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Lessons from Rwanda

Date: May 17, 2012

Andrews University held its first summit on social consciousness from April 11-14, 2012. The theme for the summit was "Lessons from Rwanda" and it featured Carl Wilkens, a former ADRA director in Rwanda, as the keynote speaker. Organizers hoped to reveal injustice and seek healing and reconciliation through the summit, which included a prayer meeting with testimonies from survivors of the Rwandan genocide, a film showing, an interview with Carl Wilkens and his wife, breakout sessions, and a concert by the Girls of Mercy.

Wilkens was the only American to remain in Rwanda during the genocide. He lived in Rwanda from 1990-1996 with his wife and three children building schools and operating clinics. When the genocide began, Wilkens and his wife made the decision for him to stay behind alone to try to protect the two young Tutsis who worked for them. During the genocide Wilkens worked to bring food, water, and medicine to stranded people around the city of Kigali.

In his keynote address on April 14, Wilkens recounted some of his experiences in Rwanda. An estimated 800,000 Rwandans were killed during the 1994 genocide, which erupted between the ethnic majority Hutus and the ethnic minority Tutsis. He emphasized the importance of telling these stories because he believes that stories move people to service, which can ultimately change the world. His address included a particular call to action in the Seventh-day Adventist Church, which had 300,000 members in Rwanda in 1994. "We need to talk about these things and consider how our infrastructure responds to these situations," he said, pointing out the need to learn from Rwanda to better prepare for similar situations in the future. In spite of all the violence, Wilkens chose to look beyond the genocide. "Rwanda is so much larger than that three month window of genocide," he said, describing the strong sense of love and community he saw in the Rwandan people. "Our losses and our sorrows do not dominate our lives. We have this hope that we will be together again one day." An offering was collected at the end of the service for Life Lifting Hands, a nonprofit organization that provides education to orphans and donates cows to poor families in Rwanda. The summit concluded with a concert by the Girls of Mercy that evening.

Carl Wilkens, a former ADRA director in Rwanda, was the keynote
speaker. Wilkens said he couldn't have stayed in Rwanda when he did
if it wasn't for the support he received from his Rwandan friends.
(Photo by Jason Lemon)

On the final day of the summit, university leaders and pastors made a statement about the genocide and led the congregation in a litany. "This Summit was a fitting gesture of affirmation and support from our University community to them," said Christon Arthur, dean of the School of Graduate Studies & Research and one of the main coordinators of the event. A large number of Rwandans live in southwest Michigan and several were in attendance at the summit. "On reflecting on their tragic loss, we affirmed their humanity and dignity, condemned the atrocity, and acknowledged their pain," Arthur explained.

Carl Wilken’s book I’m Not Leaving is based on records of his daily experiences during that period and he was featured in Frontline’s "Ghosts of Rwanda" and the American Radio Works documentary "The Few Who Stayed: Defying the Genocide." For his efforts, Wilkens was awarded the Dignitas Humana Award from St. John’s School of Theology Seminary and the 2005 Medal of Valor from the Simon Wiesenthal Center. He is the cofounder of the nonprofit educational and professional development organization World Outside My Shoes and now works full time giving lectures on his experiences in Rwanda.

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