I always had the desire in my heart to go on a mission trip to Africa. I never really knew anyone personally who had done this, but it was still something I always wanted to do. When I was offered the opportunity in 2016, my heart was full of joy!
This trip, through IF:Gathering (IF) and Africa New Life Ministries, was to Rwanda. IF:Gathering was something I first experienced in February 2015 when an acquaintance invited me to an IF watch party at her local church. I remember being completely unsure of what this was and curious if I would know anyone there, but felt it was exactly where I needed to be. Each of the Christian speakers I heard over that weekend made an impact.
I became more involved with IF and wanted to host it locally in 2016. My hope was everyone I knew would experience what I had during that life-giving weekend the year before. That is how I learned about the mission opportunity.
The trip would be with over 30 women from all over the United States. So, as I headed to Africa, I met up with like-minded strangers along the way at different airports. It was funny how none of us had ever met, but you could sense we were all women on the same journey.
During our time in Rwanda, we learned a lot about the genocide that occurred in 1994. This beautiful country experienced a genocide that led to between 800,000 and one million people being slaughtered in 100 days. Visiting the Kigali Genocide Memorial left a lasting impact. I was heartbroken at the evil that overcame them during this time and the devastation it left.
In Rwanda, people were labeled Hutu and Tutsi by the Belgian government during colonization. The split between them was not a result of religious or cultural differences, but economic ones. The Rwandan genocide was not just wartime violence, it was a directed, pre-meditated attempt to eliminate the entire Tutsi people group by their very own neighbors. It was a different class of violence and there is much more to this than I have space to share, but, after hearing their personal stories of reconcilliation, surprisingly, what I walked away with was a deeper understanding of LOVE.
This country had so much ripped from them, yet they were able to rebuild it into something beautiful. Building on the spiritual foundation of Jesus, they allowed forgiveness and love to triumph over what most would not think is possible. My eyes fill up with tears each time I think about the stories I heard and the forgiveness they taught me. A country that seemingly had nothing left held everything because it had learned to forgive and love, and now they live together in peace. Had they not been willing to allow the unfathomable, their country would forever have been in shambles.
So, in this Valentine’s season of love, I pray we can learn from the Rwandans and from the example of Jesus. True and lasting love requires a willingness to forgive hurts and offenses. It is a gift we offer others, but the one who benefits most is us. Who would ever have thought that an invitation to a women’s conference would essentially lead me on a journey the desires of my heart could never truly have imagined?
Let’s love each other well in 2022!