Tears to Joy

Tears to Joy: March 2011

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Oh the Horrors! Rwanda Part II

Its just another ordinary day as you go about your tasks getting ready for the day. Imagine your surprise when you hear quite a commotion outside. You look out the window to see soldiers making their way towards your home. Quickly and quietly, you grab your younger sister and run out of the house into the field along with your parents and two other siblings. As you flee, you get separated from your mom, dad, and siblings. You run with all your might, struggling to carry your little sister in your arms. Then you hear the screams. Oh the sounds that will haunt you for years to come. You freeze in terror as you realize that those are the screams of your parents and your brothers as they are brutally attacked with machetes.

This happened to a precious woman I met in Rwanda. I will call her Annette for her protection. What was Annette’s crime? She was Tutsi (read previous post for details on this).

Annette and her baby sister hid in a sorghum field for two weeks and finally came out of hiding because they were starving. As they scavenged for food, the soldiers captured her and threw them into a latrine. She spent several days there and when she was finally lifted out, she was separated from her sister, beaten and tossed back into the latrine. They would occasionally pull her out and force Annette to dig graves and to bury the dead. In the process she found part of her father and later, she found her mother.

She continuously begged the soldiers to please, please let her see her sister. They finally succumbed to her pleas, but just as Annette reached for her sister, the soldier maliciously threw her sister up against a concrete wall, and she could hear the cracking of her baby sister’s skull. She was just a baby! How could anyone do such a thing to a precious little one?

Annette was then pushed back into the latrine where she stayed for three days without food or water. When she was finally released, she was given to a man who told her she was to become his wife. He took her to his home and his mom refused to let him marry her because she was a Tutsi. Instead the mom made her the family’s slave and she became the man’s mistress (to say it nicely). She worked there for months before escaping. She hid in the sorghum fields once again only to be discovered by a soldier who raped her.

When the genocide officially ended, this soldier fled into Uganda. Sadly he continued to cross the border for years to come and tortured poor Annette. Today she has two children conceived by this man.

I cannot fathom the pain Annette endured. She was the only person in her family to survive the genocide. It took such courage for her to share these traumatic events with us. I’ve learned that when you experience a crisis, you need to tell your story again and again until you don’t need to tell it anymore. I pray that God will bring healing in Annette’s life as she tells her story.

The good news is that Annette has not become bitter by her circumstances. She credits God with giving her the strength to keep going and she considers her children a blessing. Please pray for Annette. Pray that she will not only survive, but once again thrive. Pray for her children. They are aware of the circumstances of their birth. Pray that God’s grace would touch them in a special way.

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Wednesday, March 16, 2011

A Nation of Forgiveness and Reconciliation

Many of you have asked about my recent trip to Rwanda, and I must admit that it’s hard to put into words the lessons learned on this trip. I met some unbelievable people who have walked through horrific pain to find grace and healing on the other side. There is no way to express what is in my heart in one post, so I will be spotlighting some of the highlights in the next few weeks to try and paint a picture of what I saw in Rwanda.

Before I can share individual experiences, I need to give you a bit of history on the circumstances leading up to the genocide in Rwanda. For some of you this may be a review, but for others (who like me have been virtually ignorant when it comes to Rwandan history), I will attempt to set the stage for the testimonies of resiliency and courage that I will share in the coming weeks.

The Rwandans lived in peace for generations. They were one people, with one culture, speaking one language. When the Belgians colonized Rwanda, they needed a way to ensure that the Rwandan people did not revolt. They divided the people into two groups: the Tutsi (those with cattle) and the Hutu (the farmers). The Belgians favored the Tutsi by giving them wealth and power. Since a person's wealth was subject to change, the Belgians decided that they needed something more permanent to differentiate the two groups so they began using a person's height and the width of his nose to determine whether a person was Tutsi or Hutu. They even issued identity cards to every Rwandan which stated whether a person was Hutu or Tutsi (these cards were later used to identify those to be killed).

While the two groups continued to live in the same communities as neighbors, resentment and bitterness began to take root in the lives of many of the Hutu. To state it briefly (I’m skipping a lot of stuff here), when Rwanda gained its independence, seeds of prejudice had already been planted in many hearts. Hutu rebels killed the President of Rwanda and blamed it on the Tutsis. They then called Hutus throughout the country to take up arms and annihilate the Tutsis. Sadly, this was how the genocide began.

In 100 days over one million of the 8 million people living in Rwanda were killed. Perhaps the thing that differentiates this from all other genocides was the fact that neighbors were killing neighbors. Christians were killing their brothers and sisters in Christ. Some pastors even participated in the murders. How could this happen? Where was God in all of this? These questions still remain for many Rwandans today. Others have experienced the presence of God in indescribable ways and are finding healing and peace.

After the genocide ended, the prisons were overflowing with inmates. The government realized that it would take 300 years to try each person in prison. After 7 years, the President made the surprising decision to release those inmates who showed remorse for their actions. Over 250,000 perpetrators were reintroduced to society. In one day, 40,000 murderers were released into the streets. Imagine the panic of the survivors. Imagine the fear of the perpetrator’s families. Lastly, imagine the guilt and shame of the perpetrators themselves as they had to go home to face the survivors of the very people they had killed. I don’t know about you, but I cannot even begin to fathom what the communities faced during those early days.

Almost 17 years have passed since the genocide occurred, but the fallout remains. Widows and orphans desperate for food, clean water, and shelter scatter the country. The economic fallout is paramount. Many survivors, bystanders, and perpetrators deal with post-traumatic stress and other mental disorders as a result of the mass killings.

Rwanda is at a critical juncture in history. It can embrace forgiveness and reconciliation and move forward as a nation or it can foster anger, bitterness, and shame and risk history repeating itself. Now that I have seen many of the faces that represent Rwanda, I cannot remain silent. I’m not sure what I am called to do in response to the things I’ve seen, but I do know that I must tell their stories. Seventeen years ago, the world turned a blind eye to this nation at a time when they needed us the most. The United Nations pulled out all troops and the U.S. and the rest of the world refused to send in aid. We abandoned the people of Rwanda and left them to fend for themselves. Praise God they have climbed out of the abyss, but I pray that the world will take notice and look for ways to assist them as they seek to move forward.

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