Something in the Air

Flight

While I’ve got a lot more to say about my recent trip to Ethiopia and Rwanda, I thought I might write about something a little lighter today.

This morning I took the controls of a Cessna 152 flying out of Jandakot Airport with the Royal Aero Club. While I’m terrified of heights, I love flying, even in a small, ageing two seater like the plane I flew in today.

While Grant, the pilot, was constantly making adjustments during my thirty minute flight, he did let me take the controls a lot of the time. Of course I was under no illusions. Grant was doing a lot more than supervising. I was just the novice who was following instructions with more than a little correction coming from Grant’s dual controls.

We headed away from Jandakot down to Fremantle, up the coast to Cottesloe, then south again to Coogee before returning to Jandakot. The flight was a gift from my wife, Pauline. While I flew, she took pictures from the ground.

I was also able to take some photos while in the air. You can check out a few of them below. Just click on them for a closer look.

Memories of Rwanda

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My time in Ethiopia and Rwanda came to an end a few days ago. After an extra day in Johannesburg, due to the airline heavily overbooking my flight, I made it home to Perth. Sometimes it seems like so long ago, yet at other times a memory will put me right back on the streets of Africa.

My mind keeps returning to the Rwandan Genocide Memorial I visited in the hills outside Kigali. There are many thousands of people buried beneath the church and surrounding area. I walked into the church and saw some of the belongings left behind by victims of the genocide including the blood stained clothing they were wearing when the murderers took their lives. I then walked down steps into the area below the church where I was surrounded by coffins stacked five or six high.

In 100 days more than 1 million people were murdered. But the genocidaires did not kill a million people. They killed one, then another, then another…. day after day, hour after hour, minute by minute.

Every minute of the day, someone, somewhere was being murdered, screaming for mercy.

Receiving none.

And the killing went on and on and on….

10,000 each day,

400 each hour,

7 each minute. – History Speaks

When the trip to Rwanda was planned I knew that I’d meet people who still carried the emotional scars of the genocide, but meeting a woman my own age who carries very obvious physical scars gave me a glimpse of what some people faced twenty years ago. Even before she was introduced to us we knew that she had suffered. She carries a very long, deep scar down the left side of her face with other deep marks to the right side of her face and the back of her head. She now only has sight in her left eye.

Esther (not her real name) was a wife and mother. She had five children, the youngest just a baby. Life as Esther knew it instantly disappeared on the 15th of April 1994. Thousands of locals sought refuge in their church but that only made their murder easier when the killers that arrived on that day threw grenades into the assembled crowds. Esther’s husband and three of her children died that day. She was injured and dazed lying among the dead. It wasn’t until the 18th of April that she finally made it out of the church building. She’d been left for dead but somehow survived. That was just the start of her horror.

After crawling out of the church Esther found an empty home where she went to hide. The genociders returned and killed the rest her children in front of her in ways too graphic to describe here. They then took their machetes to her and again left her for dead. Although she was suffering horrific injuries she survived and found another hiding place. Some days later more killers arrived. This time it was people she knew. People from her own area. Neighbours. They told her to go away and die somewhere else. It took all her energies but she made it out, eventually finding another home in which to hide.

The next time her hiding place was discovered was in June. She was barely alive and weighed only 19 kilograms. She couldn’t walk because she had been hiding in a cramped position for so long. Thankfully this time it was members of the RPF (Rwandan Patriotic Front), the group which was seeking to halt the genocide. They rescued Esther and took her to hospital where she stayed recovering for around six months.

Esther told her story with far more detail and while it was hard for us to hear her story, it was obvious that remembering the details was even harder for her.

The genocide resulted in the deaths of over a million people.

But death was not its only outcome.

Tens of thousands of people had been tortured, mutilated and raped; tens of thousands more suffered machete cuts, bullet wounds, infection and starvation.

There was rampant lawlessness, looting and chaos. The infrastructure had been destroyed, the ability to govern dismantled. Homes had been demolished, belongings stolen.

There were over 300,000 orphans and over 85,000 children who were heads of their household, with younger siblings and/or relatives.

There were thousands of widows. Many had been the victims of rape and sexual abuse or had seen their own children murdered.- History Speaks

Another place I visited in Rwanda was the Kigali Memorial Centre. It tells the story of genocide in Rwanda as well as other genocides through history. If you’d like to know more about what happened over those 100 days in 1994 you can visit the website for the Kigali Memorial Centre.

