The Lessons that Rwanda Can Teach the World

Twenty-four years ago, on the morning of April 7, 1994, members of the ethnic majority Hutu population of Rwanda began genocide against members of another ethnic Rwandan group, the Tutsis.

The Rwandan genocide would kill between 800,000 and 1 million people in the course of just 100 days.  Killers primarily used machetes to slowly murder friends, neighbors and random fellow countrymen who happened to be Tutsis or moderate Hutus.

During the genocide, nine-month-old babies were thrown into walls to kill them.  Women were humiliated and raped by men who were known to be HIV-positive.  In one village I visited when I traveled to Rwanda over spring break, a church now serves as a memorial for at least 36,000 people buried in the mass grave at the church.  Many of the bodies in the grave were murdered in a massacre at the church. The Hutu pastor told Tutsis that the church was a safe zone, but he locked the doors and allowed Hutus to enter and kill them.

As an outside American looking into Rwanda and learning about the nation’s history, it was not hard to feel angry and hateful towards the people who mercilessly killed women and children and towards the world for doing next to nothing to stop it.  I can’t imagine how much easier it would be for Rwandans to feel that way.

Despite that, my mere 10-day experience in Rwanda revealed that this is not the case for most Rwandans.  The people I encountered were some of the friendliest, most genuine and kindest people I have ever met.  Throughout the trip, I struggled to comprehend how something so horrible could have happened to such wonderful people.

On our last full day in Rwanda, we went to Mbyo Reconciliation Village, sponsored by the Christian ministry Prison Fellowship Rwanda, where forgiveness reigns and Tutsi genocide survivors co-exist with the same Hutus who may have killed their family members.  We heard both a former killer and a genocide survivor tell their testimonies of how God has worked in their lives to bring about the forgiveness we saw so vividly displayed.  Today, survivors in the village have forgiven the perpetrators, and the perpetrators have learned to forgive themselves. They watch each other’s children and even marry each other.

Following a sobering visit to the Kigali Genocide Memorial, the trip to the Reconciliation Village was impactful and hopeful.  It showed that in just 24 years, it is possible for people to put aside some of the strongest dividers and forgive others.

In just 24 years, Rwanda has gone from a crisis zone to an impeccably clean success story of economic development in Africa.  It is a truly remarkable sight to see.

Rwanda may be a small African nation that you may have never heard about before reading this article, but it has a lot of lessons to teach America and the rest of the world.  It should serve as a model for other nations to emulate.

From Rwanda, we can learn of the dangers of what happens when we allow divisiveness and demonizing the “other” to creep into our thinking and rhetoric and what that leads to.  Most of all, we can learn that no matter how horrible the situation or crime, forgiveness and redemption is possible.

During those horrible 100 days in 1994, Rwanda was covered in blood like the Earth was covered in water during Noah’s Flood.  But like after Noah’s Flood, the rainbow we saw leaving the Reconciliation Village was a reminder for me and my team of God’s promises and that no matter how bad things get, good can come of evil.

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