On the evening of 7 April 1994, one day after the Rwandan President’s plane was shot down, killing him instantly, repeated radio messages on RTLM – a new station attractive to Rwandan young people – called the Hutu people group to arms. Celestin, a Catholic Tutsi father of four and his wife, grabbed their children and fled into the darkness. Celestin took their sons and his wife took their twin daughters, splitting up to increase their chances of survival.
It was a terrifying night. The radio had spent nearly 12 months broadcasting hate speech. The Tutsis, who held most of the white collar positions in the country, were described as ‘inyenzi’, meaning ‘non-human pests’ or ‘cockroaches’, which must be stamped into the ground. Machetes had been stockpiled and were the weapon of choice. Neighbour turned against neighbour. Many families had intermarried, and the Tutsi partner could even be targeted by in-laws.
On that night in 1994, Celestin and his two young sons, in total fear for their lives, and carrying nothing but the clothes on their backs, found a private resting place. Celestin left them there so he could scope out a safe passage, trying to head towards neighbouring Burundi. He came back to collect his sons but they had vanished, and he would never see them again. Celestin’s wife and daughters survived that night and escaped over the border, eventually fleeing to France as refugees.
Up to 800,000 people were slaughtered during the 100 days the genocide raged across this small African nation. At the time, as news started leaking out of this horrific carnage, the evening bulletins showed rivers filled with corpses. Sadly, the international community let this nation down and unsurprisingly, the physical, emotional and mental scars are never far from the surface.
In 2007, Bible Society Australia started funding a project out of Rwanda in partnership with African Enterprise Rwanda. The three-year program ‘Improved Literacy through Education in Reconciliation’ was implemented in 85 schools in the capital, Kigali and four other cities. The aim of the program was to improve literacy as well as transform lives using Scripture-based reconciliation instruction materials. The program also recognised the members of society that influence children – parents, teachers, pastors and peer leaders. It worked. Scenes of repentance and forgiveness were common in schools, and healing and reconciliation clubs.
A bit like other societal problems however, over time the changes we implement are forgotten and there is a need for renewed efforts to reignite awareness.
That is one part of the complex puzzle. Other pieces relate to those children left behind, now grown up with no parental support and deep wounds. Former prisoners, jailed for crimes committed during the genocide, now released, bring their own narratives of the events. School students are developing their own values, often children of survivors or perpetrators, with this palpitating tension of mistrust, pain, vengeance and retribution.
A revival of the 2007-2010 project is much needed. Working in three districts, the program will promote healing and reconciliation based on biblical principles.
In a letter of commendation, Richard Gasana, the Mayor of Gatsibo District, refers to the impact of the previous project and the need for its return: “There was more peace in the community, because all the trained beneficiaries – who included but were not limited to students, teachers, parents, church/religious and youth leaders, and local community leaders – disseminated messages of peace and reconciliation to the people in their sphere of influence.”
“This project is very important as it facilitates peace building and restoration resulting into social cohesion.” You can respond to this call for help and play a part in the process of healing for Rwanda’s people.
• This is a large scale project. Pray that key staff can mobilise stakeholders, hire the right
people for roles, prepare instruction materials, organise peace building and
reconciliation clubs and myriad other tasks and logistics.
• Pray that all involved will model the Christian principles of forgiveness, peace-
building, kindness and grace that they are wanting to sow into people’s lives.