Approximately 90 percent of the people in Rwanda, Burundi, and Zaire claim to be baptized Christians. In the 1930s, in fact, the three countries experienced what is called the "East African Revival." A critical question, therefore, emerges: How can genocide and endless bloodshed take place among those who claim to be baptized Christians?
Remember, the house built on the rock stood even in the face of great storms. However, the house built on the sand fell when the wind and the rain came. When the wind of politics and the rain of tribalism came to this part of Africa, many people with weak foundations collapsed. Either they participated in violence, or they remained silent in the face of injustice.
Some Christians stood against the violence, and they were martyred for their strong stand of faith. Israel Havugimana, a representative of African Enterprise, was one such person. His identity was first of all that of a Christian—not a Hutu—one who stood for the gospel of love and truth. For his convictions he lost his life, along with his children and one of his parents.
Two kinds of genocide
It is my belief that there was not one, but two genocides—a physical genocide and a spiritual genocide. Spiritual genocide refers to the presence of sin and hatred in people's hearts. For example, when a Roman Catholic cardinal attended a meeting of Rwandan church leaders, he asked: "Is the blood of tribalism more important than the water of baptism?" One of the church leaders answered, "Yes." When this type of sinful world-view is present in the hearts of people, it leads in its worst case to the tragic physical genocide witnessed in Rwanda. One church leader, the Reverend Frederick Robertson, summed it up well: "We do not want a new world, we want new hearts."
This kind of genocide has happened elsewhere, most recently in Bosnia. I think the main cause is human nature. I have been convinced more than ever of the reality of sin. Although I realized it before, I didn't think it could take such terrible forms as the merciless killing of babies and the elderly—even the killing of one's own children because one parent was from the other tribe!
Yet God's power has been manifest, too. A woman who was praying to have her own baby was given a three-month-old orphan baby when she passed through a road block. When she complained to God that she had no home or food for this child, God gave her milk in her breast.
In the face of such tragic genocide, many people ask me, "Is there any hope?" I, myself, an ethnic Tutsi, have known many people personally who have been violently killed in Rwanda. My wife's family was murdered. My family members are currently refugees in Rwanda due to the violence in Zaire. Indeed, there is much pain and suffering in this region, but I still strongly believe that there is hope—for where there is no hope, there is no God. With God, all things are possible.
Identification with the suffering
Throughout the United States and world, many Christians ask me, "Bishop, as the church, what can we do?" My answer is this: "We are one body. When one part of the body suffers, the whole body suffers. When one member rejoices, we also share the joy." Perhaps part of the problem lies in individualistic Christianity in which people fail to see themselves as part of one body throughout the world. In part, then, the answer comes when people care enough to take an interest, understand the problems, and then become involved. How can caring Christians become involved?
First, personal relationships are critical. The archbishop of Canterbury visited Rwanda in May of 1995, and it made a tremendous impact upon the people there. In fact, the government said, "If more church leaders would personally come and visit, it would make a great difference." In addition, Archbishop Tutu visited the church where a great massacre took place. When he saw the bones of the people, he fainted.
Such visits from church leaders are invaluable witnesses to the many victims of the genocide, including the thousands of widows and orphans. They represent the presence of Jesus by standing with the suffering in their pain, which brings a sense of hope and love.
Second, it is important to understand the problem—not just the surface issues, but the deeper causes and root problems, including colonialism. The Hutus and Tutsis were not always enemies. But the colonial powers—first the Germans, then the Belgians—used a divide-and-conquer strategy to turn the Hutus and Tutsis against each other in order to strengthen their hold on their colonies.
Another factor in the tribal strife, at least among the Christians involved, is a superficial faith. The people were not discipled to have the courage of their convictions in the time of trial.
Be informed, read the news, research the subject on the Internet. As you hear of strategic opportunities to get involved, seek God's guidance about how he might use you as part of his answer.
Third, financial assistance is much needed, especially for the widows and orphans who are victims of this genocide. Give generously to your favorite Christian organizations' efforts targeting this region. Especially, give toward efforts that stress the development of Christian leaders and the discipling of Christians, such as the work of the African Evangelistic Enterprise. What is needed are leaders who will exercise a prophetic ministry, standing with the victims of oppression and speaking in love to political leaders—people not afraid to take a stand against ever letting such evil take place again.
Fourth, talk to your senators and congressmen. Let them know that this crisis matters to you. The United States has influence wherever it chooses to exert it. This influence is desperately needed now.
Finally, and perhaps most important, pray. Pray for justice, because without justice there can be no peace. Pray for love between the so-called enemies, for without love there isn't much hope for the future.
On behalf of the people of Zaire, Rwanda, and Burundi, I want to thank all of you who have cared enough to become involved through your prayers, understanding, financial support, and efforts to promote peace and reconciliation. As one body, together we can make a difference. For with God right beside you, nothing is impossible.
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