Friday, November 6, 2009

Some Reflections on Rwanda

Just returned from the most AMAZING trip to Rwanda.  The country has made unbelievable strides from the 1994 genocide - it's really quite remarkable.  My personal observation is that they have been able to move forward because of their willingness to embrace the past and learn from it.  The government continues to encourage the people to talk about their genocide experiences - to remember what happened and share it with the world.  Not in a bitter way, but in a way that brings healing.  They have a number of genocide memorials and burial grounds throughout the country.  It's hard to believe that this country is so small (about the size of Maryland, yet with 9 Million people - most densely populated African country) because the hearts and the vision of the people are so big.

I returned home to a birthday gift from my parents - Churchill's six volumes on WWII.  In Volume 1, The Gathering Storm, he states, "it would be wrong not to lay the lessons of the past before the future."  He called WWII "the unnecessary war," for he believes there was never a war more easily avoidable.  So the Rwandan people are moving forward by remembering the past and using it to heal.  They are preserving a horrific memory and allowing it to drive them towards a new future together.  And you can feel a buzz about the future all over the country.  "Vision 2020" is a program promoted by the government, and everyone is talking about it.  I was in a home in a small village in a very rural part of the country, and they even had a poster about it on their wall (very close to a 2-Pac poster).

And the priorities of the government seem right - symbolized by the still bullet ridden parliament building.  A dictatorial regime is more interested in appearances than reality.  They want to appear strong - so they build big palaces and neglect the people.  In Rwanda, they left the Parliament building full of cannon holes (even 15 years later), and are instead filling the holes in the roads and electricity grid.  This is the power of remembering.

This stands in stark contrast to Theodore Roosevelt.  I finished a gripping biography about him while in Rwanda called The Rise of Theodore RooseveltIt's a book I think every man should read and, if possible, read it with your son.  But his response to the tragic loss of his wife was to end the chapter of his life and never return.  At 24 years old, he was serving in the NY state legislature.  His wife died giving birth to his first son with a month left in his term.  Weighed down with sorrow, he finished his term and set forth on a 5 week western expedition in solitude.  But before leaving, he penned a tribute letter to his wife, then went west and grieved.  When he returned from the trip, he never spoke publicly about his first wife again.

I shared this story with a man I met in the airport in Nairobi.  He was returning from a 5 week tour of Eastern Africa - a trip he had dreamed about for years.  His first wife left him years ago and he was still healing.  He went alone to find recovery and restoration.  After telling him the story, I thought he was going to cry.  He shared that he went to Africa on a mission - to Climb Killimanjaro.  Part of the mission was to reach the top and burry a letter he wrote to close the very painful chapter of his life involving his divorce and the death of his father.  He spoke of his excitement to return home to his girlfriend, who is now expecting (coincidentally, we share the same due date of May 10th).  We flew to Amsterdam and re-united there to chat more.  While walking around the airport for over an hour (to stay awake) he shared that he was buying an engagement ring in the airport - BIG STEP!

I started reading the book, Adopted into God's Family on the plane ride home.  It's a theological evaluation of the doctrine of adoption.  The most beautiful part of this book is the reminder that God is the perfect father.  Though we all have failures in our family:  divorce, death, bad parenting experiences, difficult children, we can depend on God to be the perfect Father, and we can learn from Jesus how to be the perfect Son.  While in Rwanda I taught pastors about the Gospel of John.  I couldn't get over how often Jesus talks about his Father in the book.  Every time he taught the disciples or a crowd, he goes on and on about his Father (try circling the word "Father" in your Bible in the book of John and see where it show up the most).  In chapters 14 and 15, he's teaching the disciples before he heads to the cross, and all he can talk about is his Father.  Their love for one another is perfect and pure, and even in our messed up, war riddled world we can depend on their example.

One of the more striking things to experience in Africa is seeing men holding hands.  It is a common practice for men, who are just friends, to hold hands.  In America, that means one thing:  homosexuals.  But how beautiful to see pure love displayed by the simple act of holding hands.  Close friends showing camaraderie and intimacy publicly.  This struck me as a good thing - and was especially meaningful when my son, while walking through the airport, instinctively reached up and grabbed my hand.  It was good to be home.

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