Some of you might have noticed that I disappeared completely for two weeks. I wasn’t posting on social media, writing blog posts, or even responding to emails. Well, that’s because I was off having a trip of a lifetime in Rwanda with my church. Yes, that’s right, Rwanda, the country in Africa. For two weeks I got to learn about the country and interact with its amazing people. Now I thought I’d share my mission trip to Rwanda with everyone, the pictures, and more importantly, what I learned.
My Mission Trip to Rwanda
I would guess that the majority of America knows very little about Rwanda. I know I struggled to find it on a map initially. If they have heard of it, they only know about the genocide that happened back in 1994. Yes, that was a horrible event that totally rocked the country and it still affects them today, but there is so much more to this place and to the people. They don’t deny that the genocide happened, but they don’t openly talk about it either. If I hadn’t known about it, I would have had no clue that such a tragedy had happened just from interacting with them.
For the trip, we divided our time between two places: the capital city of Kigali and Banda village. I enjoyed our time in both places, but they were very extreme opposites.
Our time in Kigali
Kigali was a bustling, growing city. There were real roads and traffic and buildings. There were people everywhere that were wearing nice clothes and they all seemed like they had places to go and things to do. It reminded me of our cities but not as nice or advance. I believe a Westerner could easily adapt to living in Kigali. Our group stayed in two different houses, but they were very much real houses. They had electricity, real showers and bathrooms, and even Wi-fi. We still had some tiny inconveniences like the water turning off and those dang mosquitoes, but overall, we were very comfortable.
During our time in Kigali, we got to know a missionary couple, Mathew and Karli. The girls from our team stayed with them, and they helped us a lot while we were in the city. Mathew has been working with the farmers. One of the big struggles is the perception of farmers. The city is really pushing progression and industrialization, so farmers are looked down upon. He has been trying to change their minds and show them how farming is an amazing part of God’s plan. He runs a program that teaches them different ways of doing things and different crops that might be more profitable. It was really cool to hear what all he was doing.
After about a week in the city, we started our journey to Banda village. This started with a 4-hour bus ride and then we trekked two hours downhill through the rainforest. The journey was difficult, but along the way we got to see different villages as we drove, people doing all types of daily tasks, and some beautiful views.
One of the more interesting parts of the journey was getting our luggage down to the village. As I mentioned, this was a two-hour walk downhill, and the road wasn’t much of a road. Walking down it was tough enough, but carry a suitcase as well would have done a few of us in. Lucky for us, there were about 8 kids from the village waiting for us. Each one was in charge of a suitcase and walked the whole trip with it balanced on his or her head! Amazing!
The village was a completely different world. We were surrounded by lush mountains on every side. The village was more part of the environment instead of overwhelming or replacing it. The pace was much slower. People weren’t rushing from one place to the next and everyone walked instead of using a vehicle. There were kids everywhere, often without any sign of an adult, but they got along just fine. The roads were made of rock and packed dirt and the houses were smaller and simpler.
Our house was one of the nicer ones in the village, but it still wasn’t as nice as the ones we used in Kigali. It reminded me of a cabin you would use for camping. There were lights, but it was all powered by a solar-powered car battery. We had light the majority of the time and were able to charge our phones, but occasionally it would instantly be gone and we’d be left in the dark. Our shower did have a water head, but it only had cold water, so we mixed hot water with cold and then dumped on our heads. Our toilet was a hole in the ground, but we did have a nice wooden seat to use.
With all that said, I loved our house! We were all together instead of spreading out over two houses, so we got to be together and have fellowship. The lack of nicer things all made it an adventure, and I really enjoyed it.
In the village, there is an organization called Kageno that helps the village. They provide food and education for the children, jobs for many of the villagers, and help in many other ways. I’m sure the village was fine before Kageno showed up, but they have definitely helped.
During our trip, we had some incredible experiences. In Kigali, we visited the genocide memorial museum. I learned more details about how it happened and what caused it, but what really stuck out were the photos. In one room, there were hundreds of portraits of people that lost their lives. Many of these photos were the only photo that existed of that person, so as a photographer, that really stuck out to me.
We also went on a real African safari! We saw zebras, warthogs, crocodiles, giraffes, hippos, baboons, and all types of other creatures. It was really interesting because we were just driving down a road, and we never knew what we’d see around the corner. Unfortunately, we didn’t see any lions, elephants or rhinos, but from what we were told, they are hard to come by.
Another highlight of our time in the village was eating with two families. Two nights in a row, we went to a host home, cooked with them, and ate in their house. This really gave us a look into their lives and to build real relationships. They didn’t have much to offer, but they were willing to sacrifice so much for us. One night they offered to kill a chicken for us, which is a huge expense, but we quickly told him we’d be ok.
Besides that, we also got a chance to help reorganize their library. I’m a book guy, so I loved looking through all they had and reminiscing about my childhood. Another day, we got to work side by side with the villagers to hoe a field. It only took about 45 minutes, but I think we were all worn out. It’s amazing they can do that all day. One evening we got to watch a traditional dance. It was crazy! There was drumming and signing and dancing, and they even got us out there at one point.
One of my favorite parts of the trip was a bit of a surprise. We were told we’d be playing volleyball with the locals in the village. Soccer would have made sense to me, but I had no idea that volleyball was Rwanda’s second most popular sport. Strange, but I loved it! Volleyball is one of my favorite sports, and I loved getting a chance to interact and play a game with them. I didn’t know the language, but we still could high-five and communicate. It’s really cool that sports can do that, bring different cultures together.
Out of all the things we did, the thing I loved the most was the children. They were everywhere and they were so interesting. Some were afraid of us and even a few little ones cried, but for the most part, the kids were so excited and happy. We’d talk to them and wave and they’d have the biggest smile. When we walked in the village, groups of them would start following us and walk miles with us. A lot of the time we’d look like a giant parade. At times we’d be walking and then a little hand would grip ours and continue walking. That amazed me that they were so quick to be open with us. I couldn’t imagine American kids acting this way.
The Big Picture: what I learned
Mission trips are meant to help out a group of people, but I think it’s also meant to change the people going on the trip. Here’s what I noticed and what I learned from all of this. The people in Kigali reminded me of most American cities. People were rushing around, playing on phones, and in general, concerned more with themselves than with others. The city was great but it was just a different world than the village. In the village, people were always smiling and wanting to talk to us and hug us. These people had nothing compared to the people in the city, but they seemed so much happier and kinder.
We all tend to think that progress is good and we need all of these nice things like phones, big houses, or even a real toilet. We work so hard to get these things, often sacrificing things like time with our family, but are we really happy? I’m sure plenty of people are, but I’ve never seen so many happy people as I did in Banda Village.
Does this mean I’m going to sell my house, quit working, and go around hugging people? Not really, but I’ve definitely had a change of perspective, and my goal is to focus more on the things that matter like being happy and kind and focusing on people.
I’m so thankful for my time in Rwanda and the chance I got to meet so many amazing people. I hope I get a chance to go back in the future, but either way, I plan on supporting Kageno, the organization that is helping in the village. For every wedding I book, I’ll be making a donation to either Kageno or Sheepdog Impact Assistance. I’m excited to see what we can do!