This is the last blog entry for these particular stories from Africa. For two weeks Shane Claiborne and Chris Lahr spent time learning from some incredible folks in Rwanda and South Africa. These stories are an attempt to put into words much of what we learned in this whirlwind of a trip. We hope that these stories are inspiring and yet only the beginning of a life-long relationship with our brothers and sisters in Africa.
Now a reflection from Shane...
It was our first trip to Africa.
We did a little talking and a lot of listening. We saw humanity at its worst… and at its best.
As you will see here, the racism of Apartheid has much to teach us about the evils we are capable of, the dangers of racism, colonialism and power. Much of the evils done in Africa’s history were done by Bible-carrying Christians. As one African proverb goes: “When the white man came, he had the Bible and we had the land. Now we have the Bible, and he has the land.” Many of the evils in Africa’s history were baptized in religious rhetoric, teaching us a truth we can see even today – bad theology gets people killed. And yet we saw a God who is able to survive the embarrassing, even sickening, things humans have done in God’s name. We saw Africans meeting in tents, and fields worshipping Jesus. As one brother told us, the mere survival of Christianity among the indigenous people of Africa, despite all that colonial Christians did to them, is itself a testimony to the Spirit of God. We saw Africans rejecting the health and wealth, self-centered, blessing-obsessed prosperity Gospel of the West, as tempting as it is… and clinging to the sacrificial, uncomfortable, risky scandalous grace-filled Gospel of our Lover Jesus, the Savior of refugees.
We stayed in an incredible community in South Africa called Hands of Compassion, started by black and white South Africans in the middle of Apartheid, when it was illegal for them to own land and live together. Now they’ve adopted all kinds of beautiful kids without parents and provided a home and family for dozens of folks recovering from addictions and homelessness. It was a big and beautiful family.
We spent time in Rwanda, the land that saw one of the greatest tragedies in human history -- a genocide that left over one million people dead in only 100 days. Just to put it in perspective: for three months there were over 300 people being killed every minute, 10,000 a day for 100 days straight in a country the size of the state of Maryland. And it was not with bombs and tanks or modern technology but with machetes sticks. Men infected with HIV were sent out as weapons of genocide raping women and children and infecting them with the terminal illness – evil, demonic, a society gone crazy. You could feel the blood cry out from the land. Perhaps the cry goes all the way back to the first murder in human history, where Cain killed his own brother Abel and God said: "What have you done? Listen! Your brother's blood cries out to me from the ground.” (Genesis 4:10)
How did it happen? We are all responsible. The colonialists in Europe helped to create and reinforce the artificial tribal identities that brewed for decades and erupted in bloodshed. It was a complete failure of the global family. The United States and the UN squabbled over the cost of what it would cost to send in peacekeepers and simple vehicles to interrupt the kids who were killing with machetes and farm tools – politicians were fighting over lose change as lives were lost minute by minute. And, perhaps worst of all – it was a total failure of the Church. At the time of the genocide Rwanda was nearly 90% Christian. Rather than order Christians to destroy the artificial tribal boundaries of Hutu and Tutsi and burn their ID cards years before the genocide, many of the pastors and religious leaders sat silent or even carried guns on under their vestments, “pistol pastors” as some became known. We saw the bad we are capable of.
And yet the story of our faith is that life is more powerful than death, love triumphs over hatred – even after torture and execution, there is a resurrection. After Good Friday, comes Easter Sunday. In Africa we saw goodness. We heard stories of courageous heroes and sheroes who created an underground railroad during the genocide. We met people who looked into the eyes of killers and said, “You are better than than the worst things you have done.” We met mothers who lost their husbands and were raising 15 kids, half of whom were not their own but were some of the 2 million orphans of the genocide. We met elderly women who survived the genocide but lost their families, and yet who felt the freedom of forgiveness so deeply that they adopted some of the young men who killed their own loved ones, so that these kids might taste the goodness of God’s grace – stubborn, resilient, contagious grace. We heard of courageous Christians who challenged the pistol priests, saying “why do you carry a gun rather than the Bible?”
