The Presbyterian Ministry for Reconciliation and Healing in Rwanda
He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds. Psalm 147:3
Officials in Rwanda recently shared “official” numbers: 1,074,017 Tutsi and moderate Hutu were brutally killed in the one hundred days of genocide in 1994, leaving behind hundreds of thousands of orphans, widows, widowers, and people with disabilities. It’s nearly unthinkable that such an atrocity could happen in modern times. And, it’s hard to imagine how Rwandans could ever heal from the ordeal.
But a group of Rwandan Presbyterians are working to bring healing and reconciliation to those involved. Through an initiative called the Light Group, God is helping heal situations that you would normally think are unhealable. Here are two of their stories:
“…And now we are friends, and we have given our children in marriage to one another.” These words concluded the story of a Tutsi genocide survivor in Remera, Rwanda, a woman who saw her husband and four children killed and her home burned. Nine months after the atrocity, she gave birth. She described thirteen years of loneliness, grief and poverty as a single mother. Then, in 2007, the government released a large number of prisoners, nearly all men who had been perpetrators of the genocide. Most of them returned to their communities. This woman told of the utter panic she had felt when she saw the man who had killed her family walking back into town, a free man. She nearly fainted, but managed to run to her house where she hid for a few weeks.
She went on to tell of how the man came time and time again to her home to see her and ask for her forgiveness, even through the locked door. She would not see him or talk to him; she could not bring herself to do so. But each time he came, he would do some work for her – tilling her small farm plot, repairing a door, patching her roof.
After a long time of this, she went to talk to her Presbyterian pastor, Jerome Bizimana. After discussions with Rev. Bizimana, she eventually met with the man and joined the Light Group that Pastor Jerome had formed in the church. Through a few years of pastoral counseling, conversation, storytelling, sharing of feelings and listening, she recently said that God helped her to forgive the man that had killed her loved ones – “little bit by little bit and slowly by slowly.”
A perpetrator began his story by pointing to a woman in the group and saying, “I participated in the killings – I killed her husband and family.” Christian workers came into the prison where he was detained and told the men that God loved them and had given the life of his son, Jesus, that they might find new life in that love. This man had become ashamed of the killings and also that he could not provide for his family because he was in jail for what he had done. It took him a long time to believe that God could possibly forgive that much, but he began to participate in the prison fellowship and grew in his faith. Before their release, the prisoners were taught how to confess their sins and how to approach those they had wronged and to seek their forgiveness by serving and loving them as they would their own families. He burned with shame when he returned to the community and people he met on the road would turn their faces or run away. But he joined the Light Group and they encouraged each other to persevere. He held to the truth he had come to believe: “The love of God does not have any limits. There is nothing that God cannot forgive. It is hard to wait for others to forgive. It is hard work. But God has brought us back to life and helped us.”
These stories, and others like them, are possible because of the Light Group started by Pastor Jerome. The group has forty members, including twelve survivors (rape victims, widows, orphans and wounded) and twenty-eight former detainees who have confessed to committing these atrocities against them or others. Pastor Jerome, who received special training in reconciliation in Zambia, formed the group in 2010 to encourage deep levels of personal, spiritual and communal healing. Members continue to meet regularly to share life and pray, help each other with work, care for each other in need, and even invest together in cooperative efforts. Now the Light Group goes out into the community – to businesses, schools and universities, memorial events, and other churches to share their stories and their vision of reconciliation.
Rwanda is indeed rising from the ashes. With God, all things are possible, including healing and reconciliation from the Rwanda Genocide against Tutsi.
If you would like to support the Peace and Healing Ministry arm of the Presbyterian Church in Rwanda led by Pastor Jerome Bizimana, click the Donate Now link in the sidebar and specify Rwanda Reconciliation in the Other field under Designation.