breakfast at 9. Last couple of days before the 7am breakfasts and 7:30 bible expositions.