Forgiveness in Rwanda
In the first months of our marriage, Miriam and I signed up to support a child through Compassion International, a ministry that with a few dollars each month provides needy children around the world with food, clothing and Christian teaching. I still remember excitedly opening up the packet with Miriam and seeing the picture of a little boy from Rwanda named Hahirwabimera (we nicknamed him “Wabi”) that we had been assigned. Compassion personalizes its ministry by sending regular updates, pictures and letters from the child, and assists you in corresponding back. Over the next few years we enjoyed developing the relationship with Wabi and found great joy in seeing his smiling face and reading his cute letters.
Yet this relationship with Wabi came to an abrupt end in 1994.
When Rwandan President Juvénal Habyarimana’s plane was shot down leading to his death, the civil unrest and tension that had existed in this country from centuries of tribal tensions exploded. The majority Hutu tribe enacted a genocide against the Tutsi tribe and Hutus who had been unloyal to the president’s leadership. In the course of four months roving gangs killed between 800,000 to a million of their neighbors. Think of it – nearly one out of eight Rwandans slain. Because the ministry of Compassion was so disrupted by this violence, we lost all contact with Wabi and do not know today if he perished in the bloodshed.
It was with great interest then that I read a recent review in WORLD magazine of a movie entitled As We Forgive. Director Laura Waters Hinson and narrator Mia Farrow document the fascinating history that is being made even now. The current Rwandan government, still faced with tens of thousands jammed in their prisons waiting court appearances for their part in the genocide, has in the last few years released around 40,000 of those who were not leaders in organizing the violence but who have confessed to murder. They are being sent back to the very neighborhoods they once lived in and being instructed, with the assistance of the church, in seeking reconciliation with the families of the ones they murdered. To demonstrate their remorse, the ex-prisoners are helping rebuild the homes and schools of the communities they had destroyed. According to the website, Hinson’s film focuses on two particular women going through the great inner struggle of facing the men who took their loved ones’ lives.
I’m intrigued enough that I bought the DVD today. You can see the trailer here. For what greater sign of God’s working can there be than forgiveness of this magnitude? The title of course comes from our Lord’s Prayer: “Forgive us our trespasses, even as we forgive those who have trespassed against us.” Let us also remember what’s at stake, for the Lord follows this model prayer with these words of instruction and warning: “If you forgive others for their transgressions, then your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions” (Matthew 6:14-15).
Forgiveness is the key to ending all civil wars, be they the national ones such as Rwanda, the private ones in too many homes, or the ultimate, cosmic one between God and man.