In January of 2016, I traveled to Rwanda as part of a medical trip to serve the people of Southern Rwanda.
It took me nearly a decade of supporting the people of Rwanda from afar before I was able to visit. Ironically, traveling with a group of doctors and nurses, I am anything but.
But, maybe that was the point?
This short book is a series of short stories and ponders from my personal journal as I trekked the red dirt roads of this tiny nation in the heart of Africa, and in time, found my heart.
Tucked in along the way are but a few photos I took.
I sat there amidst the many.
Overwhelmed, my mind raced. It was like a thousand hearts had found their way to mine in the blink of an eye. What could one ever do to prepare for this?
Many had walked for hours just to see us. What brought them there? To find hope? What brought me there? To offer hope?
Behind each face was a story. “What was theirs?” I pondered.
With no translator, it was just me. Sitting there on the grass under a hot sun, I was surrounded by children. I mean, literally surrounded by children. So much so that my glasses began to fog up as sweat began to pour down my face.
With bracelets on their wrists, they began their wait. It was day one of our medical clinic near the Burundi border in Southern Rwanda.
Everything happened so quickly. One moment I was standing there trying to grasp what I was witnessing and the next moment, I was sitting there amidst a sea of faces.
“What do I do?” I quickly asked myself.
I then smiled what must have been a nervous smile as I looked at these precious children that sat before me.
Amidst the scars, the wincing eyes, and what seemed like blood streaming down the face of a little one like beads of sweat from underneath the hat they were wearing, my heart stopped.
I had never felt the burden of a thousand prayers in a single moment before like I did right then. I had also never said a thousand prayers in a single breath before, either.
Sitting there staring at one another with all the curiosity of I can’t even begin to describe, the music begins to play and with this, the children began to sing.
With no hesitation and without even knowing the language in which they were singing, so did I. How could you not?
With this, my heart began to beat again.
If only I could sing over my circumstances like they were singing over theirs. If I could, perhaps I could find hope, too.
This makes me wonder.
Maybe I got this all wrong? No, I know I got it all wrong. Perhaps what brought them there was to offer hope and with this, what actually brought me there, was to find it?
I am singing.
After a couple hours drive outside of Kigali, I found myself standing alone inside an empty church. Not sure how I wandered here on my own for this brief stop, but once I set foot inside, I knew then, what called me here.
An African drum sits just inside the front doors with a handwritten song list tucked in between the drum and the smooth concrete floor. I could almost hear the drums being played as I stood there silently drinking it all in.
As I moved towards the front of the church, which was lined with windows, I look outside and see a friend meeting with their sponsor child for the first time. I sat there and watched for a moment.
Language is not a problem when one speaks from their heart.
I then stood there and closed my eyes. I could almost hear the voices singing.
I then turned around and noticed a set of open doors that led outside to the far side of the church. Funny, I don’t remember seeing these doors when I entered the building.
Blame it on the drum, I guess. It’s always the drummers fault.
The way the doors were left open, it was like an invitation of sorts. This was day two on my trip and perhaps here is where it all began.
I wrote recently that I didn’t leave my heart in Rwanda and that instead, my heart was already there waiting for me to arrive.
As I walked through these doors and into the landscape of a far and distant land, the land of a thousand hills, I have never felt so close to my own heart, as I did right then.
What an interesting thought… here Gunnar, on the other side of the church, in a land 9,000 miles away, through these doors, here lies your heart.
I went to Rwanda wanting to be an open canvas. After years of wrestling through life, I needed to heal, I needed to be refreshed, I needed to be inspired, I needed to be restored, I needed to exhale.
And there I was (there it was), walking through those doors and into four words that probably best described my entire trip to Rwanda as it would unfold over the course of the week ahead. Four words that found itself with brush in hand, painting upon my canvas that which all my heart had so desperately needed…
“Here lies My embrace.”
I receive it.