The Gospel really does shine brightest in the darkest places!
April - July 1994 in Rwanda: In just 100 days, more than 1,000,000 people were murdered. But the genocidaires did not kill a million people. They killed one, then another, then another ... day after day, hour after hour, minute by minute. Every minute of the day, someone, somewhere was being murdered, screaming for mercy. Receiving none. And the killing went on and on and on ...
10,000 each day.
400 each hour.
7 each minute.
The genocide resulted in the deaths of over a million people.
People seeking sanctuary in churches were trapped. Killers threw grenades into the buildings, then used machetes and clubs to kill the survivors. In one case, a church still full of people seeking refuge was bulldozed while the people were locked inside. Children were specifically targeted and gruesomely murdered in front of their parents. But death was not the only outcome:
Tens of thousands were tortured, mutilated and raped
Many were intentionally infected with HIV/AIDS by those known to carry the virus
Streets littered with corpses where dogs and buzzards ate their rotting flesh
Try to imagine living in a country where EVERYONE was involved:
As a victim ...
As a survivor ...
Or as a killer ...
Neighbors, friends, and relatives all suffering in these ways. Neighbors, friends and relatives were the very people who did these atrocious things to your family. You see these same neighbors, friends and relatives every day because they live in your community, work in the same fields and attend your church! How can you exist with them, let alone reconcile with them?
In just a few days, April 7th will be recognized as Genocide Memorial Day that begins their annual week of mourning to remember this part of their history. 2019 will be the 25th anniversary.
Can the Gospel penetrate such darkness?!? YES!!
"He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed." (1 Peter 2:24)
It's been a little over a week since Ted and I arrived back home in Billings and we're still processing all that we experienced in Rwanda. It was simply ... awesome! The stories of forgiveness and reconciliation were evident all week and it's my privilege to share a few of them with you. While this is a summary, you can find more pictures and videos in our daily forum updates. Also, please join us Wednesday, April 17th for a webinar entitled Update! Mission to Rwanda where we will share these stories with you! Just click the link and register now for this free webinar. Also, we've posted many pictures and videos to our Facebook page.
The government of Rwanda has done an amazing job rebuilding the country, community and culture since the genocide. The capital city of Kigali has been completely rebuilt. Infrastructure was quite remarkable with new roads and internet and phone connectivity even in remote areas. They have also invested heavily in providing reconciliation training for their people. In the 25 years since the genocide, the government, NGOs and churches have provided countless seminars, programs and even primary-school curricula to teach the virtues of forgiveness and reconciliation. We found much to admire about these programs because both "forgiveness" and "reconciliation" are ubiquitous terms in their everyday language. But something is missing.
Our Rwanda story began a few months ago when AoR was contacted by Rev. Shauen Trump, Area Director - Eastern and Southern Africa, LC-MS Office of International Mission seeking "trauma counseling training" for pastors of Lutheran Mission in Africa - Synod of Thousand Hills (LMA-STH), a new church body in Rwanda. Bishop Seburikoko of that church body has been active with many of the national reconciliation programs over the years but recognized something was missing. His pastors, still struggling with the genocide themselves were feeling ill-equipped to help their parishioners with the trauma of the genocide all these years later. While we don't describe AoR's training as "trauma counseling training," it was determined that our focus on our identity in Christ, the proclamation of the Gospel and forgiveness was just what they needed. So we prepared an abbreviated version of two of our most popular seminars, Go and Be Reconciled: What Does this Mean? and Coaching People through Conflict to be translated into Kinyarwanda.
On our first day in Rwanda, we visited the Kigali Genocide Memorial with Bishop Seburikoko. It was a somber time of reflection on what happened 25 years ago. While we had studied Rwanda and the genocide extensively before our trip, the memorial made this atrocity all the more real. The quote at the beginning of this missive about a million murders one, after another, after another was on a plaque at this memorial. While strolling the grounds outside the memorial I had the chance to ask Bishop if this visit was still difficult for him. "Yes," he said, "I was away in another country at the time of the genocide and my family members were killed. I never found them when I returned."
Our second day allowed us to meet with several pastors and lay leaders of Lutheran Mission in Africa - Synod of Thousand Hills. Our purpose was to get personally acquainted but also to hear from them first-hand about the kinds of issues with which the people of Rwanda still struggle. The list of questions and concerns surprised us even though we had tried to prepare ourselves ahead of time. Their questions included:
How can a pastor help to heal others when he himself is wounded and hurting?
What should you do if one person is ready to forgive but another does not want forgiveness or is unwilling to reconcile?
If you were the only one of eight family members who survived, should you continue to grieve their loss? If you move on, some will judge you for forgetting your family. If you do not, you are also judged for not moving on. What should the Christian do?
If you knew someone who killed your family, how can you ignore who you are and who he is? (This relates to their ethnic background.) How can two people who were friends, but from different ethnic backgrounds, do such things to one another?
If you were born to a mother since the genocide, but you do not know your father because your mother was raped in the genocide, and you ask about your father but your mother cannot answer because to tell you would bring back too many memories, how do you reconcile who you are? How do you relate to your mother?
If you were a perpetrator and have been released from prison, what do you do if you and your wife had three children before the genocide, but now more than 20 years later, your wife has since had three other children? How do you treat your wife or her other children? What if the six children are divided — three and three against each other?
Young people (under age 25) may not commit suicide, but they take on dangerous life-threatening habits that risk their lives. Some from the next generation (ages 25 to 50) commit suicide in order to stop the pain of the past. What can a pastor do for those who attempt suicide or take on life-threatening habits?
A man who killed people during the genocide fled the country into exile soon afterward so he escaped authorities and prosecution. He has now returned to Rwanda and continues to hurt people. I know I should forgive him because the Bible says so. But can I forgive him and still report him to authorities? What is a Christian to do?
A pastor who is married, fathered a child through an adulterous affair. Are we to forgive him? Her? Who is obligated to care for this child? Are there consequences? As Christians, how do we navigate this?
A genocide perpetrator comes to me, a pastor, to confess his sin of multiple murders in the genocide. Do I forgive him? Do I report him to authorities? What should I do?
Can the Gospel penetrate such darkness?!? YES!!
"For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God." (2 Corinthians 5:21)
These are just a sampling of the questions we received. Some were asked prior to the training and others were asked during the training as the people wrestled with God's Word. Each time, we reminded them who they are in Christ; redeemed children of God. Then we modeled for them how to ask the question, "Does the Bible have anything to say about this?" We began applying scripture to these issues even before class began. As a result, several of the lay leaders in the group that second day asked if they could be included in the training that week. Unfortunately, due to space limitations the Bishop had to decline their request. That, he said, "will be an opportunity for another visit."
Then on Sunday, our third day in Rwanda we drove two hours to worship at a church near the border with Tanzania. They were awaiting our arrival and lined the road, dancing and singing as we approached. As we got out of the car, they continued their exuberant welcome. The chuch [sic - note the spelling in the picture] was a simple mud-brick structure with a steel roof and concrete floor that is common for the area. There was no lighting inside although electricity was available to power a microphone for the preacher. 250 people packed in for worship that day with the service lasting 2 1/2 - 3 hours. All music was a cappella - and quite beautiful. While the service was in Kinyarwanda, they followed a Swahili liturgy so we were able to recognize common elements of the service such as the Creed, the Lord's Prayer and the Benediction. They had plenty of parking since we were the only ones to arrive in a vehicle. Everyone else walked to church. In some cases they had walked miles dressed in their Sunday best and carrying their bibles to attend the service. It was a joy to share this experience with these brothers and sisters in Christ!