A Surprising Life Cycle: A Glimpse at Rwanda Today
If you are looking for a place to spend winter other than in Arizona or Florida, consider Rwanda. This land of a thousand valleys and countless hills is prettier than a postcard.
Rwanda may resonate in your memory because of the 1994 genocide and that, of course, is an awful paradox. Why would this land-locked country of beauty, this paragon of cleanliness and order, plunge into killing and mayhem?
To put this into context, Rwanda’s history matters. You may want to read my Dispatch on its genocide. What is stunningly obvious is that the rise and fall of spiritual values, beliefs, and practices does not guarantee behavioral outcomes. Rwanda is a country with as high a percentage of self-identifying Christians as you will find anywhere: 45 percent Roman Catholics, 10 percent Anglicans, and 30 percent Evangelicals.
Endemic to its self-immolation was its European colonizers, who imprinted a social distinction of Hutus and Tutsis that didn’t exist racially. They fabricated a deep and pervasive hatred within the majority (Hutus who were working at more rural and service tasks) against the minority (Tutsis who were in positions of authority with higher social status).
This hatred became the foundation for almost one million slaughtered in a matter of months. Belgium had created a social infrastructure, dividing the citizenry into classes that, in time, were intentionally exploited by the French into such passionate and heated feelings that it took but a spark to ignite them.
But today, out of the ashes, a renewed people has emerged. Their scars and scabs are but evidence of stages of healing. One doesn’t live next door to the man who has killed your parents, husband, or children and not have recurring memories of the screams of death, nor feel occasional bitterness toward those in power who not only allowed this to take place but accelerated it with the fuel of hatred.
Yet slowly and surely there is healing in the land. It takes much effort as groups, churches, and individuals continue to lift the tiresome burdens of hatred. In a past Dispatch, I wrote of Bishop John Rucyahana, who serves as chair of the Reconciliation Commission. His book, The Bishop of Rwanda, tells of a journey marked by repentance and humility.
The bishop and I met again in the hills of north Rwanda where we reflected on the lessons of his journey. As a person of deep faith who not only listens and assuages the deep hurts of others, he too (as he tells in his book) suffered family killings. One can’t find anyone who either wasn’t a perpetrator or victim.
Gahini, just miles from where we had lunch, is where the East Africa Revival broke out in the 1920s and 1930s. The most formative of Christian movements in Africa, it was vital and strategic for the church in East Africa. It began in a Church Missionary Society mission station and, in time, spread its message and spiritual presence into Uganda, Tanzania, and Kenya. Earlier this year, Archbishop Justin Welby, in honor of that movement, laid a foundation stone in Gahini for the East African Revival Heritage Centre.
Historian Michael Harper looks at its genesis:
Joe Church stayed with friends on Namirembe Hill and on the Sunday morning walked up to the cathedral. Outside it was an African standing by his motor-bike. His name was Simeoni Nsibambi. “There is something missing in me and the Uganda church. Can you tell what it is?” Simeoni asked Joe.
The two men spent two days studying the Bible and praying together. In a subsequent letter home, Joe wrote, “There can be nothing to stop a real outpouring of the Holy Spirit in Rwanda now except our own lack of sanctification.” Both men were transformed and Joe went back to Gahini in Rwanda a new person. Immediately conversions began to take place, and Christians started to confess faults and resentments to one another. Forgiveness was experienced and broken relationships restored.
It was this that Bishop John connected to the healing presently taking place in Rwanda. Gahini is where the revival began, but for Bishop John it has come full circle. Real healing, he points out, is itself revival. Over tea and sandwiches, he pointed out that healing from genocide is reflective of the East African Revival. For him, it is a spiritual vision coming to fruition: revival as precursor to reconciliation leading to human unity.
Restorative justice in Rwanda means people are prepared to forgive and receive forgiveness. And here is the power of revival. For Bishop John, this is key to growing health, the future strength of his land, and the witness of the gospel.
As the Spirit moves, he leads the church into humility, which causes hearing and obedience to the word, which in turn brings conviction. Conviction, a true understanding of having missed the mark, becomes one’s guide. Scripture points out one’s shortcoming, which moves towards confession, repentance, and a decision to turn from disobedience.
Here is where the cycle and momentum kick in. When one repents, it creates desire in another to repent, building momentum and spiritual sustainability like dominos. The old comfort in disobedience drops away. This generates a desire to give witness to what the Spirit is doing. That witness jumps to another, catalyzing another to enter into the cycle of humility, conviction, repentance, forgiveness, and obedience. One finds it impossible to keep quiet. Humility as a precursor nurtures biblical obedience. This leads to conviction, invoking voluntary confession and repentance.
For Bishop John, reconciliation as a national initiative is laying the groundwork for another wave of revival. This is not confined to churches, but it’s as yeast influencing the community and the world in need of redemption.
I didn’t expect to hear revival linked with national reconstruction in Rwanda. But here in Gahini, the birthplace of that great revival, I heard its logic from one whose life models humility, conviction, repentance, forgiveness, and obedience. A cycle birthed and sustained by the Spirit.