DISCLAIMER: While I understand that this is one man’s retelling of the events, I will engage and comment based on the good faith effort of the author to represent the events he related.
There are few times that I can remember when I have read a book and been moved by its content. The Bishop of Rwanda by Bishop John Rucyahana is one of those books. It truly is not for the faint of heart. The gut wrenching, horrific events described (sometimes in graphic detail) are terrible to imagine and even more tormenting to the heart to know that other human beings endured. With the precision of a historian and the compassion of a pastor, Bishop John diagnoses the multiple streams that led to the murder of close to 800,000 of the nearly 1.2 million total Tutsis killed. Think of it for just a moment. The following description helps to put in perspective what that means.
“The typhoon of madness that swept through the country between April 7 and the third week of May accounted for 80 percent of the victims of the genocide. That means about eight hundred thousand people were murdered during those six weeks, making the daily killing rate at least five times that of the Nazi death camps.” [Kindle Location 1626]
The shear horror that was endured by the Tutsis and those who stood for and with them could not even be portrayed in film, described on paper or evoked through words. There is simply no way of understanding the full fledged depravity of the genocide. I would read descriptions of what happened and catch myself shaking my head at what I had just read. I know that we are almost two decades removed from the events Bishop John described, but there is a freshness to it all.
There are two aspects of the book that were particularly poignant. The first was the historical overview of what took place in Rwanda on a national-political level. The picture painted of the “imperialist” and colonial nations of Belgium and France are so unflattering as to be caricatures. The problem is that the truth will many times be unflattering and down right scathing. If even a portion of what was done by outside nations was done to Rwanda it reveals the tendency of the Western, first world nations to attempt to get away with whatever they can. The misconduct of the international community in the events leading up the genocide are not only deplorable, they are reprehensible. The intellectuals of the west failed to see the barbarism that was being unleashed in a small African country. The western world needs to look in the mirror and stop acting in such a duplicitous manner.
The second aspect of the book that stood out was the reality that what took place in the hearts and minds of the perpetrators of these crimes against humanity was of a spiritual nature first. Bishop John is quick to recognize the demonic currents underlying what took place among the general population. Even if those who killed were not motivated by hatred, to be carried along with the wave requires a kind of acquiescence to the spiritual forces at work. There is no doubt in Bishop John’s mind that the reason the effects of the propaganda and fear was so far reaching was because there was not true conversion among many who claimed to be Christian. The most disgusting of the acts enacted, and that go to the heart of my identity as a clergy person, were those of the religious leaders who became accomplices to the murders, sometimes even participating in them. It just doesn’t make sense!
As I finished the book and read of the changes that have come to Rwanda I was shocked to see that reconciliation was at the heart of the healing process. The programs and efforts by those who suffered and those who caused the suffering to reunite the nation were impressive and awe inspiring. Over and over again the reality of repentance and of forgiveness were put on display. Probably the greatest lesson that I will take away from reading The Bishop of Rwanda will be that forgiveness is a power designed by God himself. I leave you with the following insight forged in the crucible of suffering and pain.
“Forgiving something does not make the forgiven act less horrible, but it does break the power that act holds over you. The truth is that those who don’t forgive are dying from their unforgiveness. The bitterness eats them up. When you forgive, you are healthier and more alive.” [Kindle Location 2262]