Monday, July 08, 2013

God is actually quite Great: the Rwandan martyrs

Most people my age probably don't know much more about the Rwandan genocide of 1994 than what you can learn by watching Hotel Rwanda. I was 7 years old at the time, and I don't remember even a hint from the news about what was going on. I now know that, for over three months, ethnic killings swept through the land as more than 500,000 Tutsi people (maybe as many as 1 million) were killed by their Hutu countrymen.

Startling (and horrifying) moments in history like this always leave a trail of stories behind: stories of unbelievable evil or of astonishing heroism; stories of hope and of gut-wrenching loss. This is one of those stories from Rwanda.

During those bloody months of mass murder, a large group of Christians--over 13,000, so the story goes--gathered for refuge in the town of Ruhanga. The group was a patchwork of denominations: Pentecostals and Roman Catholics, Baptists, and more. The group was also ethnically mixed: Tutsi and Hutu.
A witness has described what happened next:
When the militias came, they ordered the Hutus and the Tutsis to separate themselves by tribe. The people refused and declared that they were all one in Christ, and for that they were all killed.

The entire group, Hutus and Tutsis, was gunned down and dumped in mass graves.

That, as one writer put it simply, is a testimony of "the power of the gospel to break down the wall separation" we erect between ourselves and others of different races or different cultures. These believers refused to let anything other than Jesus Christ define them, even when it was the prudent thing to do--even when this could cost them their lives.

Some people argue furiously and very publicly that religion--Christianity or any other--is only ever a poisonous, destructive force in the world. This haunting story, however, suggests something else. Even if this were the only example we could look to (and it's not), here in this shocking moment we see the power of faith in Jesus to unite and support and affirm, even when the consequences are dire. As horrifying as the violence inflicted on these, and so many other Rwandans at the time, is, I can't help but come away from this tale with a sense of the beauty of the gospel and the light it can shine in some of history's darkest hours.

(To see all of the posts in this series, you can click here.)

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This story, and the eye-witness testimony, is recounted by Richard B. Hays in The Letter to the Galatians, p. 248, in The New Interpreter's Bible, volume XI.
Thus far, I have been unable to track down the original source of the tale (a 1996 newsletter from SOMA) to read for myself. Ordinarily that would be enough to keep me from re-posting such an account, but, because I trust Dr. Hays's academic integrity implicitly, I decided to share the story anyways.

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