Saturday, December 11, 2010

Gazette Story on Trip to Rwanda

Katsey Long, one of the therapists of our team, prepares to attend the Healing Mass where 5,000 people showed up.  Some people walked 15 miles to get the Mass, which lasted 4.5 hours.
Here is a link to a story that was published in our home newspaper, the Kalamazoo Gazette on Saturday, December 11.

I'm currently writing articles about the trip and they will be posted as they are published.

On Sunday at 1 p.m., Ken, Sharon, Katie (who stayed with her son, Jason in Nairobi, Kenya during the three-week trip) and Olga met with over 100 parishioners to talk about their reflections on the trip.  It was amazing that so many people showed up on a snowy day two weeks from Christmas--for two hours!  They also were very interested in the trip and it was gratifying to not only tell them about it but to tell each other what we have been processing over the past month.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Days 19-20: The Way Back Home

Nairobi to Amsterdam -- 8 hours

We began our journey home at 11 p.m. on Monday, November 15.  It had been four days since we last saw each other and it felt good to see everyone again.

The photos are taken during daylight hours on previous flights.

Nairobi airport

Savanna near Nairobi

Sahara Desert in Egypt, Libya or the Sudan

View of the Alps in Italy

Amsterdam to Detroit -- 8.5 hours

Leaving Amsterdam

Seacoast of Netherlands

Eastern coast of Scotland

Olga nearly missed the flight but made it in time after being called on the airport public address system:  "Signora Bonfiglio, you are holding up the plane to Detroit.  If you do not report, you will lose your seat and your baggage will be removed."  But she made it on time. 

Then our plane was delayed 40 minutes because of a mechanical problem on the ground.  We were late getting into Detroit and could not go through customs and security in time to make our 12:05 flight to Grand Rapids.  Delta officials re-booked our flight for 1:50 and we arrived 50 minutes later.  Our baggage arrived with us, as it has throughout these past three weeks where we took 8 planes!

Clouds over the North Atlantic Ocean

First sighting of North America in Canada

Point Pelee, Canada

Port Huron (top of river) and Sarnia (bottom of river)

Detroit with freeway in top of photo

Detroit Metro Airport


Detroit to Grand Rapids -- 40 minutes

Agricultural fields in Grand Rapids area

131 Freeway

Grand Rapids to Kalamazoo -- 50 minutes

The "Eagles" have landed in Grand Rapids and all is well

Michele greets Sharon and Ken at the office.

Keeping in touch through time

Day 20: Ken -- Final Entry

A final entry written on the plane as we pass over the Atlantic during our 33-hour journey home.

In Kenya
After we finished in Rwanda, we returned to Kenya for a few days and a third workshop, which took place in a small village in western Kenya named Shashagwan.  It was an area traumatized by poverty, post-election violence, and a tragic fire related to a petrol spill in which almost 200 people died.  The workshop was arranged by Jason, a young man from St. Tom's and a recent graduate of the University of Michigan who is now working in Nairobi, with an organization called Zinduka Afrika.  The one-day community outreach included the distribution of food and clothing, a medical camp, and HIV testing.

We also saw a bit of the Kenyan countryside in our travels to and from Shashagwan.  We took a flight from Kigali to Nairobi, and after hooking up with Jason, his mother  Katie, and his host family (Emma, Gilbert, and their daughter Joy), we started our drive.  What would have been a 1.5 hour trip in good traffic took 4.5 hours that Friday evening.  We were exhausted when we arrived for our overnight stay at a place run by Emma and Gilbert's neighbors – an eco-friendly camp called The Oasis, complete with thatched-roof cottages and tents with great food and a good bathroom.  It's located next to a bird sanctuary and a nature conservancy, and the views by the lake were spectacular – pelicans, flamingos, cormorants, blacksmith plovers, ducks, etc.  We recommend it to our friends if you're ever in the neighborhood.

Emma met us at the airport when we first arrived in Nairobi
In Shashagwan, from 10:30-5, workshops participants sat on unfinished 2x6 board-seats, listening to Sharon I talk, and then the translation in Swahili (by Emma, Jason's host mother.  She was superb, although she had just met us the evening before, and had no access to the material prior to the workshop.  God picked a wonderful instrument, who just happened to be finishing her degree in counseling psychology.  Participants had only two 20-minute breaks, and received a piece of bread and a bottle of soda for a snack about 2:30.  And they paid attention to us the whole time.  It was a very good day.

