This phrase ranks in the top ten things folks say to someone who is going on or has been on a mission trip. I have heard it countless times. I smile each time with unspoken thoughts, too complex to explain in casual conversation.
Here’s the problem [I have] with the statement– every day should be life changing. We shouldn’t have to travel half-way around the world to rattle our cage. Granted, dipping your toes in the water of a different culture will shape and mold you differently than if you stay within the comforts of your home. I get that.
Perhaps this post will be the one to label me as a cynic or something else. I’m going to blog it out anyway. This may end up being an article that spins around in circles without a final conclusion. I’m okay with that because I know a few people will be able to relate and may even exhale a heavy sigh of relief. I’m just going to say it—
I couldn’t cry.
We visited the first genocide memorial in Kigali and I couldn’t muster up a tear. Friends wept unconsolably and those who have experienced the trip before TOLD me how to feel, but I couldn’t cry. I couldn’t even fake it. I felt horribly self-centered that I wasn’t able to respond the way I was ‘supposed to’. I wandered through the memorial gardens trying to get a grip on my thoughts. The only emotion I could put my finger on was anger– I was mad at myself.
A quick inventory of emotions brought me to this summary… perhaps I’m heartless.
In order to cope with the crap life has dealt me, my heart is calloused or, at best, desensitized. Even the most horrific details of the genocide could not penetrate emotions to spark a tear. How self-centered is that? I thought I was an empathic person. I cry at sad movies. I cry when I read the paper. I used to cry at work, a lot. Why wasn’t this hitting me in my soft underbelly? I concluded I needed to meet some of the survivors and hear their stories to put faces on the fractured skulls.
We were given a rare opportunity to meet some of the survivors to hear their testimonies first hand. Yes, we sat in their modest homes to listen to them recount the horrific details of their attacks. With tumbling hands, a brave woman told her survivor story. I felt her pain but knew, even with an empathetic heart, I would not come close to the depth I knew her pain reached. Included in our group were other genocide survivors who work with the ministry team we were there to support. I wondered if the recollection of the trauma was truly beneficial. Who was I to be present in this room?
I carried these emotions with me for a couple days. During moments of down time I would open the file in my mind to try to see something I hadn’t before. I didn’t speak about it; I just pondered my thoughts and observed those around me.
What I saw in this time were people who danced with joy even though they had every right to tremble with fear of a resurgence. I sat in prayer groups with survivors speaking another language but with emotion and spirit that I could understand. I saw grace and forgiveness overflowing from these people. Our culture often times gives folks a crutch to carry them along the rest of their lives; a reason to stay behind the hurdles of life rather than supporting them to overcome. I know that isn’t always the case, but it seems to be more often than not. I was grateful to see so many overcome their circumstances and honored to be a part of their lives for this brief segment of time. But I still had questions…
We visited more memorials. These were churches where Tutsi people sought sanctuary from the Hutu trying to eliminate their existence. Thousands died in a place they believed would keep them safe. We visited the memorial with a members of Solace Ministries who survived the genocide. [Learn more about Solace]
His story is amazing.
You can read his story in the link I have provided below. For now, I need to get to the heart of my message– after touring the church grounds and seeing horrific reminders of what happened 20 years before, I was able to ask Yves, “What kept your will to live? Many Americans would have surrendered rather than fight.”
Yves replied, “If we gave up, they would have won.”
Not the end of the story, there was the end of my questioning. It answered more questions on my mind beyond the genocide of Rwanda.
It answered my questions about the Holocaust.
It answered my questions about domestic abuse.
It answered my questions about Christian martyrdom.
It answered my questions about suicide.
We give up and evil wins.
You see, as crazy as the world has been since the beginning of mankind and as messed up as it seems right now, we need to fight a good fight for what is right. We need to speak out about what is wrong rather than dismiss it as something going on beyond our reach.
So I’m back to the beginning of my post.
Why isn’t every day life affecting us?
Why aren’t we seeing life-changing things each and every day?
We should. Absolutely.
What I came to realize from tumbling my emotions around is this–
I am not cold-hearted.
