Greg Strand is EFCA executive director of theology and credentialing, and he serves on the Board of Ministerial Standing as well as the Spiritual Heritage Committee. He and his family are members of Northfield (Minnesota) EFC.
“Never again.” This statement reflects the horror of the Rwandan genocide and their commitment never to allow it to happen again.
April 7, 2014 marked the 20th anniversary of this unbelievable atrocity committed against humanity. This was not, however, the aloof killing of unknowns, which is still wrong, but the barbaric murder of neighbors and friends. Most of us know the atrocities that occurred in the Rwandan genocide when Hutus murdered thousands of Tutsis including any Hutus who attempted to protect the Tutsis. When all was said and done, an estimated 800,000, approximately one out of eight, Tutsis had been murdered, mostly with machetes. Neighbors who had lived next to one another and shared lives together were killed. Many men were killed, which left widows and families devastated.
At this anniversary date, a time at which we join the chorus “never again,” it is important that we hear the story. This is one way to ensure it does not happen again. This historical account of the genocide is written by The United Human Rights Council.
In 1994, Rwanda’s population of seven million was composed of three ethnic groups: Hutu (approximately 85%), Tutsi (14%) and Twa (1%). In the early 1990s, Hutu extremists within Rwanda’s political elite blamed the entire Tutsi minority population for the country’s increasing social, economic, and political pressures. Tutsi civilians were also accused of supporting a Tutsi-dominated rebel group, the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF). Through the use of propaganda and constant political maneuvering, Habyarimana, who was the president at the time, and his group increased divisions between Hutu and Tutsi by the end of 1992. The Hutu remembered past years of oppressive Tutsi rule, and many of them not only resented but also feared the minority.
On April 6, 1994, a plane carrying President Habyarimana, a Hutu, was shot down. Violence began almost immediately after that. Under the cover of war, Hutu extremists launched their plans to destroy the entire Tutsi civilian population. Political leaders who might have been able to take charge of the situation and other high profile opponents of the Hutu extremist plans were killed immediately. Tutsi and people suspected of being Tutsi were killed in their homes and as they tried to flee at roadblocks set up across the country during the genocide. Entire families were killed at a time. Women were systematically and brutally raped. It is estimated that some 200,000 people participated in the perpetration of the Rwandan genocide.
In the weeks after April 6, 1994, 800,000 men, women, and children perished in the Rwandan genocide, perhaps as many as three quarters of the Tutsi population. At the same time, thousands of Hutu were murdered because they opposed the killing campaign and the forces directing it.
The Rwandan genocide resulted from the conscious choice of the elite to promote hatred and fear to keep itself in power. This small, privileged group first set the majority against the minority to counter a growing political opposition within Rwanda. Then, faced with RPF success on the battlefield and at the negotiating table, these few power holders transformed the strategy of ethnic division into genocide. They believed that the extermination campaign would reinstate the solidarity of the Hutu under their leadership and help them win the war, or at least improve their chances of negotiating a favorable peace. They seized control of the state and used its authority to carry out the massacre.
The civil war and genocide only ended when the Tutsi-dominated rebel group, the RPF, defeated the Hutu perpetrator regime and President Paul Kagame took control.
Although the Rwandans are fully responsible for the organization and execution of the genocide, governments and peoples elsewhere all share in the shame of the crime because they failed to prevent and stop this killing campaign.
What many don’t know, is that God is doing some incredible things in the wake of this tragedy, things that manifest the triumph of His grace and mercy. The gospel is truly the “power of God” (Rom. 1:16) that brings one to spiritual life and also transforms one to live in a whole new way (2 Cor. 5:17), which is evidenced in relationships. The forgiveness that has and continues to happen is only possible because of God’s grace made possible in the gospel.
A couple of years ago Laura Waters Hinson was interviewed (Marvin Olasky, “Miracles of Reconciliation,” World 27/7 (April 7, 2012), 32-33) about a documentary she did on the reconciliation that is happening between Rwandan perpetrators and survivors, As We Forgive. I include a couple of key questions along with Waters’ responses.
What effect did those dozens of hours of interviews have on you? The experience was incredibly hopeful for me even though it was one of the hardest things I've ever gone through-to listen, and then listen again and again through the editing process, to these stories of massacres and deaths, and to hear on the other end the way the stories turn out. The way the women were, over time, able to forgive, humbled me. I thought I was a good Christian and understood God, but when I went to Rwanda, came back, and meditated on the idea of radical forgiveness, I realized my view of God was very small. Those women helped me to search out my own heart: Could I forgive?
What was your understanding of the gospel before you went through this experience? I had the basic idea of Jesus, the Son of God, dying for the sins of the world, atoning for them, and reconciling us to God through His death. I understood it on an intellectual level. I always cried out to God to reveal Himself to me more and more. I think He did that for me through this trip to Rwanda. Ever since then I have not doubted the reality of God and the gospel.
Because, humanly speaking what you saw could not have happened apart from God? Yeah. I saw a foretaste of what will happen one day when all things are fully reconciled. The Bible likes to take the smallest, least likely characters and make them examples. I see that happening In Rwanda.
On an earlier anniversary date, Christianity Today 53/6 (June 2009), 28-32, wrote on the importance of forgiveness and gave examples of how this truth was being lived out among Rwandans, “Reconcilable Differences.” The subtitle gets to the heart of the article’s focus: “Fifteen years after genocide, Rwanda is showing signs of healing.”
I have also previously written about the incredible story of Rwanda in Forgiveness and Reconciliation.