Thankfully Compassion was working in Rwanda before the genocide and continues working there. In fact, it was just after the genocide that the church where Esther’s family was killed called on Compassion for help. They were there within a few short months, ready to walk the the journey of recovery with local people.

Following the genocide Esther had another child, a daughter. Her daughter is in her final years of sponsorship with Compassion.

Hope in Rwanda

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Rwanda is an amazing country. It’s a mountainous nation with stunning scenery and wonderful people. The current population is said to be over twelve million.

The local government is well loved and very active in developing and improving the country. The capital, Kigali, is clean and well ordered.

Today I took a trip, with four other Australians, to a rural town to see the work that Compassion is doing. Despite the huge advances made here over the last couple of decades, there are still many people living in poverty. Those who are being served by Compassion have something that many others don’t … hope.

We heard from Francine, a mother who had nothing and felt her life was hopeless before she connected with the local church that partners with Compassion. That was a couple of years ago. Today she absolutely shines.

Together with her youngest child, she joined the Child Survival Program, designed to help women through pregnancy and the early childhood years.

As well as great education about child care, nutrition and much more, she was helped to start a small business, selling small food items. Through the success of her small business she has been able to care better for her family and even contribute towards building a new home. She excitedly told us that soon she hopes to afford adding doors and windows to the basic building her family now calls home.

We heard story after story of lives and families changed. The joy on the faces of the children told us just how successful Compassion has been in helping to bring hope to so many in the community.

I love seeing lives transformed by hope and thankfully I see that a lot through my work.

Do you realise that you can give a child the gift of hope? Please give a child hope for the future by sponsoring them through Compassion, and release them from poverty in Jesus name.

An Inspiring Life

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There are many times in life that we can’t choose what happens to us but most of the time we can choose how we deal with life’s circumstances. Tonight I met an extraordinary woman. Christine Uwase has risen above some of the most devastating events imaginable to create a bright future.

>”I was on my mother’s back when they shot her in the head,” says Christine Uwase. “She died on the spot.” Christine was 4 years old.

“We were hunted,” she continues softly. For days the terrified family of five children had hidden in their Kigali neighborhood before the Interahamwe (a civilian death squad) murdered their mother.

Fueled by tribal hatred, these violent gangs used guns and machetes to kill an estimated 1 million people during Rwanda’s April 1994 genocide.

Christine’s father was traveling with his civil service job when the killing began. Christine says, “To this day we do not know his whereabouts.”

The family can only assume he was murdered during the genocide.

Meeting this inspiring young woman was a real honour and has been one of the great highlights of my trip to East Africa.

Let me encourage you to take a few minutes to watch the video of Christine’s story and be inspired too.

Farewell Ethiopia

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It’s been just over a week and our time in Ethiopia is almost over. Tomorrow we fly to Kigali, Rwanda.

During our time here I’ve seen the most devastating poverty I’ve ever witnessed. I’ve sat in homes feeling broken inside as I’ve heard heart breaking stories of extreme poverty and how it effects people. It robs them of their worth, of their hope and their dignity. What do you say to a man who breaks down and sobs as he tries to tell you how he has been bed ridden for two years because he can’t afford medical help? He told us he, his wife and children face eviction because he can’t afford $25 a month for rent.

How do you begin to comprehend life in a town where water is incredibly scarce? A place where even the local hospital, as basic as it is, can’t wash the blankets on the beds between patients because they have no water. The basins are dry and dusty. The taps haven’t had water running through them for a very long time.

It’s been tough to see how others are forced to live but right there in those circumstances hope breaks through. Compassion is there.

While there is still so much to be done, Compassion is working with local churches to release children from poverty in Jesus’ name. That has a flow on effect to the families of those children and ultimately to the community around them.

Hope is sitting in a small room that serves as a house for a mother and her child and hearing her say that if it wasn’t for Compassion they’d both be dead by now. It’s seeing the joy in children’s faces as they experience the love of those at the local Compassion centre. Hope is hearing about mothers who have been able to start small businesses with the help of Compassion so that they can earn desperately needed money for their families.

Compassion is working through local churches to shine a bright light into some very dark corners, bringing hope and a future for many people.

I leave Ethiopia with mixed emotions but I look forward to seeing the same hope growing in Rwanda.