Diane tells her story of spening time with a Connected Church partner and how it impacted her work in her community back in Northern Ireland.
For the last 19 years I’ve worked in community transformation and church community engagement in Northern Ireland. A trip to Rwanda in May was the first time I’d been to Africa.
I was leading a team from Moira Presbyterian Church as part of Tearfund’s Connected Church Programme. For me, it was the perfect opportunity to learn from a global experience and explore how those lessons could be adapted and used to help local congregations.
I don’t think I realised how much I would learn.
After the 1994 genocide, Rwanda was decimated. Around a million people had been killed in one hundred days, leaving countless orphans and widows, thousands of people with disabilities and a very vulnerable population.
The leadership shown by the Rwandan churches was essential in the renewal and rebuilding of this fractured and torn country.
Moira Presbyterian is connected to Rugarama Presbyterian Church and with the support of Tearfund, the congregation helps victims and survivors work through their trauma. It was in Rugarama that we met Antoinette, who told her story publicly for the first time.
Her husband was killed at the start of the genocide and she was repeatedly raped. Discovering she was pregnant and overwhelmed with madness and despair, she headed out into the dangerous streets hoping someone would kill her. There she saw sights she would never forget. “I just wanted to be one of those dead bodies” she said.
Antoinette later discovered she’d been infected with HIV, as was her new baby son.
“I am able to tell my story now because of the love and prayers of the church.” She explained.
The relentless love of the Rwandan church is seeking to deal with the legacy of the multiple problems that survivors and victims of the genocide face; disability, stigma, HIV, emotional issues and poverty.
Sadly, it’s not happening in Northern Ireland and the lid we put on pain and suffering here manifests itself in other ways. Not by accident are we the poorest part of the UK.
Victims and survivors told us that talking and being heard was a hugely important part of healing and their trauma had to be worked through before other economic problems could be addressed.
The University of Ulster’s research for the Commission for Victims and Survivors found that almost 30% of our population has mental health issues. More than half of those are directly related to the Troubles.
As Rwanda moved through one hundred days of remembrance, posters and billboards carried the message; “Remember, Unite, Renew”. These are important words on which to reflect.
Maybe it takes a visit to another country with divisions to help see ourselves more clearly. Like the church in Rugarama, our relentless love must begin on our own doorstep. We need to learn more about building authentic, vulnerable relationships – maybe then, we’ll get better at making courageous and difficult decisions too and will see “…all the broken and dislocated pieces of the universe - people and things, animals and atoms - get properly fixed and fit together in vibrant harmonies, all because of his death, his blood that poured down from the cross." (Colossians 1: 19-20 from The Message)
Moria Presbyterian church have established an active partnership with Rugarama Presbyterian Church in Kigali, Rwanda and are being supported to help translate their global learning to their local experiences in Moira.