I hesitate to write this, but I long for you to understand more clearly that in many ways, the beauty that is now Rwanda came from such deep tragedy.
In 100 days from April to July of 1994 a horrific genocide occurred in Rwanda that brought about the death of an estimated one million Rwandans. That is an average of ten thousand human lives extinguished each day.
It happened twenty-three years ago. As a foreigner, I can only listen to, learn about, observe, and imagine what it was to survive, grow up in, or be born into the aftermath of Rwanda’s genocide. It is now considered to be one of the most brutal in the history of man. It happened neighbor to neighbor and hand to hand with machetes and clubs, as to not “waste” bullets because those killing didn’t consider those being killed worth a bullet. You can read about it in the many books, some that even debate the reasons for and origins of such carnage. You can find pictures, videos, and movies about it and can even muse about the world’s lack of response and what could have happened if countries had cared enough to intervene.
Many, more scholarly than myself, can detail for you the psychological damages of witnessing such events and living in an entire populace of those affected by PTSD. Upon our arrival to Rwanda in 2008, the average age of the country was, I believe, nineteen. All those fourteen and above had witnessed and survived the genocide. The government had already taken great strides in rebuilding the country physically and helping the people to move forward with reconciliation as well as judgement for the perpetrators.
I would use two words to describe most of the people I met when we arrived in Rwanda: vulnerable, which creates a natural caution to trust no one and hopeful, which gave a deep longing for the better in all things. Families and communities had been destroyed and with it all the good that comes from loving relationships such as encouragement, protection, culture, faith, history, and achievement. Yet, there was hope that better days would come and the past would not be repeated.
I had not been here long and two events deeply impacted me. I was asked by a group of orphans from the genocide to drive them around during the period of mourning to visit other groups of orphans and encourage them to persist in life. I stood before a crowd and was asked to encourage them. To say that I struggled for words was an understatement. They had known pain that no human should ever know and had persisted through trials, I could never understand.
While on this tour, we visited memorial sites that contained the bodies of those victims. One of them called Murambi, actually had the bodies preserved in their clothes and positions as they had been killed. As I was touring and weeping, I looked up to see two horizontal scars across the base of the neck of the young man I was following. I asked, later, what had happened to him and they let me know that by the time all of his family had been murdered before his eyes, that the machetes had been too dull to sever his head and that after two attempts, they had just thrown him into the river to bleed to death or drown.
As we are chronicling this journey into faith development through sport and establishing its value, I just wanted you to imagine with me, for a moment, what it would have been like for you, to survive one hundred days such as this.
Oh, and please continue to pray for Rwanda.