Tuesday, July 13, 2010


The Kigali Memorial Centre: where the 1994 Rwandan genocide, and other genocides in history are commemorated and remembered.

Each of these vaults is 9-10 meters deep, with coffins stacked on top each other. As genocide victims are found, they are cleaned, put in coffin and buried with dignity. Victims are still being found. Currently over 280,000 people are buried at the Kigali Memorial Centre.

The flame at the Memorial Centre is lit every April 7, and burns for 100 days, the length of the 1994 genocide.

At the new site of the Rwamagana Lutheran School. They are hoping for opening in January, 2011.

The classroom building at Rwamagana Lutheran School. We, along with the current students and teachers, moved rock, painted, cleaned and organizing the books for the library.

The Rwandan countryside. Beautiful. It is currently the dry season, so it is getting browner, and is dusty, but the trees and shrubbery are lush and green.

Two young boys hauling water along the road in Rwamagana.

Kigali Lutheran Church. We worshiped here July 4, and I was honored to serve communion. Truly one of the most moving experiences of my life.

A mix of the older and newer. Traditional Rwandan houses in the foreground, and newer homes on the hillside in the distance.

The clinic in Mumeya. Through community organizing the people of the area determined they needed a health clinic that was more accessible than crossing the river into Burundi or walking 45K to the nearest clinic in Rwanda. This is the first building, and more are planned and in the works.

The foundations for future clinic buildings at Mumeya Health clinic.

some more pictures...

The falls on the Tanzanian border. Because the soil is red, the falls are orange-ish. Very cool. And this is the dry season...apparently even more impressive in the wet season!

Dylan and I at the welcome sign on the southern Tanzanian border.

The river behind the church at Kagitumba. We hiked through the church's cornfield for this spectacular view.

The interior of the church at Matimba. At 2:00 on a Tuesday afternoon, many people came to welcome us, to sing and to dance, and to exchange gifts.

The youth, dancing traditional Rwandan dance.

The people of Matimba parish, with the banner the people of Advent sent.

The chancel area of Matimba Parish

The town of Matimba - it is about 3,000 people, and one of the largest towns in the district.

Pastor Ruhinda (center) - pastor of Matimba Lutheran Parish, sister parish to Advent, Citrus Heights; a church elder (left) and her daughter.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Today we leave Rwanda. Yesterday we shopped, the youth worked on planning for their upcoming fall retreats, and we met with leaders of the Lutheran Church of Rwanda. We talked about our experiences, and heard from the bishop and others about their activities and hopes for the future. It was good to hear about the plans and dreams for ministry here - from Sunday School curriculum, to building a house where women can be trained in income generating activities; the hope for a synod office where all departments can have space and support; the development and capacity building plans of the newly formed Rwandan Lutheran Development Services.

It will be hard to say goodbye to the friends we have made here, but we hope to meet again soon, and many email addresses have been exchanged to stay in contact until that time when we meet again.

We pray for safe travel, and for the relationships begun here to flourish.

I will post pictures when I'm home. We are getting 4 Cds full of pictures from many cameras so I'll have many to choose from.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Back from the countryside

It is Thursday morning and we are back in Kigali. Today is our last full day in Rwanda. We will do some shopping this morning and meet with church leaders from the Lutheran Church in Rwanda this afternoon. Tomorrow we pack and leave for the airport in the early afternoon. I cannot believe that our time is drawing to a close. Last night one of the youth said that so much has happened and he needs a little time and space to process all he has experienced. I agree with him and know that this experience will be with me for a long time...even in small ways. Until I came to Africa I didn't think of window screens as a luxury item. We saw them on only one building, a hotel we stayed in that is brand new. I will see my life in America with new eyes.

We began our countryside adventure with a trip to Mumeya. It is in the SE part of Rwanda and they joined as a community to build a medical clinic for their community (and the road to reach it). The closest medical care used to be 30K or more away but now people can reach the clinic in reasonable time in an emergency as well as receive ongoing care for pregnancy and illnesses. Pr John, the General Secretary of LCR has been trained in community organizing in Oakland, through the PICO system. He brought those skills to the people of Mumeya, where they have a local organizing committee, and have conducted over 2,000 one-on-ones! The next project they are going to take on is a well for water.

From Mumeya we traveled south to the Tanzanian border to view the waterfalls. Because the soil here is red, the waterfalls ran orange! It was very beautiful, even in the dry season when the river is not as high as in the rainy season.

We spent the night in Kibungo, and the next morning departed for our visits to sister parishes. Three sister parish relationships were present in our group, so those were visited along with four more. Most were able to stay in homes and experience home life in rural Rwanda. I traveled to Matimba with Dylan (from Advent) and Dominique and Amanda (from Oakland). We stayed in the home of Pastor Ruhinda and were welcomed warmly. Dylan and I are the first people from Advent to travel to Matimba so we were a big deal. After lunch at Pr Ruhinda's home we walked to the church where we were met by many people - three choirs, chuch leaders and dancers. It was 2:00 on a Tuesday afternoon, so it was very unexpected and amazing. They sang and danced, we exchanged gifts and we heard about the plans for the church. The immediate desire is for a keyboard for worship, so more modern music can be used in worship. We were able to contribute $300 toward this effort. They are growing crops on the church property to sell to raise money foe the keyboard - a different take on the bake sale! After they buy the keyboard, they will focus on building a permanent chuch building and beginning a nursery school. Pr Ruhinda is passionate about early childhood issues of education and health - in order to lay a strong foundation for growth. After the program at the church we visited people in their homes, shared food and drink and heard their stories. It was amazing to be so warmly welcomed into strangers homes.