I am equipped.
I have taken what God has allowed in my life to make me stronger. I didn’t stuff emotions and ignore them. I filtered through them and kept what He needed me to recall so that I can be brave in the face of adversity, I can come along side those that haven’t learned to overcome to help them rise above their circumstances. I have calluses but I have a heart to fight for injustice.
I discovered I was angry by what I learned in Rwanda and that is why I couldn’t cry.
Was my trip life-changing? Yes, it was.
The reason I resist putting this weighty of a statement on the Rwanda mission trip is because it wasn’t a climatic moment. It was a moment in time on a journey led by God. We need to be aware how everything in our life molds and shapes us. We need to be aware of how the negative things in life mold and shape us. And we need to be ready to be remolded and reshaped to be used according to His plan and His purpose.
The year 2014 was certainly life-altering for me. God put the word ‘humble’ on my heart and showed me things I could have never seen with my own eyes. This is why I saw and felt emotions in Rwanda differently than I was told I was to respond. God sent me for His purpose. The mission is not over. It will continue for weeks, months, and years to come. The experiences are packed into my arsenal to be full-on used for His work.
Perhaps I’ll be sent back to Africa.
Perhaps I’ll be sent somewhere else.
Perhaps I’m most needed right where I am.
I returned to work the day after my return to the States. I learned something new about a coworker who was raised in the church but was also emotionally hurt by the place she was to know a peace beyond all human understanding. It was quite clear to me that no matter where I go, I always need to be ready to love on others. I always need to keep my eyes and ears open for life-changing lessons.
Every corner of the world has pain and hurt.
Every corner of the world needs love and forgiveness.
Every corner of the world needs peace.
I cannot change the world single-handed but I’m ready to let it start where ever I may be.
The point of my writing isn’t about my story or my life. The point of my writing is about overcoming and rising above your circumstances. The photo I am going to include with todays post was taken at the memorial where Yves shared his life with us. In the background you see the hole blasted in the side of the church. In the foreground you see a twig growing far above the hedge. From the top, you see a ray of sunshine coming down like grace. The image will always be symbolic to me. I hope todays lengthy post is inspirational to others.
Keep on going.
I’ve read the book… God wins in the end.
With much love,
Often times my writing is filled with emotions and opinion. Today I needed to include facts. As I poked around the internet to qualify the names of the memorials we visited, I discovered blog entries written by our pastor during his visit to Rwanda a year ago. Rather than rewrite the details he eloquently composed, I will simply provide the link. [here]
Following are details about the memorial sites we visited. Never forget. Never let this happen again. ANYWHERE. One of my favorite characters often says, “The bones don’t lie.” Temperance Brennan, a fictional character in the TV show, Bones, frequently references work in Rwanda. Twenty years later, remains are discovered and laid to rest. Pray for peace. The bones don’t lie. They are evidence of horror and evil that must be stopped.
Nyamata Memorial Site: Nyamata is situated in the Bugesera district of Rwanda about 35 km from the capital city of Kigali. During the genocide, many people used the Catholic Church as a refuge. However, according to the testimonies given by survivors, on April 10th 1994 about 10,000 people were killed in and around the area of the Catholic Church. People from all around congregated in the church and locked the iron door with a padlock to protect themselves from the marauding killers. This church and its contents are a reminder of the horrifying violence that took place at this site during Rwanda’s 1994 genocide.
Ntarama Memorial Site: The Genocide Memorial is located about 30 kilometers south of the capital city of Kigali. Located in the Bugasera region, this church and its contents are a reminder of the horrifying violence that took place at this site during Rwanda’s 1994 genocide. Ntarama Church is where most brutal killings of the 1994 Rwandan genocide took place. The floor of the Church at Ntarama has not been completely cleaned since the massacre. There are more bones, intermingled with bits of clothing, shoes, pots, wallets, ID cards and the kinds of things. The low pew-benches are used to avoid stepping on the bones and detritus. One can easily identify parts of skeletons: vertebrae, mandibles, fibulas, and ribs.