taking the words of Jesus seriously

I was a reluctant artist, self-doubting leader and a broken soul. I was in search of healing.

After a series of traumatic experiences that culminated with my hospitalization in Zambia, I went on a sabbatical in search of courage, tenacity and renewal to continue in my vocation. It was early 2014 and we were entering into the year commemorating 20 years since the genocide in Rwanda. During this time, my mentors were leading a pilgrimage to Uganda and Rwanda to journey through places of immense pain and tremendous hope as a means to engage in the pain and hope in one’s active life. Because of my closely related work in Africa, I didn’t want to go—I knew I would have to intentionally delve into the hellish reality of a violent massacre I knew very little of. Simultaneously, I knew that by stepping into the pain, I would find the hope I was so desperately searching for. And so, together with eight other pilgrims, I went. We journeyed alongside of survivors and perpetrators of genocide as an attempt to identify in the incomprehensible pain that oppresses us all. It was through this experience that healing came in a profound way.

There, I experienced so much beauty as the juxtaposition of pain and hope became an embodied reality. I found immense healing in listening to the stories of utter grief blossoming into joy, betrayal into faithfulness and death into life.

Neither words nor images can fully convey the emotional crises, psychological torment and heartwrenching pain the Rwandan’s experienced during the genocide. The “On Pilgrimage” series features the stories that impacted me most—the stories in which I found active examples of healing that has transcended into my experience. The juxtaposition of these stories, themes and values are conveyed both in narrative and visual storytelling; each containing factual accounts and metaphors painted with a double-exposed photograph conveying an unlikely coexistence. As a way of remembering 100 days of killings, each series will be released weekly starting today, April 7, 2014, the day the genocide began twenty years ago.

I identify with these words from Francois, a former member of the Hutu-extremist militia responsible for carrying out the genocide,

“Telling my story helps me go back into the journey of what I’ve experienced—it gives me strength.”

As a photographer and activist, this series is the medium for telling my story—my story of identifying with both the oppressed and oppressor. On pilgrimage, I’ve learned that experiencing the brokenness of the world leads to a greater sense of internal healing. As I’ve begun to find healing in these paradoxical stories, my hope is that together we will begin to recognize the hope present in our situations of pain. Through it, may a new journey commence—a journey intent on healing the brokenness of the world.

Read Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, and Part 6

About The Author


From documenting a widow with leprosy in the jungles of Vietnam, to providing scholarships for survivors of sexual violence in Zambia, furthering
 social justice through the arts has been a vital part of Nikole’s vocational journey. By using film and photography, Nikole shifts paradigms on how stories are told by platforming voices of the oppressed—sharing stories of immense beauty arising out of seemingly broken situations. Nikole is the Co-Founder and International Director of Freely in Hope, a nonprofit organization seeking to restore dignity with survivors of sexual violence by providing educational opportunities and platforms for women to fulfill their dreams. Freely in Hope operates in Kenya and Zambia providing psychological counseling, health care and high school and university scholarships for young women who desire to impact global communities through their rewritten stories. Freely in Hope exists to equip survivors and advocates to lead in ending the cycle of sexual violence.

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