The most moving moments on this trip to Rwanda? These three topics win by a mile. The story threads are loosely woven together. You can see the narratives running through the photographs on the Downtown Baptist Facebook page but you have to know what to look for. Perhaps some of this text will help.
Our small group spent Monday morning with a couple of single mothers with AIDS. The YWAM folks here minister to about 350 such women, scattered over the Kigali area. Many contracted AIDS when they were raped during the 1994 genocide. The first woman we met… call her Rebecca (not her real name) … has a teenage son (whom we didn’t meet) from that time. She struggles to love him because of this history. She also has two very young children who are HIV-positive. The four of them live in a small mud hut…our conversation was held around a table in a room that couldn’t have been more than 8’x8’. The only light came through the open door and holes in the tin roof, which has to be a challenge during the rainy season. She owns two chickens that pecked about our feet as we held our conversation. Rebecca also has a cell phone…just about everyone does here. She exchanged a couple of text messages during our visit. These are dirt cheap…costing a Rwandan franc or so (630 Rwandan francs = $1 U.S.). Phone conversations, especially domestic Rwanda, are far more expensive.
The mud hut, which Rebecca rents, is strictly speaking, illegal in Kigali. City ordinance requires that houses be concrete or better construction. Many people comply with the letter of the law by daubing cement over the mud bricks. That had been done with the second home we visited, just a short walk away. The single mother living there… call her Abele (again not her real name)… actually owned her home. Prior to the genocide she’d been well off, but her husband had been killed and she’d been dispossessed.
Both huts were nestled in neighborhoods in transition. Massive 2-3-story mansions that would look good on any beachfront worldwide were standing right next door. The contrast was mind-boggling. But it’s likely to be temporary; the poor like Rebecca and Abele are rapidly being driven out into the countryside. Ostracized by society because of their disease, neither woman has any realistic chance of remarriage or a much better life.
Yet both women are warm, hospitable, gracious, hopeful, dignified. They see their lives as valuable. They are willing to take time and share their stories with the westerners who’ve parachuted into their world. This is where the four YWAM women on staff and their ministry enter in. YWAM shares the Christian gospel and at the same time provides a practical social and economic structure for these mothers. YWAM offers training and education to help the women eke out an income of several dollars per month, help enroll the children into school, facilitate access to medical care…in the process driving the death rate of these mothers way down. Perhaps equally importantly, YWAM introduces each mother into a small group that meets bi-weekly, and provides a network of basic support.
Every so often, all the small groups are brought together to share a time of worship and a meal. We participated in one such service Tuesday morning. The contrast with what we’d seen the previous day was extraordinary. The energy level started out low… after all, these women have AIDS and are dying even as they struggle to raise their sick children by themselves, their husbands having left the picture. But as a time of singing and individual testimonies from many of the mothers in the group progressed, the energy level and the joy … no other word for it… grew. Our pastor spoke through a translator, and another pastor spoke. There was a time of foot-washing. This was followed by more singing…now hauntingly beautiful and compelling. Then the entire group prayed for their western visitors. [I can’t adequately convey how this felt.] At the end, when the mothers took turns working through the buffet and then returning to their seats for lunch at their seats, everything was a happy babble of voices. By the grace of God, the women had encouraged and refreshed each other in the most remarkable way.
Surely a foretaste of heaven.
More on the genocide and the generational consequences in the next post.