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Nation building and beauty in Rwanda

by Jack Taylor

During July and August, Jack Taylor embarked on a three-country journey through East Africa with his wife Gayle, daughter Laura and granddaughter Alyssa. It was a return to roots where the Taylors spent 18 years as missionaries. It was also time to check in on ministries started by their son Richard in Rwanda and their daughter Michelle in Uganda. Richard is the co-founder of the Wellspring Foundation for Education and Michelle is the founder of the Humera Homes for street boys. The Taylors’ travels included attending a missionary conference and leadership forum in Rwanda, visiting 65 former ministries and colleagues in Kenya and reconnecting with African friends in all three countries. This month, Taylor shares of his family’s travels in Rwanda.

Rwanda is a country of nation builders. Whether you’ve come to trek after gorillas, or to take a sober moment to contemplate at the myriad memorials of the 1994 genocide, there is a new energy stimulating the people.

I sense it before the morning sun streams through the palms and banana trees already rustling in the never-ending breeze. The smell of charcoal cooking fires and wind-blown red dust wafts through the mosquito netting hanging protectively around my bed. Night guards are making their way home and children are stirring. Yesterday, 10 churches close by sounded God’s praises. Now, pre-dawn, the mournful call of the lone mosque is answered by the lowing of cows, birdsong and roosters crowing. Not a moment of light is wasted in sleep.

Nation Builders

Nicolas and Elsie are two survivors of the genocide who have set their hearts on nation building. “We live by God’s grace,” they say. The hospitable couple escaped Rwanda in the darkest moments of the genocide and fled to Scotland where Nicolas earned his PhD. Now, they are back building villages for genocide widows, selling crafts made by victims, and running a business and guesthouse that allow them to provide generous input into the well being of their compatriots.

Models of a new generation of missionaries, Jeff and Jodie Komant are Trinity Western University graduates, who have purchased land and built a comfortable home in a village outside the booming capital city, Kigali. One of the co-founders of The Wellspring Foundation for Education (along with TWU grad Richard Taylor), Jeff has put his roots down firmly in the local community. “I’m creating connection for people to demonstrate that community is important and that I’m no better than others. I’m part of the neighbourhood.” The respect and trust of others is obvious as he interacts with them in their own language at their local events.

Rwanda is the beneficiary of Saddleback Church’s PEACE initiative. The group has successfully lobbied for a day of national holiday of Thanksgiving, which they hope will be celebrated next year in 1,000 villages. This happy celebration provides contrast to the week of mourning each year that memorializes darkness from which their current hope has risen.

Rural and Urban

Every one of Rwanda’s 6,000 hills is a patchwork quilt of small farms. Many areas suffer from deforestation. Even the major settlements and cities are confined to the hills and every valley has been designated as wetlands for crops like rice and tea. Among the people in eastern Rwanda, Heath and Jessica Amos have established a teaching centre to communicate the essentials of prosperous subsistence farming.

The paved main roads controlled by modern traffic lights and policemen are spotless but nothing escapes the constant swirl of the red dust. The government has pushed the people up from the depths of shame to the plains of pride in their communities. You understand this as you enter the airport and are reminded that plastic bags are not permitted in the country. Once a month, on a Saturday morning, the whole country shuts down for people to get out and to clean up their neighbourhoods.

Kigali is the hive of political and regional engagement as evidenced from their new conference centre and the myriad of luxury hotels jutting into the skyline. A modern airport perched on a hill calls people to connect with the world as the roar of jet engines echo over the settlement several times a day. Most people seem to be dressed in their finest, whether it is the young mom sitting sideways on one of the thousand motorcycle taxis with her baby wrapped onto her back; the business men or women going to work; or the children going to school. Recently, the country changed its official language from French to English and schools have scrambled to make the switch. Schools like Wellspring Academy, Kigali International Christian School and Green Hills have become a core of leading the next generation of nation builders.

Today, as I write this, I watch white butterflies flitting among the hedges while birds of prey (kites) hover on the thermals, hunting for unwary birds, rodents and lizards far below. My camera card is filled with brilliant photos of birds, flowers and the smiling faces of people determined to keep their country as the fastest recovering economy in the world during the past 10 years.

Travel tips

1. Prepare: Plan your trip to East Africa in detail, and well in advance including shots, travel and accommodation.
2. Connect locally: Before you go, search out someone who can share each country’s inside story. Consult friends here who know locals and missionaries who can give you the lay of the land when you get there.
3. Security: Prepare for tight security checks. An East African visa will take you through Kenya, Rwanda and Uganda but you need to apply to the embassy where your journey will begin. You will need a letter of invitation from an organization in Rwanda if that is in your itinerary.
4. Touring: Include the Kenyan coast, a safari, some cultural activity or a mountain climb in your itinerary. In Rwanda, take in the Kigali genocide memorial where almost 300,000 victims are buried together.

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