Often those of us with a heart for social justice get excited over trying to answer questions. Questions like, "How can we help?" "What will have the greatest impact?" "Will our monetary resources be used properly?" Some of the social, economical, and health problems we seek to address run deep and wide, and these may be worthy questions.
I attended "A Dinner of Hope" hosted in our community at Hide House on June 25th, 2015. I entered the event with some fear in my heart. I knew Kwizera Ministries was a US counterpart set up to support Solace Ministries in Rwanda. I was afraid because genocide is a huge, terrible topic and I would be listening to a survivor tell his story.
It's stories that can sear us to the core and ignite us to action. Stories are a great and heavy gift to the listener. You can never "unhear" as story. Were these honest accounts from Rwanda in the mid 1990's something I was "ready" to hear? Assuming I was "ready enough", I was afraid of feeling too small to make a difference.
We have to listen to the stories. It's the stories that transforms history to reality. It bridges the "them" to "us".
That night I listened to Yves Nyamushanja tell of watching his community crumble as Tutsi people fled to churches for safety and came face to face with Hutu neighbors willing to slash and slaughter them. Hearing Yves recall a day when he, at age 12, was the only one to walk out of the church alive was wrenching.
Jean Gakwandi spoke next and I was amazed that he was present, as he is the original founder of Solace Ministries , established 1995. He believes that "the first step of the healing process is to listen to survivors, comforting them". At Solace Ministreies survivors are able to tell their stories and listen to each other. This itself is a gift greater than material objects. They received the gift of knowing they were not alone. To paraphrase, Yves states that "without that , we would have gone crazy". It's the stories that allow us to momentarily be with and be there for another person.
Jean points out that we need to listen vigilantly because history rewrites itself very quickly. He states he is discouraged that the numbers of Tutsis murdered seems to shrink every year, as if 2 million dead is a travesty, but one million doesn't sound so bad. When people get transformed from stories to numbers they lose their humanity. The goal of Solace is to "become an alternative family for survivors, restoring their dignity and creating networks of support for individuals who are traumatized, lonely, poor, and desiring hope as they confront an uncertain future.
How gracefully Jean and Yves answered my initial fears and questions! We can help by listening. They affirmed that just seeing people in the US gathered for a dinner to support their community helps to validate and build self worth and hope. Aren't those precious gifts? Yes, we can also buy (super strong) coffee, beautiful woven baskets and colorful beaded necklaces. But at the core of all missions is the restoration of humanity. Let us carry this forward.