We heard a story that should teach us all. A classroom of young kids was raided by the militia during the genocide. The armed men ordered the kids to divide up into tribes, with the Hutus on one side of the classroom and the Tutsi’s on the other, no doubt preparing to mercilessly slaughter the Tutsi’s. But there was an interruption. The kids stood together in unison and said, “We do not have Hutus and Tutsi’s – we only have Christians.” This is what it means to move beyond the myopic, narrow, dangerous boundaries of tribalism. This is what it means to be born again, the truth of what it means to have an identity that runs deeper than race, tribe, or nation. Our friends Stanley Hauerwas and Will Willimon talk about tribalism in their book “Resident Aliens” – as they speak to the accusation that Christianity creates a tribal, warring religion. “
We reject the charge of tribalism, particularly from those whose theologies serve to buttress the most nefarious brand of tribalism of all – the omnipotent state. The church is the one political entitiy in our culture that is global, transnational, transcultural. Tribalism is not the church determined to serve God rather than Caesar. Tribalism is the usa which sets up artificial boundaries and defends them with murderous intensity. And the tribalism of nations occurs most viciously in the absence of a church able to say and to show in its life together that God not nations rules the world.”
We learned a word in Africa that is often on our lips thesedays: “ubuntu”. There is not a very adequate English translation, but African Archbishop Desmond Tutu describes it like this: “Africans have this thing called UBUNTU.It is about the essence of being human, it is part of the gift that Africa will give the world. It embraces hospitality, caring about others, being able to go the extra mile for the sake of others. We believe that a person is a person through another person, that my humanity is caught up, bound up, inextricably, with with yours. When I dehumanise you, I inexorably dehumanise myself. The solitary human being is a contradiction in terms and therefore you seek to work for the common good because your humanity comes into its own in belonging”. Perhaps ubuntu explains why the genocide memorials were marked with those words: “If you had known me, you would not have killed me.” Christ has felt the suffering of Rwanda. May we learn from the blood, the tears, and the smiles of Africa.
To end this blog (or to start it if you like to read newest blog entries first), I wanted to give a tribute to my Granny...
One of the hardest parts of the trip for me, was that my Granny died. I was close to my Granny and always looked forward to our times together when I visited Indiana. People ask me if it was all of a sudden... not really, it took about 91 years. I was able to spend time with her not too long before she passed. Though she was ready to go, I was very sad not to be there, especially since she wanted me to share at her funeral. Knowing there was a chance she would pass I wrote the following (feel free to skip this if you want to move on to the African Stories)...
It is my deepest regret that I cannot be with you at this time. I had every intention of sharing with you face to face some of the memories and values that I hold dear today as a result of knowing Granny. I miss her deeply, but I rest assured that she is in a much better place than any of us are right now. She can finally see again, and believe me, the mush in Heaven taste even better than the mush at the Country Post (and yes the mush at the Country Post is very good).
Living in Philadelphia, several hours away from family, I have come to realize the blessing it was to live in the same town as my grandma (and grandpa). (What I wouldn’t do to be able to drop my kids off at their grandparents every week J.) My earliest memory of granny was being babysat on a daily basis. Just before she died she recalled how watching Casey and I was like watching two perfect little angels, so meek and mild. Its good to know that granny left this earth with a good mind J. Ok, so maybe I am stretching the truth a tad, but she did say she appreciated the time she had watching us. Personally I loved going to granny’s. It was the only place we could go and not really get into trouble! We would start fighting and grandpa would simply say “Judas Priest” or “What in the Sam Hill,” and granny would find us something to eat to quiet us down! Man, those were the days!
I remember the many hours that we would sit around and watch baseball games (trying to get granny to sing along with Harry Cary during the 7th inning stretch). We would also watch Sanford and Son, All in the Family (aka. Archie Bunker’s Place), and my personal favorite… Benny Hill. It’s sad that they just don’t make tv shows like they used to. Judas Priest.
I remember the many times Casey and I would go out back and play baseball in the yard. Shoot, I even remember playing against grandma and grandpa in the early days. But even as they got too old to keep up with us on the field, they were almost always there for our countless games that we had year after year at the PAL club.
