In America, when you see someone with a very large scar visible on his/her body, you might wonder how it got there but you don't ask. Many Rwandans bare visible scars; here, you also never ask how the scars got there, but you don't really need to wonder. These scars are the visual images that have a unique story.
Everyone in this country carries a genocide story. Everyone. Many Rwandans carry stories on their bodies, and all carry stories in their hearts. Many people I have met here tell me that this is a very "closed up" culture. "We don't share our stories even with those in our communities. We have always lived in a social society, living with one another in many ways, yet we must still wear a strong facade. If we appear strong, we are accepted. If we tell our stories we appear weak and we are not accepted," one pastor told me. "This is very hard because some of us have worked to heal and know that sharing our story is the medicine."
As Diane Langberg has said, "Rwanda is the Land of a Thousand Hills and a million secrets." As I listened to the stories of this pastor, I thought about why people in the US fear to tell their painful personal stories. I think many do not tell because they imagine no one could possibly sympathize with the hurt. In Rwanda, however, everyone is intimate with horror – at least to some degree. Whether it's the woman who, as a girl, watched her whole family be killed as she hid under the bed or the man who spent his 25th birthday at the Genocide Memorial because he "wanted to spend it with family." The horror is real. It is tangible in the hearts of those who survived. One survivor shared with me, "Even some of those who did not die did not truly survive."
One of the barriers for a person invited to share their story or participate in support or sharing groups is that many do not have basic needs met. I've been told by some Nationals there is a common saying in Rwanda about this: "Can you put those words in my stomach?" meaning, "How can I speak while my family and I remain hungry? Will that put food on our table?" There are deep, lingering practical needs in Rwandan society still to this day, and until those needs are met some may never find holistic healing. But what about those who have taken this "medicine," accepted this open invitation to speak their stories out-loud? Do they find healing? During my time here I have bourn witness to the power of testimony. Many have courageously chosen to share their stories with others. These people have, in fact, found healing. And I was the honored recipient of some of those stories.
Yesterday I was told a story about a Tutsi woman who, as a girl, fell in love with a Hutu boy. They dared to offer their trust to one another and developed a strong love. They knew they wanted to marry, but neither of their families approved of this boundary-crossing relationship. There were many families in the couple's Christian church who supported their marriage. These families organized a wedding celebration for them, which their families refused to attend. Their marriage grew stronger over time as they strove to live out a love mirroring Jesus and His church. Time made some of their family members grow even more bitter. Some refused to speak to or see them, and time caused some to heal. The woman's mother did choose to forgive and found great healing through this, and they were restored about a year before the mother's death. The woman's brother, on the other hand, remained embittered for many years saying, "I do not understand how you could forgive what has been done." Recently, however, he began to grow softer, less bitter. He began attending family events again, got married, and began speaking words of subtle kindness to his sister again. Finally, he approached his sister and told her, "I have watched you over the years from afar. I have seen how you choose to love someone who is your enemy. I have modeled my own marriage after yours. I am healing, and I forgive you and ask for forgiveness." The woman responded, "Hate is my only enemy, and love is the only way to defeat this enemy," and offered her brother public forgiveness.
This reconciliation rippled through the family. In fact, very soon their families will be having a ceremony to celebrate the couple's marriage where the wife's dowry will even be presented to her husband, a form of poignant public support from her family. This story offers proof that healing and acceptance have no timeline and no formula, and that no matter when it happens, the power of God's love is unrivaled.
God is ever-transforming His children into His glory. In Rwanda, He is restoring the lonely by putting them in families; He is Fathering the Fatherless; He is offering arms and hands to those who carry these stories alone, asking them to trust Him with the burden, to let His own forgiveness enter their lives.
In Rwanda, the Father's love is showing up in the form of radical choices to move forward together, to incarnate His Kingdom with people across ethnic lines, to absorb the short-term cost in order to bring the long-term wholeness. There is a saying which we were told is common in Rwanda: "If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together." This is the Kingdom of God. This is a healing Rwanda.