We see the hope and potential in every young person

The Opportunity of Hope

October 1994.

Name:  Twila 

Age: 8 years old

Favorite food: meat

Characteristic: talkative

Dreams:  endless 

 

Name:  Emmanuel

Age: 8 years old

Favorite food: posho and beans

Characteristic:  kind

Dreams: to become a doctor

Died:  chopped to pieces with a machete 

 

I am struck by the contrast.

The contrast of then and now.

The contrast of my life and theirs.

 

Me.

Young and care free.  Little to no worries.

Life is full of endless possibility as I blow out the candles.

I don’t even need a wish.  What would I wish for?  I already have everything as my family smiles and claps and begins to cut the cake.

I’m eight years old.

 

Him.

Young.  Far too young to carry these burdens.

A life once care free, now only knowing fear.  A surreal terror.

Life is brought to a screeching halt as machete meets skin.

And there is no one to put out the fire of hatred and rage consuming his family before his very eyes.

And wishes?  If there were even time to wish.  Or any point in wishing.

For peace.  For the dead to no longer litter the streets.

Or perhaps for life…

He’ll never see 8 years old. 

 

And I had no idea.

I was ignorant.

 

At the same moment that my life was full of hope, there was not one, but millions without hope.

At the same moment that I was surrounded by my family and friends, there was not one, but millions being forced to watch or even participate in the brutal killings of their own families.

At the same moment that I was dreaming about the future, there was not one, but millions whose dreams were being shattered with no future at all.

 

And I had no idea.

 

 October 2014

 

It has been exactly 20 years since the Rwandan Genocide.

 

There are so many overwhelming emotions as I tread slowing through the Genocide Memorial in Kigali, Rwanda – one of many sites erected to commemorate and raise awareness of the millions whose lives were taken or at the very least marred forever.

 

We walk slowly.  Reverently.

Afraid to make a sound because maybe if you don’t speak it out, it’s not real.

Maybe then it will remain a surreal, distant dream.

 

But the photos, inscriptions, stories and even bones scream out the harsh reality that this happened.

This really happened.

 

It is truly horrific.

And most of us around the world had no idea to what extent people were suffering.

 

We started outside the memorial.

The mass graves where a portion of the over two million brutally murdered are laid to rest.

 

The gardens landscaped specifically to represent the women, the diversity of Rwanda and how it used to be unified.  The gardens of unity, discord and eventually reconciliation.  The rose gardens planted with hundreds of varieties of roses as a representation of what was lost in the senseless killing.

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wall of names

wall of names

Open grave

Open grave

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Rose Gardens

Rose Gardens

Garden representing all the different people in Rwanda

Garden representing all the different people in Rwanda

Garden for women

Garden for women

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mass graves

mass graves

And all I can think is why?!

Why did this happen?

What were they fighting about?

 

I simply didn’t understand.

Rwanda used to be completely unified.  They were not even really divided into different tribes.  They spoke one language and they were one people.

So what happened?

 

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Upon entering the museum, I had my answers.

My stomach churned as I read inscription after inscription about how this bloody mess began.

 

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“We had lived in peace for many centuries but now the divide between us had begun…”

 

I read, and re-read this inscription and it became more and more painfully clear.

Labelling.  Stereotyping.

It was as simple as that.

Finding and amplifying differences where once no one had even noticed.

Categorized by the number of cows you owned or even the shape of your nose.

And then, perhaps the worst part of it all, choosing at random, one “group” to be superior.

 

But that last line in the inscription really got me.

Much of the church endorsed and taught it in their schools and in their congregations.

The church.

Propaganda was instrumental in spreading and convincing the people of these lies and so began the infection of hatred amongst friends, colleagues and even family.

 

And it sounds so ridiculous, and we wonder how people can be so blind.

And I have to wonder, how often do we show signs of these very same patterns?

And how quickly – when caught up in the stereotypes and differences – do we forget that we were once all the same.  All are born.  All die.  All were created from the same dust and all will return.

But we forget.  And we believe the media.  And we believe the lies.

And we begin to amplify, even create differences amongst ourselves.

 

Does it sound familiar?

 

The following are inscriptions of what transpired out of these issues boiling just beneath the surface.

And just as we walked silently through the memorial, I invite you also to walk silently, reverently with us.  Take time to read and ponder these next few inscriptions and try to put your feet into their shoes for even a moment…

 

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“Genocide was being rehearsed. Massacres of Tutsis were carried out in October 1990, January 1991, February 1991, March 1992, August 1992, January 1993, March 1993, February 1994. None of the massacres constituted spontaneous outbreaks of violence. Despite knowing about these atrocities, the French government continued to support the Habirymana regime. French soldiers assisted in the identification of Tutsis for the government.

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And this is just a taste of the horror.

And when it finally ended, the survivors were left to pick up the pieces.

 

Two million dead.  Two million displaced.

In a population of around 7 million that makes this particular genocide even more destructive in ratio than the infamous Halocaust.

 

But most of us didn’t know.  Didn’t understand.

We were ignorant, whether of our own fault or not.

 

And now, exactly 20 years later, here I am in Rwanda about to celebrate my 28th birthday.

 

Everyone I meet has been directly affected by the genocide.

Most people have lost at least part of their family if not all to this senseless killing.

And ALL struggle to forgive and let go and be free from it.

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The genocide is over.