We spent our last day in Nairobi.  Our first visit was to an area called Jericho, where St. Tom's parishioners helped build and renovate a school.  We were shocked at its appearance when we arrived – one small area comprised of two brick-walled rooms, and the rest being two wings of corrugated steel walls and roof with a cement floor.  And they were so pleased and proud of what had been created.  The former building was on the site graded so that when it rained, the water and mud came into the classrooms;  now they had raised cement floors.  The former building was flimsy and constructed with poles – one could shake them and the whole building shook.  Now they have improved construction, larger classrooms, and sturdy walls.  The yard (playground) is gravel, made up of small pieces of cement and gravel which they procured by waving down construction trucks as they passed by, allowing them to dump their load so that the yard was not just a big dirt pond.  It's all perspective, and they expressed their gratitude many times for the wonderful support form people who had never met them.

We also had time to visit the Cathedral, shop for friends, run errands, and pack for our departure in the evening.

Summary of our trip
We hosted training workshops for three groups – priests (25), medical and school personnel (85), and community leaders [inc. pastors, farmers, teachers and principals, shopkeepers and community organizers] (38). We usually had 12-hour days.  The work was satisfying, the travel was beautiful but rugged and physically demanding;  we worked or traveled all but two days of the three weeks. The Trauma Recovery Model was understood across cultures;  although we'll be looking for new and more appropriate examples to use in the future when we teach.  We followed our initial plan to state clearly from the start that we didn't always have culturally appropriate examples and participants in all three workshops agreed that the broad concepts were applicable to their culture, and that they'll be able to apply the model because it's relevant to their situations.  It seemed clear to us that there is a hunger for assistance in the arena of trauma recovery, and the participants' rapt attention was humbling.  Our sites varied from comfortable meeting rooms to a classroom with no electricity or plumbing.  All of the hosts expressed their desire for us to return.

Thank you
Thanks to the generosity of so many benefactors, all of our expenses were covered by your donations.  Our budget wasn't completely accurate since we had not done this kind of work-travel before, but while some expenses were higher, others were lower and it all worked out fine.  Participants were moved by the fact that’s so many people from the other side of the world who didn't know them contributed to make these workshops possible.  They sent their greetings and expressed their appreciation many times.  

You have helped to plan a "mustard seed" that was clearly part of God's desire;  we are sure that it has taken root and will grow.  Our involvement in this effort was humbling, awe-inspiring, powerful, tiring, and energizing – a highlight professionally, personally, and spiritually (we know this sounds extreme, but in this case, it's also true).  We are returning in good health and joyful spirit, energized for future training work, and only moderately weary -- and most of that related to the final experience of jet lag.

Our special thanks to Jim Froom, the Pastoral Team at St. Tom's, and to Bishop Bradley – for letting us go, for providing special support and pulling the extra weight and filling in the gaps during our absence. 

The Future
We had several meetings outside the actual training workshops.  Bishop of Cyangugu Jean Damascène Bimenyimana wants us to return to his diocese.  He attended the five-day workshop/retreat with his priests, and he was extremely gracious as he hosted us at his home twice for dinner, and met with us after the workshop.  We think he may be asking the other Bishops of Rwanda and Burundi to consider extending the training to their dioceses.  

We also met with two representatives of  Catholic Relief Services in Rwanda, and they are considering how we might collaborate on programs throughout Rwanda.  We also met with several personnel of the Kenyan Episcopal Conference and they are making plans for us to return to teach next year.  

Fr. Charles, who worked with us during the workshops in Rwanda, is going to translate our manuals into Kinyarwanda and Emma will translate them into Swahili!   

And finally, we received news from the Congregation of St. Joseph that Trauma Recovery Associates has been given a grant for $50,000 to continue and expand trauma recovery training to military chaplains, Ireland, and Africa.  We are so pleased with their generosity.

We don't know where all this headed, but God's hand is directing it and we're honored to have a part in this healing ministry.  May God bless it all and bring it to completion by God's powerful grace.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Days 16-19: Final Days in Africa

This will be my final report on our journey to Africa because when we go to Nairobi, I will meet with Kalamazoo College students on study abroad there to interview them and selected university staff to produce study abroad recruitment videos and articles

Ken and Sharon will do a one-day workshops over the weekend.  They'll put together a report of their journey.

On Monday night we will all meet at the airport at 9 p.m. for the start of our long flight home via Amsterdam.  We arrive in the afternoon on Wednesday, November 16 in Grand Rapids. 

We hope you have enjoyed our blog of activities and reflections on this magnificent and fruitful trip.

God be praised!

Day 16: Goodbye to Rwanda--for now

Charles and Ubald give us a final send-off at the Kigali Airport
We began our day with Mass, breakfast, and a 9 a.m. meeting at the Catholic Relief Services office here in Kigali.  (CRS is doing trauma recovery work and Ken and Sharon want to make a connection there.  Ubald's bishop arranged the meeting for them.) 

