In June 2002, Mike Burn travelled to Rwanda, along with Dave Bankhead, who had invited him to go and help select the material for an album of children's songs, to be recorded in August.
FW Producer and friend, Dave Bankhead, heads up an exceptional ministry called "We Are One!" which aims to promote unity, healing and reconciliation through worship and music. Have ministered in countries like South Africa and Northern Ireland, Dave visited Rwanda in 1999 to record an album of songs written by Rwandese people from different tribes and churches, aiming to bring healing and reconciliation to a nation torn apart in the 1994 genocide. The album was launched in 2000 at a worship event in the football stadium in Kigali, attended by thousands of ordinary people, as well as government ministers, and has had a profound effect on many people's lives.
As a follow-up project, Dave had been invited back this year to record an album of children's songs, and has invited me to go with him to get involved, and particularly to help select the songs, given the experience of doing that for the various Family Worship projects. The June visit was to select the songs - the recording itself will then be in August. We may well also subsequently translate a number of the songs into English for a recording with children in the UK in the Autumn.
The project is co-sponsored by the AEE - a local organisation promoting healing and reconciliation, and YWAM Rwanda, and the people involved in the country have a real vision for the potential of this recording to touch the lives, not just of the children involved, but of the nation itself, and wider. It is their prayer that in the future, when the country of Rwanda is mentioned, people's first thought will not be of the terrible past, but of the great things that God is doing in the nation.
- Our travel was safe (and aside from one short flight from Rwanda
to Nairobi, which was violently turbulent, the flights were smooth!)
- The team of Dave & myself, along with the local leaders worked well together, and the vision for the project grew larger and clearer as the week progressed
- The songwriters, from many different areas, churches and backgrounds, worked brilliantly well together, with many songs being co-written, and the local leaders said that the very fact that people from the two main tribes, Hutu and Tutsi, were able to sit and write songs together was a wonderful expression of love and reconciliation.
- From around 30 songs, we were able to select around 12 that were really strong, with varied styles and themes, and the potential is there for a fantastic album! Given that none of the writers had written for children before, and most had no confidence at the start of the week that they could do it, it was a wonderful demonstration of God's provision and enabling power.
- We were able to meet a good number of children, and a group of 8 children, including 6 orphans, came in to speak to the songwriters, and answer questions. Hearing them speak about the past, the present, and their hopes and fears for the future, was probably the most powerful motivation the writers could have had - it was tremendously poignant and moving.
Requests for further prayer
If you are able to keep praying, thank you!
- Dave is working on the backing tracks at the moment - please pray for creativity, and the ability to arrange the tracks in a way that will sound indigenous and culturally relevant, rather than western
- Pray for the session musicians who will be recorded between now and mid August, including me on acoustic guitar on 10 August
- Pray for the local team as they select children and start to rehearse the children's choir - around 50 children will be used, and it needs to be a good mix of ages, backgrounds and ethnicity
- Pray for finances to continue to be released for the project - around £3,000 is needed by the end of August. Pray for wisdom for Dave as he approaches possible donors, and for me as I put together a fund-raising website, inviting people to sponsor children in the choir
- Dave and a sound engineer (his son, in fact!) travel to Rwanda on 16 August for the recording itself - more details will follow in a separate email nearer the time.
Thank you again for praying - you are a shareholder in all that God will do through this project!
Arriving in Nairobi, Kenya, early morning on Saturday 8 June, it was the first time that I had been south of the Equator since my family returned when I was 3 years old, from having lived in Africa (I was born in Zimbabwe), so it was a real thrill. (The 8 hour wait for the connecting flight to Rwanda soon took the edge off my excitement...)
I'm used to travelling regularly on business, so arriving at an airport is an everyday occurrence, but in hundreds of trips, I have never had a welcome like Dave and I received at Kigali. Around a dozen of the team from YWAM and the AEE had come to greet us, with their whole families. The welcome from the adults was hugely warm and sincere, and all of their children first hugged us, then shook our hands, then introduced themselves, smiling and laughing continually.
(While we were waiting outside for the car, a man came up and introduced himself, and assuming that he was another one from the welcoming party, I greeted him, and he then asked me to follow him. After some confused conversations with the others, however, it became clear that he was from the government and had mistaken me for a diplomat that they were expecting on our flight, and so I didn't get into the limo after all...!)
Driving away from the airport, my first impressions of the city were formed by how few cars there were on the roads, by the dust, the large numbers of people walking and standing around, and by the clichéd image that always amazes western eyes of people carrying heavy loads on their heads.
As we left the main road from the airport we turned on to an unmade road, and the experience of being thrown around as the car bumped over the ridges and potholes was to become a familiar one throughout the trip - very few of the roads in Kigali are metalled.
