We all experience loss and grief in our lives. But few experience it on the level of those who survived the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. Consider a few of these tragedies:

  • 41 family members killed
  • 69 family members killed
  • Experiencing an entire group killed in your presence and yet your surviving
  • Watching your spouse and children be hacked to death
  • Being forced to kill family members or neighbors in order to survive
  • Hiding in the marshes for over a month, surviving only by eating roots

You might wonder how such people cope. How do they get up and get dressed, go to work, even speak to another—especially when some of those doing the killing live in the same neighborhood? You might wonder whether nor not the question “WHY?” is ever answered. You might wonder if healing is possible.

These are some of the stories we were told in our recent training trip to Rwanda. It has been 19 years since the genocide and equally destructive aftermath. The capital city of Kigali has been transformed into a modern city with all the beauty, amenities, and economic development you might wish for. The many NGOs located around the country are moving beyond direct relief and infrastructure building to sustainable community development. From all accounts, everything is booming.

But do not think for a moment that the genocide is all behind this wonderful, beautiful country. During our 3 day conference focusing training counselors to deal with domestic violence and abuse of children, we continued to hear of the pain and heartache experienced each year during the memorial period—not only by those who survived the genocide but also by those born afterwards.

Realistic Redemption

One of the most precious experiences in Rwanda is hearing these stories of pain and yet also stories of redemption. We heard of those who survived being macheted, thrown off cliffs, rescued by an angel who walked with the person through the forest at night for many kilometers only to disappear at daybreak. In addition, we heard of how God met these survivors and empowered them to let go of anger and embrace forgiveness even when it cost them friends. These precious saints were now working to provide healing and restoration for victims and perpetrators of violence.

You may be wondering why I call this realistic redemption. I do because it is clear that their pain is still fresh, the questions still present and unanswered. Equally clear is their calling and God’s continual provision. Evidence of God’s protection does not remove the pain of the loss. Redemption in this life does not usually include release from painful memories. Redemption in this life is all about rescue and grace in the midst of continued suffering. Our Rwandan friends understand this far better than we do in the United States where we tend to conflate rescue with removal of pain.

Phil Monroe is Professor of Counseling & Psychologyand Director of the Masters of Arts in Counseling Program at Biblical. He also directs Biblical’s new trauma recovery project. You can find his personal blog at www.wisecounsel.wordpress.com.


0 # Joe 2013-08-09 07:31
Thanks for coming and sharing about this land that takes a lot of time to really love, but is deeply worth loving. You should check out the story of a colleague at our pastoral training school, which is very short and on Kindle 'Father through Fire" by Gary Bennett's (who we work with) brother. (I forget his first name)

I think especially his experiences the first week of the genocide and than coming back in july and helping connect families that had been separated would be helpful to read.
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0 # Joe 2013-08-09 07:31
Make it "faith through fire"
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