Written on the altar of what remains of a Catholic church in Ntamara, rural towns outside of Kigali, Rwanda, are the words: “if you knew me and you knew yourself, you would not have killed me.” These words are a powerful emblem at site where mass murder took place just seventeen years ago. Directly in front of the altar lay belongings and human remains from hundreds of victims who were killed, simply because they were of a different ethnic group.

Such violence is often the result of a systemic dehumanization process resulting in a person or group becoming “the other.” In Rwanda, this dehumanization was communicated through government-sponsored propaganda over several years leading up to the genocide. This campaign was rooted in bitterness and frustration of the unjust economic and social infrastructure established by former colonial powers that favored the Tutsi ethnic group. The years of bitterness and resentment and desire for power manifested itself in 100 days of mass killings of thousands of Tutsi and moderate Hutus throughout Rwanda.

The words at Ntmara will remain forever written on my heart. They are a vivid reminder of the need to combat bitterness with healing, fear with understanding and hatred with love. I had the opportunity to participate in the planting of seeds of reconciliation as an intern last fall with Refuge and Hope, which is a Christian ministry that assists those affected by war and conflict in Uganda. I volunteered as an ESL teacher at the Center of Hope, a community center for urban East African refugees in Kampala, Uganda.

Diversity was a very present reality at the center as seven different countries were represented. Within each country group, there were additional language, class and ethnic divisions. Many countries had experienced war with neighboring states (such as Ethiopia and Eritrea) and/or internal civil war (Democratic Republic of Congo and Sudan). These conflicts resulted in resentment, prejudices and division within the Centre’s student body.

Recognizing this division, staff and volunteers sought to bridge understanding and reconciliation through classes and activities. I taught a morning ESL class twice a week that had students from five different countries. When I first began teaching this class in September, students had little to no interaction with people from outside of their own ethnic group. Over the next few months, during class breaks, I took my class outside and played interactive games and activities. One activity that became a favorite was the name game. This game consisted of students saying their name and doing a hand motion, while everyone else repeated their name and motion. This game allowed students the opportunity to interact with one another.

Some of my favorite Uganda memories are standing in a circle with my students, laughing together as they attempted to make the right action as they said “Yvette! Jane! Rose!” By the time that I left in December, students in my classes had become family.

The presence of prejudice made it challenging to reach out and connect with all nationalities represented in Kampala. There is strong prejudice amongst Ugandans and other East African refugees against one nationality group in particular. These societal stigmas made bridging a connection with this group particularly difficult. Although this was one of the largest and poorest refugee populations in Kampala, no students from that ethnic group come to the center.

One day while visiting with friends I had the opportunity to connect with someone from this nationality. While my friends and I were walking down the stairs from their apartment, a woman in her mid-forties smiled at us. We walked over and introduced ourselves. During the first moments of the conversation, her three children came out and introduced themselves. We told them about English, sports, computer, cooking and sewing classes at a community center less than a kilometer from their home.

This conversation was pivotal to the ministry of the center. As a result, twenty more people from this nationality joined classes at the center during the next month. The other students expressed strong reservations and reluctance when these new students first arrived at the center. Over time, deep relationships were built though teaching English, playing Frisbee during class breaks, visiting their homes, and sharing meals and religious holidays together. These families are now an integral part of the Refuge and Hope community.

Refuge and Hope recognizes that students are survivors and have the potential to be key leaders within their communities as they seek to re-build their country and lives. Refuge and Hope seeks to plant seeds of understanding and reconciliation, rooted in the love. I was so inspired throughout my internship last semester to see an organization take seriously the mandate of Christ to be peacemakers in the world.

Missy Ward is a student at McAfee School of Theology, Atlanta, Georgia.