One of my favorite memories took place on April Fools day. Casey and I arrived at granny’s early that morning before school with tons of bandages, wraps, slings, etc draped over our bodies. We looked pathetic and had the story to match it. We informed her that we were in a terrible bike accident the night before and were hurt so bad that we even had to go to the hospital (you could say I was gifted with the ability to tell some good lies) J. We had granny believing it so much that she began to shed a tear. As she walked back into the kitchen to grab our co-co and graham crackers (food that can bring great healing by the way), we quickly removed the bandages and placed them on the table. As granny came back into the room we started laughing uncontrollably. She had totally believed us, and then began to laugh. Grandpa on the other hand simply replied, “Judas Priest.” Grandpa always had a way with words and knew what needed to be said and when.
Some other memories that I will forever hold are the grandma meals we would have on Sundays>> Kentucky Fried Chicken, mash potatoes, green bean casserole, scotcharoos, etc. I also remember the old golden Christmas tree that they had in their front parlor at 920 Salamonie Ave. Even as a kid I wondered why in the world anyone would want a golden Christmas tree. I never had the guts to ask. I could only imagine that it was granny’s idea and grandpa’s only response was (everyone together now…) “Judas Priest.” I also remember located in the same front parlor was a drawer full of rubber bands that grandma and grandpa used to call “rubbers.” For some reason I always thought that was hilarious.
Another fond memory happened in more recent times. As many of you know, granny’s eyesight has been getting worse over the past few years. I remember about a decade ago granny had to have eye-surgery to remove some cataracts. As the family was winding down a fine family reunion at mom and dads, granny asked the fam to gather around the tv for a very important viewing. Yes, that’s right… granny had her eye-surgery on video and wanted nothing more in life at that moment than to share it with the rest of us. I think I was the only member of the family to sit through the whole thing. Granny was amazed at the technology of it all, the rest of the family was quite grossed out, but I thought it was hilarious! Granny saw that I enjoyed it so much, she actually gave the precious tape to me! Later that summer I was speaking at a youth camp. During the evening the camp gathered together for some games, etc. I noticed they had a video set-up and told the guy in charge of the games that I had a very “youth appropriate video.” I introduced the video in a very monotone voice explaining it was a “special” video that my grandma wanted to share with the family and that I now wanted to share with the group. The first night the crowd was a bit grossed out, maybe a little shocked that a HUGE eyeball was undergoing surgery and they were forced to watch. Did I mention that it was only the first night? That’s right, I introduced the video in the exact same way, using the exact same monotone voice each night of the week. But each night we played different music to the video and it turned into a much anticipated dance party (the first of its kind on a Nazarene Camp Ground). Finally the last night, before I gave the final sermon, I told everyone there that I had a special guest to introduce… that’s right, my granny! She was nothing short of a celebrity that night. Kids came from all over the place to hug her and I think there may have even been a couple autographs given! Granny, I loved her since of humor. A few years ago I asked her if I could play a portion of the video at this funeral and tell you all that she still had her eye on us. Though she laughed, she didn’t think it would be appropriate J.
Above all these things, my fondest memories have taken place over these past several years. Whenever I come back into town, Granny and I would go to the Country Post and get Fried Mush. Shoot, we’ve gone so much the waitresses there call us “the mush people!” These have been very special times for me. These were times for us to get caught up, to talk about the good ol days, and yes, time for me to try and convince her that she was not too old to try and start driving. We had plenty of laughs, and the next time I step into the Country Post there will be a big void, and I will miss her deeply. I am glad to announce though, that my kids love going there as well! From this day forward, we will continue to go to the Country Post, eat mush and talk about “the good ol’ days.” Though granny’s body may have passed away, the memories I have of her and the values she has bestowed on me will be passed to the next generation.
Here are some of the values that I have obtained from granny and will pass on to my children…
1) Stay close to Jesus. This is the reason we live. Granny thought it was crazy that she lived to be 91>> she told me on more than one occasion that no one should live to be 91. I tried to convince her that it would be the coolest thing to make it to a 100>> she called me crazy. She was at peace with dying because she was a peace with Jesus. She loved him and desired for all of her offspring to follow him, serving him in all that they do. Even as a child, she would share Bible stories with us and she would pray for us, thus helping lay a foundation that strangely enough does not allow me to be here today (I am in Germany and in Africa).
