In the 1960s, during the segregationist days, I remember a specific encounter in Mississippi. A little black boy was being harassed and badgered by another man. This man, in a heated argument with the boy, asked him how he knew he was worthy and equal. The boy, with all the confidence he could muster, replied that God had told him and had shown him in the Bible that he’s valuable, important, and can seek the desires of his heart. “God don’t make no junk,” he proclaimed. That statement has been forever imprinted on my mind and heart.
God don’t make no junk indeed.
My heart and mind are focused on Easter as it’s approaching, but today is a day that doesn’t graze over me lightly. Today marks the anniversary of the beginning of the Rwandan genocide and I can’t help but draw some conclusions about the ties between the two. The resurrection of Jesus and the rebirth of a nation have some striking similarities worth reflecting on.
When Belgian rule overtook Rwanda in the early 1900s, they created a system that would forever change the trajectory of the people there. They constructed a social distinction by categorizing people into two classes, the Tutsi and the Hutu. European colonists, convinced the Tutsi had migrated to Rwanda from Ethiopia, believed the Tutsi were more Caucasian than the Hutu and were therefore racially superior and better suited to carry out colonial administrative tasks. They were favored for government roles and were given exceedingly more opportunities for advancement. The Tutsi people were esteemed as more intelligent, with a higher economic status.
The Belgian rule knew that in order to maintain authority, they must create a level of stability; they had to control indigenous leadership and influencers. But in this process, the Hutu people were left behind. Their leaders established that they were less deserving, leaving them hopeless, angry, and resentful.
After World War II, a Hutu emancipation movement began to grow in Rwanda fueled by increasing resentment of the inter-war social reforms and also an increasing sympathy for the Hutu within the Catholic Church. As the context of the Rwandan Civil War progressed, Tutsi began leaving the country to escape the Hutu purges, settling in four neighboring countries. Many formed the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), which largely consisted of Tutsi refugees whose families had fled to Uganda after the 1959 Hutu revolt against colonial rule.
A plan for restoration was in effect, but many Hutu people refused to accept the peace agreements.
On April 6, 1994, the airplane carrying Rwandan President Juvénal Habyarimana and Cyprien Ntaryamira, the Hutu president of Burundi, was shot down as it prepared to land in Kigali, killing everyone on board and serving as the catalyst for the genocide. The people of Rwanda suffered deeply and the atrocities that occurred in those 100 days aren’t reflected upon lightly.
Although it seems counter intuitive, the rise of Christianity in Rwanda was happening at the same time. In 1993, close to 85% of the population was identifying as Christian. Many people there adhered to a set of animistic beliefs, but once they were presented with the opportunity to connect to the one supreme and sovereign God, Rwandans clung to that identity.
However, while they recognized private worship, their faith had not yet moved to social, governmental, political, and ethical dimensions. They hadn’t bridged a Christian belief system that would cause them to change their thoughts about others around them. This was especially true with the Tutsi regard of Hutu and vice versa.
However, today looks different for the nation of Rwanda. 23 years later, the nation is in the midst of a rebirth, a resurrection.
Much like the resurrection of Jesus declared the possibility of salvation for all, combining all people Jew and Gentile alike, Rwanda declares a commitment to the well-being of Tutsi and Hutu people. The value and dignity of all people is affirmed and recognized.
Rwandan government has taken many strides towards a peaceful nation, including:
- Changing Rwandan identification cards so they no longer separate people of a nation into predisposed categories. It just says Rwanda.
- Set up and mandated free education for all through primary school. At the time of the genocide, Rwanda had the lowest average educational rate of all African nations. They understand that when leaders don’t have a high enough education, they lack the ability to critically assess documents, ideas, as well as the application of them. Because of this, they’re easily manipulated.
- Thinking about rising up the women of the nation and empowering them as the primary educators of the new Rwandan future - the youth. Honoring their role in changing and shaping the nation of Rwanda.
The reconciliation of Rwanda doesn’t just fall on the shoulders of the government though. Young men like Christophe Mbonyingabo are making a difference. Christophe and his family were forced to flee to DR Congo and live in exile. He used to have a hateful spirit toward Hutu people and was determined to carry out violence against them, but he couldn’t follow through with it and often speaks of when the hate left his heart.
Along with other students, Christophe founded Christian Action for Reconciliation and Social Assistance (CARSA) in 2004. CARSA brings together survivors and offenders from the genocide into community with one another, supporting their journey towards healing, forgiveness, reconciliation, and holistic development.
One of their programs is called Cow for Peace. A cow is given to the survivor and the offender. It stays with the survivor’s family, but both share the responsibility of caring for it, bringing the offender’s family to visit regularly. The first calf that is born is given to the offender’s family in a communal ceremony as a sign of restored relationships.
This demonstration of spiritual and bodily resurrection is precisely what Jesus’ death offered us.
Being united for the well-being of the nation helps us live out the practicality of the resurrection. From the devastating genocide of Rwanda, we can see the rising up of hope and beauty once more. We can be inspired by those who are working tirelessly to forgive their neighbors for committing unspeakable crimes.
We can see that God is at work in the great nation of Rwanda and it reminds us that He’s at work in us too.
Nothing is too dark, too covered in sin, or too difficult for the redemption of Jesus. His death and resurrection reminds us of His faithfulness. When we look at Rwanda, we can see that restoration is possible through the resurrection and that gives me a deep peace as I celebrate Easter with my friends and family. I hope it does the same for you.