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Students finish Winter Break in Rwanda, learn lessons from nation’s reconciliation

Three faculty and 35 students from online and residential programs in Liberty University’s John W. Rawlings School of Divinity, School of Education, and the College of Arts & Sciences traveled to Rwanda from Jan. 6-17 where they heard incredible testimonies of forgiveness that the country has experienced since the genocide of 1994 and how reconciliation is affecting the nation’s schools and churches.

The genocide is thought to have claimed the lives of over 800,000 Rwandans.

“This is a trip that combines a lot of elements,” said School of Divinity Chair and Professor Dr. John Cartwright, the trip’s leader. “There is cultural education, learning about Rwanda’s history and the genocide of 1994, particularly, and how that impacts the way that life now works there. There is just a broad range of experiences that students have on this trip, and it is culturally rich and diverse.”

School of Divinity Chair and Professor Dr. John Cartwright speaksat a church in Rwanda

This year’s trip began with a day dedicated to an overview of Rwanda’s history and the tragic story of the genocide. In the days that followed, the group traveled to visit churches and schools. Divinity and education faculty and students partnered to offer a one-day conference at a Rwandan school where they taught local pastors and schoolteachers.

One of the primary goals of the trip was for students to learn from a culture that is healing by means of forgiveness.

“There are trips that are ‘doing’ trips (mission, service trips) and there are trips that are ‘being’ trips, and this trip definitely leans more toward a ‘being’ trip,” Cartwright said. “It’s very experiential. The activities are more learning, soaking in, and observing.”

School of Divinity student Shawndra Pickett, who is pursuing her Doctor of Education in Christian Leadership, shared how she and her fellow classmates were impacted by how forgiveness is blanketing the communities that were heavily involved in the genocide.

“To see how people were being betrayed by neighbors and friends that they used to have and now to see how they are reconciling those very relationships in a God-transforming way was amazing,” Pickett said.

As an online student, Pickett was thrilled to have the opportunity to be with other Liberty students as well as faculty.

“It was amazing,” she said. “I had been looking forward to that. It was very helpful for me.”

Cartwright with a child at a school in Rwanda

School of Education student Damon Green pursuing a Ph.D. in Instructional Design and Technology, echoed Pickett’s thoughts.

Online Community Care and Counseling Ph.D. student Damon Green echoed Pickett’s thoughts.

“The Liberty University LU Send trip to Rwanda in January 2023 was one of the best international trips I have ever had,” he said. “As a Liberty online student, I appreciate being able to meet with other students and faculty in person. The trip was very well organized, beginning with pre-trip planning meetings and continuing with daily debrief meetings while abroad.”

While all participants were able to visit multiple churches and schools to observe how they are intertwined, the School of Education students were able to meet with administration members of two different Rwanda-based universities to note the differences in education philosophy from schools in the U.S.

“We got to meet with the University of Rwanda and East African Christian College to talk with their administrators about how they teach education and learn about what the country is doing to try to make education more child-centered as opposed to teacher-centered,” School of Education Online Chair and Associate Professor Dr. Megan Cordes said. “That is something that we in the United States have been working on for a while, so it was fun to kind of see that transformation in the country.”

Cordes said most of the schools in Rwanda are run by leaders in the church.

“In this country, specifically, their education is tied so closely to the church that you don’t separate the church from the school,” she said.

Cartwright said the Liberty team learned from Rwanda’s “collectivistic culture” which has helped in the nation’s healing process.

“We got to see hope for Rwanda (that) has come since 1994,” Cartwright said. “It is mind blowing. There are these deep experiences that the students have, and lessons learned about forgiveness and reconciliation that is a wave on the beginning of the trip that then ripples throughout the rest of the week after they’ve learned about what happened there. It becomes somewhat of a looking back and celebrating how far Rwanda has come.”

The School of Divinity made a donation to a church plant for the purchase of 300 chairs, which were delivered during the team’s visit.

“We were able to show up as a group and have this huge community-wide celebration of bringing these chairs into their brand new building for the first time,” Cartwright said.

The LU Send office coordinates all travel for Liberty. The School of Divinity will be taking trips to Jordan and Europe during Spring Break and will also be offering a trip to Greece and Turkey in May.

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