Rwanda 2015 Trip Recap: Deepening Relationships


9 mental health professionals representing Global Trauma Recovery Institute travelled to Rwanda a couple weeks ago to continue the work of learning from and with trauma healing specialists in that country. This marks my 6th trip to this lovely, complex little country. While the centerpiece of this trip was once again the Community of Practice bringing together Bible Society Rwanda volunteers and Association of Christian Counselors for training, much of the heart of this trip was the support and encouragement of our friends.

Here are a few highlights from the trip:

  • Sandtray training. At IJM Rwanda’s new office location one of our team, Rowan Moore LCSW, provided a short lecture and demonstration of the value of sandtray work with trauma victims. It is true that telling the trauma story can be a significant part of the recovery process. Yet,
    Courtesy Heather Drew

    Courtesy Heather Drew

    “telling” is not only with words. In fact,¬†telling” need not use words. Enter sandtray work. After the presentation, the 35 plus participants made their own sandtrays and shared the meaning in small groups. As a parting gift, our team left two sandtrays, 25 lbs of sand, and a suitcase full of miniatures to be used. Special thanks to the sandtray company that donated the two trays.

  • Pastor training. A friend invited us to a gathering of Evangelical Free pastors to talk about domestic violence and addictions. These pastors received study bibles and training the night before and returned the next day to consider how to address issues of domestic violence in the church. Rwanda has made massive progress in dealing with gender inequality but such shifts have created a fair amount of instability in family dynamics. The training looked at what the bible says about relationships between husbands and wives and compared current culture with what we read. One of the primary outcomes of this training was a request from the pastors to do it again but with their wives present.
  • Rwanda life immersion. On such a short trip, it is hard to get fully immersed into the country. Yet, it is important to try to do so. Why? Because we have much to learn from our Rwandan brothers and sisters. And if we hope to be of any help or support, we must continuously learn about this country and people. Otherwise it is sheer arrogance that we have anything of value to offer. Some of our engagments came in the form of Sunday worship, meals together, play and discussion time with orphans, listening to personal stories, visiting a family, hearing about the value
    Courtesy Heather Drew

    Courtesy Heather Drew

    of the trauma healing work of the Bible Society in a remote village not far from the DRC border, and visiting museums to learn more about the genocide and aftermath. A few of our team stayed extra days after the main trip to spend time in the homes of our friends. This kind of immersion provides rich conversation and encouragement to both Americans and Rwandans.

  • Church training. Two of our team spent a day with a local church talking about domestic violence in a style of dialogue education. They reported that the conversations were stimulating and the challenge clear that culture sometimes trumps the bible. But the pastor indicated that the material presented would be re-presented again to a group of men a few nights later.
  • Community of Pratice. Once again, we facilitated lessons on domestic violence and crisis counseling. These lessons are less about lecture and much more about discussion and application. The conversations about domestic violence were lively to say the least. But the most important par
    Courtesy Heather Drew

    Courtesy Heather Drew

    t of the days were planned and providential conversations regarding cases or personal life experiences. This kind of sharing seemed to provide encouragement for all.

  • Case presentations. One of the pleasures of this trip was to listen to cases presented to us in large and small groups as well as in private. Why a pleasure? Several reasons: the immense professional growth we have witnessed over the last 7 years, the opportunity to encourage and validate the hard work they are doing each and every day. Many of these cases were hard to hear with terribly graphic details of suffering. But little bits of light are also evident as the clients were obviously growing in hope as they were cared for by our friends.

There were many more wonderful experiences too complex to explain here. Some went to a refugee center to see gifts of bibles and sewing machines (gifts from a PA congregation) while others of us participated in a community service project in a small village. All of us enjoyed intimate conversations with fellow team members as we traveled, ate, and shared rooms.

Celebrating GTRI grads in Rwanda, courtesy Heather Drew

Celebrating GTRI grads in Rwanda, courtesy Heather Drew

Some may wonder whether this kind of short term mission is worth the effort and cost. I’ll leave the final evaluation up to others, especially our Rwandan friends. However, our initial evaluation is that both Americans and Rwandans have been encouraged and strengthened in the work we do. And the relationships have been deepened. This deepening will not be on hiatus until the next trip as many maintain daily text, email, and SKYPE conversations throughout the year.

Thank you for those who prayed and supported this trip.

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