by Julie Payne (Team Member, Women of Grace GO Group Leader and Family Law Attorney) It’s been about a week since I returned from Rwanda - enough time for the blush to wear off of the trip’s excitement and the realities of everyday life to creep back in. This morning I was driving the forty-five minutes to visit with my mom on the anniversary of my dad’s death. There are still moments when the pain of loss is still a bit raw even after two years, and thiswas one of those times. I was thinking about my dad and heard radio reports of the atrocities taking place in our world right now and, quite honestly, was feeling uncharacteristically sad and lonely. And then….I remembered my new friends in Rwanda.
The people we met on our trip are an inspiration and a testament to the strength of God’s restorative powers. Without argument, the genocide, that nearly every person we met experienced 23 years ago, was extraordinarily tragic and impossible for most of us to even comprehend. Our team was fortunate enough to tour the Genocide Museum near the end of the week and the pictures and stories were both revealing and haunting. So many families were devastated, so many lives destroyed. Their world was turned upside down and inside out in a very short time. Any semblance of their former ordinary, peaceful way of life was quicklyannihilated. Trust in others was ended. Toward the end of the tour, there was a room in the museum called “The Children’s Room” where large pictures of individual children are hung on the walls and details of their lives and deaths are provided - what a powerful illustration of the indescribable loss and devastation. I was a bit embarrassed by my reaction as I felt overcome by the sheer futility of it all, and then I realized there was a grown man openly weeping beside me. The museum experience emphasized the question that I went to Rwanda with and lingered through the entire week: how can a population not just physically survive such a tragedy, but actually recover from it as well?
Not having a strong forgiveness gene in my DNA, I went in with an understanding ofthe Rwandans’ perspectivein my head, but not my heart. How could they go forward and successfully reconcile with those who so openly and maliciously destroyed all they loved? The easy answer is God, right? For me, that’s easy in concept, but difficult in reality. I learned in a very real way that forgiveness and reconciliation are not only possible, but necessary, for their lives to go forward and prosper. Their faith and reliance on God is, by my standards, extraordinary. They so obviously love and believe in our God with an unbridled and enviable passion! However, they don’t wait on God or expect God to do all the work. Individually and as a country, they’ve pursued different avenues that all lead to the end goal of healing, seeking God’s guidance and obeying God’s direction along the way. The Women’s Leadership Training Institute has been one spoke in the recovery wheel for the women who attend. From the beginning to the end of the conference, I could see and feel the results of their efforts and God’s healing.
The women at the conference and the ALARM staff are just as people described them; they are welcoming, loving, eager to learn and open to where God is leading them, even when the path seems impossible. As I was talking to one of the ALARM staff at dinner one evening, he stated that Rwanda is predominantly Christian because during the genocide outsiders abandoned the Rwandan people in their time of greatest need, but God did not. God is the reason Rwanda was saved - God ended the war. What an insight into the mind and emotions of someone open to and seeking God’s guidance and will. God is given the credit for ending the genocide, rather than blamed for allowing it to occur. It follows, then, that God is now their answer to emotional healing and reconciliation with one another.
With a lot of work over time and substantial reliance on God, the Rwandan people have made amazing strides in this direction. Over a relatively short time, the women at the conference have developed obvious bonds with one another. Their love and support for one another were palpable as they hugged, praised together, prayed together, and worked together throughout the week. As a result, they now allow themselves to be open and vulnerable with those who may have been former enemies. The allowed our team and the other women to be witness to their greatest sorrows and joys. They are both incredibly brave and trusting in God.
As I’ve been sharing with others over the last week, I’ve been asked to describe the women. My best description is that despite their history, despite their current circumstances, they possess a quiet dignity and a surprising sense of contentment. This is not to say that they are necessarily quiet or reticent. In fact, the opposite is true. They love our God and are not hesitant to show it. They pray with fervor, sing and dance with passion, and praise God with enthusiasm. They have the energy and fervor of an evangelist. They love to share the truth ofGod with others, and I believe we could take some lessons from them. One afternoon the women were divided into groups and challenged to share the gospel in 5 minutes or less. Each team enthusiastically shared in a different way, relying on different verses and approaches, and each stayed successfully within the time parameters. They were amazing, and it was something I’ll remember always.
The women and others I met serve as real life examples to those of us who struggle with forgiveness and healing. Are they fully healed? Probably not. Do they still have issues with trust and forgiveness? Probably. However, they‘ve been willing to do the difficult work while wholly trusting in God’s restorative powers and faithfulness. They are an example to each and every one of us that God can heal when we are open to His guidance and willing to follow His direction.
So I end this day on a different note. I still feel the loss of my father and I still struggle to understand the atrocities being committed around the globe, but that’s okay. My Rwandan friends taught me, and I just had to remember, that God can get us through the most difficult of situations and help us cope and recover from our losses so long as we are willing to follow His lead. Is it easy? Absolutely not; but it is possible! One of my favorite new friends translated this for me shortly before we left: “Nta kibazo. Imana ibifite mukiganza”, meaning “Don’t worry. God will take care of it!” And that says it all!