This city

I’ve read a lot about the red dirt of Africa.  I think my feet will be forever stained.  I hope they are.  It’s moments like these when I can’t imagine ever going back.  And I can’t.  I can’t un-know.  I can’t un-see.  I don’t want to either.

Many ex-pats call Rwanda, “Africa-lite” or “Africa for beginners,” and in many ways it is.  It’s clean, safe and well-run.  But there’s darkness here unlike any I’ve experienced.  There’s an oppressive weight on the shoulders of everyone who walks these red dusty roads.

This past weekend we visited two genocide memorial sites – two churches where thousands of Rwandans sought sanctuary while their families and friends were brutally slaughtered.  Tragically, there was no sanctuary to be found.  In one church, 10,000 people were murdered, thousands more in the other.  Over 50,000 people killed in this one small neighborhood outside of Kigali.

The churches remain virtually untouched.  When you enter, you see piles of decaying clothes – the clothes of the victims.  When you enter the crypts, there lie more skulls, pelvic bones, femurs than you can count.  A pile of necklaces, watches and wallets sits on the altars.

What struck me is that to the naked eye, a skull is just a human skull.  It’s not African, it’s not White, not Tutsi, not rich; it’s just simply, obviously human.  If my skull was split by a machete, it would look the same even though my upbringing and skin color are so different.

The tour guides are all survivors, open to telling you about their experience hiding in the bushes while their parents and siblings were hunted.   They speak the words with a haunting look in their eyes.  But they light up when they speak of their children.  The hope of new life bursting through the darkness.

This morning at our morning worship at IJM, we sang “God of this City.”

You’re the God of this city.  You’re the God of these people.  You’re the God                     of this nation.

Greater things have yet to come, and greater things are still to be done in this                   city.

It has to be true.  There’s no other option.

 

 

That’s What It’s All About

I once saw a bumper sticker that read, “What if the Hokey Pokey really is what it’s all about?”  Still makes me laugh.  This is going to be a heavy post.  Feel free to come back next time if you are here to read funny stories about life in Africa or about how Fred routinely chokes himself with the spoon now that he’s eating solids.

Nothing makes me ponder my own mortality like watching a sappy movie where a character dies.  This weekend we watched The Time Traveler’s Wife (spoiler alert!) – a pretty creative book turned movie.  After watching, BB and I struck up a two-day discussion about our mortality and how terrible death is.

I’ve been thinking about death a lot since we’ve moved here.  It could be the matatu (bus) rides around town through the mountains crammed into a tiny bus.  It could also be because we are far away for a long time, and there’s that fear that you might have just seen someone you love for the last time.  The bigger possibility is that, for all the beauty and development in this great country, we are walking the scene of mass murder.  There are ghosts on the street and in the eyes of every Rwandan we meet.

Twenty years is not much time.  Every single Rwandan has a tragic story.  One million people slaughtered, countless more who died in the war, and a massive number of perpetrators equals a tragedy of epic proportions leaving no one unscathed.  While it doesn’t technically come up in discussion, and it would be insensitive to bring it up, it’s the extremely large singing elephant in the room that you can’t talk about and yet he makes a lot of noise.

But this post isn’t really about that either.  When I am faced with the reality that I am going to die and the even sadder reality that everyone I love will one day die, I question my faith.  The greatest gift I’ve received since being here is the opportunity to worship and pray with Rwandans – people who have a lot to be angry with God about.  It makes me wonder whether my faith will sustain me through the deaths that are to come in my life.

There are so many unknowns in life.  But regardless of anyone’s religious bent (or lack thereof), this reality remains: we are all going to die, and it could happen any moment.  I’ve observed two main reactions to this – (1) accept that it’s coming but try and make the best of life, storing up treasures in family, work, projects, leisure, adventure; or (2) embrace a lukewarm religion where you think about it only on Sundays and major holidays and otherwise pretend it’s not happening.  Neither is good enough for me.

Christianity is really all about death – all about addressing this inevitability.  The entire religion is centered around an execution.  Maybe it does make sense that Christianity would offer some antidote to this crippling denial and fear that we all seem to deal with.

Truly my only hope is that the gospel is true.  My hope is that the Cross did happen.  That Jesus did actually die and rise again.  Because if He did, then there’s hope that I (and my loved ones) will too.  Of course I don’t know everything, but I haven’t heard anything better.  Is it far fetched?  Maybe.  But it’s also pretty far-fetched that at one point I didn’t exist but then after a tryst in Peotone, Illinois, I came into being, and now I am writing this blog from Rwanda.  And then at some point in the future, I will cease to exist. That’s a little bit crazy too.