Rwanda

The Pattern of this World

If you read Christian mission journals and textbooks from the 1980s, Rwanda is often held up as a model of evangelization in Africa. Nowhere else on the continent was Christianity so well received. Church growth was unprecedented. Seminarians in the United States studied Rwanda, asking how they might use similar strategies elsewhere to share the good news of Jesus Christ with those living in darkness.

Yet in 1994 an unimaginable darkness descended on Rwanda. The most Christianized country in Africa became the site of its worst genocide. Christians killed other Christians, often in the same churches where they had worshiped together. Accordingly, this is not a story about something that happened to a strange people in a faraway place. It happened among the body of Christ, of which we are members. Rwanda is a lot closer to Rome and Washington, D.C., than most of us care to think.

The crisis of Western Christianity is reflected back to the church in the broken bodies of Rwanda. Indeed, the only hope for our world after Rwanda’s genocide is a new kind of Christian identity for the global body of Christ. The church’s mission is to be a new community that bears witness to the fact that in Christ there is a new identity—a unique people from “every tribe and language and people and nation” (Revelation 5:9).

I remember listening to BBC Radio during the genocide and hearing commentators talk about the Hutu and Tutsi “tribes.” They lamented the fact that “ancient hatreds” had been reignited and “age-old animosities” had led to genocide. Europeans and Americans love to use the language of tribes when talking about Africa. Yet this language is unhelpful in understanding what is going on because it mystifies the reality of Africa.

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Sojourners Magazine January 2009
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Can These Bones Live?

In just 100 days between April and July 1994, an estimated 800,000 to 1 million people were brutally slaughtered in Rwanda. Most were Tutsis, a minority group, targeted by Hutu extremists for extermination in a genocidal campaign with meticulous planning and sophisticated use of hate propaganda.

I came to Rwanda a decade after the genocide, and I saw a beautiful land and a lovely people, whose smiles almost hid the haunted look behind their eyes. But as they opened their hearts to me and shared their stories, as they took me around the countryside, I glimpsed the horror that still stalks this wounded nation like a wraith.

The hand of the Lord came upon me, and he brought me out by the spirit of the Lord and set me down in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. He led me all around them; there were very many lying in the valley, and they were very dry” (Ezekiel 37:1-2).

I visited Rwanda in December 2004 to participate in a World Council of Churches consultation. On the first day we drove into the countryside to the Catholic church of Ntarama. There, on April 15, 1994, 5,000 men, women, and children were massacred while they prayed to God for deliverance. It never came.

When I visited, the site was lovingly festooned with purple and white ribbons, a symbol of the care lavished upon the church now as a sacred resting place for the dead and a memorial for the living, lest we forget.

As we walked in we faced shelves holding row upon row of skulls—hundreds of them. Children’s skulls, adult skulls, whole skulls, and partial skulls. One had a nail still sticking out of the top; another had been draped with a crucifix and a rosary by some stricken witness.

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Sojourners Magazine April 2006
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News Bites

Altar Call.

  • Altar Call. Thousands celebrated the reopening of Rwanda’s Episcopal cathedral in July. The original cathedral was heavily damaged during the 1994 war in which more than 800,000 people were killed.
  • Viva PBS. In the second season of the PBS drama "American Family," Conrado (played by Yancy Arias, above) is sent to Iraq where he struggles with the media’s glorification of war and must disobey a commanding officer in order to follow his conscience in obedience to a higher power.
  • Great Wall. Chinese Web-users are denied access to a wide range of foreign religious sites, according to Forum 18 news service. The Chinese government’s firewall, used to censor the Internet, blocks access to religious Web sites - including a number of Catholic sites and those related to religious persecution and the Dalai Lama.
  • Vote Watch. Global Exchange’s Fair Elections initiative is hosting international election monitors to observe U.S. pre-electoral conditions and the Nov. 2 elections. The monitors will apply internationally developed standards of electoral fairness to investigate and report on issues of concern to the U.S. electorate, according to the press release.
  • Don’t Cry. Nobel peace laureate Adolfo Perez Esquivel presented new evidence against the World Bank and IMF, charging them with placing Argentina’s government in "a state of need due to the application of economic policies that were imposed - indirectly or directly - by the IMF." Perez Esquivel said, "The resulting situation risks dissolving the national state."

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Sojourners Magazine November 2004
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