The country of Rwanda has been re-built in record time and is now one of the cleanest, least corrupt, and overall best countries in all of Africa.

From the outside you cannot even see signs of past destruction and every day I find myself in awe of how far they have come.

 

The physical destruction has been dealt with.

The country is now free!

But it is the inner destruction.  The one hidden deep in the hearts of a people broken.
A people stretched beyond their limits.

Now that takes time.

And dare I say, the grace of God to turn such people into a people of freedom.

A people of such strength and resilience.

A people who have lost so much but are still so thankful.

A people of hope.

 

I’m sure I will wonder at this event for the rest of my life and many of the images and stories will never fade.

In fact I pray they don’t.

Because never again do I want to ignorant or removed.

 

Jesus said;

“My people perish for lack of knowledge.”

 

Our ignorance, or lack of knowledge possibly killed millions of people.

And if we continue in this, we are likely to kill millions more.

 

As I was pondering why these things happen and how they happen – how people get to a point where they feel it is ok or even necessary to treat people the way many Rwandans were treated in the genocide – I came across this;

 

“For where you have envy and selfish ambition,

there you find disorder and every evil practice.

What causes fights and quarrels among you?

Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you?

You want something but don’t get it.

You kill and covet but yet you cannot have what you want.
You quarrel and fight.

Do not slander one another.

Anyone who speaks against his brother or judges him speaks against the law and judges it.

But YOU – who are you to judge your neighbour?”

James 3:16, 4:1-2,11-12

 

Wow.

 

What if the church in Rwanda in the 1900’s had lived this instead?

What if this had been preached and propaganda’d throughout the country?

What if people dealt first with their own motives and desires?

What if they actually loved their neighbours?

 

It’s too late for the Rwandan genocide.

It is an opportunity missed.

But it is not too late for us.

 

What if the church in your community lived this TODAY?

What if this would be preached and splashed all over the media TODAY?

What if we dealt with our own desires and motives TODAY?

What if we actually loved our neighbours TODAY?

 

James 2:8-9

“If you REALLY keep the royal law found in scripture,

love your neighbour as yourself

you are doing right.

But if you show favouritism, you sin”

 

Hosea 2:15 says:

“I will make the valley of (trouble) a door of hope”

 

I think we need to take advantage of the opportunity to learn.

The opportunity of HOPE.

Comments

  1. Absolutely mind boggling…in Fikkert and Corbett’s book, When Helping Hurts, they point out that over 80% of Rwandans claimed to be Christian. Missiologists James Engle and William Dryness explain that the answer lies in the Rwandan church’s failure to apply a true Biblical worldview, a Kingdom perspective, to all of life. In their book, Changing the Mind of Missions: Where Have We Gone Wrong? they tell us that for most Rwandans, Christianity was “little more than a superficial, privatized veneer on a secular lifestyle characterized by animistic values and longstanding tribal hatred and warfare…The church was silent on such critical life-and-death issues as the dignity and worth of each person made in the image of God.”

    Thanks Twila…for reminding us of our family connections to everyone…our global responsibility…and the clarion call to promote unity within the body of Christ!

    • Wow, Luke. Sounds like I need to get those books. I have heard of “When Helping Hurts” but never gotten around to reading it!

      The part about being silent is what gets me most in that quote. Complacency might be the most dangerous thing…

      Thanks for posting this!!

  2. Allan Hoffman says:

    Thank you, Twyla for sharing your thoughts. Helena and I were part of a team that went to visit Serge and Jenn from Woodside a number of years ago and we went to visit that memorial as well as a number of others in the country. You have expressed well some of the same thoughts we felt at that time.

    One of the problems with the church is that christianity (notice the lack of upper case) is a mile wide and an inch deep. So many people claim to be christians but have never had a true relationship with the Lord or if they know him have never been taught the Scriptures. It is a problem here in Canada and especially in some countries in other parts of the world.

    You mention the number two million being killed. Without minimizing the horror of it all, I have usually heard the number being killed as 800,000 to 1.000.000. Of course many others can be added to that number as being affected by the genocide.

    Thank you again for sharing your thoughts. God bless you in your ministry in that part of the world. We lived in Mengo, Kampala for about three and a half years all together.

    Allan

    • Twila Erb says:

      You are absolutely right Allan!

      And wow, you lived in Mengo? That is right by where I lived in Kampala also for almost the whole 9 months I was in Uganda! Am heading back there in a few days before I head to Kenya!

      Who were you working with there? What were you doing?

      Blessings,
      Your prayers and support mean so much!
      Twila

  3. Thank you Twila opening the eyes of many. I was in Rwanda a couple years back on a Christian mission in Kigali the city with my university friends and had a chance to visit the memorial site there. Up to this day, I will never forget how passionate and generous the people were after all they have been through. God is at work in their hearts and I couldn’t help but wonder at His awesomeness!

    Its amazing how, being a Ugandan, I never really comprehended what was happening until I got to Rwanda! What my young mind could fathom back then was not as grotesque as what exactly happened! My eyes were opened. My heart was broken for the people but I learnt that out of the ashes there is hope. It’s abundantly displayed in Rwanda!

    Linda

    • It is crazy how little we often know about the people right next to us. I’m so challenged by that!

      And you are right… they are an incredible people because of what they have been through.

      Thanks for posting Linda

      Twila

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