Just Equipping provides critical support for a number of worthy projects in Africa, mostly in the Great Lakes Region. For a comprehensive description of activities, programs and initiatives supported by Just Equipping please explore the Link provided. What will follow in the days ahead is a brief description of a few of these projects that we experienced during our trip to Rwanda last month.
Our visit to Rwanda would not have been as meaningful without the encouragement and support of Pierre and Judith Allard. Numerous contacts, suggested activities, accommodations and travel arrangements, interviews with project leaders and chaplains, meetings with victims of the genocide, former soldiers and prisoners, and so much more we owe to Pierre and Judith. Thank you.
We also want to express our heartfelt appreciation to Reverend Simeon Muhunga, who so warmly received us in Gisenyi as if we were family. Also, we wish to thank passionate and committed Chaplains Lazare, Adolphine, Canisius, Kizungu, and Pascal. Also, Christophe who met us at the airport, performed as our able translator, and valued source of information about everything. And thanks to Jean Claude our very able driver and constant companion throughout our Rwandan travels.
The Genocide that occurred in Rwanda in 1994 resulted in the death of over 800,000 men, women, and children and the displacement of millions into refuge camps throughout the Great Lakes Region. The Genocide Memorial Centre in Kigali seemed the appropriate place to commence our visit. The Memorial Centre opened in 1994 on the 10th anniversary of the Genocide. It resides on a hillside overlooking the city. The memorial grounds contain the remains of over 250,000 victims. The curator advised us that even today, remains are discovered at the gate in the early morning awaiting the arrival of staff. No names, no information, just remains recently discovered.
Later we also attended the Ntarama Memorial Site located south of Kigali in the Bugesra District. Ntarama was the location of a church where 5000 Tutsi had fled seeking sanctuary from the genocidres. The church was surrounded by Intrehamwe militia. Grenades thrown in the windows, however the ensuing slaughter was mostly by gunfire and machete. The woman who met us and provided a tour was a genocide survivor from Ntarama village. The interior of the Church remains as it was found after the slaughter. Although the human remains have been removed for burial in a nearby memorial plot, pieces of clothing, shoes, purses, hair brushes, glasses, and other personal items remain like silent ghosts as they were left in 1994.
Behind the church was a small building that once had been the children’s Sunday School. This was where many of the children sought refuge during the attack. Inside, the small benches made of concrete were formed in neat rows. At the front wall was a bouquet of fresh flowers. Behind the flowers was a wall. Our tour guide told us that the children were swung by their feet with their heads smashed against the concrete wall.
The third Genocide memorial site we visited was Nyamata Church located in another district outside Kigali. The memorial site was closed as the Director was not working that day. However, after speaking briefly with our driver Jean Claude,a security guard offered to provide a tour. Nyamata was the scene of the mass rape and murder of over 2500 parishioners. The clothing worn by the victims remain in the church draped over the pews and hanging from hooks along the walls.
The adjacent memorial grounds have steps leading into underground cavern. Human remains are stacked on wooden shelves and in crates that are open. Skulls, limbs, and other bones are stacked neatly but separately.
After visiting these memorials and viewing shocking examples of ruthless sectarian violence, while trying to comprehend the horror, it was simply too much. And so it remains today.
In contrast, our experience with Reverend Simeon and the chaplains and project leaders we met during our visit, was very uplifting. These leaders are working arduously and courageously to bring victims and former perpetrators together, to counsel offenders to accept accountability and to help victims. They encourage reconciliation and forgiveness, and strive to restore relationships and rebuild communities. That is the encouraging story of Rwanda today. Moreover, with support of Just Equipping, the work of Reverend Simeon and others reach well beyond the Rwandan Border and can be felt throughout the Great Lakes Region of Africa.