Could you forgive the man who murdered your brother? That's what a man named Gespard has done. And that's the kind of radical grace that is transforming a nation known for one of the worst genocides in history.
Twenty years ago, over a million people were killed in a span of 100 days in the central African nation of Rwanda. When Rwanda was a colony of Belgium, a tribal minority known as Tutsi came into favor because of their European appearance. In 1962, the Hutu majority overthrew the Belgian-installed Tutsi government. A civil war between the two tribes began in 1990.
Four years later, two Hutu paramilitary groups initiated the wholesale extermination of Tutsis. Some 70 percent of the Tutsi population was murdered. Ordinary citizens participated in the slaughter—murdering, maiming and raping people who were once their friends and neighbors. War rapes caused a spike in HIV infections, leading to a generation of orphaned children. In total, the war left over a million orphans and widows in its wake. Twenty years later, many of the killers (known as "genocidaires") still cannot explain their actions.
Soon after the genocide, Anglicans and other Christians in Rwanda began working for reconciliation between perpetrators and victims. In 2008, a filmmaker named Laura Waters Hinson made an award-winning documentary called As We Forgive, profiling two women who came face-to-face with the men who murdered their families. The response to her film in Rwanda was so powerful that a movement called As We Forgive Rwanda Initiative (AWFRI) was formed.
AWFRI is led by Rwandans working for repentance, forgiveness, and reconciliation across their nation. They work within communities to equip leaders, engage youth, and develop new media for the purpose of integrating reconciliation in their culture. Community farming plots, house building initiatives, and income generating projects bring enemies together in practical reconciliation. AWFRI shares Rwandans' stories of forgiveness with audiences around the world, proving that gospel-centered forgiveness is possible for anyone.
The world needs their story today. As the death toll mounts in the Gaza conflict, fighting between Sunni and Shia in Iraq threatens the nation's future. The battle between Ukrainians and pro-Russian separatists continues. It's hard to imagine reconciliation between such enemies.
So let's return to Gespard and his brother's killer. The murderer was released from prison after confessing his crimes. He begged Gespard for forgiveness during a reconciliation workshop sponsored by the As We Forgive Rwanda Initiative. Because the men have accepted the radical grace of Christ, they have learned to give and receive his forgiveness. In fact, the killer's name was changed to Innocent as a result. Innocent and Gespard now count each other as friends, and were recently pictured together with the words written on their arms, "Love is the weapon that destroys all evil."
Who is your Innocent today? Who is your Gespard?
Publication date: July 28, 2014
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