Rwanda’s survivors choose to forgive
Jacob Alexander, Baptist Press
April 29, 2011

Rwanda’s survivors choose to forgive

Rwanda’s survivors choose to forgive
Jacob Alexander, Baptist Press
April 29, 2011

KIGALI, Rwanda

– April is a time of annual mourning and remembrance in Rwanda

as the nation reflects on the 1994 genocide in which more than 800,000 people

were killed. Memorial services are being held across the country and many

Rwandese are visiting mass graves where their loved ones are buried, still

pained by the bloodshed that nearly destroyed a country.

For the past 17 years, Rwanda’s

government has developed infrastructure and promoted unity among its citizens.

People are no longer required to carry identity cards to determine their

ethnicity; they are all simply Rwandans.

A new believer prays with a group of Muslim-background believers at a weekly Bible study. These women have been meeting for several years and have helped each other move past the tragedies of the 1994 genocide.

While unity is slowly growing, genuine forgiveness is difficult for most

Rwandans, and many still suffer from the emotional trauma of seeing their

families killed, often by neighbors or other people they knew. Rwandan pastor

Charles Buregeya of New Life

Bible Church

shares about a young man in his church who witnessed his own family’s execution

during the genocide.

“The whole experience of seeing your father and mother killed, and hiding

yourself at the age of five, that picture is very vivid in his mind and his

life,” Buregeya said. “There are so many people who saw what happened (to their


The Hutu-led genocide against the Tutsi people lasted for approximately 100

days. Many were hacked to death by machete, women were violently and repeatedly

raped, and children’s heads were smashed into brick walls. Some women escaped

death but were forced to watch their families executed, then intentionally

infected with HIV through rape, ensuring they would suffer the rest of their

lives. According to information at the Kigali Memorial Centre, by the time the

Rwandan Patriotic Front liberated Rwanda,

85 percent of the Tutsi population had been killed.

Despite the severe trauma they experienced, many Tutsi Christians are learning

to forgive their neighbors for what happened in 1994.

Georgina Nkubito lost several relatives during the genocide and often sees the

Hutu extremists who killed her family. “During April it is hard because of what

we have experienced; however, we try to be patient when we meet those who wanted

to kill us,” said Nkubito. “We remember that the Bible says if you don’t

forgive you won’t be forgiven. We forgive those who have hurt us, but it is


Another woman, Marie Therese Mukantagwera, lost her parents, siblings, husband

and only child in the genocide. She was also raped and intentionally infected

with HIV. “I forgive,” she says. “… There is no reason to hold on to that


Skulls and bones line the shelves in the crypts of Nyamata Genocide Memorial, located just outside of Kigali, Rwanda. These crypts serve as mass graves for the genocide victims of 1994.

Buregeya, the pastor, believes a major factor in helping Rwanda

heal from the past is to help survivors deal with the emotional trauma of the

genocide. His church ministers to survivors and helps them learn about


“The Bible says all things are possible but those possibilities are miracles –

the number of people who have recovered from that past,” he said. “They have

received comfort from God and now are reaching out to comfort other people.”

Buregeya shared about Chantal, a lady who lost her family in the genocide.

Chantal chose to be one of those new lives climbing out of the rubble. According

to Buregeya, she went to the killers to ask where they left her family’s

bodies. Initially they refused to tell, but after several visits they led her

to the remains. Since then Chantal has forgiven them, loved them and offered

assistance to them when help was needed.

“I don’t know how she does it, it’s a miracle, but every case is different,”

Buregeya said. “It’s going to take time and gradually people are getting there.”

The effects of those 100 days are still evident, but Buregeya sees Rwanda

as a country slowly healing. Tutsis and Hutus are learning to live together

again, going to church and school together and breaking free from the pain of

the past. Some who lost their families in the genocide once refused to forgive

the killers but now understand God’s plan of forgiveness through Jesus Christ.

“I know some people who (said they) would never forgive, and they have come all

the way to the cross, given their lives to Jesus Christ and found the only way

for them to go forward is to forgive those who have transgressed against them,”

Buregeya said. “Lives are being changed through the preaching of the Gospel. It’s

a miracle; God is working here in Rwanda

in a miraculous way.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Based in Africa,

Alexander is a writer for IMB’s Global Communication Team.)

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