Our plane leaves for Nairobi, the final leg of our journey, at 2 p.m. so we must be at the airport at 12 noon.  Fr. Charles and later Fr. Everist met us there to say goodbye.  (Charles wanted to go with us to Kibeho but became ill and spent yesterday at the Pastoral Center to recover.  His parish is located in Kigali.)

Day 15: Kibeho to Kigali

Ubald receives a gift from St. Tom's for his new Center for Peace in Cyangugu

The team gathers for a shared homily
As usual, we began our day with Mass, but it would be a different kind of day:  we would be splitting up the team.  Katsey and Denise would remain at Kibeho over the weekend while Ken, Sharon, Ubald, and Olga would go on to Kigali.  Ubald is driving us there and taking us to the airport tomorrow.  He'll go back to Kibeho to be with Katsey and Denise until they leave Rwanda on Monday night.

Today's Mass would be our first in English Mass since we arrived in Africa.  It signaled not only the final days of our long journey but also our final hours as a team.  And, Ken had a big surprise for us.  He wanted us to use homily time to share our significant “God moment” of the trip.  Here are the team's comments.
The trip really started for him during the last Mass at St. Tom's before we left.  The Gospel lesson was on the mustard seed.  He wondered what he could do in Rwanda until he realized that just doing a little would contribute to the coming of God's Kingdom.  During the Gloria of last Sunday's Healing Mass in Cyangugu the message of the mustard seed all came back to him:  God chooses us to do our part with awe and humility. 

She compared last year's trip where she and Denise went with Ubald to different places and prayed over them.  This year as a team member she saw how trauma recovery work and prayer all came together.  seen some real differences in Rwanda.  Last year the bishop allowed the duo to pray with him even though he never allows that.  This year he was the main celebrant at the Healing Mass.  Ubald is different, too.  He is more free and more energized.  His homilies are more joyful and contain a lot of laughter.  At the Healing Mass when the Bishop said that we all have wounds and we all need healing, Katsey knew he not only understood what the team was trying to do but that he was on board with Ubald.  Ubald's vision will happen, said Katsey, because people will get it just like the bishop and they, too, will be on board, too.  Later today in Kigali, Ubald had a three hour meeting with his bishop and learned that he would be released from his parish duties in order to devote all his time to the Center for Peace in Cyangugu.  This was what Ubald hoped and prayed for and it has come to pass!

The most poignant moment for her was getting out of the car at the Healing Mass and walking with the people.  It was not a sacrifice to give up her seat but a gift.  (Ubald said that the people noticed the gesture she, Denise, and Katsey had made and were talking about it.)  Denise's forgiveness prayer was another magical moment.  “All my adult life I've experienced a conflict between feeling blessed and feeling guilty about what we have at the expense of others in the world,” she said.  The Bishop's spontaneous sign of forgiveness after Denise's prayer felt like a release from that conflict.  Hearing the resolutions from the professionals was another moving experience because the people were so eager, hopeful, and ready to move in a different direction to heal their trauma.

He was at a loss for words to explain the meaning of this experience so he focused on the excitement and gratitude of the participants.  “Everyone at the workshop decided they wanted to change our society.”  For example, a director of a school told him she had come to the workshop angry that the Vicar of Schools is trying to change the teachers.  However, the workshop led her to conclude that she wants to help the vicar rather than fight him because she wants the school to be successful.  Ubald was also gratified that the Bishop attended the Healing Mass.  “I was waiting for that and never Imagined it would happened.  But I prayed for it and it DID happen.”  

Her “God moment” occurred in seeing and experiencing God in almost everyone we met.  It started when she first met Sharon a year ago and subsequently invited Denise and her husband to her house to get to know each other better.  Last year everywhere she and Katsey went they were a curiosity as white women.  This year she felt they were one with everyone in the one body of Christ.  Like Sharon, the highlight was getting out of the car and walking with the people.  “We were doing something to give and help others and we received so much.”  Another moment was following the monstrance into the crowds.  “We were seen and accepted for ourselves.  People wanted to touch us but it was not to feel our white skin as much as to say 'yes, we are one.'”

