Rwanda Redeemed: Faith After Genocide

Rwanda Redeemed: Faith After Genocide

THE LIGHT STILL SHINES: The sun sets over the Murambi Genocide Memorial in Rwanda on July 9, 2011. (HDR photo by Tyler Hutcherson)

Five months after being immersed in the study of the Rwandan genocide, I still don’t know what to say about it.

I went to Rwanda last summer as part of a study abroad program with my university. I visited genocide memorials and saw the remains of victims, heard the testimonies of survivors and watched Rwandans passionately cry out to God in churches.

By the time I got back, my brain was overloaded with stories of genocide — images of machetes, babies slammed against walls, people hiding in cramped spaces praying they wouldn’t be found.

To try to put these stories into words, when I know that any attempt I make could only trivialize what Rwandans experienced, is not possible. It’s a story that cannot be shared lightly, when someone casually asks what Rwanda was like over small talk at lunch. But Rwanda holds a story that must be told—a warning against the dangers of racist stereotypes and propaganda, and proof that a country that has been through devastation can rise again.

This week, the Christianity Today story I reported in Kigali, Rwanda, went online. It’s about the charismatic movement in post-genocide Rwanda, a surge of emotionally expressive worship for catharsis, a turning toward God for healing.

During the month I spent in Rwanda and the weeks I struggled to write about it, I wondered how Rwandan Christians could still have such strong faith after surviving genocide, how anyone could believe in God after their family was brutally massacred in a church.

I poured out my questions in a post for UrbanFaith, and was comforted by the insights readers shared. Five months later, I still don’t have all the answers, but I do have some more thoughts.

Why did Christians commit genocide?

It deeply disturbs me that professing Christians took part in the Rwandan genocide. How could someone who identifies as Christian hate another race or ethnicity so much that they’d think of them as inyenzi (cockroaches) instead of children of God, that they’d believe it was their right to rape and murder them? How could some priests lure people into churches with false promises of sanctuary before opening their doors to murderers—or, in one case, sending in a bulldozer?

I don’t know the answer to that, but to ask this question without considering why the genocide happened in the first place is too simple of an approach. Genocide never would have happened if it hadn’t been for colonialism. The concepts of Hutu and Tutsi as ethnicities didn’t even exist before then; the names originally referred to social class. It was the colonial government that sorted people into ethnic groups, literally measuring Rwandans and issuing them Hutu or Tutsi ID cards.

Through racist European eyes, the Tutsi were intellectually superior, better fit to rule, taller, and lighter-skinned, supposedly because they had European ancestry going back to the biblical Ham, son of Noah.

NEVER FORGET: Pictures of those killed during the 1994 genocide are installed on a wall inside the Gisozi memorial in Kigali. Donated by survivors, the images honor the 800,000 Tutsi and politically moderate Hutus who died. (Photo by RADU SIGHETI/RTR/Newscom)

The colonial government and the Catholic Church favored the Tutsi, turning Rwanda into a breeding ground for ethnic resentment. Decades of tensions eventually grew into a genocidal environment under an extremist Hutu regime. Rampant propaganda portrayed Tutsi as “cockroaches,” or enemies set on destroying the country who had to be crushed.

Genocide doesn’t come from nowhere; it’s foreshadowed by ethnic dehumanization — the kind of ideology that will latch on to anything that could lend it power, especially the most powerful of all, religion.

This history by no means justifies what happened in Rwanda, but it does show us the horrifying consequences when people don’t stand up to racism and injustice.

How can Rwandans trust God after genocide?

When I watched Rwandans worship, I couldn’t help but think that you don’t see this kind of dedication in the United States. Some members of a church I visited prayed there for hours every day. How could people who survived such trauma come to God every day and submit their lives to Him without hesitation? And how could they trust Him enough to forgive the people once bent on eliminating their ethnicity?

In the aftermath of genocide, powerful stories of reconciliation between the perpetrators and their surviving victims have emerged. Not only have many Rwandans forgiven, but some have invited the people who killed their family back into their lives—living as neighbors once again, or even becoming family (one woman adopted her son’s killer).

As Bishop John Rucyahana of Prison Fellowship Rwanda told me over the phone, forgiveness is a crucial part of the healing process. Prison Fellowship Rwanda organizes reconciliation programs and works with perpetrators of the genocide to help them repent and ask for forgiveness.

