Catching Jesus on the Big Screen

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Amahoro Stadium in Kigali can hold 50,000 people. This past Sunday it was filled to the hilt when a group of Rwandan churches came together to celebrate the first ever “Thanksgiving Day.” The freshly minted celebratory day was billed as an opportunity for the already extremely religious Rwandans to give special thanks to God for, well, everything. In particular, the day was to be an opportunity to thank God that things aren’t as horrible as they were almost 20 years ago, when He apparently was out of town on other business or just couldn’t be bothered to intervene in the genocide that took place in Rwanda in 1994. 

“When you look at what the country went through and where it is today, there’s a lot for Rwanda to be thankful to God to. God has been so kind to this nation and helped rebuild it,” James Musoni, Rwanda’s Minister for Local Government, was quoted as saying. You’d think God could have been so kind to this nation and prevented it from getting destroyed in the first place. Even this cynical atheist would have considered that a cause for some thanksgiving. But different strokes and all that… 

I had expected more of a tent revival atmosphere at the event, but instead it came across as largely dull, pompous, and uninspired. All the same, everyone in the audience (minus yours truly and the few hundred other palefaces in attendance) appeared to know the words to Every. Single. One. of the saccharine gospel hymns and songs of praise that blared across the stadium. And they seemed to relish the opportunity to sing along. 

Oddly, all the action (the marching band, the ecstatic choir, the visiting celebrity preacher from the D. R. Congo and his band) was exclusively focused on the dignitaries seated in the VIP section, which meant that those of us on the bleechers were reduced to watching the event on the big screen behind us. 

Next Sunday, I hope to pay a visit to one of the Pentecostal churches in Kigali, in the hope of finding a service with a little more oomph. 

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Gloomy Friday

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It should be hard to be blue with a sunrise like this, but today was a bit of a challenge. I’m still trying — and failing — to “get” the charm of Kigali. In my (probably unreasonable and, thus, unwanted) opinion, there’s precious little of it around. By the international “big smelly African citiy” standard, Kigali is an oasis, but I’m having a hard time appreciating that. I just don’t do cities, African or otherwise (hence, I choose to live in small-town Vermont, not in New York City or Boston). I don’t get a rush out of the hustle and bustle, and the ridiculous amounts of opulent-yet-inferior new construction going up everywhere in this wanna-be town doesn’t impress me in the least. 

It’s as if a thin veneer of affluence (supposedly fueled largely by an influx of money of dubious origin) is being smeared over the city with a broad brush wielded by a hyperactive urban planner with the restraint, common sense, and skills of a six-year-old boy in a sandbox. Mud huts are being replaced with ostentatious villas and manicured gardens at a furious pace; entire suburbs of the gated community variety are being erected almost overnight, with all the charm and appeal of a leftover set from a slasher movie. The houses look nice enough, but there’s little or none of the infrastructure required to support it all (gleaming million dollar villas sit side-by-side on kidney-shattering potholed dirt tracks), and the resulting flagrant wealth disparity is almost physical painful to behold. I can’t help but wonder when this overdressed house of cards will come tumbling down. Yes, Rwanda has the go-getter attitude that is often found sorely missing in much of Africa, but it comes mixed with a bitter tinge of crass me-first-ism that marks the Wild West frontiers of rampant and unrestrained capitalism. 

I guess I should have known this was what we were getting ourselves into, but it’s taking its toll. Visually, there’s not a whole lot that’s clicking for me — I’ll give it time, and continue looking, but for now I’ll just go sit in a corner and feel sorry for myself for a bit. 

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