03 July 2014

Church marks 20 years since genocide in Rwanda

  • Photo of Bishop Samuel speaking to the Methodist Conference here

Nearly one million Rwandans were slaughtered during 100 days of genocidal killing twenty years ago. Today, representatives of the Methodist Conference meeting in Birmingham prayed for lasting peace during a commemorative service led by the President of the Methodist Conference, the Revd Ken Howcroft.

Speaking ahead of the commemoration, Bishop Samuel, leader of the Methodist Church in Rwanda, said that a lot had happened during the past 20 years to build peace in Rwanda. "From the time when our people were killed in the genocide, we have come to a situation today where our churches and communities are made of those who once were involved in the killings and those who were their victims. The survivors of the genocide and the perpetrators released from prisons attend the same churches and live side by side in the communities. Although this poses big challenges in responding to their needs, we know that our work and mission is to help and support them to live together as God's children."

Bishop Samuel also said that the Church in Rwanda is gradually regaining its original purpose in the community. "What happened 20 years ago gives us the confidence to say that there is a light of hope for a brighter future in our country. We have seen the power of forgiveness and reconciliation, bringing former bitter enemies together, in a life transformed by the love of Jesus Christ."

The Revd John Howard, Chair of the Wolverhampton and Shrewsbury District, was in Rwanda in April for the country's national commemoration of the genocide. The Methodist Wolverhampton and Shrewsbury District has been in partnership with Rwanda for the past nine years, working with the Peacebuilding, Healing and Reconciliation Programme (PHARP) in order to foster peace, healing and reconciliation in conflict prevention, transformation and reconstruction.  

The Revd Dr Paul Nzacahayo, circuit minister in the Vale of Stour Circuit, Wolverhampton and Shrewsbury District, lived in Rwanda before the genocide. In 1993, he went to the University of Edinburgh to study for a one-year Masters Degree in Theology. In April 1994, his then pregnant wife and two children joined him for a short visit just four days before the killing began. "The tragedy has impacted me in many ways," Paul said ahead of the commemoration. "Saying that it was a miracle that my wife and children arrived in the UK only four days prior to the genocide is an understatement. Even now, twenty years after the events, when I think about what could have happened to them, my stomach clinches and I am almost paralysed by the thoughts of it. Every day I wake up praying that that thought will not come in my mind."

"Since those early days of the genocide, I have been looked after by the Nicolson Square Methodist Church which is at the heart of Edinburgh, and later on by many friends in the Methodist Church in different parts of the UK where I have ministered. My family and I are very grateful for such love and care.

"I also lost hope that Rwanda would be able to carry on as a country after the genocide. I couldn't see how a community that tore itself apart could be rebuilt and re-united. Twenty years on I must pay tribute to the Rwandans who, with the support and help of others, have succeeded in doing a fantastic job of restoring peace and normality to what seemed to me like a lost cause."

One of the peacebuilding initiatives that has emerged in Bishop Samuel's church is a cow-sharing project called Inshuti Nyanshuti. The church gives a cow (a valued animal in Rwandan culture) to a genocide survivor who then passes the cow on to his or her protector during the genocide, or to a perpetrator who has pleaded guilty, accepted responsibility and asked for pardon.

"It's a small project at the moment that has been going for two years," said Bishop Samuel. "We have 24 people - 12 families. But we will continue to expand. When we offer the cows, there's a big ceremony. People in the village come to witness it and hear testimonies from both parties: survivors of the genocide, their protectors during the genocide, or perpetrators who've been released from prison." 

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