“Those who are forgiving are not forgiving for the sake of the perpetrators only,” Rucyahana said. “They need to free their own selves. Anger, bitterness, the desire to revenge, it’s like keeping our feelings in a container. When you forgive, you feel whole.”

Being in Rwanda is like living in a world of contradictions. Massacres happened on the ground where I stood, and yet when you’re there, you cannot help but stand in awe of the stunning natural beauty.  Rwandan Christians survived horrors beyond any nightmare, and yet they have found the strength to forgive their enemies and passionately worship their Creator.

Before, I asked how Rwandan Christians could possibly trust God, let alone believe in his existence, after surviving genocide. But now, I wonder if they trust because they’ve been through hell and back, and they know Who conquers in the end.

Immigration News: the Good, the Bad, the Ugly

Immigration News: the Good, the Bad, the Ugly

Deportation Leads to Death?

First, in a story that reminds me of why I never put a Christian bumper sticker on my car, an undocumented 21-year-old Mexican immigrant who was paralyzed in a construction accident died a little more than one year after the Advocate Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn, Illinois, sent him back to Mexico, where he presumably received inferior care. The hospital “expressed regret for its handling of the process” and said “it is working with advocacy groups to improve its policies on international transfers,” The Chicago Tribune reported.

Legal Immigrants Are Citizens Too

Meanwhile, in Massachusetts, legal immigrants will gain access to the state’s Commonwealth Care health insurance plan after the state Supreme Court ruled that “the constitutional rights of tens of thousands of legal immigrants were violated when the state stripped them of their health care coverage in 2009” in order to save money, Colorlines reported.

Run Away Accidentally Deported

Next, news broke that a Dallas teenager who had been missing for more than a year had been arrested in Houston and was accidentally deported to Columbia. The teen, who had run away from home, “gave the police a false name and her new alias just happened to match up with the name of a 22-year-old Colombian citizen who had been in the United States illegally,” Yahoo News reported. Talk about your “Scared Straight” experience.

Detention Centers Reopen Trauma Wounds

Speaking of trauma, Colorlines got a rare look inside six U.S. immigration detention centers, and reported various humiliations and abuses, but concluded that “for many detainees, the worst part of awaiting expulsion is not the acute trauma inflicted inside the jails,” but “the unhealed wounds of violence from life on the outside that the humiliating baseness of life inside these jails reopens.” Still, a detainee reportedly lost sight in one of his eyes after being denied medication for an infection.

Connecting Immigration Dots in Alabama

At the God’s Politics blog, Lisa Sharon Harper connected her family history of forced immigration to the state with her mobilizing efforts there on behalf of undocumented immigrants. “These current day restrictions on immigrants are exactly what African Americans across the south faced during nearly 100 years of Jim Crow law, from about 1870 until the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Tears rolled down my face. I wasn’t prepared for just how bad it is… again,” said Harper.

Politicians Flip Flop on Immigration

On the presidential campaign trail, Mitt Romney’s threat to veto the DREAM Act is gaining traction with Latino voters, “the nation’s fastest growing voting group – with an estimated 12 million set to vote in the election,” according to ABC News.

The 2008 Republican nominee, Sen. John McCain, has endorsed Romney, even though McCain “was once a principal architect of comprehensive immigration reform,” according to MSNBC’s First Read blog. McCain has apparently had a change of heart on the issue, but conceded that Republicans need to “fix” their “problems with the Hispanics.”

“President Obama gave Republicans a political opening to Hispanic voters by deporting one million illegal aliens, a record number and a source of enormous irritation to many Hispanics. For Republicans to exploit that opening, however, and fix their ‘problems’ with Hispanics, the party must first fix its policies,” Bloomberg View editorial board member Francis Wilkinson opined in response.

Obama Administration Leaks Plan

Perhaps the president too has had a change of heart. An anonymous “senior administration official” told The Associated Press that the administration is planning to relieve some of the strain undocumented immigrants and their families face with a rule change that will “help reduce the time illegal immigrant spouses and children are separated from citizen relatives while they try to win legal status in the United States.”

What do you think?

Is the news this week on the immigration front good, bad, or ugly?