In the aftermath of the brutal genocide in Rwanda, the message of the Gospel of Christ, the Gospel of grace and forgiveness, has taken on transcendence as hearts, one by one, are engaged and then embracing the call to rebuild.

rwanda-mainRecently I viewed the documentary “As We Forgive” with my church. It chronicled the reconciliation efforts currently underway in Rwanda where in 1994, in the space of a few months, 1 million of the Tutsis people were slaughtered out of fear and prejudice by the Hutus (pronounced “hoo-toos”). (click here for more info. [http://www.asweforgivemovie.com/trailer.htm])

Featured in the film were testimonies of actual Tutsi victims who testified of the brutality they personally suffered in violence against them and the senseless destruction of loved ones – father, mother, children – and friends. There were also testimonies of their assailants who testified of their reasons behind and their remorse for their despicable crimes against innocents. What made this genocide even more heinous is the admission of the killers that they were deceived and incited to raise their hands and weapons against people who days prior were considered friends and fellow countrymen and women! They had eaten, recreated, cultivated and shared lives together. They revealed that they had been led by government propaganda to believe that these fellow Africans were a threat to the peace and stability of their society. Motivated by fear of the harm they were told would come to them by the Tutsis or the very government seeking to involve them in this genocide, these Hutus natives carried out merciless desecration of sacred lives. In some cases even religious leaders gave refuge to escaping Tutsis only to bulldoze the havens over them, burying them alive or these leaders alerted the Hutus raiders who then came and slaughtered these captives.

The film showed the scars, the anguish, the desolation left in the wake of this human carnage. It also displayed the shame and guilt on the faces of the Tutsis culprits, remorseful for their loss of sanity and their complicity in the genocide. The guilty criminals were incarcerated, by the thousands, for their crimes and then after serving some time, were released back into society. The rationale of the government authorizing such actions is that the genocide had so deeply affected the fabric of society in innumerable ways through the countless lives no longer walking the earth or walking the earth in abject horror and shame at their actions, that a process of forgiveness and reconciliation needed to begin. The core of the movie was the guilty seeking forgiveness from those they had victimized. Led by Christian organizations primarily through prison ministries, the unrelenting process had been undertaken to sow seeds of peace back into the torn fabric of humanity to thus resurrect the dignity of life in each person. Through building programs, crop support, and other efforts the guilty, took responsibility for their actions but also demonstrated it through the practice of restitution with those they had “taken from”. In the aftermath of brutal genocide in Rwanda, the message of the Gospel of Christ, the Gospel of grace and forgiveness, has taken on transcendence as hearts, one by one, are engaged and then embracing the call to rebuild.

I was so moved, first by the depth of human depravity and the ease at which man can be so diabolically set against another, whether friend, woman, or innocent child. I can still picture the grisly footage of bodies charred and burned, or hacked by machetes, or bludgeoned to death. I was also moved by the testimonies of those sharing the degree to which life, hope and peace had been ripped violently from their world, some skulls-rwanda1even suffering the scars of physical violence done to them, to some who had been abandoned, presumed dead. But then I was moved by the human drama of watching how the criminals too ashamed to face their victims eventually were encouraged by Christian leaders to face their victims and taking responsibility for their actions, humbly seek their forgiveness. I watched how the victims, reluctantly and with great angst gave audience to their violators, gave air to their own hurt and also eventually embark on the path of reconciliation.

The subtitle for the movie promo was “can mercy rebuild what genocide destroyed?” The answer came in watching lives that were torn apart, come togetherin a process where hope was gradually restored;  where both criminal and victim came to live together rebuilding a community of love; where actual, active, intentional forgiveness, raw and real, but reflective of the Christ, became the final form of love. One of the lines that stuck out to me,

“Forgiveness and reconciliation releases the criminal from guilt and shame and the victim from grief and anger.”

I guess there were alot of things running through my mind. I reflected on how shallow we do forgiveness sometimes, aware that sometimes our version of forgiveness is white washed with gospel rhetoric, the offender requests forgiveness from the offended and the latter declares their willingness to offer forgiveness but refuses to associate with the offender in any significant way. Nothing is rebuilt. Cold war has been declared.

I recall a couple of people in my life that I have let down or hurt them (I guess we all d0!) but also where there is no bridge to rebuild anything that in any significant way reflects the way that Christ loves us. Sometimes it’s hard to believe that the divine degree of forgiveness is possible when we face the reality of the brokenness we’ve caused and the barrier that remains, even after the words of forgiveness are spoken but never fully applied to the point of healing and rebuilding. In these cases, the words “I forgive…” are followed by “…but I cannot…” delineating a line that must not be crossed and a relationship that can never be rebuilt. We retreat into a complacency comforting ourselves with the belief that we have done all we can to seek forgiveness or to offer forgiveness, and yet if we truly pondered the implications, we would not want God to “forgive” us the way we forgive others. In a quote by someone, connected with the Rwandan genocide but not with the movie, they said,

“I visited the [Genocide] Memorial with a Christian group and felt some tension between the banners declaring that we should “Never Forget” and my understanding of Forgiveness. Of course we should be cognizant of the human capacity for evil for the purpose of preventing similar events in the future, but is it possible to mourn one group’s tragedy without asking another group to bear a mark of shame? Is this fair? And for how long?”

Now I am the first to admit that in no way am I guilting or condemning those who have suffered deeply at the hands of others appealing to them to simply forget and quantum leap to trust without some degree of assurance that they will not subject themself to further brutality or betrayal. But I do wonder if for many of us our efforts at forgiveness and reconciliation go as far as they should, toward the actual rebuilding, not of what was lost – nothing can rebuild that. But to rebuild something new out of the pain and grief that forges a new way of looking, loving and living. Indeed, forgiveness and reconciliation that posits the possibility of the reclamation of hope and dignity of both victim and criminal…that ain’t human: it is thoroughly divine!

And that is precisely the point.We are told in 2 Corinthians 5,

“18All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 19that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. 20We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.”

This verse reminds that as followers and ambassadors of Christ we have been commissioned with a Gospel that is not only about saving humanity from the hell God  created for the devil and his angels, but also from the hell we create for ourselves by living independent of God’s and releasing that destructive chaos into the lives of others. It reminds us that as those compelled by Christ’s love (2 Cor. 5:14) Christians are the incarnations of divine invitations of God to a sinful, shameful, imprisoned humanity. Christ is our model and also the medium through which this new hope for a new community can and must come. That doesn’t mean the road there will be easy.

The victims in the documentary confessed how hard it was to look into the face of the murderers and not see the face of their dead. The perpetrators confessed the difficulty of looking into the face of those they had abused or taken from, and not see the shame of what they had done and what they had become. But they also confessed having a shred of hope for deliverance from what they had become, some hope that they could be restored to what they were meant to be and desired to be. I am reminded that the road to forgiveness and reconciliation contains a bridge that both offended and offender must begin and walk together if they are to ever emerge on the other side as a community of hope rebuilt by love. To refuse in any way to do so may very well sustains and support the chaos of any form of genocide spawned from hate.

Thank God that He fashioned us in Christ for better things. May we seek, as offend-ers or as offend-eds, to make our lives available to the Prince of Peace to execute His sovereign rule in us, over us and through us for the salvation and liberation of the world He died to reconcile to God.