The world tells us new stories of hate every day. It is not everyday that you hear a story of redemption-sheer, miraculous redemption.
This is one man’s story about how hate and murder can be turned around.
“That night, over a dinner of rice and goat, several of us joined in conversation. The Rwandan lieutenant sat with us and I asked him how it was that his country had made such significant social and economic strides after experiencing such crippling internal strife. I said this not to ingratiate myself to him; it is true that Rwanda has made a startling recovery since 1994. I have been told that, militarily, they have become the Prussians of East Africa; economically, they are quickly becoming a powerhouse; socially, they have implemented home-grown reconciliation programs and state-run schools. It is nothing short of astonishing that such reforms occurred so soon after such a horrible conflagration.
The lieutenant, a squat man with a cheerful face, replied immediately, seemingly without any reflection: “When I first came to Sudan, I saw a dead woman in the market square in Shangil Tobaya — not the first one I’d seen and I suspect not the last. She had been stoned to death — for adultery most likely. They buried her up to her waist and had the market children do the stoning. I drove by with three Nigerian officers. They laughed as we passed and made comments about her looks. Those men were not even fazed by the evil that had occurred in front of their faces. That poor wretched woman — after the stoning you couldn’t even tell she was a woman — died at the hands of evil, an evil that I recognized. That upset me greatly. And those poor wretched kids who did the actual killing were manipulated by evil. That upset me even more. Children exposed to that disregard for life will be scarred forever, whether they realize it or not. What upset me most were the men I was driving with, the ones who laughed at that all-too-common tragedy like it was nothing. They thought they were being clever and strong by mocking such a death. That indifference and callous attitude is the root of the greatest evils on earth. It is a disease that infects mankind like an epidemic. I can speak authoritatively on this because I have seen and been subjected to the worst of the worst.
“Despite that, I wholeheartedly believe in miracles. I will explain why shortly. I am a student of history and I can say authoritatively that in my country we had the most pure and perfect genocide in the history of mankind. One million slaughtered by hand, without the aid of death camps, gas chambers, or mechanized killing units. It was this personal touch that made it all the more horrifying. It was pure hatred that electrified the people. One hundred days was all it took. No other genocide was as ferocious, efficient, and quick.
“It was indifference that allowed our tragedy to occur. It was indifference that not only infected us, but the whole world, which stood idly by. Indifference allowed intellectuals and politicians to tell us that one ethnic group was somehow less human than others. It allowed one group to be abused by another. And finally we, through our supreme indifference, allowed neighbors to be butchered by other neighbors.
“I’ll tell you a little-known fact about Rwanda. Thirteen years before the genocide, the Blessed Mother of God appeared before three school children in the village of Kibeho. She gave them a message of hope and a foretelling of violence. The visions of death they saw were horrible and incomprehensible at the time. Thirteen years later, the last of the violence took place on the very spot where Blessed Mary appeared. One of the schoolchildren, a girl holy enough to behold the Blessed Virgin, was among the victims hacked apart on that spot. She was martyred through indifference. Indifference blinded men to ignore the Mother of God in order to murder their fellow man.
“What has happened to my country since the killing ended? When we regained control, did we avenge ourselves against our oppressors? Did we retaliate against our neighbors? No, love enveloped the country. A love and forgiveness that, I like to think, only a heavenly Mother could instill in her children. All this happened without the intervention of the great superpowers and developed countries. The United Nations did nothing. They have been very vocal after the fact, but when men were killing their neighbors, they locked themselves in their camps.
“Our horror started through hate and indifference. It has ended with love and forgiveness. That is a miracle on a scale that is almost never seen. Yet many in the world are blind to such miracles. It was the hand of God, through the Blessed Mother’s intervention, that saved Rwanda — and that I believe with all my heart. Indifference has been erased in Rwanda. When it was all said and done, there could be no indifference. It was too personal. Just as our brutality was personal, our recovery was personal.
“Men asked for forgiveness face-to-face. We deal with our countrymen who committed the atrocities on a village level. If a man killed his neighbor, he goes to the family and asks for forgiveness. The village council will decide a penance; usually the man will work as a laborer for that family for a prescribed period of time. Once the penance is complete, the man is free. In this way, he can see the consequences of his crime by interacting with the family, and the family can see their former oppressor in a state of humility. That humility often softens their hearts and quenches any desire for vengeance. As simple as it sounds, it has worked. None but the worst are sentenced to jail and we have abandoned the death penalty. Forgiveness is granted and old wounds are being healed.
“I like to believe that Rwanda’s recovery has happened for some divine purpose. Perhaps we were being prepared for some great task. That was why the Blessed Mother of God visited our insignificant country. It was to tell us that our sacrifice would not be in vain. It would show the world the dangers of indifference, and our recovery would show the world the power of forgiveness compared to the destruction of revenge.
“Why do you think we Rwandans are here in Darfur? It is not for money or recognition. It is because we cannot stand by in the face of indifference. Ask any of my soldiers why they are here and they will all tell you so that they can prevent another Rwanda from happening.”
All present sat in silence, scarcely able to comprehend the resilience of the human spirit when it has been invigorated by Christian love. After the lieutenant finished, all present felt it necessary to embrace him as a brother.
When I ponder the contradiction between the feminine figure of death that so distressed me on that hill outside of Sortoni and the divine figure of the Mother of God, shepherding the Rwandan people through their loss and reconciliation, I am struck with wonder. It is a contradiction that represents humanity in all its glory and depravity, its anger and forgiveness, misery and redemption, destruction and salvation. A priest recently told me that peace is unattainable without Christ. The contrast between Christian Rwanda and Islamic Darfur adds a degree of validity to his statement.
I will concede two things. First, it is quite likely that the heat, coupled with my exhaustion and state of mind, caused me to be susceptible to morbid fancies when standing at the edge of that destroyed village. Yet the image of death standing tall over her domain, taking account of all who cower under her, continues to symbolize much of Darfur for me. Second, perhaps the Rwandan lieutenant painted an overly rosy picture of his country’s recovery and reconciliation. But that does not negate the fact that his country did recover and the combatants did reconcile. Not only did they reconcile, but they forgave each other en masse. Not coincidentally, stories such as his have been repeated over and over again among the Rwandans serving in Darfur.
Some one sent me this story by email. I hope to find the source and give full credit to the writer. I thank the Rwandan lieutenant with all my heart for sharing this truth with these men. And to the Blessed Mother , may each of us send her our unfailing love and devotion, forever.