October 27, 2017 | Claire O’Kelley

We Are Rwandan

This summer I had the privilege of going to Rwanda with Young Life Africa.

I packed my bags and set off on a mission to really understand a new culture. One of my favorite things is not just traveling but making friends with locals and getting a sneak peek into their daily lives, their daily routines and the rich history that has molded and shaped them into the people they are now. I left feeling expectant, slightly unprepared, but with my Rwandan history book in hand and camera ready. The reality is that I could spend a whole year in Rwanda and not completely understand their culture, but I did experience one profound insight that I have carried with me ever since this past June.

From the moment, I stepped foot onto Rwandan soil one thing became prominent: this place is DUSTY. The streets are covered with it. Dust whips up in the air as motorbikes speed by. Dust settles in my hair and clothes and nose and cause my throat to feel dry.

Each of these names have a story, each one marked by the history of Rwanda that is very different from ours.

Another thing that was immediately prominent was the people I met from Day 1. These are amazing people. Egide. George. Bruce. Jemima. Men. Pacifique. The list goes on and on. Names that I can’t quite fully remember individually but names that are known by the Father. Each of these names have a story, each one marked by the history of Rwanda that is very different from ours.

It was only a little over two decades ago where civil war and a massive genocide broke out like wildfire in Rwanda and Burundi. One million lives were taken and two million lives were displaced. If you don’t know much about the Rwandan genocide it came down to a great division of two opposing tribes, the Hutus and Tutsis. The day the killing broke out, friends turned on one another; a great betrayal. A deep wound was etched into the terrain of Rwanda and Burundi where the killing would spread among the two tribes that span the two countries.
I was able to attend the Genocide Memorial and learn about what happened in 1994 and it was heavy, it was painful, it was sickening and shocking and horrible…and yet my greatest take away from my time wasn’t about the genocide or the awful events that happened.

What impacted me more as I leaned in to listen to stories, was the heart of the people who had been betrayed. Although they have experienced great, incomprehensible pain, they are together seeking to become stronger as a result. As Egide told me, they do not associate with a tribe anymore, “We are Rwandan.”

These people smile, they laugh, they dance, they sing, they reach out to their neighbors as they press in to find the grace and the power that lives in them through Jesus after suffering through a great trial. While in Rwanda, I got to go to church with some of the Young Life staff and there we sang a song written by the musician/band called Gungor called “You Make Beautiful Things.”

You make beautiful things, you make beautiful things out of dust.
You make beautiful things, you make beautiful things out of us.

The dust that billows and blows in Rwanda is a sign of the movement of the Spirit as He makes beautiful things out of the dust of His people who have suffered. He has not forsaken them. He has not forgotten them. They are Rwandans, the children of God.


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