What is 21-years? For some 21-years is the amount of time it took to watch a child grow into adulthood and get married. For others it is their age at college graduation. In the life of most people any given 21-years is nothing special or nothing to be remembered. For some 21-years is the duration of a nightmare that began on April 7, 1994.
For those who suffered the horrific genocide of 1994 in Rwanda it is the time passed since hugging loved ones. It is the time passed since sitting at the dinner table with other family. It is the time passed since running, hiding, and seeking refuge from the evil hatred perpetrated at the end of clubs, guns, and machetes. Twenty-one years is how long the nightmare of 1994 has gripped the hearts of many. Twenty-one years is long ago and yet it’s like yesterday for some.
I don’t remember specifically what I was doing 21-years ago today. I expect it was just a normal day of graduate school. For some it was the day the Yankees beat the Rangers 18-6. For Jews around the world it was the day that the Vatican acknowledged for the first time the Holocaust. For many Rwandans it was the beginning of another holocaust as nearly one-million men, women, and children were massacred over the next 100-days.
In the days that followed April 7 I can remember sitting on the couch watching three specific things on TV and struggling to process them. First was a nation fixated on a white Bronco moving through the streets of LA with police in chase and news helicopters overhead. The second image was that of international “leaders” in essence debating at what point mass killing becomes genocide. Third, was an image far less prominent on the TV but much more impacting to me. That image is one of machete wielding men in colorful bandanas and shirts with death at their feet. I didn’t really understand what I was seeing and why the international body created to prevent such was packing its bags to leave. What I did understand was that the fixation on a famous athlete in white Bronco compared to the relative disregard for an entire nation in apparent collapse at the hand of genocidaires reflected a world out of balance. I grieved for the two families that had lost loved ones in LA and I grieved for people of a little nation being emasculated of a segment of its population both of which occurred at the hands of pure evil.
Although I didn’t know at the time that I would eventually find myself in Rwanda I prayed then that God would intervene, that healing would cover the land, that hope would return, and that the world would open its eyes to an evil that will not discriminate with its terror and hopeless ideology.
Today, I am proud to call many Rwandans my friends, my brothers, and my sisters. I am proud to say that I have learned much from them and that the world has much to learn from them. There is nothing anyone can do to change what happened or who was lost in 1994, yet many Rwandans will tell you there is much we can change about tomorrow. While Rwandans remember the past they look to the future. For Rwanda 21-years is a marker of remembrance, of resilience, and of hope. According to Dr. Dusingizemungu, the president of Ibuka, the umbrella of associations advocating for survivors, “we want to step out of the shadow of death to life, we want to focus on resilience…”
Genocide may be the world’s current trademark for Rwanda. Rwanda’s trademark for herself may be resilience. My trademark for the people of the “Land of a Thousand Hills” is “light” as described in the following paraphrase from the Gospel of Matthew:
“Here’s another way to put it: You’re here to be light, bringing out the God-colors in the world. God is not a secret to be kept. We’re going public with this, as public as a city on a hill. If I make you light-bearers, you don’t think I’m going to hide you under a bucket, do you? I’m putting you on a light stand. Now that I’ve put you there on a hilltop, on a light stand—shine! Keep open house; be generous with your lives. By opening up to others, you’ll prompt people to open up with God, this generous Father in heaven. (MSG – Matthew 5:14-16)
Rwanda, we remember with you and we pray for you. May you continue to grow in resilience and in hope as His light from the hills of Rwanda. (Bryan Hixson, 7 April 2015)
(image from http://www.rwanda-botschaft.de/home)