Summary: A short talk / sermon given at a local school for Holocaust Memorial Day. I was asked to talk about Rwanda, so include reference to my 2007 visit, plus up to date story / testimony. Be encouraged!
Rwanda is a tiny country in Central Africa, a bit bigger than Northern Ireland, with a population of over 8 million people, and thousands of hills. Rwanda is a beautiful country of hills, mountains, forests, lakes, laughing children, markets full of busy people, drummers, dancers, skilled workers and craftsmen. The land is rich and fertile. The climate is hot but pleasant. I spent two weeks in Rwanda in 2007.
Historically Rwandans belonged to one of 18 different clans, but they all spoke the same language and for many centuries lived in peace with one another. However, in 1932, the ruling Belgian authorities introduced an Identity Card system and created new tribal identities based mainly upon wealth. If a man had ten cows he was called a Tutsi. If he had less than ten he was called a Hutu. If he was considered to be especially short he was called a Batwa.
Once classified, that tribal identity was passed to the next generation, and to the next. Hutus and Tutsis married each other, but many Europeans treated the Tutsi tribe as if they were physically more attractive and better educated. Hutus were often treated more like slaves, and so began a process of alienation. Hutus and Tutsis lived in the same villages, went to the same schools; attended the same Churches, worked with each other and for each other.
In the early 1990’s the government was made up of mainly Hutus. Hutu extremism was rife. The ‘Interahamwe’ was a violent Hutu Youth Militia; they called Tutsis ‘Inyenzi’ – cockroaches; and on 6 April 1994, at 8.23 in the evening a plane carrying the Presidents of Rwanda and Burundi was shot down as it approached the airport of the capital Kigali. Both Presidents died, and by 9.15 pm roadblocks had been set up throughout the capital.
The ruling Hutu government blamed Tutsi rebels, but history shows us that the events that followed had all been carefully planned. The government had spent months preparing lists of the names and locations of Tutsis; and they had trained thousands of Hutu men. When the President was killed the death lists were used. Shooting began within an hour. In the morning Tutsis were arrested, beaten and killed. Terrible things were done to men, to women, and to children. Over the 100 days that followed 1 Million (mainly Tutsi) people were murdered. That’s 10,000 every day, 400 every hour; 7 every minute. It was genocide.
Last year I came across the story of Frida Gashumba. Her autobiography is called ‘Chosen to Die, Destined to Live – A miraculous escape from the Rwandan Genocide’. Her best friend Claudette was Hutu. Frida was Tutsi. One day at school the Head Teacher asked Hutus to stand. He then asked Tutsis to stand and counted them. The Hutu children laughed.
Claudette and Frida were neighbours. They played together. Their families spent time together; but when the killing began, suddenly, being Tutsi, or married to a Tutsi marked people out. Former neighbours turned on each other. Frida’s family were killed. Frida’s house was looted. Clothes, cutlery, bowls, plates and other possessions were taken – but amazingly Frida escaped. Thankfully, a Hutu neighbour did something brave that could get him killed. He helped Frida. She miraculously escaped death on several occasions, often shielded by Hutus who were ashamed of what was happening. Three months later, after the government was overthrown, the killing stopped. Frida was alive but mentally scarred, and alone. 1 Million had died. 300,000 children were left as Orphans. 85,000 children were now the heads of their families.
In the months that followed Frida became a Christian. Very painfully, and very slowly, she began to find some measure of emotional healing from God.
One day, Frida realised that she needed, and wanted, to forgive the man who had murdered her father. She visited him in prison but when she saw him she fled. Weeks later she returned and was able to talk with and amazingly, tell him she forgave him. Incredibly, Frida says that her faith in Jesus helped her to find a new peace, and that peace ‘increased immeasurably as she forgave the people who’d destroyed [her] life’.
Sometimes the teaching of Jesus is hard. Jesus said, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you” (Luke 6:27); and “…forgive, and you will be forgiven” (Luke 6:37). In the prayer Jesus taught his disciples he taught them to pray: “Forgive us our sins as we also forgive everyone who sins against us” (Luke 11:4). Frida, in the most testing of circumstances, was putting that in to practice. She went to visit an old neighbour called Elina. As Frida sat in Elina’s home she could see cupboards taken from her own home, filled with her family’s plates, cups and glasses.