BY EMILY SUTHERLAND, GRACE ATTENDER
“Jesus Loves Me” - such a familiar tune filled that room full of Rwandan women six time zones (and many comfort zones) away from home. Some voices sang in English while most sang it in their native language of Kinyarwanda.
Looking around the room, I was drawn to one woman whose name is Esther. I paused briefly, then moved closer to her, looking deep into the beautiful, weathered face of this single mother. I wanted her to know the depth of these words so I found myself reaching for her hand. I squeezed her hand hoping to send this love we were singing about deep into her soul. And as we sang to one another, nodding in agreement, I felt her returning the message to my own soul.
Yes, Jesus loves me… YES, Jesus loves ME…
In those brief seconds, while our eyes locked, time seemed to stop. What I saw reflected in those beautiful brown pools, brimming with tears, literally took my breath. Her eyes spoke of her story. I saw immeasurable sorrow… and resilience; I saw fear… and courage; I saw hesitancy… and openness; I saw walls… and a bridge.
As I looked around the room, I was struck by the reality of what the majority of these women had experienced. Among those who were children during the 1994 genocide, UNICEF reported 90% of them believed they would die and saw dead bodies or body parts; 80% of children experienced a death in their family during the genocide and 70% witnessed a killing or an injury. Family and friends were brutally murdered and attacked. (Learn more about the Rwandan genocide here.)
I noticed visible reminders of these attacks on their faces. But when I looked into their eyes I saw deeper scars.
The simple truth that Jesus loves them seemed juxtaposed with the reality that these women have experienced pain I could never fathom.
April 7, 2019 will mark the 25th anniversary of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. Hundreds of thousands who were traumatized by hatred, fear, violence and loss are living into a new reality. They are learning how to heal, forgive and lead the next generation toward a hopeful future. And they are doing it together.
This gathering was part of a partnership between Grace Church and ALARM (African Leadership and Reconciliation Ministries). Groups from Grace have been traveling to facilitate conferences with a cohort of 55 female leaders. Each conference focuses on a leadership and development topic tailored to the Rwandan culture and context. A multidisciplinary team from Grace Church will travel once more in August, 2018 to celebrate graduation and the incredible work God has been doing in our midst.
This transformative experience does not end with these soon-to-be graduates… it is just the beginning. As these leaders’ lives are changed, so are the lives of their families, churches, communities and the ripple effect impacts the entire nation with hope and healing. These leaders are taking what they’re learning back to their villages. The healing work is continuing to multiply through their leadership and the next phase will include these leaders, leading conferences in every province of Rwanda.
Over the past three years with each session they have begun to open up to one another, to share parts of their stories with each other and as they’ve shared, many for the first time, they’ve experienced Jesus lifting the weight of the silence and healing their pain and sorrow.
We see it. There are noticeable physical changes among these women. They hold their heads higher, their shoulders have grown lighter, their voices have become stronger and their eyes shine brighter. They sing with abandon, dance with joy, and every drumbeat seems to chase away defeat. These women don’t just make music… they are music.
Throughout my time in Rwanda, I was so moved by the acceptance and grace these beautiful people extended to me that the tears kept coming. One evening at dinner, I asked Eric, a kind young worker who helped us during mealtimes, if I could have another napkin. He quickly found one and handed it to me. I light-heartedly explained that I soaked the first one with tears – trying to gather myself. As soon as he saw the tears that kept forming in the corners of my eyes, he immediately took the dry napkin from me and gently wiped the corners of my eyes for me.
I cannot adequately convey what it feels like to breathe the same air as such remarkable people. Those whose eyes have witnessed terror I can’t even fathom were the ones drying my tears.
I can’t unsee what I’ve seen it with my own eyes. God’s presence and peace is visibly changing lives and healing the broken places in Rwanda and in me.
What Can You Do?
Some of you might be thinking, "I want to help! What can I do?" There are many ways you can step in:
1. Go on a Trip. We have trips going all the time. Say yes and go! Learn more here.
2. Volunteer. There are many ways to serve this organization without jumping on a plane. Learn more by going to our Global Partners page and clicking on the ALARM dropdown.
3. Pray. Pray for these dear souls. Ask what they need prayer for. Or, just pray on your own. The power of prayer can make a world of difference.