Rwanda in the Aftermath of Genocide

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In 100 days beginning 6 April 1994, between 800,000 and 1 million Rwandans were massacred by their fellow citizens in a precisely planned and well-executed genocide virtually ignored by the rest of the world.

In April 1997, I had the pleasure of participating in a conference in Kabale, Uganda hosted by the Anglican Church of Uganda and attended by a large contingent of Rwandan Anglican clergy. Hearing of the challenges they faced in rebuilding their churches, communities and country, I felt deeply called to learn more and explore how I might join them in their work. For my Master’s Project in partial completion of a Master’s Degree in Creation Spirituality from The Naropa Institute, I chose to study the issue of reconciliation in Rwanda. During the summer of 1998, I spent 3 months in Uganda and Rwanda, speaking with African scholars and clergy, visiting towns, villages and development projects and living with Rwandan families..

The purpose of my Master’s Project was to learn about the history and causes of the genocide, to experience first-hand the challenges facing Rwandans in the aftermath of a genocide engineered by their own leaders, to identify signs of hope and possibility in the midst of these challenges and to explore some of the profound questions raised by these events and the reality of the current situation surrounding Rwanda.

My study of Creation Spirituality greatly influenced both the form of my research and experience while in Rwanda and the questions pondered throughout this project. Starting with a fundamental understanding of all of creation as good and all people made in the image of God, yet with a respect for the darkness that is an integral part of human experience, I am horrified, but not surprised, by what happened in Rwanda—one of the most thoroughly evangelized countries in Africa with more than 90% of the population professing to be Christian. The question many have raised, “how could this happen in such a Christian country,” seems self-serving to me[1]. After all, Hitler and most Nazis were also Christians, as are Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic and the majority of Serbs.

However, my experience has pushed me to contemplate the presence, source and character of evil in the world and the possible existence or non-existence of a deeper purpose or meaning to events such as these. In addition, I wonder about the human capacity for healing, what can be forgiven, what are the necessary grounds for reconciliation and whether any of this can be achieved by human will alone. Many spiritual traditions recount horrific tales of brother killing brother and I have always found these tales the most difficult to comprehend.

The creation-centered spiritual tradition considers compassion rather than contemplation as the fulfillment of the spiritual journey that takes one back to one’s origins in renewed ways. It considers justice to be absolutely integral to the spiritual journey.[2]

As Thomas Merton said, “the whole idea of compassion is based on a keen awareness of the interdependence of all these living things which are all part of one another and all involved in one another.”[3] Rather than being tragic events that happened to strange people in a foreign land far away, the genocide in Rwanda happened to my people, my brothers and sisters, and it was perpetrated by my people, my brothers and sisters. I felt compelled to go there, to see what life is like now, to understand as well as I could, to join God and my brothers and sisters there.

You are there

I would leave this chanting and singing and telling of beads. Whom do I worship in this lonely dark corner of a temple with doors all shut? I open my eyes and see that, You, O God, are not before me.

You are there where the tiller is tilling the hard ground and where the pathmaker is breaking stones. You are with them in sun and in shower, and Your garment is covered with dust. I put off my holy mantle and even, like You, come down on the dusty soil.

Deliverance? Where is deliverance to be found? You Yourself have joyfully taken upon Yourself the bonds of creation; You are bound with us all forever.

I come out of my meditations and leave aside my flowers and incense. What harm if my clothes become tattered and stained? I meet You and stand by You in toil and in the sweat of my brow.

Rabindranath Tagore[4]

What follows is an essay focusing on what I learned and experienced while in Uganda and Rwanda in the summer of 1998 and the reading and contemplation I have engaged in since that time.


[1] See Hugh McCullum, The Angels Have Left Us (Geneva: WCC Publications, 1995)

[2] Matthew Fox, Original Blessing (Santa Fe: Bear & Co., 1983), p. 247-248

[3] Quoted in Matthew Fox, Creation Spirituality (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1991), p. 45

[4] Herbert F. Vetter, ed., The Heart of God, (Boston: Charles E. Tuttle Co., 1997), p. 26

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