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 ofgenocidal killing twenty years ago. Today, representatives of theMethodist Conference meeting in Birmingham prayed for lasting peaceduring a commemorative service led by the President of theMethodist Conference, the Revd Ken Howcroft.

Speaking ahead of the commemoration, Bishop Samuel, leader of theMethodist Church in Rwanda, said that a lot had happened during thepast 20 years to build peace in Rwanda. "From the time when ourpeople were killed in the genocide, we have come to a situationtoday where our churches and communities are made of those who oncewere involved in the killings and those who were their victims. Thesurvivors of the genocide and the perpetrators released fromprisons attend the same churches and live side by side in thecommunities. Although this poses big challenges in responding totheir needs, we know that our work and mission is to help andsupport them to live together as God's children."

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

The Revd John Howard, Chair of the Wolverhampton and ShrewsburyDistrict, was in Rwanda in April for the country's nationalcommemoration of the genocide. The Methodist Wolverhampton andShrewsbury District has been in partnership with Rwanda for thepast nine years, working with the Peacebuilding, Healing andReconciliation Programme (PHARP) in order to foster peace, healingand reconciliation in conflict prevention, transformation andreconstruction.  

The Revd Dr Paul Nzacahayo, circuit minister in the Vale of StourCircuit, Wolverhampton and Shrewsbury District, lived in Rwandabefore the genocide. In 1993, he went to the University ofEdinburgh to study for a one-year Masters Degree in Theology. InApril 1994, his then pregnant wife and two children joined him fora short visit just four days before the killing began. "The tragedyhas impacted me in many ways," Paul said ahead of thecommemoration. "Saying that it was a miracle that my wife andchildren arrived in the UK only four days prior to the genocide isan understatement. Even now, twenty years after the events, when Ithink about what could have happened to them, my stomach clinchesand I am almost paralysed by the thoughts of it. Every day I wakeup praying that that thought will not come in my mind."

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

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

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

"It's a small project at the moment that has been going for twoyears," said Bishop Samuel. "We have 24 people - 12 families. Butwe will continue to expand. When we offer the cows, there's a bigceremony. People in the village come to witness it and heartestimonies from both parties: survivors of the genocide, theirprotectors during the genocide, or perpetrators who've beenreleased from prison."