It's hard to imagine just 15 years ago, on April 7, 1994, the small, African country of Rwanda fell victim to one of the worst genocides in modern times. In the space of 100 days, an estimated 800,000 people were killed - roughly 10% of the general population. It is staggering when one realizes the carnage of 8,000 killed every single day. This relatively unknown country quickly became internationally infamous as headlines told of neighbors killing neighbors, brother killing brother and unspeakable brutality in every part of the country.
Compassion International, which was there before, during and after the genocide, has for the past 15 years seen incredible healing as the people of Rwanda vow to remember this dark moment in their history. But this remembrance isn't one of vengeance but of forgiveness. While you certainly don't see this in the headlines the way we all read about the destruction of life, this event is, nevertheless, a triumph worthy of great acclaim as it demonstrates the infinite power of God. He continues to be at work, even in the midst of the worst tragedies.
Across the country, families are being reunited as people who were thrown in jail for genocide crimes are being released and sent home. One might think the release of these prisoners could have devastating effects or even further the violence, but in place of hurt, healing is occurring. Instead of condemnation is forgiveness.
In 1980, well before the genocide, Compassion International began its work in Rwanda by coming alongside the local churches to assist them in providing children with the opportunity to rise above their circumstances and to become all that God created them to be. Immediately after the genocide, Compassion went throughout the country looking for children who were impacted by the terrible events that had besieged their country so they could receive the much needed counseling necessary to start the healing process. Today, Compassion programs in the country have grown to the point where we are now serving over 47,800 children in more than 180 child development centers.
The most influential and life-changing component of Compassion's program is the personal relationship between the child and sponsor. This vital sponsor-child bond has amazing power that not only touches the two people involved, but has a positive, extensive effect on entire families, support systems and even communities.
Take, for example, the story of Nshimiyimana Jean de Dieu, a thirteen-year-old Rwandan who attends one of Compassion's child development centers. Because the boy's father was imprisoned for twelve years on genocide-related crimes, Jean de Dieu had to live much of his young life without a father. During this time, Jean de Dieu's sponsor became a surrogate father to him. Jean's mother was so grateful for his love and support that she described the sponsor as "the right hand of this family."
As broken families are reunited, emotional confessions by those who participated in the violence is often commonplace. For one pastor, his admission is very personal though it isn't for himself but for some of his church leaders who participated in the genocide.
"Please God, forgive your church and the people of our land. We betrayed you. We are sorry for what happened. We are so thankful for the restoration of your church," begins Pastor Baganira Fabian's simple yet earnest prayer. Pastor Fabian continued to describe how he saw people being killed before church leaders, pastors betraying their congregation and "churches denying their own folks."
During my recent visit to Rwanda, I too witnessed the amazing power of confession and forgiveness as groups of people crowded in the streets to confess their offenses and forgive one another. It reminded me of Jesus' love when, on the cross, He asked his Heavenly Father to forgive them because they did not know what they were doing. Like Jesus, these people were able to forgive the unforgivable.
Witnessing these candid moments of healing and reconciliation between people who had formerly been bitter adversaries helped me to realize that we have all been called to be a light unto a world of darkness. Just 15 years ago, Rwanda was one of the darkest places on earth. Now it is a light to all of Africa, a continent still struggling with violence, poverty, disease and yes, even genocide.
I was deeply moved as I realized the enormity of the miracle God had performed. Genocides, wars and evil events take place throughout the world, but forgiveness does not. What a privilege it is that God is using Compassion to be one of the many tools that is helping to foster these amazing acts of forgiveness. As Compassion continues telling children about the love of Jesus, they are going home and passing on this healing message of forgiveness to their families.
For example, a registered child at the Kigeme Student Center, 11-year-old Emmanuel, enthusiastically accepted Christ and eagerly wanted to share his faith with his mother, Mukanukunsi. His mother, however, turned her face away from the thought of a loving God. As a survivor of the genocide and living in a community plagued by extreme poverty and death, she wondered how such a God could exist.
Still, Emmanuel had hope for his mother. He prayed for his family every day. Curious about her son's new faith and desperate for food during a community-wide drought, Mukanukunsi went to visit her son's child development center. When workers at the center loaded her arms with bags of rice and water, tears filled her eyes, and her heart, angry at God for so long, finally softened.
As we remember the horrible tragedy that was the 1994 Rwanda genocide, we can also look at the amazing stories of forgiveness in a place where hope had seemed far away. Just as Easter reminds us of the hope we have in Christ through his own death and resurrection, we are also reminded how His love continues to give the hope of new life in places where hope is seemingly nonexistent - life from the ashes.