We are blessed,
We are blessed,
Who told you that we are cursed?
These are lyrics in worship song performed by the Cyimbili Coffee Choir during their pre-work (6:30a!) devotions last week as a gift to the visitors (us!).
In this song I have discovered the secret of this little community in Rwanda: they are blessed! Here is a group of people who saw the absolute depths of humanity on this very land two decades ago, and have found a way to love one another. Joy is here. Hope is here. Laughter, and singing and praise are here. God is here.
God was here, God is here, God will be here.
These ten thousand square miles—about the size of Maryland—are full of a thousand green hills, volcanoes and gorillas, bright colors, big smiles, warm hugs, joy-filled music, dancing, and good coffee.
All this on top of mass graves holding almost a million people.
Rwanda is the intersection of depravity and grace.
Take six minutes and listen to this choir. Especially from the 3:55 point on, and especially if you want to see some dancing! Although I am heartbroken as I begin to absorb the history of the ground I walk on, I am also overwhelmed by resilience.
The Cyimbili Coffee Plantation is one of the programs initiated and maintained by ALARM (African Leadership and Reconciliation Ministries) in partnership with Hope for a Thousand Hills and the Association of Baptist Churches Rwanda (ABR) for the purpose of reconciliation and community transformation. It is an intentional community- school, clinic, church, work- completely unaware of the planned community trend happening in the suburbs :)
On the same ground that held a genocide 19 years ago, people are living and working together peacefully, in a way that demonstrates the capacity of God to move within broken communities, and in a way that proves resiliency and hope are stronger than despair.
The guesthouse we stayed at during our time at the plantation belonged to an ABR missionary who worked within the community to develop primary and secondary schools, a bible school, medical center, church, and the coffee plantation. This is the same missionary who wrote to his church in the 70’s asking for money to support a secondary school student who had been kicked out of his house for converting to Christianity, as the family believed his presence in the home would anger the ancestral spirits. The missionary received $7 per month for the boy from a 69 y/o widow from Ohio who collected trash along the interstate to recycle, earning $7 each month to send to the boy in Cyimbili. The boy grew up to be the founder of ALARM.
Because of the events of the 1994 genocide, the coffee plantation and missionary house were abandoned and left in ruin in the 90’s. There was no clean water, electricity, sanitation or other basic needs, lots of orphans and widows, and a broken church with traumatized leadership and congregants. This concept of church brokenness and the need for pastoral leadership inspired the beginnings of ALARM, which will be another post for another time.
In 2008, Celestin, the founder of ALARM, felt a tug to come back to Cyimbili. ALARM formed a partnership with Association of Baptist Churches Rwanda and Hope for a Thousand Hills to rehabilitate the once productive coffee plantation, restore the local village economy, reconcile relationships, and renovate the missionary house into a guest house, once again hosting missionaries and different ministry groups.
The first rehabilitation phase was a four-year plan that focused on pruning and planting trees, land terracing, staff training and hiring, construction of washing, drying and packing stations, and other community infrastructures like hydroelectric turbines, sewage, and waste stations for the community. During this time, ALARM also facilitated the gathering of local pastors of all denominations from Cyimbili and neighboring communities for the purpose of encouraging each other, conducting pastoral leadership and reconciliation trainings, and exchanging ideas. Phase one was complete in 2012.
The Cyimbili Plantation has just moved into the second phase, which is production. Today, the coffee plantation employs about 170 workers, seasonally and full-time, many of them widows and primary breadwinners in their families. The work allows the men & women to pay school fees for their children, purchase health insurance at the community medical center, and provide basic needs like food and clothing. The plantation has about 40,000 coffee trees, each tree producing about 4.5 pounds of dry premium coffee beans annually. ALARM is currently working with a group in the US to ship, roast and market the beans internationally.
Each morning, all hundred-and-something staff meet at 6:30a for devotions before work, and the coffee choir sings and celebrates life, relationship, provision, and joy through worship and dance. This is how I imagine heaven.
Here’s one last thing I want to mention. Do you know how coffee plant pruning works? A coffee plant is fruitful for about 30 years, and then it stops producing fruit. In order to rehabilitate the coffee plant, the tree is chopped at the base, and over time, new growth shoots out of the stump. Can you think of a more beautiful symbol of growth and restoration of this community than this little coffee plant?
Even now in death you open doors for life to enter…
A little bit extra, also known as lagniappe in NOLA:
- For pictures of the Plantation and our time at Cyimbili, click here.
- We will be returning Cyimbili to spend time being in the community: living and working with the coffee staff, picking and shelling and cleaning and drying our way through the coffee process. Those interviews and stories will be in the World Next Door magazine, June issue, along with ways you can get involved with Cyimbili Coffee Plantation and ALARM.
- Also, we’re starting an advice column for World Next Door Magazine. It’ll be part funny, part interesting, part serious. Right now we’re looking for questions from you about anything the WND team knows well:
-Interacting cross culturally
-Eating weird stuff
-Talking with friends about social justice issues
-Using photography in a non-exploitative way
-Packing for international trips
-Getting involved with local organizations
-Living simply in the suburbs
-Anything else travel/justice/writing/photography related…
- What questions do you have for us? We might just answer them in the next issue!