July 12, 2014. Kigeme Refugee Camp to Kigali
For all who travelled with us, our visit to the refugee camp was moving in many ways. We saw deep poverty and yet deep resilien
ce. The following observations are from Heather Drew, a counselor and one of my GTRI students and who begins her tenure as Fieldwork Coordinator in my seminary department today! Please welcome Heather and check out her blog as she is a gifted communicator in her own right.
Today was our last full day in Rwanda. We woke up in Butare, got one last cup of the best coffee I’ve ever tasted at a lovely coffee shop called Cafe Connexions, then rode our bus to a UN refugee camp in Kigeme. Around 20,000 Kinyarwandan speaking Congolese
refugees live in this camp, 12,000 of which are children, we were told. The abundance of children was immediately apparent to us as we were greeted by dozens of sweet smiles peering into our bus, waiting for us to climb out. Some of us took photos of/with the children and showed them the photo (they love that). The children followed us around like we were pied pipers. The parents followed us with their eyes, and greeted us kindly. The camp was made up of rows upon rows of small mud houses with metal roofs – living spaces the size of a small American living room – containing 6-8 (or more) family members each. Our group wove through the narrow, red-dusty walkways between houses, climbing up slippery hills with the help of our small chaperones. They taught us some additional phrases in Kinyarwandan, showed us their beautifully-made and efficient water collection/filtration system, and held our hands. The children who could speak a few words in English were eager to do so. The ones who knew no English spoke to us without any words, showing us their homemade toys constructed with old bottles and broken pieces of things. It made me realize that the less a person has, the more resourceful and creative they become. This is a very prevalent characteristic throughout Rwanda.
At the base of the hill on which the camp sits is a meeting space where our team met with several leaders within the camp who lead trauma healing groups with fellow refugees. We were traveling with our friend Harriet Hill, one of the writers/developers of the Healing Wounds of Trauma material put out by American Bible Society, which this group has found so useful. (This book has been translated into several languages and is effectively used to facilitate around the world.) I had greatly anticipated this day, and in the moment the depth of it was not lost on me at all; here we were sitting in a room with about 50 Congolese refugees who use this book to lead healing groups in one of the most trauma-impacted areas of the world with Harriet Hill, the woman who had a dream over a decade ago to develop the material. It was extremely moving.
Leaders/facilitators gave testimonies about the groups and about personal healing, and presented questions they had. One person shared, “We are all traumatized…This material heals us and then we can help others heal.” Another shared, “During the genocide, so many of us – on both sides of the conflict – had hearts like animals. The Bible takes away our animal hearts.” Not all of these testimonies were ones of “arrival,” however. A few shared how they are still in the midst of the long healing process. The truthfulness of this impacted and inspired us.
After their testimony time Phil, Diane, Harriet, and their two leaders were invited to speak. Remarks were encouraging and thankful. Harriet Hill shared how much it meant to her that they have such bravery to share the comfort they themselves have received from Christ. She also shared Psalm 126, words that resonate with their stories. Finally, at the end of the meeting, we shared Fanta and
snacks together (a tradition of hospitality in Rwanda), then we said our goodbyes – even to Zenko, our dear new friend, which we were very sad about! – and boarded our bus for a 2 hour ride back to Kigali. I tried to focus on taking in the breathtaking beauty of the country as we made our last drive, because no photo can capture it.
Our final night was spent at East African Villas in Kigali. This was a hotel in Rwanda managed by a lovely Christian man called Ezekiel who was wearing a Georgia Bulldogs shirt when we arrived, which we enjoyed. We rested and enjoyed hot showers (a luxury I will no longer take for granted) during the few hours before dinner. Then we settled together in the dining room, ate our final Rwandan dinner feast, then Phil initiated our final team debriefing & sharing time.
We all shared 3 words that we each felt best expressed what we had learned in Rwanda. Among the things shared: new meaning of “celebrating the recovery of life” and also of “groans that words cannot express,” what it means to embrace Jesus’s invitation to “watch with Him,” the privilege of carrying people’s stories with them, how impactful people’s eyes and testimonies were, how much courage we saw, how much desperation we saw and how that was pointed at God in many cases. It was a much-needed time of sharing. To my knowledge, there wasn’t a dry eye among us.
We ended our night by taking a few group photos on the balcony.