Tuesday, March 14, 2006

3/13/06 - The Genocide Memorial and Worship Service

3/13/06 (Writing time) -
It's 4:00 AM – My day began a while ago. I caught up on sleep, but I’m out of sync with local time, so what? The sun is coming up. Rwanda is awakening. I can hear the birds outside my window. Turned on the TV to pick up the latest news. The BBC and CNN are the main news sources here – both are blaring the news of Slovodon Milosevic’s death. Ironically, it was the first news we got when we got to Rwanda. One genocide was melding into the other, even as we arrived here in Rwanda – even for me, a grandson of survivors with all the feelings and pain that we’ve known throughout our lifetime.

Sunday 3/12 -- So with the history of Bosnia being broadcast over and over on TV yesterday, we made our first stop - the Genocide Memorial in Kigali. It was incredibly emotional. Outside we saw the mass graves. They were large concrete slabs which housed the bodies of genocide victims. Two hundred and sixty thousand(260,000) bodies were accounted for in these graves. The memorial also had a genocide museum next to it. One of the concrete blocks was open. It was the latest grave to be filled. As remains are found, they bring them to the Memorial where they are interred. Inside the graves we saw the caskets – stacked. Each casket contained 4 to 60 bodies. That was the rule. The bodies were sometimes decomposed, sometimes ashes –that’s how they put them in one casket. I prayed the “Hokevotz” to myself. It is the requiem prayer of the Armenian Church. It was too overwhelming to be at this site. Armenian Genocide in my head, thinking of the graves that our grandparents never had– thinking of denial and barbarism, of hatred – how it could be so powerful to take out entire populations.

I touched the grave. A light powder of cement stayed on my hands for the rest of the memorial tour. We went inside to the museum. A Rwandan tour guide greeted us. She told us that over ONE MILLION Rwandans had died. The museum was very nicely constructed and the displays were graphically inviting. Everything was written in three languages – the local language, French, and English – and in that order. We saw the disgrace of humanity, over and over. We saw the role the Church had played in promoting separatism and class struggle. We read, we wept, we stood in silence. A couple of stained glass windows on both sides of the building were symbols of endurance, of life continuing.

Rwanda is about the size of Armenia and has about three times the population – just over 8 million. All around, you saw people. They were out on the streets – walking and talking. Is this what life is like without TV and all the other detractions that prevent us from living? You mean people may actually find that socializing with each other, playing together and going through life hand-in-hand is conducive to a healthy soul?

After we spent time in the exhibits, we went upstairs to the second portion of the exhibit. It was a museum for all acts of genocide! Here in the middle of this poor country called Rwanda, in the middle of Africa – I found a museum with the pictures I had grown up with – it was a wall and video dedicated to the Armenian Genocide of 1915. I was too overwhelmed – standing there and reading the stories I knew so well – the stories of the Syrian desert, of rape, of massacre, of butchery. They were the same stories I had heard as a child – the same stories that we read about on the first floor regarding the Rwandan genocide – the same stories over and over again. What’s wrong with those people who look for an argument against evolution? Isn’t this it? Is there a greater argument against evolution, than this? How dare we say the human species has evolved when all around us we see the proof of the same hatred and the same killings?

I was silent from this point on. I couldn’t contain my emotions. In the middle of Africa, to find a genocide memorial dedicated to the Armenians! Next to it was an exhibit with hundreds and hundreds of pictures of children. All small photos/snapshots. A statue says,“I never asked to be an orphan.” I sat there and looked at the face of a child. I saw my grandfather. This kid's skin was black, my grandfather’s wasn’t. This kid saw death in Rwanda and my grandfather in Armenia. I stood in silence, in tears because it all made sense. I was color blind. I was living a dream. I was seeing all of the children – as children of God. The tour guide found me in that room. She came and apologized, “I’m sorry.” What was there to apologize for? She didn’t want to see my sadness, her stories were no less difficult and tragic.

I went outside the memorial and waited for the rest of the group. We were going to a church service that evening. Don came by and said that we probably wouldn’t have time to go. I mentioned that it would be good to go, just to let us know that life does go on after this. We packed it up and drove off to the church. Throughout the streets, people all over the place. The sun was setting – it was getting dark. You’d see these bright faces shining at us in the headlights. A big sign over the bridge said, “Jesus Christ.” I assumed this is where we were going and we did.

Church had started. The pastor was talking. He in French, and next to him a woman echoed in the local language. We sat in the back. They moved us to a nice spot. I sat next to Chip Murray. He’s one of my idols from years ago, an honor to be on this journey with him. He was the pastor of the African Methodist Episcopal Church in South Central Los Angeles. He brought hope and dignity to a lot of people. It was surreal to be sitting there in this church. Soon they sent over some interpreters to sit with us and give us the English take. Our group was sitting together, and the interpreters came right in –squeezed into the spaces between us. They’d echo in English, though I think the gentleman who was translating for Chip & I was definitely on his way to some preaching in the future. He was ferocious in his zeal for his faith and what was going on at this church.

The church is a big large hall. Stage in the middle with a few arm chairs placed in the center. A podium –and to the side a band set-up – drums, guitars and keyboards. The pastor preached. The congregation was made up entirely of young families. He got some applause along the way. The message was one of God being with us – all the time – God never abandoning us in our most difficult times. Unexpectedly, he called us up. Chip and I went up onto the stage. It was like looking at a miracle when you consider the genocide scenes we had seen just a few hours earlier. This was the power of God and I announced that to the congregation and thanked them for the opportunity. Chip gave a blessing and the crowd broke out into a round of song and praise. It was 7:00 p.m. – a quiet dinner in the hotel and we were off to bed.

© Fr. Vazken Movsesian 2006

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