2) From saving money to giving it away. I remember as a child always hearing granny tell us to save our money and not spend it foolishly. I’m still not sure if purchasing Michael Jackson’s first album with Casey was foolish or wise, but we sure enjoyed it back in the day J. Over the last several years it seems to me that granny began to tell me a different message about money>> it’s meant to be given away! As granny got older she began to have a more realistic view of money and possession and realized that she cannot take anything with her, thus she might as well give stuff away. Granny was very generous, to the point it was comical at times. I remember one time she had some extra Tylenol so she gave them to me. I was very grateful for them. Little did I know that I would not need to by Tylenol for the next 15 years! Not only would she get me Tylenol, she would take the time to count out the pills making sure I knew how much I got! I loved that stuff about granny! By the way, does anyone know how much I will have to start paying for Tylenol?
3) Family is important! In this world there are a lot of messed up families. Though no family is perfect, I am very fortunate to be a part of this family. I am grateful that there was no divorce, or abuse. I am glad to have had a granny that loved her kids and grand kids with everything she had. I am also grateful to Dorothy, Gene and dad and how they cared for granny all of these years, thank you for doing small things with great love.
Finally I want to leave you with this… In her last days, granny was a bit frustrated because she could no longer see well, and that “things were going dim.” I encouraged her that she was just like Isaac and Jacob who also went blind in their old age (Gen 27:1; 48:10). I also said that no matter how old someone gets, they still have a purpose until the day they die. She seemed encouraged. We then talked about what the next thing she will see is going to be…
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the old heaven and the old earth had disappeared. And the sea was also gone. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven like a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, “Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever. And the one sitting on the throne said, “look, I am making everything new!” And then he said to me, “Write this down, for what I tell you is trustworthy and true.” And he also said, “It is finished! I am the Alpha and the Omega—the Beginning and the End. To all who are thirsty I will give freely from the springs of the water of life. All who are victorious will inherit all these blessings, and I will be their God, and they will be my children.” Revelation 21:1-7
This was one of the highlights of the museum... a case full of broken down weapons! Nelson Mandela told people to throw their weapons into the sea! In the ten years following Mandela's call, many tons of arms and ammunition have been melted down, crushed or made unusable
Apartheid ended 1991. 1994 they held their first "free election." Nelson Mandela won! This pic is one of the lines people had to stand in to vote on that memorial day (you thought standing in line at Disney World was long!). We were told that the day was filled with anxiety, as people wondered if violence would erupt somewhere. It did not.
Many people were not only incarcerated during apartheid, but they were murdered. This was a list of the people who died while incarcerated. While I was reading through it, Xana came up to me and said, "Lies, it is all lies." The police made up excuses why people died (ie. accidental fall from 10th floor!). They were all murdered.
Steven Biko was a hero to many people. During Apartheid he was a voice for the voiceless. In a system that said you were less than human for being black, he taught black consciousness>> that its more than ok to be black. All humanity should have the same rights. There is a powerful movie that all should see called, "Cry Freedom." Here is a trailer for it.
Alan and Xana told us that this movie was shown in the thick of Apartheid. They were surprised that it actually made it into the theaters. They went, watched and upon leaving the theater they were confronted with many police officers who came to confiscate the film. Though no one was arrested that time, the movie was banned.
This is a video by Peter Gabriel, singing "Biko." They had this video playing over and over in the museum.
On 08/08/08 Shane and I had yet another heavy day. At this point in the journey we had visited the Holocaust museum in Berlin and three separate genocide sites in Rwanda, now it was time to learn a little about Apartheid.
Apartheid was the system of segregation and discrimination based on the grounds of race in South Africa from 1948- 1991. I'm a bit embarrassed at how little I knew about Apartheid. This unjust system was going on during my high school years (class of 91 baby! Side note... I am still a little bitter that they selected Rod Stewart's "Forever Young" as our class song. I thought the song was lame even back then). It's interesting how the internet has changed things. During high school (and college for that matter) I had not even heard of the internet. I must also admit that I really did not have a concern for matters taking place in other parts of the world (though I couldn't help follow the fall of Communism). Though I wonder if things have really changed that much? So we have the internet and all the information in the world, but have we started caring?
