the final weeks of july brought to us a whirlwind. a team of 17 individuals (13 of them high schoolers) landed upon our proverbial shores; a short term missions team come to help and to learn. as it was an incredible two weeks and overall a great experience, we figured we would share it all with you fine people. but if you would rather hear it from their own words, the kids blogged their little hearts out and you can read it here. as the team visited just about every facet of iteams rwanda’s ministries we thought writing about their experience would be a nice way to walk you through more of what happens here.
but first we want to talk about short term teams generally. there is a lot out there these days about how short term missions teams are more destructive than productive, how they actually hurt the communities into which they enter, and they are little more than opportunities to look like a good person who cares about things and getting great ‘cute african children’ selfies.
we agree and we don’t agree.
when short term missions trips are done poorly, the above is true. when done well these experiences can be life-directing for the participants, productive, and at least not hurt anyone in the process. we believe that in july we witnessed the latter. we hope that this becomes clear over the course of the story.
one criticism of short term missions experiences is that the trip is more for the visitors than it is for the people in the host country. this is quite true. while initially bringing help and resources, the impact of these teams can easily fade in the light of our long-term goals. but we believe that the long-term impact on the students is another story. these work experiences and interactions for high schoolers can indeed be life-changing. there are students who came with this same church three years ago who are now working towards degrees and careers that are direct results of what they experienced for two weeks in rwanda. such trips instill in these students ways of thinking about and seeing the world that could very possibly lead them to much bigger things. we hope those younger than us can have open eyes and hearts and continue to try and impact this world for good. and to jump start their thinking in this way, why not have an intense cross-cultural work/relationship experience for two weeks?
so with that in mind, let us continue.
steph and i spent an evening at jen and serge’s, making the final planning preparations for the coming weeks. and as the hours neared midnight, serge, steph, and i went to the airport…where we waited far too long for their delayed flight. but eventually, after loading the convoy of small vehicles with people and bags, and a friendly dead-of-night police check on the road, we made it to the guest house. everyone was probably asleep by 3.30 or 4 in the morning.
…and up again at 8. after a post-breakfast orientation with jen, we didn’t let them wallow in potential jet lag, oh no. that afternoon we threw them right into hard manual labor. we are currently constructing another, bigger gazebo at j.lynn’s to replace an old dilapidated bamboo thing that once offered shade in one corner of the grounds. theo and i destroyed it, then made the way for a new foundation. the team got some on-the-job training in the wonderful process of mixing cement with rocks and sand and cement mix and water. i was thankful for the help of adult team leaders andy and doug who, with theo, handled most of the pouring and the making of things to look pretty.
the following morning we took them to the national genocide memorial. made by the same folks who created the holocaust museum in washington dc, this place is an experience. but to know rwanda today we have to understand what happened twenty years ago. they took their sombre time and we debriefed back at j.lynn’s. jen and serge answered their questions and, prompted by the inquiries of one student, adele shared her story, who, as steph mentioned in the last post, was reunited with her lost son ten years after the genocide.
and then in a somewhat awkward transition, it was back to work. we have recently received permission to start developing the land next to j.lynn’s to turn it into a playground. overgrown with banana plants and other myriad bushes and branches, we had some clearing work ahead of us; with a group of twenty the work went quickly. and a bunch of the kids had a great time finding frogs and lizards and even snake eggs in that little jungle.
before i handed out machetes with which we would clear the land, i shared with the team a thought i had about what they had just seen. the genocide was perpetrated often with simple tools like the machete. and i emphasize tool. i have thought on umuganda days, walking with groups of men with machetes, how it is no big leap of the imagination to picture a similar group with the same tools twenty years ago, evil deeds on the wind. but here are strong family men going to serve their communities. so i told the team all this, and pressed them to see these machetes as tools and tools only, and to have respect for them and the redemption they can now see in useful work.
on wednesday morning we finished the clearing of the land, loading the brush into a dump truck, went to lunch, and then took the three hour bus ride to kibuye….
stay tuned for the next installment.