Unanswered Questions


Why do people continue to go to church after being so deeply betrayed by their leaders? The church has lost much of its credibility (all?), and yet the pews still fill up. One answer may be simply that it is their “home” and they cannot imagine not going. Or perhaps they have risen above their leaders and see the church as greater than the horribly corrupt structure it became. I met many people who spoke eloquently of their personal experience of being “saved,” sometimes literally, and there is a clear distinction drawn by some between those who have been “saved” and those who have not been (although they may be church-going people). It is a powerful witness to the “Good News” that people’s experience of their personal relationship with Jesus Christ is so much more powerful than their experience of the genocide that wreaked havoc on their lives.

Prior to visiting Rwanda, and in particular visiting the sites at Mirambi Technical School and Ntarama and Nyamata churches, I do not think I really believed in evil. Somehow I had managed to retain a belief in the essential goodness of everything and everyone without the existence of evil complicating matters. No longer. I have seen evil, or at least its effects, and I have even spent a bit of time contemplating it. Just like goodness, evil manifests through human beings. Fear seems to be at the root of evil. Yet fear is also often at the root of faith. What determines which direction a person takes? Is it simply a choice?

We are all children of God. Therefore, we are all essentially good and pure. But what about those who have engaged in truly evil acts? The trauma that those acts visit on an innocent soul is enormous. So much soul damage has occurred in Rwanda:

w      the damage to the souls of those who participated—that fear could do so much damage to an originally pure and innocent soul;

w      the damage to the souls of those who observed—to have seen with your own eyes (whether literal or not) such evil and to know it exists, it is out there, it is close to you;

w      the damage to the souls of those who have returned—to have that fear that this might happen again always there, eating away.

They are children of God? God loves them, too? Only if they repent, right? You mean, God loves them, as his own children, before they repent?[1]


From outside Rwanda, one can ask the question, “Is reconciliation possible? Can it happen? Will it happen?” Inside Rwanda, at least at the institutional level (church, government, etc.) reconciliation is a given—it must happen, it is what they are all working for, it is the only source of hope. The question is not “if” but merely “when.”

However there are some formidable obstacles. Even if someone had the correct formula, guaranteed to work, there is still the question: “who needs to be reconciled with whom?” Each relationship is different.

The returnees need to be reconciled with those who forced them to flee from the country or caused them to be born in exile. And they need to be reconciled with those who remained and suffered inside Rwanda. The RPF and its supporters need to be reconciled with those over whom they have been “victorious,” those who perpetrated the genocide.

The survivors need to be reconciled with those who massacred their families and tried to kill them. They need to be reconciled with those who came back after all the horror and now wish to claim this country as their own. They need to be reconciled with their Hutu neighbors who acted out of fear or even sympathized with the killers.

The perpetrators of the genocide need to be reconciled with the new government in Kigali and with all those who returned after living in exile for 20-30 years. They need to be reconciled with those they murdered and those they did not. And they need to be reconciled with those they forced to participate and those who have chosen to accept the new situation within the country and start their lives over.

In addition, the “haves” need very much to be reconciled with the “have nots.” Those who have been “saved” need to be reconciled with those who do not consider themselves “saved.” In many places, liberals need to be reconciled with conservatives, Protestants need to be reconciled with Catholics and with Seventh-Day Adventists, and Christians need to be reconciled with Muslims.

Many attempts have been made at this sort of reconciliation throughout the world. Nowhere has it yet been totally successful.

So human beings seek justice and reparations to try to bring order and a sense of fairness. We seek truth for our peace of mind. Perhaps we seek to forgive or be forgiven. And somewhere in the midst of these reconciliation may occur.

The Hutu Side of the Story

Very little has been written, and not much more said, about the experience of the Hutu in all of this. What will be the cost of this silence, the suppression of this experience, this side of the story? Few have spoken about the experience of being deeply betrayed by those in whom you believed as well as by yourself. I assume that if someone were involved or even supportive of what happened in 1994, it is because he believed in the rhetoric he was taught. She believed in the threat to her well-being posed by the Tutsis and believed in the government and she supported their proposed solution. And now, everything he believed, the whole world is telling him, was wrong, not just misguided or stupid or unsuccessful, but evil. She did not ever think of herself as an evil person. And now, how can he possibly trust someone else, anyone else? How does she know if what they say is true or if they are merely trying to manipulate her for their ends? And worst of all, how can he trust himself? She thought she was on the side of right and good and now she discovers how terribly wrong she was. Total, complete and utter betrayal, even betrayal of himself.

The Hutu story is not getting told and that, I think, is potentially very dangerous. Because if they cannot talk about their pain, their anguish, their feelings, whatever they are, they are likely to explode sometime, somewhere. Given that this is an experience shared by the majority of the population, this seems very risky to me.

Economic Aid and Dependency

As is often the case in less developed countries, and this is likely exacerbated by the recent genocide, there is a deeply embedded dependency mindset amongst many Rwandans. This seems less so of those who grew up in exile, though some symptoms of it remain. Having met many very determined and creative people in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda who were making a difference in their families and communities with very few resources, I was quite surprised to encounter those in Rwanda who did not think they could, and therefore would not try to, start anything on their own. Even when I pointed out what they did have, all they could see was what they were lacking. In any situation, I find this mindset sad and somewhat frustrating, but in Rwanda it seemed to me to be also dangerous. Traumatized people who do not believe they have the wherewithal to take care of themselves or improve their situation in life seem as if they would be very susceptible to blindly following anyone who wants to lead them.

Two other observations: many of those who have money and material goods, who are economically well-off, do not appear to feel any obligation to take care of their neighbors or their country. They believe that is the job of the international community. Also, because so many Rwandans returned from exile with lots of money (by Rwandan standards) and there are innumerable employees of non-governmental organizations, indigenous and ex-patriate, who are driving around brand new 4WD vehicles, many people seem to have lost the connection between work and money. The twenty or thirty years of hard work in a foreign country that enabled a family to return to Rwanda and build a beautiful new home is invisible to those inside the country. So there are people who almost expect someone to give them a nice house or a big car or the job they want and think it is unfair if these things are not forthcoming. This adds to the already tense atmosphere in the country and is most palpable in Kigali.


[1] Personal Journal, 5 September 1998