Thoughts from Rwanda: Genocide

 “Out in the current [of the Kagera river] I suddenly see what looks like a porpoise; shiny, wet and yellow-grey, floating through the flood. Then another, and another, Corpses, hundreds of them, are swirling and bobbing downstream … At the rate I see them – one every three or four minutes – it means that hundreds of people are being killed every day. At the bridge the river tumbles through a narrow gorge, and you can see more bodies spinning slowly in the eddies below, bumping against each other, In one pool there are so many they are packed like dead fish in a tub.”

∼ Journalist Richard Dowden, “Africa: Altered States, Ordinary Miracles”

Genocide: the deliberate killing of a large group of people, especially those of a particular ethnic group or nation.

April 7, 1994:

The green hills and red roads of Rwanda were scoped out by Hutu people, the majority tribe in Rwanda, for the reaping of Tutsi people, who were more politically dominant in the country.

Houses were raided and burned. Women were raped and abused. Families were murdered – often with the common household machete.

The genocide lasted approximately 100 days, killing nearly two million people .

While we were in Rwanda, we toured the Kigali Genocide Museum and visited the Ntarama Church, where more than 5,000 people were massacred on April 11, 1994. The Museum historically documented the genocide: statistics, who was involved, and vaguely why it occurred. It seems most people cannot pin-point a specific reason the genocide was organized, why so many people were involved, or why there was no intervention to save the people from other nations. The genocide did not end until Tutsi soldiers pushed the Hutu army over to the Congo.

More about the origins of the conflict, here.

The Ntarama church looked like a classic Rwandan church on the outside: red brick walls, tin roof, cross on the front. Inside, the one-room building was stained with drops of blood on the floor. Sun peaked through the bullet holes in the tin roof and grenade-made holes in the walls. The stained-glass windows were broken, and a stash of Bibles and hymn sheet music ripped and damaged. There were piles of torn, bloody clothing left.

“For us, it was no longer important that we found ourselves in a house of God. We yelled, we gave orders, we insulted, we sneered. We verified person by person, inspecting the faces, so as to finish off everyone conscientiously. If we had any doubt about a death agony, we dragged the body outside to examine it in the light of heaven.”

Alphonse, Hutu army participant at Ntarama

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We stood in the same spot where men killed one another. We walked through the room where women were raped before their death. We saw the blood-stained wall where babies were thrown.

The facts were not comprehensible. The hundreds of lined-up skulls and remaining bones seemed more like props than a body that used to smile, laugh, and play. The piles of clothing seemed like long overdue community laundry instead of the every-day wardrobe of hard-working people. The tour seemed to be more of a horror story than a real-world history, but it was both.

I’ve been intrigued with the story of the Rwandan genocide since learning about it. I visited the museums, and now I’ve read books and watched Hotel Rwanda multiple times. I want to know why: Why was it okay to murder? Why was there no intervention? I want to know how: How is genocide organized? How did the Tutsi people not know soon enough to escape? How did the people think and feel, on both sides? How did the Christians react, and did they keep their faith?

I may never learn the answers to all of these questions. I may never understand the motives of genocide or the justification of it. I may never be able to comprehend the power of good and evil, or the power mankind has to carry either out.

No one may ever understand the world or the people in it. We may never find a universally accepted solution for untrustworthy politics or mass shootings. There may not always be an intervention in times of crisis.

But what can we do, as individuals and communities, right now?

We all have something to contribute. God designed us that way.

It’s up to you.

Below is a video including a survivor of the Ntarama Church massacre.

ntarama church massacre from Dave Fullerton on Vimeo.


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