Never Again - 20 Years After Genocide in Rwanda
Twenty years ago, the East African nation of Rwanda experienceda genocide that left nearly a million people dead and two million people displaced from their homes. A civil war that began in 1990 led to the 100-day genocide, resulting in more than 100,000 children without parents, a massive spread of HIV and AIDS, and entire villages traumatized by the violence of war. Although forever changed, the people of Rwanda have sought to rebuild their lives, their relationships, and their communities. Now, 20 years later, reconciliation is becoming a more tangible reality as churches and individuals are responding to God’s call on their lives to live compassion.
Here, as we think about how the events in Rwanda have impacted people around the world, we share a reflection from Simon Pierre Rwaramba, pastor of Gisenyi Church of the Nazarene in Rwanda.
As we reflect on his words, we also want to share stories (below) of how local leaders are participating in God’s desire to bring beauty and reconciliation from the ashes of atrocity.
Freedom in Reconciliation: A Rwandan Pastor's Reflection
Rwanda, nicknamed the Land of a Thousand Hills for its fertile, rolling terrain, gained its independence from Belgium in 1962. Though Tutsis and Hutus share the same language, religion, and culture, the division between the two groups was long-standing. The process of colonization forever changed what was once a fluid distinction between Hutus (who were historically farmers) and Tutsis (traditionally herders) into a rigid ethnic separation.
A significant part of this division was created through the mandatory use of identity cards that indicated race—Hutu (who make up almost 80% of the population), Tutsi (who make up about 15%), or Twa (who make up about 1%). These cards were used during the 1994 genocide to decide the fate of their owners. The Belgians (who originally began the identity card program) considered the Tutsis, who are typically taller and lighter-skinned, more European and, therefore, superior to the Hutus. For this reason, during their colonization of Rwanda, they placed the Tutsis in charge of the colonial administration and gave them certain privileges. These policies created a sense of resentment among Hutus.
On 6 April 1994, the murder of the presidents of Rwanda and Burundi and the head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of Rwanda sparked the beginning of genocide in the midst of an ongoing civil war. In 100 days, nearly one million Tutsis and moderate Hutus were killed by their extremist neighbors.
The violence that ensued left hundreds of thousands of children orphaned, thousands homeless, and many more infected with HIV. Poverty, hunger, and darkness covered the country.
We then asked ourselves, “What was the right direction for this country in which everything was darkness?”
We began to pursue new direction, new mindset, and new vision!
One of the first steps in this new vision was the government’s creation of the National Unity and Reconciliation Commission (NURC). This commission sought justice as it prosecuted those responsible for the genocide but also helped the people of Rwanda to build stronger communities and relationships. NURC developed a plan to combat discrimination through establishing communities with people from different groups living as neighbors. These kinds of actions articulated a powerful message: We are one.
We also recognized that as a church, we needed to do better.
At the time of the 1994 genocide, Rwanda’s population was 85% Christian, yet in less than 100 days almost one million Tutsi people were killed. The church had failed to participate fully in the mission and love of God!
Something had to change. We needed new direction, new vision—we needed God.
If we as Christians couldn’t change our understanding, if we could not humble ourselves and seek repentance and forgiveness, nothing would change. The message of the Gospel needed to become real in our lives.
Our scripture has good news about repentance, love, and reconciliation. It is what the Church must embody in our communities, in prisons, and in congregations. And when we did, things began to change.
By God’s grace our lives were changed by the message of reconciliation and God used us to spread that reconciliation to our neighbors and communities.
My wife, Caritas, was an example of what this life of love and reconciliation looks like. Caritas was on the list of people to be killed. She escaped that fate when we fled the country. Yet even after being a target of this genocide—and after seeing what they did to her neighbors when we returned— Caritas eventually decided to forgive the criminals! Today, her former enemy and a man who was a known killer, Zarias, is a friend whom we visit regularly.
Looking back, Caritas says, “After I forgave, I found peace in my life, freedom, and strong relationship with other people. Forgiveness is the freedom way. … After forgiveness, there is another way of love—love everyone, love your enemy.”
This is the mission of the church: Teach and preach to people about God’s love unconditionally. Jesus teaches us in Mark 12:29-31, “‘The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ … ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’There is no commandment greater than these.”
If we obey Jesus’ command to love God and our neighbor, genocide will never happen again.
Will you join us as we live reconciliation in our community? Will you also respond to your enemies with compassion? Will you live love and reconciliation daily?
Twenty years later, we praise God for bringing reconciliation between Rwandans. We continue to pray that never again will there be genocide, and we pray for peace in the world. We pray for a continued new direction, new mindset, and new vision focused on God.
God bless all peacemakers!
— Simon Pierre