Yesterday marked 20 years from the start of the Rwandan genocide that killed almost one million people in a span of about 30 days. Twenty years ago yesterday neighbors turned on neighbors, teachers turned on students, and pastors turned on their villages. That last one hit me the hardest when I was in Rwanda three years ago. When the killings started, people fled to churches for sanctuary and the pastors told the Hutus to come. We walked in one church that is now a memorial where the clothing is still piled on top of wooden benches – some clothing that would be much too big for even my 2 and 5 year old – and in the church yard there is a mass grave where you can walk down a set of stairs and see shelves of skulls and bones of the people who were killed that day in that place. I didn’t make it the whole way down the steps before I started shaking and turned around so that the bile rising in my throat didn’t escape. The horror. The nightmare. The worst humanity had to offer. And unlike the Holocaust, it wasn’t an army responsible for escorting people into gas chambers, it was neighbors, kids and elders with machetes.
Today there is a saying in Rwanda that is plastered on street signs and buildings in the heart of their cities, it says, “Never again.” As a country they’ve made a pledge to never again destroy each other, never again set out to eliminate future generations, never again to lose themselves to a senseless rage based on a difference that many still cannot even define or explain.
Today perpetrators of the genocide and victims whose families were lost work side-by-side to farm and rebuild and teach new generations a better way. Many have said the Rwanda of today is the greatest success story of the 21st century, which is still in its early years. On my visit, I met pastors and teachers, mothers and fathers who are deeply committed to the path of forgiveness. I watched a mom nurse her child and then hand him to the man who had filled her parents to help calm him as we sat on the dirt in their village and heard their story.
We have so much to learn from Rwanda – their destruction and their success, their hatred and their hope. But to continue to learn from them, to continue to strengthen them in their resolve to show the world a new way, we also have an opportunity to partner with them. We have an opportunity to make sure kids living on the streets can go to the schools to learn from these phenomenal teachers. We have an opportunity to help the Church in Rwanda feed their communities, physically and spiritually so people can focus on learning and living instead of fighting for their daily bread.
Every year, our church does a Run for Rwanda, and this year it’s all about kids helping kids. On April 27th, our kids will be running laps at the high school and all of the money they raise will go to the work of Prison Fellowship Rwanda. If your child would like to participate or if you would like to sponsor a child who is running, please check out the information here.