One of my many idiosyncratic beliefs is that Africa has a special role to play in God’s upside down kingdom. For so long, Africa has been last which according to Jesus’ words, means that the day is coming when they will be first. I suspect that we will be looking to them in order to understand God’s kingdom rather than assuming that it is our job as westerners to hand out the kingdom like a goody bag to the rest of the world.
I bring this up because, as you might know, it is the 20th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide in which 1,000,000 people were killed in 100 days. It was a remarkable spasm of violence and hatred such as the world has never seen before. Truly unspeakable things happened during those 100 days. Rarely has humanity’s capacity for evil been put on such lurid display.
One startling and fascinating thing about the Rwandan genocide is that in the early 80s, there were a series of Marian apparitions which took place in Rwanda. Three different youth were given horrific visions of the genocide which took place in 1994. The apparition of Mary in Rwanda is one of only three Marian apparitions which has been given approval by the Roman Catholic Church.
In one of her messages, Mary said, “Today, many people do not know any more how to ask forgiveness.” Now, on the anniversary of the Rwandan genocide, the people of Rwanda bring an astonishing testimony of forgiveness to the world.
I hope that we will take their witness seriously and allow their example to inspire us to seek forgiveness from those we have wronged and to forgive those who have wronged us. The witness of the Rwandan people shows us that whether we are dealing with conflicts between neighbors or between nations or groups, the seeking and giving of forgiveness are the only way forward for humanity.
Below are images and quotes from Rwandan perpetrators and their victims. You can find more pictures and quotes, along with an explanation in this New York Times story “Portraits of Reconciliation”:
I would also recommend reading this story of forgiveness from Jean Paul Samputu:
I returned as soon as the killing had stopped and went straight to my village. The survivors didn’t know how my mother or siblings had been killed but they said, “Your father was killed by Vincent, your best friend, your father’s friend.” . . .
The shock was so great that I started drinking and taking drugs to forget. I wanted to take revenge. I wanted to kill Vincent. But I couldn’t find him, and so I started killing myself. . .
All the time some of my friends were praying for me because they knew I was going to die. Then, one day, this miracle happened. In the midst of all this hell, I suddenly felt a strange peace in my heart.
I took a bible and I went to a prayer-mountain, and spent three months away from everyone just to discover God’s healing. During this retreat I heard a voice telling me that even if you become a Christian it’s not enough, you need to forgive the man who killed your father because you cannot love again if you still have hatred in your heart. And that voice was telling me forgiveness is for you not for the offender.
Of course it took time to accept that message, but in the end I had no choice and one day I said YES! I’m ready to forgive. On that day I suddenly felt totally free. I felt a power that I cannot describe.
One thing which comes up over and over in reading these stories is that forgiveness is not something we do because we’re supposed to or because it’s good and holy. It’s something we do because we have to. It’s the only way forward after something awful has been done to us.
As Martin Luther King Jr. said, “I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.” Anger and hatred require a great deal of energy to sustain. When we hang onto them rather than choosing to forgive, that is when what has happened to us destroys us.
At any rate, I hope you will say a prayer for the people of Rwanda today. And I hope you will allow their witness to challenge you to forgive any harm done to you which you have been hanging onto.