The sign that greeted us on our way into the museum stated, "To be free is not merely to cast off one's chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others." -Nelson Mandela
During our visit to the museum, we took a lunch break to visit Soweto (and eat cow head!). Soweto is a township (ghetto) with nearly 4 million people living in it. During Apartheid there was a significant riot in Soweto. During our short visit there we walked through a "hostile." This is very low-income housing within the township. During Apartheid only black men were allowed to live in hostiles. The living conditions were horrific for folks forced to live in these conditions. Today families are allowed to live together in them.
While we walked through the hostile, our guide said to us, "This is how liberated South Africans live." In many ways, Apartheid is over and chains have been cast off. But in other ways Apartheid is alive and well and people are still marginalized and suppressed. Townships can be very rough places to live, and yet only black people (and some coloured) live in them (in South Africa people are categorized as "black," "white," or "coloured" (meaning mixed race)).
I was amazed at the similarities between South Africa and America. They had Apartheid, we had Jim Crow laws. In South Africa white people live in nice housing while people of color are forced to live in townships. In America many people of color are trapped in the urban ghettos. In S.A. I met white people who thought there was no longer a race problem because Apartheid was over, in America I know many white people who think the same. It really was a gift to stay with Xana and Alan at the Hands of Compassion community. They are true freedom fighters. Though the weapons they used were not guns or machetes, rather they fought with love. In the height of Apartheid they (being a white couple) moved into community with some people who were black. It was illegal, and potentially dangerous. They were harassed by their neighbors, but they did not give up! They modeled a different life. Today they are living in community with over 100 people, from many different backgrounds!
During one of our days in South Africa, we joined the folks of Hands of Compassion and Rhema church to build houses (and dig ditches). We partnered with a local organization that brings in large groups and does "blitzes" (build lots of houses farely quickly). A lot of people can get a lot of stuff done in a day. The group works in a township (ghetto) building houses for people they build relationships with. They gave us a lot of facts and figures that were pretty amazing, but I did not write them down, thus I cannot quote them to you.
The highlight of my day was hanging out with Vincent. He's about my age, lives at hands of Compassion and is a pastor in training. We talked at length about a variety of subjects: apartheid, racial justice in current South Africa, rites of passage, the Church, etc.
I was really intrigued talking with him about Rites of Passage. I did study on ROP back in Seminary and even created a project that I now do through Mission Year called PRoP (Pauper's Rite of Passage).
Think about this... When does one become an adult in our society? At the age of 12 one can no longer get the kids meals at the restaurant. At the age of 16 one can drive but they are not old enough to buy a lottery ticket. Once they turn 18 they can finally buy a lottery ticket, but they are not allowed to drink champagne to celebrate, if they win, until they are 21. Even when they are 21, they are still not allowed to rent a 15 passenger van at a car rental place. On top of that, think of all the 25 year olds still living at home with mom and dad! We created a thing in the west called adolescence! That strange gap where someone is not sure if they are a child or an adult. What we need is a rites of passage!
In South Africa, Vincent said that the boys (around the age of 18) would go into the mountains for the ROP. They would be there for about 4-6 weeks (sometime longer). During this time the elders of the village would come and talk to them about what it means to be a man. They would tell them the appropriate way to treat their wives, neighbors, and the poor among them. There are a lot of details and reasons for why they do what they do during a ROP, that I will not go into, but the point I want to make is that these boys come back as men. People in the village now treat them as men. I think our society would do well in empowering our youth with adulthood, rather than leaving them in a state of flux. One of the reasons I created PRoP, was because I believe the Church is in a state of adolescence at best until she embraces God's heart for the poor. PRoP is not your typical weekend>> one is stripped of their comforts, and rather than serving the poor, they learn from them. It is powerful to see how the participants are challenged by "Lazarus" and are moved to live differently when they return home. For more info on it, just check the website.
