Love One Another

Sign says "Never Forget"

Sign says “Never Forget”

Jesus says, I give you a new commandment….that you love one another….begins the Maundy Thursday sermon at the Kigali English speaking service. These words were spoken by Pastor Kate Warn as she told the congregation about the love God came to show us. I wonder what the members of the parish thought as we stood there five days away from the commeration of the genocide in Rwanda.

Many of us only know the history of Rwanda through the movie Hotel Rwanda and Don Cheadle’s performance of the manager of the Mile Collines Hotel and how he struggled to keep those being targeted safe.

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The Rwanda of 2015 is very different from the Rwanda of 1994. Rwandans are no longer divided by ethnicity or identy papers that marked their difference; there is one Rwanda and all its citizens are Rwandan.

I am learning this history and this move to love our neighbors as ourselves through the Lutheran Church of Rwanda founded out of the crisis of genocide. The church was built from the families of refugees who had left Rwanda for political reasons in the 1950’s. Now many of the children have returned from exile to help make a stronger Rwanda

When I hear the words “love one another’ in this context, I realize just how much these words of Jesus mean. They seem very simple Pastor Kate told us in her sermon, yet she reminded us of how difficult they are to follow… to live out…to keep. In Rwanda it was within a Christian context that horrific violence against neighbors took place.

Before we think how awful let me say that this reminds me of how violence happens in explicit awful ways and also how we do violence to one another in more subtle ways. In the U.S. no one is brandishing machetes but they are brandishing pens to make laws about who is in and who is out, who can be served and who cannot–deciding, how identity can be used to set apart and divide. The blanket on which these laws lie are religious freedom. So though good Christians believe that they have the right to make these decisions, all Christians are not in agreement. So there is division in the body of Christ even in the U.S.

I understand that the writing of laws and the brandishing of machetes are not the same. Yet, these are both examples—as we do harm to the love that Jesus has so freely given to us. That love that would always err on the side of loving the other, not harming them–including the other, not excluding them.

Jesus tells us “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another.”

Let us remember no matter where we live and what our circumstances that God poured out his love for us on a cross, so that just maybe, as we deal with one another, we might consider Christ example of love.

Impressions of Rwanda

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I cannot help feeling that I must write about how I am experiencing the stories of Rwanda and its people. Especially as I visit the week of April 7 a day that marks the beginning of 100 days of horror so many years ago.

I read in books about the history  of  this beautiful little country in East Africa. This country that was harmed and then abandoned and ignored by the West. At least it seems so in my reading. 

I read books of prose and poetry about the genocide in 1994 and come to know that it did not happen by accident.

I hear the stories of those who were not present when the genocide took place, because their families sought refugee in Tanzania and Uganda years before. They left in the 1950s, because they feared the worst and the worst came true. The sons and daughters of those refugees are back seeking to be part of a rebuilt, better Rwanda. Some of these who have returned founded the Lutheran Church of Rwanda. 

 I have seen the bones and the clothes of victims soaked in blood and even a blood stained altar. I have seen an exhibit entitled “Portraits of Reconciliation” and I stared into the eyes of those who have been forgiven and those who have found strength to forgive. Their eyes are haunting. 

I see the evidence of a country being rebuilt. In my first visit I saw Mbingo and Rwmagana now the village of Ndego. This village and neighboring villages was once  Akagera National Park. Now instead of tigers, elephants and buffalo, there are people. The Lutheran World Federation helped to build this settlement for the many who were displaced.  

So, what am I a Western who until watching the movie “Hotel Rwanda” knew nothing of Rwanda. Until then Rwanda held no conscious place in my mind or my heart. I know that the more I know of this country and its people my heart is opened. Yet, what good is an open heart if it is not used to improve oneself or to make the world a better place? My heartbreaks at the thought of what has happened here but not to the point of despair. I  see hope all around, the hope of a people moving toward unity and healing.

My work brings me to Rwanda and now this lush green terraced country has found a place in my mind and my heart. The smiles of the children have warmed me. I am praying that the little I can do with the Lutheran Church in Rwanda might be beneficial. I am praying that twenty one years after the genocide the future for the people of Rwanda is a bright one and I hope to, return again and again to see that bright future unfold. 

I am westafricabound and now Rwanda bound.

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