The National Museum and A genocide memorial: meeting people with stories of conflict

National Museum

Up until Tuesday, we were getting an orientation to local time (jet lag), Rwanda history, the NCM faculty, and our agenda for the next 7 weeks.  We stayed with the Scheers for most of that time, but had one night with the Finleys, too.

Last Friday, yes over a week ago, we went on a trip with the NCM staff and their wives to the National Museum in Butare, in the southern province.  While it is not far from the traditional capital of Rwanda, where the King lived, it was a two hour drive from Kigali.  Since I (Nick), don’t get carsick, I sat in the back row of 15 passenger Nissan Urvan (don’t think youth group 15 passenger van, think VW bus on steroids).  I spoke with Benjamin for two hours on the way.

He pointed out the papyrus, pineapple, corn, sorghum, sugarcane, coffee, rice.  But he also spoke of his desire for there to be reconciliation in Rwanda, among the people, but especially in the church.  Many churches work in competition with each other, meeting next door to each other and preaching against each other.  Some local “Pentecostal” churches even preach that if one is not a member of THAT local church, he or she cannot be saved.  I suppose only a few will get to heaven, by their thinking.  If the church cannot be united, what hope is there for the country?

Benjamin works for NCM to help develop the University program.  They were working with another local organization to build the program together, to share many resources, and it appeared that everyone was happy for the cooperation.  However, the united effort fell apart, setting back the process of building a university program.

The Cultural Museum was enjoyable, complete with dancers, drums, dioramas, grass huts, artifacts and pictures.  But Ben’s story weighed on my mind.  Please pray with me, for unity in the church of Rwanda.  May we be an image of the reconciliation offered by Christ.

At the end of the dance, they pulled each of us up to learn to dance with them.  Am I sunburned or embarrassed?

Genocide Memorial

The next day, we took a short drive with Gary Scheer out to a rural genocide memorial: a church in Ntarama that had been attacked, killing the refugees inside.  While there is an official memorial in the city of Kigali, one can get a more visceral picture in one of the many memorials that dot the countryside.

I (Nick) don’t know what I expected to see when we arrived at the church, but as we approached, I could see a normal brick building with a tin roof, holes in the side from grenades, and doors hanging loosely from the hinges.  I rounded the corner into the church and was met by row after row of human skulls.

Purple is the color of mourning in Rwanda. No pictures allowed inside, but you can see a glimpse.

I was reminded of the pictures released from the Pol Pot genocide in Cambodia.  Each skull a person, a woman, a child, an old man, who had fled to the church for safety, for sanctuary, but had been trapped by an angry, indoctrinated mob of their neighbors.

We entered an saw not just the skulls, but pelvises, leg bones, and arms displayed on metal shelves (6’ x 12’).  Looking around we saw clothes, stained, displayed on the walls and from the rafters.  Toward the altar of this catholic church, we saw their possessions, suitcases, shoes, pots and pans.  Our guide, a survivor from the next village over, explained that the victims within the church could not be properly buried because they could not be identified.  In an effort to survive, they discarded their identity cards that proved their tribal identity.

Clothes of the deceased.

The tour continued, and our guide told  us his story of how his father was on the black list, and so was sought out and assassinated.  He saw his father killed, ran through his house to warn his family, but only he and his youngest brother escaped.

This man is a survivor of the genocide.

July 4 commemorates my sister-in-law’s birthday (go, Kendra!), the independence of the United States of America, and the marriage of Andrew and Andrea Ramsey, but also the last day of the genocide against the Tutsi.

Where there are officially no longer tribes in Rwanda, it seems difficult to remember the genocide against the Tutsi if there is no longer Tutsi….

Please pray with me for the reconciliation in this country between neighbors, and between the government and its people.

Next post: Our week apart


3 thoughts on “The National Museum and A genocide memorial: meeting people with stories of conflict

  1. Thanks for sharing this with us! I feel no words can describe what it was like to see that genocide memorial, so I appreciate the thought you put into yours! I was beyond overwhelmed to hear and see it first hand. We have a friend here from Rwanda whose son was killed in the genocide. She tracked down his body in a mass grave based on the clothes he was wearing and moved his body to a family location to be buried. She has since moved the body again. She won’t ever return to Rwanda, and I can’t begin to wrap my mind around the sorrow of her life.

    We hope to follow you on your journey in Rwanda and pray for you two as you enjoy the beauty of Rwanda and it’s people and as you readjust back to life in the states. It was great getting to know you both, even if it was just a little bit, and we will enjoy hearing about your time there.

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