A well-meaning woman at church recently asked me, “You're not still taking kids to Rwanda, are you?”
Unsure what she was referring to, I said. “Yep! We leave July 19.”
She then proceeded to tell be about the “border war” between Rwanda and the Congo, something I had heard no mention of.
Upon returning home, a quick search online gave me the information I needed. In early June, Rwandan soldiers shot 5 Congolese soldiers along one of the border cities. Based on what I found online, I concluded the incident was an isolated one.
Nevertheless, I value the safety of my group – not to mention my own. In fact, as I tell parents repeatedly, our group's safety is our number one concern. If I thought for a second that where we were going was no longer safe, I'd cancel our trip.
So I proceeded to the State Department's website and checked for travel alerts or warnings for Rwanda. I found none.
Still, just to be sure, I reached out to our host missionary, who assured me all was fine. According to her, Rwanda takes seriously the security of their border and is willing to defend it. She then shared that her family would soon be vacationing very near where the border incident took place.
Her response put my mind at ease. One of the benefits of partnering with long-term missionaries is that they're on the ground. They know the country we're visiting and in fact, call it home. We trust them and their judgment regarding our safety.
Despite this, the truth is that a trip to Africa has a tendency to make people nervous. When someone finds out I'm going to Rwanda our conversation usually goes something like this.
Them: “You're going to Rwanda?!?”
Me: “Sure am.”
Them: “In July?!? Isn't it hot there?”
Me: “Actually, Rwanda's climate is great. Upper 70's, lower 80's during the day & cooler at night.”
Them: “Really?!? But you know there was a genocide there, right?”
Me: “Yep. You know it ended 20 years ago, right? It's not actually still going on.”
Them: “Well... Sure. I guess. But it's Africa. It's still dangerous. You know that right?”
At that point, I typically suppress my desire to bang my head against the wall and instead ask, “What have you heard that makes you think Africa is dangerous?”
Oftentimes, at that point, our conversation will get awkward, as the other person is unable to back up their claim with any real knowledge of the continent of Africa. On the rare occasion when someone cites specific knowledge it's typically:
- The instability & violence in Syria
- The instability & violence in Egypt
- The conflict that resulted in US troops dying in Mogadishu, Somalia
- The bombings in Kenya
- The kidnappings in Nigeria
- The war in the Congo
- The unrest in the Sudan
- The genocide in the Central African Republic.
Since I believe that ignorance prompts fear, at this point, I usually try to educate people. To do so, I launch into a brief history and geography lesson to combat people's examples.
- Did you know that the conflict in Mogadishu happened in 1993 and it's now 2014?
- Did you know Syria isn't actually located in Africa? It's in the Middle East, on an entirely separate continent.
- Did you know that Africa is BIG? I mean, really big. Consider for example, this map:
- Did you know that Egypt is roughly 2000 miles away from Rwanda? That Nigeria is 1650 miles away from Rwanda? That the Sudan is 1000 miles from Rwanda? That the Central African Republic is 850 miles from Rwanda? And that while Kenya is closer to Rwanda it doesn't actually border it?
- The only one of those countries that actually borders Rwanda is the Congo and the border between them is secure.
This isn't to say that bad things don't happen in Africa. They do.
After all, there are places in the world that are decidedly unsafe – in Africa as well as in North America.
Consider, for example, the violence that has plagued Mexico for the last several years. Despite it, I wouldn't think twice about going to San Diego.
Just last weekend, 82 people were shot (14 of them killed) in Chicago – less than 30 miles from the suburb I call home. And you know what?
Shootings didn't keep me from going to Chicago last weekend.
In the same way, violence thousands of miles from Rwanda won't keep our team from going there.
Rwanda is, after all, stable. It's as safe as the United States (In fact, I'm guessing my Rwandan friends would probably argue it's safer. There weren't 82 people shot in Kigali last weekend).
So friends, since I wouldn't tell you to cancel your trip to Washington DC because of a shooting in LA, please don't tell me to cancel our trip to Rwanda because of violence “somewhere in Africa”.
You know what you can do instead?
And not just for the safety of my team, but for the safety of those people who live in the very places you frequently tell me about: Syria, Egypt, Nigeria, Kenya, the Central African Republic, and the Congo.