Sunday in Kigali

Greetings from Amy.

After a full week of being immersed in the many contradictions that are Rwanda, today was an idyllic Sunday, filled with friends, fellowship, and family. In the morning, after sleeping a bit later than we could during the week, we divvied up into groups. One trio went for a walk and a swim at a nearby hotel. Another grabbed a taxi into Kigali center for a second visit to an African crafts shop, and four of us attended services at the Kigali International Church of Christ (KICC).

The cab ride to the church took us through the narrow, winding streets of neighborhoods teeming with shoppers, motorcycle cabs, and families in full Sunday regalia carrying babies and bibles and walking purposefully to their congregations. Just as Bosco, our intrepid driver, pulled up in front of KICC, we were swept out of the cab by the voices of the first prayer and embraced by Nora, the pastor’s wife. As has been our experience everywhere in Rwanda, the greeting included a prolonged hug, three kisses on alternating cheeks, and the kind of deep eye contact that makes Bill Clinton’s famous laser stare pale by comparison. Nora hurried us down the stairs into the shade of the chapel. Built of large red bricks assembled in an open checkerboard pattern, hung with green and white chintz, and topped with a corrugated tin roof, the space was breezy and cool, and we were met with enormous smiles of instant welcome and the enveloping rhythms and harmonies of songful prayer.

We were led to KICC by Dianna, who attends the International Church of Christ back home. But Dianna was not aware that the KICC Pastor and his wife are from Uganda and do not speak fluent Kinyarwanda. The Pastor preaches in English every Sunday with translation from a local congregant, which meant that we were treated to the dual pleasures of hearing the service in the language of the congregation and understand it all in English. The sermon was about humility and gentleness and patience and challenged us all to be continually mindful of our choices.

After the service, we were treated to the first home-cooked meal of our trip, rice and beans prepared by the women’s ministry. It gave us time to talk with members of the congregation about their lives, about living in the aftermath of the genocide, and about their hopes and dreams for themselves and their country. The lead female vocalist during the service shared her desire to study medicine in the USA and asked us for the names of the best universities so she could look them up on the Internet. A young man from Uganda told me about his mother, who became an entrepreneur after his father died, leaving her with five young children. We got to play with the toddlers who had strolled up the aisle during the service to sway and raise their arms like the grownup worshippers.

We hated to tear ourselves away, but Bosco had come to fetch us, as arranged, so that we could meet the rest of our delegation back at the hotel before 3. Before we said our reluctant farewells, we told the Pastor about our upcoming performance at KIE and asked him to extend our invitation to his family and the congregation. We are hopeful that some of them will be able to attend.

When we arrived back at Civitas Hotel a reunion lunch was in full gear with the widow and 6-year-old twins of a recently-deceased faculty member in drama at KIE, Stephen Buckingham, who had been instrumental in facilitating logistics in the early years of Project Rwanda. The children were overjoyed at the gifts Helen and Chris had brought them, but it was clear that life has not been easy for their mother, a survivor of the genocide, who has no extended family and struggles to make ends meet.

Our next appointment was pure pleasure. One of our KIE hosts, Leon and his wife, Cecilia, invited us to their home high in the hills overlooking Kigali and rewarded our bumpy journey with cold drinks, a lavish spread – again home-cooked – and the joys of playing with their children. Leon had told me the night before that they had purchased the plot and built a single-room house three years ago but have been expanding and embellishing it as possible. He told me that in Rwanda, there are never enough resources, so the only way to build anything – a house, a school, a drama program – is to start with what you’ve got and grow from there. The three-bedroom house with a well-tended yard in the front and a vegetable garden in the back is painted in cheerful pastels and appointed with two bathrooms, and outdoor kitchen, and a living room tv. We carried chairs and tables onto the front lawn and watched the sun set over the nearby hills as we ate and drank and laughed.

Today is Margo’s birthday, and we had snuck a cake into the party for her. When we presented it, we serenaded her with “Happy Birthday” in English, French, and Kinyarwanda. Leon and Cecilia’s second born, a delightful girl who laughed and played with each of us in turn over the course of the evening, topped it off by alternating a twirling dance with mouthfuls of cake.

We bid a grateful goodbye to our hosts and headed back down the unpaved hill in the van. Leon had told us earlier that there was talk of the government paving it over in the future, but for now, its rutted grooves created a simulated amusement ride as we descended. We whooped and whoa’d as the driver steered around the well-worn terrain. Happy, stuffed, and filled with fond memories of another magical day in Kigali.

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