Sunday: Worship and Somber Remembrance in Rwanda
This Sabbath day found us divided into 2 groups for worship: Rev Don Wehmeyer preached at the English service which meets on the same grounds where our Guest House is located (the headquarters of the Presbyterian Church in Rwanda---the EPR). His wife, Martha, along with Durfee Burtner joined him for this "more familiar" 1 hour+ service.
The rest of the team (Ebralie, Marilyn and Heidi Meadows) drove across town to the Kanombe Church where Pastor Julius Ngendahayo offered his pulpit to Marilyn. This three hour service in the local Kinyarwanda language included MUCH congregational singing and four choirs as well as communion. Also attending this service were members of Kanombe 's mission congregation in Busanza who sent two of the choirs!
The team reunited at Pastor Julius' home for lunch where his wife, Nadine, and neighbors laid out a feast of rice, potatoes, peas, fried plantains and beef chunks in a savory tomato sauce---all prepared on top of a charcoal brazier. It must have taken hours to prepare! Nadine and Julius' six children were sweet and helpful, ranging in age from seven to college age. The head of the women's group at Kanombe Church, Esparanza, brought the blessings AND facilitated the traditional hand washing, which precedes meals like this. Moving to each of us in turn, she used a pitcher to pour water over our hands into a plastic basin and then offered us a towel, which was draped over her shoulder. We couldn't help but be reminded of Christ's washing of the feet of his disciples in in this gracious, humble act of hospitality.
Refreshed and restored, we boarded a mini-bus, which ferried us out of the city and into the lush rolling countryside. After about a 40 minute drive, we arrived at an area called Ktarama. We disembarked at a modest brick Catholic Church, which once served the farming community here and is now one of the Memorials to the Genocide. 5000 persons had sought refuge in the church during the killing spree, only to be hunted down here. Openings were hacked through the brick walls and grenades lobbed in. Those not killed in the explosions were finished off with machetes.
Taking up one end of this "open-air tomb" church are three large platform shelves, each stacked neatly with the bones and skulls of victims. Their clothing and bedding is draped from the walls and rafters. In the altar area of the church, personal effects like shoes and cooking utensils have been gathered together. The rest of the sanctuary is taken up by narrow wooden coffins in which the bones of other victims from the surrounding countryside have been gathered. In total, the remains of over 6,100 persons are contained in this single, somber, silent place.
Through tears, you cannot help but offer up a prayer that God brings healing and reconciliation to this country. The scale and scope of the tragedy is unfathomable to those of us who come from the outside...and must be, except by the grace of God, nearly unbearable for those who experienced it, like our sister, Anysie. Anysie has been accompanying us on behalf of the EPR. She lost nearly her entire family in the Genocide when she was in her early 20s.
Our day ended with a welcomed reminder of the Church's ongoing ministry of reconciliation, brought to us by the head of the EPR, the Rev Dr Elisee Musemakeeli, who hosted us to a welcome dinner.