Greetings from Kigali, Rwanda. Here’s a short first report. Hope you are well by the way.
The Amahoro-Africa Gathering was a beautiful time of friendship making with some really fun and amazing people from around the world. Many of them are deeply engaged in local and global endeavors addressing situations of injustice, human rights, AIDS, micro-financing and community development as followers of Jesus. I now have friends who are actively involved in peace-making efforts in the conflicts in Kenya, Mozambique and South Africa. The story of the past twenty years of Rwanda was heartbreaking, tragic beyond comprehension, confusing and inspiring.
Many of you saw the movie Hotel Rwanda a few years ago that told the story of the horrific genocide that took place in Rwanda in 1994. In 90 days more than 1 million people were brutally/inhumanely murdered. It was people from the Tutsi tribe who carried out the genocide against the Hutu tribe. It is a long story that ultimately happened as the direct result of social engineering attempts on the part of the Belgian regime to scientifically classify the Tutsi tribe as being superior to the Hutu (size of head, wideness of nose, set of eyes, height, etc.) and thus preferring them in assigning roles of power in the colonial system of government established. This created the environment which led to animosity between these tribes who share the same language and have a long-standing history of shared living and relationship between them.
I listened to horrifying stories of Tutsi women tell of their brutalization in every way conceivable. I visited a mass grave site where 200,000 people were buried. I visited 2 catholic churches that were massacre sites. 5000 murdered in one and 20,000 in another. In the buildings the blood stained and dirt covered clothes from all the victims had been hung from the rafters and left to cover every inch of the floor space. In each of these places there were hundreds of unclaimed skeletal remains; skulls were carefully lined up in rows and the rest piled on shelves. At another site thousands of exhumed mummified bodies in distorted positions lay inside the school building on the desks and tables. These sites, and many others, are part of a national genocide memorial to keep the memories of loved ones alive and to remember that human beings are capable of great evil unless we learn to forgive and love one another.
I had taken tobacco ties with me so at the first site, I felt deeply compelled to sing a song of remembrance and put tobacco on the shelf with the bones. The skeletal remains were not enclosed in any way. If you wanted you could touch them. I asked two men from Africa to stand with me as our group had moved away from this spot. I sang a traditional style native song of mourning and remembrance for these people. Many in the building began to weep as the Spirit of the Lord visited with us. After I finished I wept too.
I then listened to Hutu believers confess their stories of shame, guilt and sorrow for what they had done and saw the forgiveness that was exhibited by the Tutsi believers toward them. I was completely blown away! I cannot relate to that depth of forgiveness. Listening to Freda tell how the attackers lined her (she was 14 then) entire family up in a pit and chopped off her mothers head with a machete, caved her brothers and sisters heads in with clubs and finally clubbed her and buried them all, then to see her so clothed in the love and mercy of God was beyond my ability to “get.”
One fact worth noting about the context of the genocide is that prior to April 1994, the western church generally regarded Rwanda as one of the most "Christian" countries in Africa and the world, one of the real "successes" of Christian missions in Africa! Statistically speaking some 80% to 90% of the population regard themselves as Christians. An absolute majority are Roman Catholics, and a strong minority Protestants. Much of this Christianity is of a strong evangelical persuasion (Patrick E. Johnstone, 1993. Operation World. Carlisle, UK: OM Publishing, P. 472: there are many sources available about this fact). “And yet all of this Christianity did not prevent genocide, a genocide which leading church officials did little to resist, in which a large number of Christians participated, and in which, according to African Rights, more people "died in churches and parishes than anywhere else." – (David P Gushee, The Christian Century, April 20, 2004, pp. 28-31)
While it is a very complex situation in Rwanda, with no clear conclusions, this one fact is cause for some reflection. What was meant by “Christian.” While many God-fearing people lost their lives as they resisted the slaughter, the Christian church was also complicit in many instances. Many times I heard the question, “where was the church when it was most needed?” Even more compelling is where is the church today in light of the global AID’s crisis, the new conflicts in Kenya, Mozambique, South Africa and many more areas. I was encouraged because it was African nationals asking the question among themselves.
However, what about us, you and me? Does injustice only exist in Africa? As we face the compelling questions of our day, the answers will not arise from whether or not someone is a Christian, republican, democrat, evangelical, Pentecostal – it will found in whether or not we following Jesus in community with others of differing cultures, expressions of our one faith, economic status and power or privilege.
Have you hugged an “Indian” lately? How about a white republican? How about a black democrat? How about a white democratic Pentecostal pro-life orthodox liberal emerging post-modern evangelical? Or how about a justice doing, mercy loving, humbly walking follower of Jesus …Hmmmm? Okay then, go ahead and hug yourself.
Hohecetuwe yelo – “and that’s the way it is”
Jesus is amazing! His love for us in the midst of our brokenness is way too good to be true! I am reminded of the Father’s grace and goodness in my life and challenged again to love and walk as Jesus walked among his followers, critiques, opponents and enemies.
Peace, as you walk in the Jesus Way!
For those Christians who are Native American or for those interested in indigenous Christianity, you can subscribe to smoke signals by sending an email to
wiconi-subscribe (at) MyInJesus.com