After a welcome night's sleep, we went the following morning to church. It was packed out, and this was the second service that morning. One thing that has really struck and challenged me is that in a nation that has known so much hardship and suffering, from the genocide, from poverty, and from sickness, especially AIDS, the churches are overflowing. In my own country, where we have so much wealth and comfort, they have been emptying.
There were 2 choirs taking part in the service - one of all women. As they presented a song, full of rich harmonies and a wonderful rhythm, our interpreter mentioned to me that the majority of the singers were widows.
Dave then spoke on why we were there - the vision to collect and record locally-written songs for children that would be a declaration of hope for the future. We then led some worship, and as my first experience of how the Rwandese love to worship, it was a great taste of what was to come.
After lunch with one of the church leaders, we were invited to visit an open air evangelistic meeting taking place nearby. As we approached, we could see a huge crowd gathered, and expected to stand at the back and watch for a while. Instead we were led through the crowd to the front, invited to sit on the platform, and then asked to speak and sing - we should have suspected something when they had unloaded my guitar from the car to bring it along!
There were several hundred people there, including a large number of children. I did one of the Family Worship action songs, which they joined in with enthusiasm, and spoke briefly on God's heart for children, and his desire to pour out his Spirit on them and the whole nation.
The following day, Monday, we left to travel north to Byumba, high in the hills (Rwanda is nicknamed "Pays de mille collines" - "land of a thousand hills", which includes of course the mountains with the famous gorillas). Leaving the capital city, Kigali, behind we drove through rural villages and towns, where the majority of the 9m population live, working on the land.
We arrived at a newly built conference centre, on the edge of Byumba, and were joined over the next 24 hours by around 25 songwriters from all over the country. Some had contributed songs to the previous album that Dave had recorded in 2000, or had sung in the choir (see www.weareone.org.uk for details) so knew each other; others were new.
The first 2 days were spent worshipping together, and there was teaching from Dave and myself on the vision for the project, and the practicalities of writing for children. Mary, a local YWAM worker, also taught on the biblical perspective of children in the Kingdom, and the reality of their current place in the church and nation of Rwanda, and her input was excellent, anointed teaching that would have challenged songwriters, worship leaders and church leaders anywhere in the world.
One very special thing was the visit of 8 local children, including 6 orphans, who were invited to speak to the songwriters on their experiences, their perspective on the lives of children in the nation, and their hopes and fears for the future. It was a very powerful time - after some initial nervousness and giving the answers they thought the adults wanted to hear, the children became increasingly frank, speaking from their hearts. They said that they hated the fact that the genocide had happened at all, and hoped it would never be repeated - they wanted their generation to be free from the hatred that had characterised some people from previous generations.
One girl said she thought that the only children in the world who had a real future and hope were those in the West. (In response, one of the team tried to explain to her the desperate spiritual state of the UK, for example - children there may have material benefits, but most never hear the gospel - it was a challenge to all of us to try to get a true heavenly perspective on what is most important)
The team prayed for the children, and they prayed with a passion and fervency that really challenged me - as they laid hands on the children and hugged them, it was one of the most tangible demonstrations I have seen of the kind of love that I imagine Jesus had when he "took the children in his arms and blessed them"
The writers then split into small teams to work over the next 2 days in writing new songs, editing existing songs, and helping to refine each others work. The team effort was amazing, especially in the context of the historical divisions in the country. On the final day, all of the songs were presented and recorded (as rough demos), and it was a tremendously encouraging time for each individual, knowing that God had used them to contribute to something that was much bigger than any one individual could achieve on their own.
The time of worship and celebration when the recordings were completed was explosive - the Rwandese lift the roof when they get going, and the dancing, singing, clapping and shouting is quite infectious!
Before the songwriters left early next morning, there was a short time of prayer and worship, and one hauntingly beautiful song was sung acappella, with rich harmonies, and an emotional depth that was quite beyond anything I have experienced before. Someone explained later to me that when friends and family part in Rwanda, there is a poignancy and heartache, borne out of the history of having lost so many people in the past. When they wish and pray for each other a safe journey, and express their hope of meeting again, it is not a casual prayer...
Choosing the songs
Back in Kigali the next day, the core team met to listen again to all of the songs that had been recorded, review the lyrics, and choose the songs that would be on the final recording. It was a long process - there were too many good songs to be able to include them all, but a final shortlist of 12 or so songs was reached. The next day we gathered a small group of children to try some of the songs out on them, which was great fun.
What happens next?
As I write this, Dave is working on the backing tracks and will be returning to Rwanda on August 16 to record the children's choir that the local team is putting together at the moment. Then the tracks will have to be mixed, mastered, and tapes and CD's manufactured for a launch, possibly in November.
In the West, the Christian music "market" is saturated with children's albums - in Rwanda, this recording will probably be unique, and that is one of the reasons why personally I feel that this project, along with the previous album that Dave recorded, is such a significant thing, and it has been a huge privilege to play a small part in helping to serve the church in that nation. Please continue to pray...
Many blessings to you