This year, I have especially had a great privilege to speak and share my experience through the genocide in Rwanda (1994) and its aftermath to much younger audiences: middle school, high school and college students. I have been amazed by their curious and honest minds.
At Phillips Middle School in Chapel Hill, NC, I had an opportunity to speak to the 7th grade group, about 100 of them. I have never felt so comfortable to talk about my life story to younger people than this time. When I mentioned that I was their age during the genocide, they were appalled. Needless to say, I believe that it made the talk easier as we tried to related to each other in terms of age.
Prior to the speech, their teacher briefed them about the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. Their response: “it’s impossible to forgive someone who has committed genocide crimes.“ Later after the speech, some of them came to talk to me. I was very touched.
One high school I spoke at, Trinity Academy of Raleigh, NC, students (9th-12th grade) have had a chance to read my story ahead of the talk; they posted more than a hundred questions prior to my session. All of their questions were very interesting but I’d like to share a few:
- Do you believe, in this circumstance, that forgiveness is an intelligent decision?
- How do you help others learn to forgive?
- Just wondering, but Jesus said forgive 70 x 7 times and then that again, is that number larger enough to accommodate for the amount of deaths?
- What has been your greatest struggle since your trials in 1994?
- How do you keep your strength in forgiving your enemies? I understand God gives you strength but the event of your family being killed is still a hard thing to coup with.
- How are you able to cope with talking about this horrible event over and over and not react to it in a negative way? But be able to find the good in the situation?
- Is this similar to what is happening in Syria right now? A civil war containing of family and neighbors and friends fighting each other?
I was fascinated by how much they were able to quickly grasp before I even had a chance to speak to their class. I do NOT claim to have answers to the above questions nor am I an expert in forgiveness. I am only sharing my life experience and what my eyes have seen.
This post is not intended to teach about forgiving genocide crimes, or forgiveness in general. This is my own story and experience, so please bear with me if you have different beliefs or opinion!
There is no question about this! The genocide has snatched the most precious part of my life: my incredible parents and two of my siblings, innumerable friends, neighbors, classmates. Undeniably, my peaceful world has been forever twisted and eternally shattered. The tragedy left me with deep wounds, permanent scars, unwanted injuries. I still tremble with great fear as I try to comprehend the cruelty, people who became ferocious animals, the stories of how my loved ones were shamed to death.
For a long time, I wanted to utterly blot out my past, and pretend as if the horror was simply a nightmare. I silently wished that the month of April would be completely removed from the Gregorian calendar. For many years, I didn’t believe that something good can ever happen to me in April. April in Kinyarwanda “Mata“ means “milk” to perhaps trace back to the country that was once referred to as “flowing milk and honey.”
On the contrary, in Mata 1994, streams of innocent blood rushed down the hills, rested in the plains. Corpses swelled rivers, mass graves, an effort to conceal crime scenes, devoured innocent souls. Sorrow filled highs and lows of Rwanda, weeping voices rang across the country of a thousand hills. It is when terror engulfed Rwanda, to introduce for the first time, longer daylights but shorter nights to reveal and expose unsafe hidings for those who run for their lives without an understanding to why they were being hunted to be hacked to death.
In that Mata, the soil of Rwanda opened to swallow the blood of innocent, amazing people who meant the world to me, without an explanation! Daily nightmares to keep reliving what exactly happened would soon follow, to awake me gasping for air, wondering if it’s Mata all over again. Those terrifying nights lasted for years before I could have a normal dream to calm my soul.
Nevertheless, I wholeheartedly forgave those who caused this misery, from the heart. The truth is though, an attempt to explain what it takes to move on past the genocide crimes, hatred, injustice beyond comprehension is impossible and an understatement! But this is why I did it. NO, scratch that please! This is what Jesus Has done in me:
The genocide has done irreversible damage in my life
Four members of my family were killed, not because of a crime they committed. Their death sentence was their physical appearance, something they weren’t given a chance to bargain with God on their birth. With that said, there is nothing in this life that can ever be done to bring them back.
Not even if I was given the righteous power to kill everyone who is responsible and get rid of anyone who doesn’t wish me well. Howbeit, there is someone who leads the world with Justice and He sees everything. “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.” Matthew 5:9
So, when I feel anger and hatred crouching at the door of my heart, I remember Romans 12:20: “To the contrary, if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” It is written and true! The greatest vengeance you could ever do to someone who has wronged you is to forgive them.
My parents and two siblings are in heaven with God
Absolutely! It’s beyond the shadow of doubt! Their tears are no more, their pains have ceased to occur. They are no longer being tortured or grieving. Their journey on this earth may have ended sooner, but their life with Jesus will never have an end. I patiently wait for the day I will see them again, in a life that knows no sorrow or a broken heart. I miss them with a deep sorrow!
