Article and photos by Pastor John Hobbins | Contributing Author
It was a great blessing to have author Sandra Uwiringiyimana and her sister Adele Kibasumba with us in Oshkosh and Appleton this past week. They touched the lives of many as they told their story of survival and hope. Their ongoing work in the diaspora and in the Congo on behalf of all the people of South Kivu, regardless of tribal heritage, inspires commitment. Sandra and Adele’s joy and tears are contagious.
We brought Sandra to Wisconsin because young people in our schools read her book, How Dare the Sun Rise, and their lives are transformed. Sandra finds words to recount her most hurtful memories. When a ten-year old girl or boy reads her words of pain, she empowers them to voice their own pain.
Her gratitude for family, her spunk and grit, her sense of humor, her acknowledgement of the role of mentors in her life, her desire to become a lawmaker one day - all this and more tugged at our hearts as she graced us with her presence.
There is a passage in the New Testament that goes like this: “God has not given us a spirit of cowardice, but a spirit of power and love and self-control” (2 Timothy 1:7).
God has given a spirit of power and love and self-control to Sandra and Adele, in abundance.
It was fabulous to see old and new friends at the community events at which Sandra spoke.
The food and fellowship and conversation at Zion on Tuesday night was amazing. A great big thank you to Anyat and Louise and Abuk and many others for cooking up a storm. A great big thank you to the young Rotarians, the students of the Global Academy of West High School, and the students of the College of Education and Human Services of UW Oshkosh who helped with rides, watched the kids, and helped with set up and clean up.
Thank you to Specioza and Pastor John for serving as Kinyarwanda and Swahili conversation partners in assembly. Thank you to the newly formed boys and girls African dance teams of Oshkosh North High School. Their performances lifted our spirits.
Those who sought to kill Sandra and Adele, those who would deprive the Banyamulenge people of life and limb and land and hope, have not been brought to justice.
Still, as Sandra put it in her book, “As long as I am still alive, they have failed. As long as people hear my story, they have failed.”
It was a pleasure to collaborate with the Division of Inclusive Excellence of UW Oshkosh on bringing author Sandra Uwiringiyimana and her sister Adele Kibasumba to Foundation Hall on campus Wednesday night. A shout out to Carlos Salazar and Dulce Lopez for making Wednesday evening a special event.
It requires great resilience to be a student of color and achieve success at the UW Oshkosh. The empathy and understanding were palpable among those in attendance as Adele recounted the many obstacles thrown in her path as she has sought to further her education in the United States. She beat the odds many times in order to become a licensed nurse practitioner, start a family at the same time, and now serve as the elected representative of her people in the United States, the first woman to hold that post.
The community event in the Commons of the Appleton campus of Fox Valley Technical College on Thursday was a fitting conclusion to the three-day visit. The fellowship meal, the presentation by Sandra and Adele, and the discussion following were unforgettable. A shout out to Innocent for serving as Master of Ceremonies. A shout out to Koua and the entire staff of FVTC’s Diversity and Inclusion Services for making the event a magnificent success.
The 500 people who attended the community events will not soon forget the story of survival and hope shared by Sandra and Adele.
The heart of the Sandra and Adele’s visit were nine separate presentations to groups large and small of elementary, middle school, and high school students in the Oshkosh, Menasha, and Appleton school districts. Students from Lourdes Academy and Valley Christian High School in Oshkosh also attended. More than 1000 students heard Sandra, or Sandra and Adele, over the course of three days.
It is impossible to put into words the impact on young and old readers alike who get to hear and meet and greet a book’s author. It’s like meeting a movie star, only better. You get to hear the voice and feel the human warmth of someone whose words moved you deeply.
A great big thank you to the many sponsors of the three day visit: the Oshkosh Area School District, the Menasha Joint School District, the Appleton Area School District, the Division of Inclusive Excellence of UW Oshkosh, Diversity and Inclusion Services of Fox Valley Technical College, Oshkosh Rotary Southwest, the TREG Community Fund, Coldwell Banker Real Estate Group, the Oshkosh Area Community Foundation, Thrivent Financial, BreatheFree, World Relief, the Appleton Public Library, Cherith, and Zion Lutheran Church.
Among our students’ greatest advocates and supporters are their teachers and administrators. An event like this cannot happen without a huge team effort. There are several I will name; I wish I could name them all. Julie Conrad, Dawn Shimura, Yessra Sankari, Susie Leib, and Kel Wayne; Amy Swick, Innocent Irenge, and Gretchen Lettau; Byron Adams, Carlos Salazar, Veronica Warren, Alicia Johnson, Alphonso Simpson, and Don Hones; Koua Thao and Rayon Brown; Tara Koji, Malual Awak, Rhoda Baruhani, Robin Goedderz, Alicia Herman, Ta Feiter, Jamie Horn, Stephen Hilger, Olivia Lambie, Bill Counts, Nancy Schumacher, Sammy Michalski, David Joblonski, Maya Vang, Judy Mehn, and Katie Lairsen.
“How dare the sun rise, as if it were any other day, after such a gruesome night,” writes Sandra Uwiringiyimana. After the night in which she lost her little sister and many friends to murderers, how dare the sun rise.
Perhaps you, too, have had a gruesome night in your life. Perhaps you have had more than one.
Bringing Sandra and Adele to Wisconsin was my way of saying thank you to a great many young people who grace my life. Their happiness is my happiness. Their sadness is my sadness. You know who you are.
John Hobbins is a well-known pastor, humanitarian and pickleball afficionado based in the Fox Valley, WI area. For more insights into his faith fueled passion for changing lives around the globe, visit him here: https://www.facebook.com/john.hobbins.52