“On most days, two or three people would come to my little office in Kigali and, between the tears, would tell me their stories. This happened on such a regular basis that I’d ask them, ‘Why are you coming to tell me this?’ Invariably the answer would be, ‘We don’t trust anybody with a black face. You’re a mzungu – you’re a foreigner. We need to tell our story to someone.’”
Under the guidance of John and others, many Hutu and Tutsi Rwandans have worked through their pain, anger, guilt and shame to build a foundation based on forgiveness and co-operation. Today women who lost fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters and children live side-by-side with those who raped them, looted their property and butchered and murdered loved ones.
The program run by AMI works with small groups of Hutus and Tutsis who are counselled over a number of months. The culmination of the process is when the perpetrator formally requests forgiveness. If forgiveness is granted, and that is not assured, the perpetrator along with family and friends will arrive at the victim’s house with gifts of local delicacies. After sharing the meal the ‘peace’ is sealed with song and dance.
Even when there is reconciliation relationships can be strained with little evidence of warmth. It is twenty years since the genocide and even now, Steward says, not everyone is capable of forgiveness. He estimates that about 15% of survivors have forgiven and an even smaller percentage experience reconciliation. He is not surprised by this given the scale brutality. In fact, to the contrary it is the capacity of survivors to forgive that confounds and inspires.
Steward told The Australian newspaper in April that, “in Australia I had believed in forgiveness as an idea, something I had spoken about to Christian audiences, but I never understood the costs of forgiveness, the difficulty of forgiveness, the challenges of it. I had to go to Rwanda to see that.’’
Sometimes forgiveness is hard and takes times, even decades. Yet Jesus revealed the heart of God when he calls us to love our enemies, pray for those who hurt us and forgive those who sin against us.
May God equip and enable us all the grace to forgive as God in Christ has forgiven us (Ephesians 4:32).