Seventeen years and four months ago, that same valley and those hillsides resounded with the screams and pleas of the Tutsis as unchecked and unchallenged genocide cascaded over the country with the force of an impassable typhoon. Instead of children eagerly calling “mizungu! mizungu!” as white people pass them in vans, they watched as their families were torn apart, one by one, until it was their time.
It is easy to get lost in the depth of the pain of that time. Many have tried to capture the emotion, tried to convey to us who live far away and in a different time what it was like to know that your best friend might suddenly appear in your doorway with a machete. Many have tried. I don’t claim to be able to understand, or even to sympathize with those whose lives are irrevocably scarred by the genocide. Enough words have been said in well-intentioned efforts to explain and expound and examine the causes and symptoms of the brutality; I do not intend to add to them.
Inside the main memorial halls, videos from survivors play in a constant loop. Their voices break as they recall for our instruction and benefit the hell (even that is an insufficient word) that they survived. Their stories were different, marked by actions that I cannot comprehend, nor can I even attempt to. But they all ended the same way.
“I cannot forgive anyone. I am only human. It is for God to forgive them- I can only tell them.” Those words from one of the survivors echoed in my mind, and for those of you who have been to the memorial, I’m sure they echo in your minds as well. Books and movies have been created on the incredible recovery that Rwanda has made in the wake of April 1994, a recovery marked indelibly by the conviction of the victims to forgive their enemies, if only they were given the chance.
God’s hand has been all over this trip. Time after time, we are unsure of what to do next, what we are supposed to be doing or saying, then someone will arrive or say something that shows us so clearly what our purpose is that we often just laugh. We’ve seen Him work in exposing the path to identify the deeper needs of the Rwandan worship and arts community, and in missing our flights and losing our luggage. But few things can illustrate the love that He bears for us as simply and effectively as the reconciliation of the Tutsis and their Hutu murderers.
Imagine that your family were slaughtered in front of your eyes. Imagine the laughter of the perpetrators. Now imagine forgiving them. Now imagine that you are the doer, the person responsible. Now imagine your victim saying “Not only do I forgive you, but I mete out the punishment you deserve on my son, instead of you.”
That’s the God I’ve read about my whole life.
That’s the God I’ve come face to face with on the other side of the world.