JACKSON, Tenn. – Nov. 2, 2010– Andrea McDaniel, a 1999 Union University graduate, returned to her alma mater in October to inform members of the Union Auxiliary about the current state of the country of Rwanda and the work she is a part of there through a ministry she developed.
“She has a real passion for peace building, economic development and strengthening of the churches,” Lanese Dockery, president of the Union Auxiliary, said in introducing McDaniel to the attendees at the Oct. 12 luncheon.
The Union Auxiliary provides scholarships to students and provides support for international students and students of missionary families.
McDaniel’s passion led her to found and serve as chief executive director for the As We Forgive-Rwanda Initiative, a Christian, non-profit organization which seeks to provide healing and reconciliation in the post-genocide country, Dockery said.
Reminding the Auxiliary members of the events now known as the “Rwandan Genocide,” McDaniel explained that power struggle and racial superiority beliefs were at the root of the genocide that in 1995 resulted in the brutal death of 10 percent of the country’s population in 100 days.
She told the story of how she became concerned for the reconciliation of the Rwandans.
Between graduating from Union and founding AWFRI, McDaniel served for five years at the U.S. Department of State. During her time there, she established a federal office which arranges private sector participation in diplomacy initiatives around the world. It was through her position at the State Department that McDaniel first visited Rwanda five years ago.
“When I visited, I was surprised to see how the people who are there now are really a lot like us,” she said. “They’re ordinary people with dreams that their children will go to school. They want to make a living for their families.”
Despite the similarities, the country is deeply impoverished. There’s another stark difference as well, she said.
“Most all of them have a story of how they have been touched by the tragedy (of the genocide),” she said. “Their stories are really dramatic.”
Last year she returned to Rwanda with a friend who had created an award-winning documentary that promotes reconciliation between victims’ families and the perpetrators of the genocide. McDaniel said she was curious to see what the gospel presented through the film could do in the country. The success of the trip, due to the interest the Rwandan government took in their efforts, led to return trips and to the founding of AWFRI.
AWFRI has several initiatives to encourage reconciliation, including showing and discussing the film “As We Forgive” and teaching a basketball camp for students. The organization also works to empower Rwandan pastors to teach their congregations the concepts of repentance, forgiveness and reconciliation from a biblical perspective, McDaniel said.
“We’ve now reached 35,000 Rwandan people,” she said.
She shared that in response to the AWFRI training, some pastors organized home-building projects, bringing victims and perpetrators together to work on projects that help their communities.
“It is amazing to see how the changing of somebody’s mind and heart produces results in their life,” McDaniel said.
By Samantha Adams (’13)