My role on this trip was to write and I realized that this was God's call for me a long time ago.  This journey confirmed it and I will accept it rather than putting it off or brushing it aside as unimportant.  Following the monstrance in the Healing Mass and locking eyes with the women whose hands I shook was a powerful experience of solidarity with women.
We all then talked briefly about how God is using Rwanda in a powerful way through forgiveness.  “The genocide was Satan's way to destroy God's plan for peace in this country,” said Denise.  In fact, people openly wondered where God was during the genocide.  Immaculee Ilibigiza says in her book, that God was there with his “hurting heart.”  There is an icon of the Sacred Heart on the wall in the church designed to display this belief.
Sacred Heart of Rwanda by Fr. Leszek

Fr. Leszek was designed and built this simple but beautiful church. 

A BVM design by Fr. Leszek that was later adapted and modified for the Shrine in Kibeho
The place where we are staying is called the Marian Formation Centre "CANA."  It was built by Fr. Leszek, a Polish priest who was sent to Rwanda 25 years ago--two weeks after he was ordained.  He has since designed and built this elaborate place, and produced most of its art work.  He built the church 10 years ago.

We were on a tight schedule because we were expected for lunch in Kigali so we ate breakfast, loaded the car, and went to Kibeho where a shrine has been built to commemorate the apparitions of the Blessed Mother.  In a place that was once a school for girls.  We saw the dining hall, now converted into a chapel, where she first appeared on November 25, 1982.  We prayed at the huge church that was subsequently built.  After about half an hour we said our goodbyes to Katsey and Denise and headed out down the long dirt road for a two-hour drive to Kigali.

Our Return to Kigali
Amahoro, a women's cooperative that makes fine fabric gifts
We arrived at Centre Christus, the Jesuit Retreat House, unloaded the car, and had a fine lunch of soup, rabbit, french fries, beans, and maize bread.  Ubald had to get the battery of his car fixed so we went to the garage, which appears to be a diocesan service station.  We would meet him back at the retreat house later.  He had ordered a taxi for us so we could go shopping at a women's cooperative called Amahoro and once again to Caritas to buy some handmade gift items.  Sharon wanted to buy tea and coffee and it was available in the shopping mall downtown so Laurent, our cab driver who Ubald arranged for us, took us there. 

Nakumatt is a Walmart-type chain store found in Kigali and Nairobi
Ken found the KLM office and confirmed that our flights are ready and waiting for us tomorrow and on Monday.  Sharon and I looked around the mall and discovered an ice cream stand so we invited Laurent to join us and we all four ate our ice cream.  It was good but not what we expected; more like a cross between a snow cone and gelato.

Des Mille Collines in Kigali
Before we left downtown we had passed the Mille Collines, one place of refuge during the genocide that was featured in the film, Hotel Rwanda.  Laurent first circled the drive and front entrance and then accompanied me to take some photos outside the car.  It was a little silly of me but I really jive on historical places.

Our journey back to the retreat house was stalled by an incredible traffic jam.  Part of the problem with driving in Kigali is that the roads don't go through the center of the town, they go around it like a beltway on the hillsides of the town.  We did not have this kind of traffic when we were here 10 days ago but then we did not travel during the rush hour.  Everything is an experience!! 

We finally returned home and Ken and Sharon did some serious re-packing because of their purchases this afternoon.  We waited for Ubald to return and he came back with good news:  his bishop will release him from his parish duties and let him work full time on the Center for Peace! This is what he has been praying for! 

At 7:30 we went to dinner and met Martina, a Swiss physician who is here in Rwanda for three months working on trauma care.  She also does homeopathy (healing with native plants) and is interested in finding cures for trauma.  Of course, Ubald knew her and invited her to our table.  She and Ken and Sharon swapped stories and information about each other's work.  Martina had originally planned to go to Israel to do some trauma work on holocaust survivors but felt called to go to Rwanda first. This week she will decide whether to spend one or two years in Rwanda or to go just three months out of the year.

Today was supposed to be a rest day, however, after a full day of travel, shopping, and visiting.  The best relief we could get was retire to our rooms about 9:15 p.m. 

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Day 15: Shrine of Kibeho

On November 25, 1981, the Blessed Mother first appeared to three girls (Alphonsine, Nathalie, and Marie Claire aged 17, 20 and 21) in a school cafeteria.  Her second apparition was outside the building in a courtyard followed by several more to other children.  Among her many predictions was the genocide of 1994.  Marie Claire was later killed in the massacre at the same location in 1995.  Kibeho is the only site in Africa where the Blessed Mother has appeared.

Site of the First Apparition, which is now a chapel.

Site of the Second Apparition
Building where the First Apparition took place.

Sharon in front of the Shrine
The Marian sanctuary at Kibeho was named "Shrine of Our Lady of Sorrows" in 1992, an anticipatory name in the light of the genocide that followed two years later in 1994The first stone was laid on November 28, 1992.

Altar of the Shrine