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July 24, 2008

Cindy McCain in Rwanda

Cindy_mccain I'm a little behind on news (just getting back from my honeymoon), but I read today about Cindy McCain's recent trip to Rwanda. Michael Gerson had an excellent op-ed on it in yesterday's Post. He writes that this week's trip was not McCain's first:

Cindy McCain's first visit to this country, in 1994, was during the high season of roadblocks and machetes and shallow graves.

Following a call for help from Doctors Without Borders, McCain had assembled a medical team with the intention of setting up a mobile hospital in Rwanda. Arriving by private plane in mid-April, a couple of weeks into the massacres, she realized that the chaos made deploying her team impossible. At the airport, she paid for the use of a truck and set out for Goma in then-Zaire, where hundreds of thousands of refugees were also headed.

While McCain never saw someone kill another while there, she saw kids carrying AK-47s at roadblocks and guzzling bottles of Guinness. She also told Gerson that she could smell "the smell of death." Read the full op-ed here.

Gerson concludes his thoughts on a potential first lady's visit to Rwanda this way:

Like most of Cindy McCain's life, these stories are generally hidden behind a wall of well-tailored reticence. She values the privacy of her family and resents the intrusiveness of the media. None of her relief work has been done for political consumption or Washington prominence. On the contrary, it has been an alternative life to the culture of the capital -- the rejection of the normal progress of a senator's wife. "It is not about me -- it never has been. I felt it was important -- that I had to do it. I never took government money. It was my own, and I am not ashamed of it."

But all this would have political consequences in a McCain administration. Even if a first lady is not intrusively political, the whole White House responds to her priorities. Cindy McCain has had decades of personal contact with the suffering of the developing world. And in some future crisis or genocide, it might matter greatly to have a first lady who knows the smell of death.

McCain traveled with some other notables to Rwanda, including Democratic former senator Tom Daschle, former Clinton White House chief of staff John Podesta, Republican former senator Bill Frist, former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, and Republican former congressman John Kasich, as part of a delegation with the ONE Group.

Archbishop Emmanuel Kolini, whom I've had the pleasure to meet, called their visit "the sacrament of presence" in an interview with USA Today. It is especially meaningful given how forgotten Rwandans felt by the West in 1994.

While there the group had the chance to witness a soldier, who had helped slaughter people who had gathered in a church for refuge, ask forgiveness from a woman who'd lost 120 relatives in the genocide.

I'm glad that stories like these and like the ones I've told in As We Forgive are reaching the ears of those in powerful places. A first-hand glimpse of reconciliation, I believe, is just the kind of glimpse of shalom that we need to take back to our own shattered lives and shattered world.

(By the way, my book is now available for pre-order, and I would love for you to pre-order a copy! That would be an awesome wedding present or birthday present--thanks for asking--both just happened in July! :-))

(Image © The ONE Campaign)

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Robert Lewis

See who the first wife of John McCain is working for now and who she contributed to


Chris Clukey

Robert, could I ask what your point is here?

Chris Clukey

Congratulations, Catherine! I hope your honeymoon was wonderful.

If you're impressed with Cindy McCain now, check this out: In the 7 years her American Volunteer Medical Teams organization operated, McCain led 55 different medical expeditions to disaster and war zones in the Third World, each one lasting at least two weeks.

That's a minimum of two years and six weeks "in the mud" caring for the least of these. And let's not forget she is an heiress. She could have just ignored the problem, or even jus written an occasional check (not that there's anything wrong with that) but instead she waded in--and wrote all the checks. In 1991 she and Senator McCain adopted an infant from Bangladesh she had come across who needed Western medical attention to live.


Whether you like or dislike her husband, Cindy McCain is a gem.

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