During our gathering of young theologians in July, our visit to the Kigali Genocide Memorial deeply impacted us to reflect on the different aspects of our lives.
During the Rwandan genocide of 1994, members of the Hutu ethnic majority in the east-central African nation of Rwanda murdered as many as 800,000 people, mostly of the Tutsi minority.
People were shot, burned and arrested. Dogs were turned on them. Women were raped. Babies were killed and mothers were thrown into rivers.
Against this backdrop of horror, it was an enriching experience when we sat around the table and started to share our reflections.
Broken faith and perplexing questions
The stories of the genocide make us wonder: where was God when a place of such
breathtaking beauty seemed to turn into a living hell; where evil walked, where so-called
Christians chopped down their brothers and sisters in Christ without the slightest concern?
Where was God when people justified this violence with ethnic ideologies? Couldn’t God shake them out of their cold, complacent hatred? How could anyone believe God would approve of ethnic hatred and genocide? Why did he not intervene?
This is the challenge, and the young theologians did not have an answer to it. We just listened to each other’s heartbroken reflection. We don’t understand how people can have faith after living through genocide, why God can’t intervene to stop the worst violence, and how professed Christians can kill someone based solely on class status.
But we need to know that if we’re going to prevent future genocides, we have to be ready to stand up for the inherent worth of God’s children, seeing Jesus in the faces of the poor, tortured and killed (Matthew 25:34-40). We need to reject ideologies that try to warp religion into ethnic dehumanisation. The world we live in is still not free from these violent activities. We need to learn the lesson from history and move forward – just like the people of Rwanda did.
The identity crisis
In the decades leading up to the genocide, the church supported the extremist Hutu
government and failed to denounce the persecution of the Tutsi. And in 1994, churches were one of the main sites of massacres. For many people, national identity became superior to the identity that they have in Christ.
This reflection has a deep impact on how we do theology on an everyday basis. Who we
are in Christ? Has our nationality, color of our skin, level of education, our sophisticated lifestyle become our identity or do we value the identity that we have in Christ?
We, the young theologians, need to remind ourselves that the people we encounter in our daily lives are made in the same image and likeness of God, just like us. While history shows that human beings have a remarkable capacity to be violent, at the same time we experience the capacity of people to forgive those who tortured, oppressed and abused them. Our identity must be rooted in love and forgiveness. That is what we learnt from Dr. Antoine Rutayisire, a pastor of the Anglican Church in Remera, Kigali.
‘The more I reflect on the issues of genocide, the more I become certain that Jesus Christ is the only hope for the nation.’
We were very glad that Dr. Rutayisire shared about the power of forgiveness and reconciliation. When we look at the cross, Jesus was praying for the people who were killing him. We might have a lot of unanswered questions, but when we go to the cross we find the failure of human beings and the triumph of the grace of God. We learn that no matter how terrible life is it can miraculously change for the better. We are agents of transformation who co-operate with God to transform his world. We, the young theologians, have a big role to play in our society.
Hope for the nation
As we were walking over the grave of the broken bodies and bones, all I could think of
was the passion, death and resurrection of Christ. The more I reflect on the issues of genocide, the more I become certain that Jesus Christ is the only hope for the nation.
We, the young theologians, have a great responsibility in sharing the hope we have in Christ. The Kingdom of God is now and not yet. Jesus Christ is the resurrected Lord over all things. The Kingdom perspective makes us commit ourselves to justice and compassion.
Christian hope is fundamentally based and rooted on the love of God for everyone (John 3:16): Rich and poor, black and white... none are outside the reach of God’s love.