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Liberty University graduate student Kalib Wilkinson plays soccer with children at the Star School in Kigali, Rwanda.
As this month marks the 17th anniversary of the beginning of the Rwandan genocide in 1994, a group of 21 Liberty University graduate students are reflecting on their recent trip to the small East African nation, where they assisted in trauma and grief counseling and spent time with survivors.
“There is no professional counseling or therapy in the country, and yet it’s a country of 8 million people, where a million died in the span of 100 days,” said Dr. Kevin Corsini, dean of Liberty’s graduate school in the Center for Counseling and Family Studies, who led the trip. “And to this day the nation is just broken and they’re living with the aftermath of that — every single person in the country was touched. Either they were related to a killer or they were related to someone who was killed.”
The main purpose of the trip, held March 4-12, was to help train members of the community, such as teachers and pastors, to serve as lay counselors. The average person in Rwanda earns about $400 per year through subsistence farming, so the idea of paying for counseling is unheard of, Corsini said. He said the team’s goal was to provide basic trauma and grief response training within a ministry context.
“It was all kind of built on the foundation of the gospel – forgiveness and redemption. It wasn’t just psychological training, it was, ‘What does the power of the gospel look like in reconciliation and forgiveness?’” he said.
Kalib Wilkinson, a residential graduate student and a care officer in Liberty’s Student Care Office, had always wanted to visit Africa and was interested in ministering through counseling in war-torn areas of the world.
“In the past, I’ve never seen a trip that combines both. … I’ve only heard of a few ways to actually serve as a missionary and a counselor, and so when I saw that there was a combination I wanted to know what it would look like,” he said.
In addition to training lay counselors, team members had the opportunity to help with Sunday school in a local church, teach English in elementary and high schools, to provide and serve meals and to spend time in fellowship with the teachers and students.
The trip was also unique in that it presented an opportunity for Liberty University Online students to participate in a Liberty-sponsored missions trip – something that is not possible at many other schools. Many of the team members are studying online and live in other states.
Liberty University Online student Bonnie Torrence from Charlotte, N.C., who is pursuing her Master’s of Divinity, had been to Rwanda in 2009 and felt called to return when she heard about the trip through an email.
“I have been so impacted by the beauty, tenacity and purity of the spirit of the Rwandan people,” she said. “To see a people who have been through so much grief and sorrow come back stronger afterwards is an inspiration to me. … I learned so much from the Rwandan people about true love and forgiveness in the midst of great loss in their lives. I am so thankful God gave me the chance to be a part of the healing and restoration that is going on in Rwanda.”
The trip was organized by Corsini and Marlene Carrilho, a graduate student pursuing her Ph.D. in education and an adjunct professor in Liberty University Online’s undergraduate psychology program, along with a team leader from World Help, a nonprofit, nondenominational Christian organization that Liberty regularly partners with for missions trips.
“The power of the Gospel was so evident there, considering they had been through this genocide 17 years ago,” Carrilho said. “Just the healing that’s taking place, that’s in progress right now – it was just so powerful to see that and to be with those people.”
The counseling department is planning another trip to Rwanda in the next school year.
Team members Vickie Hernalsteen, Bonnie Keeler, Mahogany Gadson and Kendra Wood teach students at the Star School in Kigali, Rwanda.