Another encouraging discussion we had was about the Church. Vincent told me that many of the pastors in Rwanda dress really nice and seem to think of themselves as better than the "average" person. He told us that he was encouraged by our testimony and lives. Personally I was amazed to hear his stories and to share in his life. One thing I have noticed of this trip is that there is a move of God around the world! People are beginning to move the Church outside of four walls and into the streets, the townships, ghettos, and slums of our world. People are moving beyond personal salvation and seeing they are blessed in order to be a blessing. Vincent encouraged me, because he said our message was truly good news to the poor. I get the feeling that we are living in a very special time in the history of the Church. I am humbled to be a live and to see God at work and look forward to seeing what He does through simple ordinary radicals throughout the world.
"Could you forgive a person who murdered your family? This is the question faced by the subjects of As We Forgive, a documentary about Rosaria and Chantal—two Rwandan women coming face-to-face with the men who slaughtered their families during the 1994 genocide. The subjects of As We Forgive speak for a nation still wracked by the grief of a genocide that killed one in eight Rwandans in 1994. Overwhelmed by an enormous backlog of court cases, the government has returned over 50,000 thousand genocide perpetrators back to the very communities they helped to destroy. Without the hope of full justice, Rwanda has turned to a new solution: Reconciliation. But can it be done? Can survivors truly forgive the killers who destroyed their families? Can the government expect this from its people? And can the church, which failed at moral leadership during the genocide, fit into the process of reconciliation today?"
"In As We Forgive, director Laura Waters Hinson and narrator Mia Farrow explore these topics through the lives of four neighbors once caught in opposite tides of a genocidal bloodbath, and their extraordinary journey from death to life through forgiveness." I have not seen the movie, but hope to soon. The first pic in this post is of a long line of folks who were perpetrators in the genocide, that are now doing "community service." The other two pics are of the main river that runs into Lake Victoria. We read on several occasions that this was where a majority of the bodies were dumped during the genocide.
Forgiveness is a powerful thing. I discovered a deeper level of forgiveness on this trip. To hear the stories from people that suffered the genocide and apartheid, and yet were able to embrace forgiveness is deep. A good book to check out is, Desmond Tutu's book, "No Future Without Forgiveness." In the book he describes some of the horror of apartheid, and yet a Reconciliation committee was established once apartheid ended. With the committee both victims and victimizers were heard. Amnesty was even given to those who admitted with details the horrors they committed. They moved from retributive justice to restorative justice. We all have a lot to learn from our African brothers and sisters for sure.
Philippians 4: 12-13"I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength"
This trip was truly a trip of contrast. On the way there we got "stuck" in Business class (for some reason it was cheaper than economy class because of Shane flying so much), on the way back I was "blessed" to be in the middle seat of the economy class with a rather large gentleman sitting next to me (other than Shane :) ).
When we tried to get back into South Africa from Rwanda, they would not let Shane back into the country because all of his passport pages had been stamped. His only solution... to walk to the embassy, or at least take a cab, and get pages added the next day! Because the flight was full the next night, we decided it best for me to go on ahead to South Africa (if Shane has time maybe he could share his Robi (Nairobi) experience). Me on the other hand, I thought I had a free day coming! Little did I know, they simply made me do all that Shane was supposed to do. Next thing I know I am on a live TV show for an hour being broadcast to 32 African countries! Immediately after the make-up and interview (I was with Alan and Xana of Hands of Compassion, who both love make-up :) ) we headed to the streets to hang with homeless folks (much more comfortable setting for me:) ).
While in Germany, we visited a large Youth Baptist convention with 1,000's of youth from all over the world, about midnight that same night we were hanging out at Freakstock (a Christian festival with a bunch of German Jesus freaks)!
We saw thousands of slabs of concrete in Berlin at the Memorial for the Jews who died during the Holocaust. A couple days later we saw thousands of handmade bricks used to build things and bring restoration to a new Rwanda.
We saw things that made us laugh (see the "signs" post) and we saw things that made us cry (see "genocide" post). He heard stories of demonic activity and hell, and we heard stories of miracles and angelic beings (see "Benjamin" post).
We worked in a Township (ghetto in South Africa) digging ditches and making houses, and we hung out at a beach watching waves and people surf.
