Forgiveness in Rwanda Like No Other
Through this amazing mission trip and beautiful people of Rwanda, God reminded me what it means to forgive like no other and the importance of forgiveness with intention and a willing heart. On a beautiful day, July 6th, our mission team walked into the Kigali Genocide Memorial building, a place for remembrance and learning. The Rwanda Genocide Memorial is the final resting place for more than 250,000 victims of the genocide against the Tutsi and honors the memory of more than one million Rwandans killed in 1994 in Rwanda.
A receptionist warmly greeted us at the front desk. Before we entered into the exhibitions, we had to watch a short video clip in the front room. We could hear the stories of genocide survivors in the short video clip. The voices of survivors touched me like no other. I had to control my tears while watching the testimonies of the survivors. I kept asking myself how could a human being do such horrible killings; and to other human beings? What struck me most about the testimonies of the survivors and the victims of the genocide was their conversation about forgiveness. Their family members and loved ones were killed in such horrible ways; I did not even have the courage to picture it in my mind.
Most of the survivors in the video clips suffered from physical torture and were emotionally traumatized by the 1994 genocide. However, they now speak about forgiveness, peace, unity and reconciliation with the people who committed the horrific acts in 1994.
After watching the video clip, we walked to the exhibitions. There were three different exhibitions in the memorial center. Exhibition 1 documents the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi. The first part of exhibition 1 gives an outline of Rwandan society before colonization; the second part of exhibition 1 gives the horror of the Genocide against the Tutsi as well as the stories of survival. The last part of exhibition 1 details the post-genocide reconstruction and reconciliation. The second exhibition documents the massacres of Namibia, Cambodia and the Balkans as well as the Holocaust.
The third exhibition is the Children’s room, which is dedicated to the memory of children killed in the Genocide against the Tutsi. This exhibition shows how a generation’s dreams were stolen by the horrible genocide and honors tens of thousands of children and infants, who were slaughtered by aggressors. I vividly remember a picture and a very short biography of a 2 year old little girl, Uwase Fillette. Fillette’s favorite toy was a doll, her favorite food was rice and chips, her best friend was her dad, and she was remembered as a good girl. I broke down when I read the cause of her death – she was smashed against a wall. There were no words for me to describe how I was feeling at that moment. I stood in front of Fillette’s picture for a while and thought to myself “How could someone take the life of an innocent little girl in such a brutal and unimaginable way; and is it really possible to forgive Fillette’s killer or killers?” I did not have the answers to my own questions at that moment.
I dragged myself away from Children’s room and went in to the next room. There I saw many powerful statements from Genocide survivors regarding forgiveness. One of the statements said, “I was ten when the genocide began. The day we heard that my father had been killed we all started crying. My mother told us to pray. I asked God to help me to take revenge. My mother told me to remove the part about revenge from my prayer. She said, ‘Even if I die, do not take revenge. It is not good.’” In the midst of the persecution and suffering, this mother reminded her son not to take revenge.
I sat there for a while and remembered the story of a Rwandan woman who forgave her family’s killer. A friend of ours from Rwanda told us the story of this Rwandan woman on the night of our arrival in Rwanda. This particular man killed about 50 family members of hers. She went to the man who killed her family members and said she forgave him. What she said next was remarkable. She said to this man that since he killed all her sons she could no longer have her own children that she wanted the killer of her family members to be her son. To my surprise, this man became her son and his children have become her grandchildren; to this day. I was truly amazed by this Rwandan woman’s a willing heart and courage to forgive a person who wiped out her entire family.
What I found most amazing was that those affected by this horrible tragedy were able to forgive and move on. I have no doubt that faith plays a big role and indeed matters after the genocide. I felt that the Genocide survivors’ messages were not only filled with sad and unimaginable stories but also peace and unity for the betterment of their country and humanity overall.
The experience of visiting the memorial center is unforgettable. I was humbled by the testimonies of the Genocide victims and survivors and reflective on my own faith journey. I believe the key to forgiving our enemies or the persons who persecute us lies in loving God. The Rwandans’ forgiving attitude reminded me of how I should be living in my own faith journey. I believe it is really important to develop and cultivate the capacity to forgive. It is definitely something that Jesus wants us to do; our Savior proved it by his own example on the cross. Jesus Christ, the innocent Son of God prayed for his persecutors in painful agony, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). Jesus showed his love in action. I believe it is important to see the cross as the magnificent symbol of forgiveness.
Master of Divinity Program