Profound Learning: Machete is a verb. I've also recorded these observations about Rwanda: they have bananas and sugar cane growing all over. There are no old people – no grey-hairs. Either the mortality age is low, or they were all killed during the Genocide. I don’t know the statistics, but during a drive through town you see literally 1000’s of people and they are all young people – yes “all” is used intentionally. I haven’t seen old people. The females outnumber the males 3:1 – 75% of the population is female but you wouldn’t know it in the city where it's mostly young men “hanging out” while the females you see are more in the villages.
Finally, I haven’t seen the DMV manual – and this may be an unwritten rule, but I’m certain the right-of-way is given to the biggest van, then cars, then motorcycles then pedestrians. It’s like playing dodge-ball with autos as the ball. (We have a great driver.)
From John about Solace Ministries --as the name implies -- their mission is to give comfort – solace. The words "trauma and counseling" were unknown words before 1994 in this country. Tutsi/Hutu: No one really knows what the differences are. They are artificial dividers. (Like all dividers in life.) The Catholic Church put a separation between the people to suit their needs (yes, the parallel to the Armenian Church and politics is noteworthy!)
Genocide didn’t just happen all at once. There were killings along the way. In 1964, there was a mini-genocide sanctioned by the government – and at that time there were no human rights organizations in the area. John was kid then and remembers the days. He remembers hardship and poverty after that period. His father burnt their belongings rather than giving it to the government. Entire families were thrown in the rivers. He remembers his father had a Bible – the only thing he kept and read it. John went through a period of alcohol dependence to escape reality. God delivered him.
In 1970, John wanted to be a medical doctor but couldn’t because of his social status and no money to get out of the country to study elsewhere. He had no refuge but God. 1982 and 1992 brought other massacres throughout the country. Genocide began on April 6, 1994. On April 7, thousands were killed. John and his family were praying on the night of 4/6/94 – "... the Lord is a haven; the Lord is a fortress. " They thought scripture was talking to them. News came that night that the president’s plane had gone down and he had died. April 7 – they attacked John’s house. His wife prepared the children to die – all together – but John refused because he remembered God’s promise to him the night before in the Biblical words.
They hid in a wardrobe which they have to this day. It is filled with bullet holes. His daughter had a stubborn cough and he had to have her muffle it. In the wardrobe he felt her ribs and realized she hadn’t eaten for a while. She was starving. They stayed there for five days and miraculously, he discovered some chocolates on the top shelf of the wardrobe which kept them alive for the duration.
On April 27, he learned that his parents and 10 siblings were killed. John felt it was all over. But he would live to tell the story. He made a promise, a vow, that if he survived it would be for the widows and the orphans that he dedicated his life. He stayed in his house for 3 months with a faith that the Lord will never let the righteous go hungry. He had food for those months – the mushrooms that grew around the house. Once a bomb came into the compound and did NOT hit his house. It hit, instead an avocado tree and the ripe avocados fell and became food for the family.
John was hired by an American NGO and he saw the pain even closer. In prayer, God told him, “Comfort” –because you have been comforted, so also you must comfort others. This is how Solace Ministries began.
The army took over the city on July 4th, (what a great day!). Remember that the widows who had contracted HIV/AIDS were allowed to live because they themselves would spread the disease -to help do the work of the enemy. CHH= Children headed households. These are 9-12 year olds who had the responsibility at the genocide of taking care of their siblings. Solace does, counseling, evangelism, children outreach, health/relief, capacity building research and community development. Evangelism is important because it is not in our imagination that God is working here. Health/relief because of poverty there is no access to medicine.
HIV/AIDS has infected many of the women who have been raped. Receiving a cow is a sign of good friendship.When we met with the women at Solace ministries John invited them to testify, so that we know that God is still working and still alive. This affirmation was reoccurring in John’s dealing with the people. It's obvious that trust has been lost. He called them up by saying, “You survived for a purpose –to tell all nations that God is not idle, but that this area is special! That you are special!”
The more I learn about Solace the more in tune I am with their mission and work. Readers who are familiar with the In His Shoes mission can see that patterns are paralleling the Solace platform. I’m finding that purpose – a Divine purpose – is a goal for all of us. “One of the ways God’s love is shown, is with the presence of these people. Just imagine, they are coming here from the strongest country in the world to be with you!” After the death of the President the killing of all Tutsis was ordered. Women and children could not run like the men. They were beat with clubs. Children were chopped with machetes. The lady at the Solace shelter (with scars) – all of her children were clubbed to death in front of her. Her parents, brothers and sisters all died. She remained alone. The lonelines sstarts here. Add to it the stigma that comes with AIDS and you can understand the value of Solace in providing not only a family, but care. When the RPF arrived, she was taken to the hospital. As people share their pain, others nod with agreement, revealing the extent of Genocide.
Next door to the Solace shelter is a large field where children played. When we drove up they all greeted us,“Bonjour.” They extended their hands to shake. I’m not really sure what’s the accepted way of greeting. For many of the grown ups they will extend their right hand and with the left, they will grab their right forearm. For others it is an embrace that puts about 6 inches between you and the greeter. Yet others will give the triple kiss – one cheek, the other, then back to the first.But the most awkward greeting is the open palm, with the words, “Give me…” It’s sad because your immediate reaction is to help by reaching into your pocket, but we are told over and over again not to encourage this behavior. It fosters reliance – and subliminally, reliance on white people!
Where did this habit begin.In Kigali, or on the roadside, they come up and say,“Give me…” with their palms out. It must have begun with the first relief workers who provided and now its turned into this awkward greeting. We ended the stay at Solace with lunch at a nearby house.
© Fr. Vazken Movsesian 2006