25 Years After Rwandan Genocide, a Christian Nation Continues to Overcome Its Violent Past

Believers worship during a Sunday service at an Anglican Church in the Kacyiru, Rwanda, on Feb. 16, 2019. | Photo: The Christian Post/Samuel Smith

The doors to the church building were open as the sound of prayer and worship echoed into the street for all to hear as pedestrians, cars and loud dirt bikes went by.

Dozens were gathered for a service at an Anglican church in the town of Kacyiru, just outside of the landlocked African nation’s capital city. The worship band was decked out in blue robes as they belted their songs of praise, thanking the Lord for all that He has done and is doing to restore unity to the once genocide-ridden country.

Churchgoers heard a sermon from a visiting evangelical pastor that mirrored the motto that Rwandan churches and the Rwandan central government have stressed since the end of one of the worst human rights atrocities in decades: the need to live as “one” body under Christ. Or in the secular sense, the need for people to coexist as “one Rwanda.”

Although just two-and-a-half decades removed from the brutal murder of nearly 1 million Tutsis and moderate Hutus by extremist Hutus and security forces, the predominantly-Christian country today looks much different than it did in the summer and spring of 1994.

“Heavenly Father, we thank you that we can see in Christ that You made it possible for us to be one, to be one body, to be one Church,” Pastor Daniel Ledema prayed on a mid-February Sunday morning.  “We know that this is something that we could never have achieved ourselves. [Please] break our hearts to help us see what are some of those … walls that should be broken down and walls that should be put down.”

Sunday marks the 25th anniversary of the beginning the genocide against the Tutsi, one of the worst atrocities in world history. With the permeation of extremist anti-Tutsi ideology through radio and newspapers, thousands of Hutus were pushed to mass violence after a plane carrying President Juvénal Habyarimana was shot down on April 6, 1994.

In the 100 days following, at least 800,000 or more people were killed, most of whom were minority Tutsis or moderate Hutus accused of being Tutsi lovers.

Despite Rwanda being about 90 percent Christian at the time, neighbors killed neighbors and Christians killed Christians in some of the most horrific ways imaginable.

No mercy was spared even for children and infants. In some cases, babies were killed while in their mother’s arms. In addition to communal violence, security forces were also responsible for the deaths of thousands of Tutsis, many of whom were killed inside of churches or other buildings they were told would be safe.

But today, there are genocide memorials and mass graves throughout the country filled with broken remains to educate and remind the next generation of Rwandans what a massive lack in education and the persistence of dangerous ideologies can do to communities that had once coexisted peacefully.

Today, the nation the size of Maryland but twice as populated is largely unified. The government no longer officially recognizes tribal and ethnic differences, something that used to be front and center on a person’s official government identification.

The country serves as an example of how a nation scarred from genocide pulled together with the help of government programs, churches and nonprofits to overcome ethnic division.

With neighbors having killed neighbors, the only way forward for many communities was for people to wholeheartedly embrace the radical forgiveness expected of them by their Savior, Jesus Christ. While social tension in Rwanda is not perfect with anger and pain impacting at individual and familial levels, Hutu-Tutsi tension generally isn’t felt at a national level anymore.

With reconciliation having occurred in many communities, the focus now is on how to not only keep people unified but also how to improve the quality of life for people living in the densely populated nation of 12 million people.

Without many desirable resources like gold and diamonds, and an economy reliant on agriculture, about 20 percent of Rwanda’s population lives in extreme poverty and 44 percent live in moderate poverty, according to World Vision Rwanda Integrated Program Director Ananias Sentozi. The average income is about $150 per month.

But as part of the Rwandan government’s “Vision 2020,” the desire is to see Rwanda become a middle-income country. Although that may not happen by 2020, Rwanda has seen economic growth.

Over the last several years, the government, churches, and nonprofits like the evangelical-minded World Vision International have worked — in some cases together — to find ways to create better lives for these impoverished communities. Moving beyond reconciliation, the goal is to help move people from dependency to dignity.

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SOURCE: Christian Post, Samuel Smith