Emmanuel Gatera is not the thinnest or shortest man in Rwanda, but he knows how to dance. Get him under a gazebo in a suit and tie with a dozen traditional Rwandan dancers on a spring day-and he gets moving!
People like him do not evoke notions of family or national tragedy, but everybody has a secret or two. Mr. Gatera was not in Rwanda during the genocide, but at least 100 of his relatives perished during the bloodbath. Radical propaganda incited Rwandan genocidaires to go to “work” and kill up to 1 million of their countrymen, whom they called “cockroaches,” from April to July 1994.
“As family, we, too, developed traumas about the genocide due the news we [heard and watched] every day,” shares Mr. Gatera and his daughter Grace. “Lots of Rwandans lost their faith in God after the genocide,” largely because so many church leaders were accomplices in the carnage, he adds. “Many people are fostering internal wounds.”
Specific churches still feel grim-churches with signs, scattered across Rwanda’s green hills and lush valleys. The signs briefly tell of the dark horrors of twenty years ago. One says 10,000 were killed in this church on this date. Some Rwandans were hiding in the churches. Others were lured there by priests and supposed friends.
One such place is Nyamata, Mr. Gatera’s least favorite place in Rwanda. Anywhere from 10,000 to 20,000 people were eradicated there in a Catholic cathedral. “It is an awful place,” recalls Mr. Gatera. “It was a gruesome desecration of the Lord’s name.”
On the other hand, continues Mr. Gatera, “Many more found their faith as they realized that God was with them even if they went through their trials and tribulations…The church has [had] a big impact on Rwandans and has played a big role in healing and reconciliation.” His people want to “get over their deep wounds in order to live side by side like they had done before the genocide.”
“A typical Rwandan service is characterized by a total surrender to the Creator, who controls our lives, what we do, and our future,” explains Mr. Gatera. Most people feel “involved in the life of the church” and want to serve and honor God.
Jesse Mugero studied at Uganda Christian University in banana-tree-filled Mukono, Uganda. He is a member of the International Association of Genocide Scholars, and he agrees that Rwanda’s churches are contributing toward reconciliation. But with all the churches that participated in the genocide, he fears that “double standards” remain today. He supports some political policies, but fears the current government is stifling-or even killing-anti-government voices. What stories, he wonders, have not been told: “The media plays a big role in creating awareness and ignorance about conflict.”
For the past ten years, Mark and Abigail Bartels have led the Uganda Studies Program at Uganda Christian University. Students from Christian colleges across America spend a semester together in Uganda, but they also travel to Rwanda for a week or so. Mrs. Bartels has helped lead the trips to Rwanda multiple times, and she echoes Mr. Mugero about Rwanda’s status quo-some of the government’s policies are positive, others are frightful.
Mrs. Bartels senses “an overall vibe and tone to many places that is sort of reserved, mistrusting, scared, hurt, and closed.” But she also finds hope in the church’s work there, especially through a ministry called Christian Action for Reconciliation and Social Assistance, CARSA. The ministry was featured in the award-winning documentary As We Forgive, which tells about two Rwandan women forgiving their families’ murderers after the genocide.
Bartels thinks CARSA’s director Christophe Mbonyingabo is “an amazing man, with an amazing commitment to the long, local process of reconciliation in communities and individuals.” He also tries to reconcile “misperceptions of Westerners about Africans and Africans about Westerners,” and his ministry reaches out to genocide victims and agents, children, and rape victims, and helps churches reconnect with each other and their communities.
Faustin Mugabe, of the Ugandan Daily Monitor newspaper, interviewed an ex-genocidaire in the beautiful city of Nyamata. Emmanuel Ndaisaba, now 40, is “one of the hundreds of thousands of former perpetrators of genocide released by the traditional Gacaca court,” which required public confessions, public forgiveness, and some relatively light sentencing. He shares the following:
“Altogether, I attacked 18 people-men, women and children. I am haunted most by the 14th person, because she did not die and is still alive. I hacked her all over and thought she had died. When I was leaving, I looked at her, and she was still alive. I left her. Today, Alloys Mururinda is married but she has one arm. The other arm was amputated. She was about to be married when the genocide started. We now live in neighboring villages…I am now one of the members of the Ukuri Kuganze association in Nyamata, which brings together genocide survivors and ex-prisoners who participated in the genocide. I still want to beg for Mururinda’s forgiveness.”
Such forgiveness is both possible and actual in many situations. World Vision, a major Christian aid organization in the United States and elsewhere, recently featured a miraculous and beautiful story of two married couples who used to hate each other because of the genocide. One man had helped killed the family of the other man’s wife. After he was freed from prison a few years ago, they all said God began working on their hearts. Today they all love each other and serve God in close, frequent ministry together.
The emerald mountains and glassy Lake Kivu surrounding Kibuye, on Rwanda’s western border, is one of the most beautiful sites in East Africa. But even this was no haven of rest in 1994. Two or three survivors told me part of their stories-revealing their machete scars as proof. Yet active churches stood nearby, and as King David danced for the Lord, so many Rwandans dance today.