A catch up with Col
Our move here came about because of our family of churches, and the relationships we have. We value these relationships really highly, plus we share resources, ideas and encouragements. The connections span the globe so I knew the husband would be traveling a bit even if we moved to Africa. I was dreading the day the traveling would begin as I have lost a big support network and a sense of knowing how things work in life, even if that sense was quite vague! Ha ha! Anyway Colin’s first trip happened a couple of weeks back and I’m pleased to say that for the four of us left behind, the week was actually the making of us. But enough about me, what about Colin? Here’s a little interview for you.
Why did you go to Rwanda?
To visit some old friends, Everiste and Annick and their family. We’ve been working alongside them in the past as we helped buy a big field to develop for their local people but now that’s all been postponed because of some troubles. Since then they’ve lived in Uganda and now they’re in Rwanda.
It was your first time there, so what did you think?
I was expecting it to be like Burundi which I’ve visited before – it has a similar history, similar people groups, similar climate etc and I was expecting to see a lot of poverty and despair amongst the communities but actually it was far from it – the people there are really proud of their city, and there’s a lot going on. The people say there’s no corruption which, if it’s true, is almost miraculous to me. There’s lots of investment coming in and lots of buildings going up around the city. The police and army are a strong presence and the people have a lot of respect for them – Rwanda seemed like an up and coming country! (Apparently Tony Blair works with the government there and brings investors in? Random Rwandan Rumour of the day.)
Some of the change must have been harsh: all the teachers who didn’t speak English lost their jobs until they re-trained, because the government was drawing a line under all that had happened. Seeing as they associated the French language with oppression, the country swapped to English as its main language – in one day!
Most people over 30 would associate Rwanda with its horrendous history – is it really obvious when you go there?
You’d never really know unless you went to one of the genocide museums. I went to one in Kigali and it was absolutely horrific in terms of the way they presented the facts and the stories they told – it’s just unbelievable. It’s still very recent and they told me they have 100 days of remembrance every year. A hundred days every year! I said ‘why on earth..?’ and they said that there’s political parties that want to deny the genocide ever took place (it was ‘just a fabrication of the media’). So therefore the Rwandan people are very keen to say loud and clear, ‘no this really happened and we mustn’t forget it’.
So they have a genocide museum in every town, and 3 or 4 museums just in Kigali where I was based. One of the ladies showing me around was a judge who deals with cases to do with the genocide – even now, they’re still going on. She said the museum we visited was quite tame, and that there are some she can’t even go to, they’re so horrific.
What kind of things did you see?
Pictures of mutilated bodies, stories captured on film, human remains, loads of bones, piles of recovered weapons… row upon row of skulls, lined up – hundreds of them. They said there are 259 000 people buried there but only 2 000 of them have been named.
(Press pause. 257 000 unidentified people just in that spot alone. Why unidentified? Because if your whole family is wiped out, who is left to identify you? There was nobody there to seek justice. Everiste has lost 71 members of his family – it’s unthinkable.)
In terms of our churches, what are we doing?
At the moment we’ve got no churches in Rwanda but there’s a couple of little groups who want our help and support. We went to one little church about an hour from Kigali and the pastor there was very open and asked us to preach – it was an interesting community.
So did you go out there looking for new churches?
No just to be a friend to Everiste and to see what he’s been up to. He’s the one who’s met these groups and introduced us to them, and he’s the one who’s introduced the idea of farming stevia (a sugar substitute) and encouraging investors into that, like our friend Donna. We as a family of churches carry promises for Tanzania, Rwanda, the Congo and Burundi but there’s very little on the ground so far in any of those places – just a little gathering in Burundi and some projects that help the poorest of the poor.
So the government see stevia as a major way forward so they’ve allocated 16 000 hectares of land over to its production over the next few years. Our plot is a pilot project really, so they’re learning the lessons there before rolling it out on a bigger scale. (“Our plot” meaning the plot that our friends like Donna and Murungwa are involved with.)
It’s the one crop that’s not controlled by multi-nationals, unlike sugar, coffee and tea. The multi-nationals keep the growers poor. With this crop the growers can charge what they want, link into the international market and hopefully employ lots of people and make some good money. Everest is keen to learn the lessons and then take it out to the Congo, Burundi etc…
Are you turning into a farmer then Colin, seeing yourself involved in this?
No I’m just a friend. Gavin’s been working really hard building friendships between the different regions, and I think us in the Free State, Lesotho, Rwanda, Burundi… there’s a lot of us that share the same kind of heart and vision. I love those guys and what they’re doing – maybe we can help in some way or link up people who can help.
So how do you sum up your feelings about the trip now you’re back?
My big impression was “wow – here’s a country in Africa that’s been absolutely devastated and you couldn’t imagine the destruction that’s gone on, and only 20 years ago. And you wouldn’t believe the transformation that’s happened already – they’re back on their feet, they’re starting to become wealthy and there’s employment – the atmosphere is very positive. Others are taking note and investing, and I just think ‘that’s the first time I’ve seen that in Africa – everywhere else I’ve been there’s been huge problems: wars, abject poverty, historical problems.. but here’s a country that’s been able to grow and get sorted out. It’s so encouraging to see that it can be done – with leadership that isn’t corrupt and is willing to work on behalf of the people.
OK, there’ll be people reading this who aren’t associated with our kind of church, thinking ‘what’s this got to do with the church?’ How would you answer them?
I’d say that God is all about good news. The gospel we preach about Jesus has transformational effects on all parts of life, not just your soul. Of course it starts with a relationship with God, but if it stops there, actually the bible says you’ve missed a whole load of it – you haven’t got the whole thing. God loves the whole world, he loves people and he wants them transformed, not just living a ‘me and God’ life. God loves the world, he loves people, he loves Rwanda.
It’s hard to preach about hope and healing and transformation without moving on to all areas of life – hospitals, education, employment, healthcare – everything!
So you’re a busy man?
Yep, there’s quite a lot to do.
(Colin the King of understatement)
If you’d like to know more about our connections with Rwanda, Burundi and the amazing work of Donna Bloomfield, here’s her website called Hope for Tomorrow Global. The stevia project is explained more fully. Some of these photos are hers – it’s a great website. And if you want to DO something, there are plenty of ways to get involved without packing a bag or taking any malaria tablets.