With that said, it is written in Hebrews 12:14: “Strive for peace with everyone and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord”. For all it’s worth, I crave for holiness because I long to see GOD who has my parents and two siblings with Him. Holiness includes forgiveness on my part, not only to those who made me an orphan, but also to everyone who has hurt me from small to great things.
Forgiveness benefits the forgiver more than the one who is forgiven
Besides the word of God, scientifically proven, when you love someone or people, you think about them all the the time and wish them well. The same way, when you have been wronged, each time that your wounded heart is reminded of the injustice that has been done to you or your loved one, unintentionally or aware, you react. The signs can be rage, frustration, nightmares, headaches, lack of trust, sleep disorders, depression, shyness, resentment and many more.
“Studies from the Journal of Behavioral Medicine found forgiveness to be associated with lower heart rate and blood pressure as well as stress relief. A later study found forgiveness to be positively associated with five measures of health: physical symptoms, medications used, sleep quality, fatigue, and somatic complaints. It seems that the reduction in negative affect (depressive symptoms), strengthened spirituality, conflict management and stress relief one finds through forgiveness all have a significant impact on overall health.”
Personally, I want to occupy my mind with treasured memories of hope. The wonders of God in my life overwhelm me with gratitude and humility. He held my hand and reminded me that I was not alone through trials and tribulations when no one else comforted me. My God and I are forever undefeated!!
As for those who have hurt me, their bad intentions have no room in my records. As I extend forgiveness to them, whether they ask for it or not, I feel free. As I forgive, my heart feels lighter as if a heavy burden has been lifted off my shoulder!
I make mistakes, too!
“I’m a sinner, FIRST, sinned against SECOND.” ~ The Summit Church
I have to remind this to myself all the time. Just like Jesus said that the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak. I often find myself doing or wishing things that I wouldn’t normally want or do in my right mind, because of my sinful heart’s desire. When that happens, I am like, seriously? How did I possibly bring myself to think of this or do that etc.
Romans 3:23 goes like this: “for all have sinned and fell short of the glory of God”.
I don’t see where it says only those who shed blood. Everyone, including victims, we all need Jesus. So if we’re all in the same boat, how am I better to judge others and decide their fate?
In Mathew 18:21-35, Jesus tells us the Parable of an Unforgiving Servant after Peter asked him how many times he should forgive a brother who sins against him. The king had a servant who owed him 14 billion US dollars; since he couldn’t pay back, the king ordered him and his family to be sold until they could pay it off. Then the servant fell on his knees begging the king to give him time to pay everything off. Out of pity, the king forgave him the debt.
As soon as this very servant left, he encountered a fellow servant who owed him $2,000. He started choking him asking to pay it all, and when his debtor couldn’t pay, he put him in prison. As the story goes on, the master found out what the first servant did. Out of anger, the master put him in jail until he could pay off all his debt.
Honestly, if my past, present and future sins were converted in any type of currency, I’d be imprisoned for the rest of my life. They are too many to number, for sure. Because I’ve been forgiven too, I don’t want to be like this unforgiving servant. My only part in this all, is to forgive, even when those who have wronged me don’t deserve it or ask for it.
Everyone will be held accountable for their acts, someday!
This life has an end, no doubt about this one! One day, we will all stand before God, whether you believe in Him or not, and our work in this life will be measured and tried. Hebrews 4:13 states that: “And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account”. God knows it all, and His judgement is beyond ACCURATE!
Our life example has been set on the cross where Jesus died in shame to reconcile the world to God. He is the finest example of what it is to forgive even when it hurts so much.
“Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed” Isaiah 53: 4-5
“Forgiveness is not an occasional act, it is a constant attitude.” ― Martin Luther King Jr.
“Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” Romans 12: 19
Sins may carry different weights, but I am not the one to determine who has committed unforgivable ones. GOD sees it all, and He is the right Judge. Who am I to replace Him on that seat? I’m not skilled to thoroughly understand God’s ways, nor I’m qualified to question what He’s doing.
This is very assuring to me more than anything, and knowing that He will avenge on my enemies, I want to learn how to truly forgive, and leave the rest to God’s wrath. This is my understanding on forgiveness!
“You will know that forgiveness has begun when you recall those who hurt you and feel the power to wish them well.” – Lewis B. Smedes.
“When you hold resentment toward another, you are bound to that person or condition by an emotional link that is stronger than steel. Forgiveness is the only way to dissolve that link and get free.” ~ Catherine Ponder