We had tickets to leave Rwanda on May 29th.  That feels like a lifetime ago. 

May 29th was supposed to allow us a last joyful Easter. It was supposed to allow Elsa to finish school with her class. It was supposed to give us the last dinners with friends, a party to say goodbye and space. It was going to give us space to depart with closure. 

When COVID-19 first arrived in Rwanda on Saturday, I was still planning to preach the next morning. Ethan, my colleague and the person replacing me at Holy Trinity, called to let me know the government was going to close churches. Then, they were to close schools.  

My immediate reaction was to book an Airbnb at our favorite lakehouse with our dear friends Matt and Karli (and their two kids who are best friends with our kids.) I recorded a sermon with Ethan, emailed the church and made preparations. We baptized two children in a private ceremony on Sunday morning (since the public service was canceled) and drove the 4 hours to Lake Kivu, through stunningly beautiful scenery. 

“By Monday morning we could tell things were more serious than any of us expected.”

By Monday morning we could tell things were more serious than any of us expected. Peace Corps was evacuated. Embassy families leaving. The prospect of churches and schools reopening soon slim to none. 

We were resting in our favorite location, with our favorite people. But the proverbial clouds were gathering, dark and stormy on the horizon. We could sense something was happening far more seriously than we all expected.  Brussels airline shut down all flights to Kigali. Five more cases found. Rumors of airports being closed. 

On Monday night we put the kids to bed, and all of us sat in the lake house, built from flagstones and volcanic rock, listening to the lapping waves on the lakeshore.  Stunned. Praying together. Listening together. 

If we wanted to get home anytime soon, we might have to do it fast. Really fast. Waiting would mean being stuck in Kigali.  We also have a young woman on a gap-year living with us, Mary Gin. She has been volunteering in Love with Actions, a ministry to the disabled. She is the definition of delightful. She needed to get home. I didn’t want her flying alone. 

So we made an unthinkable decision. We decided to leave. 

“How could things happen so quickly? Change so quickly?”

Phone calls were made. Travel agents scrambled. Tickets rebooked for Friday night. 

We told the kids in the morning. Afterward, I sat on a picnic table on a little peninsula- tropical birds chirping- fishermen singing their way in from a long night casting their nets- and wept. 

How could things happen so quickly? Change so quickly? 

Before long Ivan found me and sat with me. 

The tears began to slow. 

The day began to race. 

While I was laying down on the beach, Hallelujah (who is 6 and one of Elsa’s very best friends) said, “uncle Brandon, I am so sad you won’t get to baptize me.”  

Halle has been talking about baptism for some time, and I believe that she is ready.  Karli looked at me and said, “well, we are at the lake!”  

“She told Matthew that Baptism was like dying with Jesus and being raised with him. But it was also like being washed of our sins.  In other words, she gets it better than most adults.”

Matthew took her aside for a while, and prayed with her and talked with her.  She told Matthew that Baptism was like dying with Jesus and being raised with him. But it was also like being washed of our sins.  In other words, she gets it better than most adults. 

I have that liturgy almost memorized, so we waded out into the water and baptized her. Tears were shed by all. 

The last 48 hours have been full of packing, awkward elbow bumps and hand washing. Thank God we sold our house to a friend, fully furnished. The final paperwork must be signed, so I got my lawyer to put together a multi-pronged power of attorney and had it notarized. The only thing fitting about our departure is that I am trusting my life with Daniel Kayijuka. 

Last night we found out that the government would close the airport at 11:59 PM on Friday night.  We are on the last flight out of the country. 

When we moved to Rwanda I wrote a haiku. 

Bound for far off land
A thousand green hills await
Bittersweet goodbye

Now, as we so unceremoniously scramble to leave, I wrote another. 

A Stolen Farewell
No hugs allowed to send us 
Still, we leave in Hope 

Story written by Brandon James Nelson Walsh (10) an English service pastor at Holy Trinity Cathedral.

Related story: Emma Mitchell’s time abroad during the initial stages of COVID-19 expanded her view of global empathy.

PLNU’s the Viewpoint publishes relevant and vital stories that grapple with life's profound questions from a uniquely Christian perspective. In addition to the content offered online, the Viewpoint print magazine is published three times a year in spring, summer, and fall.