COLUMBIA – A poorly dressed Rwandan farmer with missing teeth walks up to Tyler Kolb. The two interact for several minutes, barely able to speak the other’s language.
Kolb uses a sheet of simple phrases he has packed with him on this mission trip and they go through each one. They say them in both English and Kinyarwanda, laughing each time they finish a phrase.
After several minutes, Kolb stands up and says “very nice to meet you” in Kinyarwanda. The farmer simply smiles and laughs.
Kolb, a freshman Rock Bridge golfer, is part of Kanakuk, a Christian sports camp in Colorado that goes on a mission trip each year. This year, 27 campers and six adults went to Rwanda, Africa, home to one of the world’s largest mass killings of more than 800,000 people.
The ethnic tensions between the Hutu majority and Tutsi minority that sparked the genocide began in April 1994, several years before Kolb started elementary school. Over a span of 100 days, the Tutsi waged genocide on Tutsi civilians.
Wrapping his head around being in a place where such an event occurred is difficult for Kolb.
“One thing that you have to try and embrace is that they had a genocide, which is hard to do,” he said.
To help understand the culture and the atrocities that occurred in Rwanda, the campers visited museums before meeting the nation's people face to face. The group also visited two churches where many of Rwanda’s Tutsi's had hid from the Hutu militia during the 100-day genocide. The churches were left exactly the way they when the killing stopped. Nothing was moved.
“I didn’t have any idea what to expect before going in,” Kolb said. “I realized after how serious this was and how humbling it is that we’re there trying to help.”
The human remains inside the churches were so disturbing that some campers would not go inside. Kolb did go in and he saw weapons on the floor and grenade holes in the walls. He saw hundreds of items of clothing from the victims and racks full of their bones and skulls.
“It touches your heart because you feel so bad for those prosecuted,” Kolb said. “I can’t imagine hating people that much to do such terrible things to them.”
Now, there are many orphans and widows living in Rwanda. After seeing the churches, Kolb and the other campers spent a day visiting he Village of Hope, a community for many of the widows and orphans. When they first arrived, they spent time with the children and played soccer.
“It was as enjoyable for us as it was for the kids,” Kolb said.
There are 14 houses that have been built in the past couple of years, six of which were not yet painted. In less than three hours, the campers painted three.
“I felt that they were so grateful for such a small deed that we did,” Kolb said.
Afterwards, Kolb spent some time trying to learn some of the Kinyarwanda language with the children. He kept a sheet with him of simple phrases, such as “hello,” “how are you,” “good morning” and “very nice to meet you.” Kolb would point to objects and the children would then tell him the word for it in their language.
“It was very frustrating not to be able to say what I wanted to them,” Kolb said. “They would look at me and I would look at them. There was a lot of staring.”
Kolb said they children wanted to speak and were not able to, but the time was still enjoyable.
“I loved helping, but my favorite part is meeting people and learning about and engaging in other cultures that are so much different than our own,” Kolb said.
Kolb said his experiences made him realize that he wants to go on longer missions in the future.
“I want to build relationships and really share the love I get from Christ, but there’s not enough time in just one week,” Kolb said. “It’s a bigger struggle to spread love and show God’s love in a week just by the little deeds than it is to build relations and become friends, not just tourist.”
Going on year long mission will allow Kolb to build stronger relationships with those he meets and gives him a better opportunity to share his love from Christ.
“The trip left me in awe because of the poverty and how little we did and how grateful they were,” Kolb said. “The people there are so kind and I wish I could bring that back to America.”