I have been avoiding this post for a long time…talking about the genocide. We have been studying the genocide in our Issues in Peacebuilding class for the last 5 weeks and through lectures, reading, and visiting memorials I have had a lot to process. I wanted to share about my experience at the memorials weeks ago, but I didn’t even know what to say. How do I describe how it felt to stand inside an underground grave, staring at rows and rows of human skulls and bones? To stand in a church sanctuary and see holes in the walls where grenades and hammers broke through, piles and piles of people’s clothes collecting dust, dried blood on the walls, and a statue of Mary looking down on the whole scene? To be surrounded by the remains of innocent people who were brutally murdered for just being a member of a certain ethnic group. I didn’t have words for that then, and I still don’t.
Seeing all that made me question where God was in all of this, and if healing is even possible after such trauma. Yesterday, though, redemption happened.
Yesterday, Pastor Anastase, our Peacebuilding professor, brought in two guest speakers. He has brought in quite a few guest speakers, mostly people involved in local peacebuilding organizations. I assumed that the man and woman waiting for us at the dining table were in similar positions, although it was strange that we were meeting with them at the table rather than in the classroom. I soon realized though, this was no normal lecture. Anastase began to introduce them and we learned that the woman was a survivor of the genocide, and the man was a perpetrator, a killer, during the genocide. I got chills when I realized I was sitting in the presence of someone who had murdered I didn’t know how many people. But they wanted to share their testimonies, so we listened.
Immanuel told his story first. He was 24 and a Hutu at the time of the genocide. On April 11, 1994 soldiers came to his house and told him that they would pay him to help in the killing Tutsis. They shot him in the arm for saying no, so out of fear for his life he went. He told us of the families and individuals he killed with a machete in the following days. He stopped and returned home, but on April 29, the soldiers came back and recruited him once again to chase people hiding in the bush. It was there that he cut off Alice’s hand, hit her over the head with a machete, and left her for dead among the dozens of others chased out of hiding and killed. Immanuel, a Christian, felt extreme guilt for what he had done and after a few months he reported himself to the district court. They thought he was mad for confessing on his own, but put him in prison for 8 years. After he was released he felt that he needed to approach people he had hurt who were still alive, but found this to be an incredibly hard and frightening task. Eventually, he ran into Alice. She didn’t remember him, but he remembered her and what he had done to her. After some time of working together in the community, he pulled her aside and confessed what he had done and asked for her forgiveness…
Alice then began her story. She was not allowed to continue her education past elementary school because she was a Tutsi, so she lived with her family and helped with the farming and housework for most of her life. In 1991, her father and brother were kidnapped by the Interhamwe and she never saw them again. In the years following, she married, had a baby girl, and built a house. She and her family felt that they had finally reached a time of peace, but it did not last long. On April 11, 1994 the killings started and she and her family went into hiding in a church and eventually moved to the bush near a river. On April 29 a group of men came and began killing those in hiding. Alice had a spear run through her shoulder, two machete cuts in her head, her right hand cut off, and then a man came and stomped on her chest as she lay on the ground bleeding. Miraculously, though, she survived. Some people who had survived the raid came out and cared for her until the RPF soldiers came and rescued those in hiding. Her husband miraculously survived as well, but their daughter was taken out of her arms and cut in half during the attack. It took her a long time to recover, both physically and emotionally. She struggled with seeing Hutus in her church, and worshipping a God who had let these terrible things happen to her and her family. Eventually, she began to turn back to God and began helping World Vision visit families and children in her village. She began to pray that she would have the opportunity to forgive the person who cut off her hand. Then, she met Immanuel and he asked her for forgiveness. She was traumatized by meeting the man who had handicapped her, but after a few days she was able to forgive him.
Their relationship didn’t stop there though. Alice was a judge in the gacaca court that tried Immanuel after he confessed to her, and she helped him to get a lesser sentence of community service for two years, rather than more time in jail. Immanuel has asked her family for forgiveness, and today their children are friends. I was blown away by their ability to reconcile. We have been talking for weeks about post-genocide reconciliation happening among Rwandans, but I don’t think I truly understood the power of that until I hear this story.
Immanuel and Alice are very open about their story, because they want people to know that reconciliation and forgiveness is possible. After we ended, we got a picture with both of them (which I don’t have) and I ended up standing next to Immanuel. He put his arm around me and I felt complete peace standing arm and arm with a man who, although he was a murderer, is forgiven and loved by God in the same way I am for my sins. I am so grateful for this experience to hear a tragic yet beautiful story of how God can work, even out of something as evil as genocide.
“Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, ‘Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?’ Jesus answered, ‘I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.” Matthew 8:21-22
“Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all those virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity” Colossians 3:12-14