2014 Academy Vision Trip: Rwanda

The 2013-2014 Academy interns recently returned from a 13 day trip to Rwanda.  The following is a guest post by Academy Intern, Stephen Copeland about their journey: IMG_0938

“We are preaching hope, standing on the bones of the past.”

― John Rucyahana

Rwanda. Imagine hill after hill, terraced for farming, covered with so many giant leaves it is hard to tell one plant from the other - picture men, women and children, walking, biking and driving in an indistinguishable pattern that is magnificently chaotic. Put yourself on the top of a mountain, at the base of a volcano, looking out over the most beautiful lake you have ever seen. And close your eyes and listen to the sound of a country at peace… welcome to Rwanda.

On April 6th, 1994 this small African country with a then estimated population of seven million[1] experienced a 100 day genocide that found the blood of nearly one million men, women and children running through the streets. The event left the country splintered. The world had forsaken Rwanda and for many it may have appeared that even God had left this country to languish alone…

As the country nears the 20th anniversary of the genocide it is apparent that God did not forsake Rwanda. In fact, this small country in the heart of Africa has become one of the most moving testimonials to the power of the Gospel perhaps in modern history. Thanks to the service and leadership of men like Bishop John Rucyahana, the people of Rwanda have united under the banner of reconciliation finding that forgiveness and repentance are far more powerful than violence and hate.

Arriving in Rwanda on January 14th, the SOS Academy team had the privilege of spending two weeks in the country to learn about reconciliation and community development. The trip was led by local Memphis businessman, Tom Philips, who has invested his time and money into the prosperity of the people of Rwanda. Aided by Tom Allen and Bridge 2 Rwanda, we were able to travel the country, visiting with businessmen, engineers, bishops, doctors and humanitarians who have devoted their lives to serving the people of Rwanda and helping to rebuild infrastructure.

The first several days of the trip were spent in Kigali, Rwanda’s capital city, touring the national genocide museum as well as visiting several genocide memorials. Our visits to these intense reminders of man’s capacity for evil were brutal but helped give a necessary perspective for understanding the present. One of the most moving parts of those first few days for myself, was our visit down into a catacombs filled with the bones of thousands of genocide victims. The experience was one of reverence and introspection that left me emotionally weary and wondering why such a terrible thing had to happen… Why?

I never received an answer to my question but as we traveled to Musanze (where we stayed for the rest of the week) God began to replace my question with an overwhelming sense of hope. On our first full day in Musanze we ventured out to a remote village where we spent the day surrounded by children who helped us explore a world unfamiliar. That night we shared desert with Dr. Laurent Mbanda, the current Bishop in Musanze and heard how God had worked in his life to bring him home to Rwanda. We spent the next few days traveling the Musanze district guided by the Bishop and saw example after example of a country filled with hope. He took us to Sonrise Academy, an equal opportunity school where children of the poor and rich alike are receiving a quality education that is distinctively Christian. We visited the One Egg program (funded by Tom Philips) where preschool children are receiving the protein necessary for healthy cognitive development. Our team shared dinner with John Rucyahana, the former Bishop of the Shyira Diocese and head of Rwanda’s National Unity and Reconciliation Commission, where we discussed reconciliation in Rwanda and in Memphis. We trekked through the Rwandan hills to see a hydro-electric facility where businessmen like Tom Philips are working to strengthen Rwanda’s developing infrastructure. What we saw was not a country defeated by the evil endured but instead a country motivated by its past to create a much different future. What we saw was a country with hope.

As we traveled back to Kigali for the last week of our trip, we continued to be overwhelmed by the hope we found. Tuesday, we had the pleasure of sitting in on a micro-loan meeting through Urwego Opportunity Bank of Rwanda where we were humbled by the incredible work ethic and resolve of small business owners. We were also blown away by our visit to Cornerstone Leadership Academy where motivated high school students, with proven leadership skills are sent to be developed in to Rwanda’s next generation of servant leaders. Day after day we met men, women and children who have set their eyes on the future and are diligently working for the prosperity of their country. Each encounter left us humbled, encouraged and motivated to see the same change in our city – the same hope and commitment to prosperity.

Rwanda captured our imaginations. It filled us with energy and excitement to return to Memphis and share and apply what we learned. Out of all the experiences we had in our two weeks in Africa, I think the most impactful for me was our conversation with Bishop John Rucyahana. Even though we only spent a brief period of time with the Bishop, his testimony of reconciliation and his evident passion for the Gospel was an overwhelming testament to God’s grace and a personal inspiration. It is truly all about the Gospel. Even in the midst of tragedy, God’s grace provided a way for Rwanda to rebuild. The message that God offers forgiveness to those who repent of their sinfulness, is one that is not only capable of bringing reconciliation to Rwanda but also to Memphis. My prayer is that God will continue to raise men and women in Memphis who are committed to the reconciliation, renewal and prosperity of the Bluff City. Rwanda is preaching hope – I pray that Memphis would preach hope too.

Grace and Peace,

Stephen Copeland

Nations, SOS AcademyJeff