Wednesday we went on Safari! We met up with the other groups in Kyonza and boarded four Land Cruisers, and drove to Akagera National Park. If was amazing. We saw many African animals and birds, including zebra, waterbucks, a warthog, and giraffe! I will post pics when I get back to the US.

I am on my iPhone, and my thumbs are tired, so I hope there aren't too many typos. I have over two hours before the shopping adventure so I'm going to enjoy a lazy morning and read a little. A true luxury, as there hasn't been time for lazing or reading much at all on this trip.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

the genocide memorials

[I just tried to upload a series of pictures and that effort failed..so to tide you over, here's a picture of the countryside around Ramagana. More pics next week when I return, I promise!]

So, the genocide memorials. We went to the Kigali memorial early in the week. As I understood it (and I might be wrong), it isn't an actual massacre site, but rather a place where the bodies of those killed in the Kigali area have been brought for a proper burial. There is also a museum where the Rwandan genocide, as well as other genocides, are analyzed and memorialized. It was a very moving experience, and over 280,000 bodies are buried on the site, in large concrete vaults. The vaults are 9-10 meters deep, with the coffins buried one on top of the other. In the area of the vaults, there is concrete slab after concrete slab - the tops of the sealed vaults. Even more sobering is the area down the hill a bit where more vaults are being built, because remains of victims are still being found and moved to the site. The site is beautiful, and definitely a holy spot.

Yesterday we went to Nyamata. The Roman Catholic church was the site of a massacre of over 10,000 people. In 1992 people took refuge in the church during an earlier attempt on the lives of Tutsis and those in the church survived. In 1994, that was not the case, and the church still bears the scars of bullets, grenades and even blood on the altar paraments and walls. It is no longer a church, but a memorial to those who died. When we entered the church we saw row after row of benches, where members of the congregation used to sit, now piled with the clothing of the dead. The clothing was also around the altar, and a special section in the back for the children's clothing. It was, indeed, sobering and incredibly sad. I was particularly struck by the statue of the virgin Mary looking down on the piles and piles and piles of clothing. It seemed she was blessing those who used to wear them. I wish I could draw - pictures are not allowed in the church (obviously) and I don't want to lose that image.

The Lutheran pastor from Nyamata was with us, and he told us that Rwandans have chosen to keep these kinds of memorials in order to truly remember. There are already people who deny the genocide, or say that it wasn't as large as people say. Robin Strickler (one of our hosts) told us that it is sometimes referred to as "accidental killings during war." The evidence clearly shows that it was well planned and executed, to devastating effect. So, with Dwight Eisenhower, we go to these places, so when someone denies it happened, there are now 25 more voices to say, "Yes it did! And, never again." Except it is happening again...and will happen again...

It's Saturday - it must be safari...no wait, Kigali

[I'm finally on a computer with working internet, so I am going to type and then upload pictures in the next post]

We were supposed to be at the national park today, but that got moved to Wednesday, so we are back in Kigali this morning, at the wonderful and beautiful Bloom Hotel. We were pleased to find working wireless internet and many are on computers and phones updated facebook and sending emails!

The past two days have been amazing. We were in Ramagana at the Lutheran School. We worked at the new school site doing construction type things (moving rock, filtering sand, painting, cleaning) and helping organize the book donations for the library (more on that later).

Thursday we arrive in Ramagana at around 9:00 am, and were met at the school gate by many smiling young people in green school t-shirts. We shook hands with, and met, everyone and then we went to a field and played a couple of games to break the ice (which took no time at all!). We then moved to the Kigali Lutheran Church (which now has a roof, but no walls), where we were greeted by Pastor Celestine, and were blessed to see (and participate) in traditional Rwandan dance. The troupe is made up of young people who are genocide survivors, some whose parents were participants in the killing and young people who returned from refugee camps after the genocide. We were told that their parents were not happy that these groups were mixing, but they persevered and the parents are now at least resigned to it.

Some of the Ramagana Lutheran School students sang for us as well, and women from the parish had beautiful baskets and jewelry for sale that many of us took advantage of! After lunch with the RLS students, we worked side by side with them for the afternoon.

Friday morning meant classes for RLS, and we returned to the work site to continue on the projects from the day before. In the afternoon we went to the place where RLS is renting space for offices and classes and heard the story of RLS from Robin Strickler, the principal of the school. It began as a dream in 2005, and this year they began classes. They are far under capacity, but they had no applications from students that could pay the fees. They do not want to depend entirely on donations for the support, so they need paying students as well as possibly a trade of some type to bring in income.

Then, we met the students at the end of their school day and we joined in song and dance and jumping and sharing of stories. The connection between these two groups is astounding and immediate. I was so blessed to be part of it and see the young people make connections with each other, and with adults from both groups as well. Our true hope is that this is a connection that is in its infancy and will continue to grow and blossom with new fruit in the coming years.

Lunch is in a moment, and then we go to a genocide memorial site at Nyamata. I hope to upload the pictures later today and spend some time reflecting on the genocide memorial in Kigali we visited earlier in the week, as well as Nyamata.