We spokes to thousands, and we spoke to individuals. We prayed for people, and they prayed for us. All in all, this was truly a trip of contrasts. Through all of this I realize one thing, there really is no such thing as rich and poor in the kingdom of God; rather we are all one family. We are all created in the image of God and He is madly in love with us all. Our value is not in what we own, in what we do, or in what people say about us; rather we are valuable because we are beloved sons and daughters of God.
Just outside the Ntarama genocide site, where 5,000 people were killed inside a sanctuary, this banner (to the right) hangs. Translated the banner reads... "If you would have known me, you would not have killed me!"
Powerful banner, huh? I also took a picture of this beautiful plant that was also outside Ntarama, to me it is a sign of hope!
What's in a name? About a decade ago my wife and I were serving with the Missionaries of Charity at Kalighat, the home for the dying and destitute. Each day we would spend time with folks who were clinging to life on their death beds. Each morning we would feed them, bathe them, and spend time "hanging out" with them. Each day there would be someone who would die. Death puts a perspective on life.
One day there was a boy, about the age of 16 that was aprrarently starting to die. As he began to breath heavily, I stepped to the side and began praying for him. Believing in the power of prayer, I asked God to be with this child, to use his story to make a difference in the world. As I said the "amen," I looked up and the child was dead (I'm no Benny Hinn, you could say). A bit shocked, I went to the head nurse and asked her what the boy's name was. I will never forget the sterness on her face as she looked me square in the eyes and said, "You know as much about this child as I do." The child died without a name!
Feeling a bit overhwelmed we went back to our hostil and I came across the story of the rich man and Lazarus (Lk 19:16 ff.). In the story you have the rich man living in luxury, insulated from the cries of the poor at his front gate. Just outside the front gate sits Lazarus, a beggar. As fate would have it, they both died. What is interesting in the story though, is that it is the rich man who dies without a name (unless his name is "Rich," which doesn't make since in the context). The crazy irony of it all is that the rich man probably died without ever knowing the name of the beggar that sat at his front gate.
What's in a name? When Shane and I were speaking at the Seminary in Rwanda, I told this story. Afterwards someone asked what the big deal was if someone died without a name? I think there is a lot tied into the name of a person. To know a name is to humanize them. They are no longer "hey you," or some category of a person such as homeless, Hutu, Tutsi, American, etc. I do not believe that the rich man ended up in hell because he was rich. I think it was because he did not care! 1 John 3:17 ff tells us that if we have material possessions and see a brother or sister in need, and are not moved by compassion, how can the love of God be in us? I think the eternal destiny of the rich man would have been different if he simply would have cared. If he would have invited Lazarus to sit at his table, to share a meal (rather than him just eating the scraps out of the trash). Or maybe things would have been different if he would have went outside his front gate and spent time begging with Lazarus for a while. If the rich man would have taken the time to know him, to really know Lazarus, he would have had to care. How could he continue to insulate and isolate himself from his brother? I think there is a lot in a name. "If you would have known me, you would not have killed me." What would have happened in Rwanda, if people would have known each other by name, rather than by Hutu or Tutsi?
Matthew 7:21-23 says, "Not everone who says to me Lord, Lord will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my father who in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, Lord, Lord did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles? Then I will tell them planly, I never knew you. "
I would say there is a lot in a name? I have often heard people ask the question, "Do you know Jesus?" Maybe the question we should ask is, "Does Jesus know you?"
On our way to one of the genocide sites, Benjamin told us his story. When the killings began in April of 1994, his wife was pregnant, and the baby decided it was time to come out! He told us he has a clearer understanding of what the Scriptures are talking about when it tells us to pray that the apocalypse won't occur during pregnancy! Having no choice they left for the hsopital. When they arrived at a road block (many of them were set up throughout Rwanda), rather than being harrassed and killed, they happened to know his wife. Seeing that she was giving birth they let them go. They said it was a miracle. In fact, Benjamin said that during the genocide he saw heaven and he saw hell. One minute there would be a miracle, the next a demonic invasion.
After the baby was born, they made it back home. A couple weeks passed and they were very hungry. Benjamin left the house in search of food. He was arrested. Again, someone recognized him, and knew that he was a pastor, so they let him go because they did not want a pastor's blood on their hands. Benjamin informed us that all of the missionaries, and foreign workers (all white) fled during the genocide. I wonder what would ahve happened if they stayed? Sure many would have died? Maybe some would have been saved, since obviously some of the killers were worried about who's blood they had on their hands.
Blood on their hands. Its a very interesting thought. Why did they care whether or not a pastor's blood was on their hands. For some killers they obviously didn't care, being that several pastors, nuns, etc were killed, and some raped. The Hutu's had a word for the Tutsi's which translated into "cockroaches." Again a form of tribalism>> to dehumanize "the other." When we begin calling other human beings names, such as: cockroaches, terrorists, commies, the evil ones, scum, etc. we dehumanize them, making it a lot easier to kill them. This is a sign of tribalism that we all need to be aware of! When we hear these sort of things coming out of Washington, or out of own own mouths, we must beware that tribalism does not rear its ugly head, and eventually turn us into "monsters."
Benjamin then took his family and miraculously made it to another village, where someone heroically hid them. Another couple weeks passed, and once again they were hungry. On another search for food, he was captured again. He was handcuffed and placed in an abandoned building ready to be killed. He told us that in some places they had people (often teens) that would "specialize" in the killing. These particular folks were getting high at the moment, and he was told they were on their way to kill him.
He prayed with every ounce in his being. I am sure he prayed with as much fervency as the 5,000 people who died at Ntarama, and the 10,000 people who were murdered in Nyamata. There he was, alone, afraid, with pictures of his family going through his mind, he was preparing to die. Suddenly his bishop (Free Methodist church) walked by! His bishop was well respected in the community and walked around freely, even though he did not approve of what was going on. The bishop asked why they had Benjamin tied up? They told him that Benjamin did not have the required ID papers, and that he was probably a trader, deserving death! The bishop laid into them. He informed them that he was a pastor, and asked if they wanted Benjamin's blood, a pastor, on their hands? They did not.
They released him, and eventually he got back home (with some food). Through some more miracles, he was able to escape to the Congo, and then to Kenya, where he and his family remained until this year, when they moved back to Rwanda to work with Alarm!
I wanted to post a few movies and books worth checking out on Rwanda. Here was a sign that said, "Never again!" The best way to keep things like this from happening again is by educating ourselves, and learning from the past. I think about the divisions we have in the United States when it comes to race, and get frustrated when fellow white folks act as if they have amnesia when it comes to racism. In light of the genocide, Celestin talked a lot about tribalism. We may have several different cultures, and they should be celebrated. But the problem occurs when we isolate ourselves and think of ourselves as better than other people. Throughout history tribalism (ethnocentrism for you anthroplogists) has reared its ugly head in many forms. Celestin says we each have our own tribe, but when we begin following Jesus we belong to a higher tribe and that there is no room for the lower tribe (nationalism/ tribalism). He went on to say that there must be individual forgiveness in people. But it is not enough! Not only do individual people need to forgive one another, but the tribes do as well. He went on to talk about his work with ALARM>> this is what they are about, reconciling the two tribes into a higher tribe. He then asked us, if tribes are meant to forgive one another, who is responsible for doing this? Individuals need to step up to the challenge called forgiveness. as I think about my own context, white people have wronged people of color for a very, very long time. This trip has shown me that this is true even in other countries! White people need to ask forgiveness in this world, but I get the since mere verbiage is not enough! Somehow we need to begin thinking in terms of reparations and justice as well. We must also begin re-imagining what the 'higher tribe" should look like in our context. What does it mean that there is no longer Jew nor Gentile, man nor woman, white nor black? It is not enough to say, I was not involved in the injustices of our past, or even the injustices going on in other parts of our world! As I posted earlier the all important word, ubuntu. The African (same word in many African countries) word meaning, "I cannot be all that I need to be, until you are all that you need to be; and you cannot be all that you need to be until I am all that I need to be." Everyone needs everyone, our destinies are intimately interwoven. These very difficult memorials and this tough history needs to be a wake up call to live differently, to live ubuntu.
Here are some movies about Rwanda...
Sometimes in April A Sunday in Kigali Hunting my husbands killers Ghosts of Rwanda Shake hands with the devil As We Forgive Beyond the Gates Hotel Rwanda