In As We Forgive: Stories of Reconciliation from Rwanda (Zondervan, 2009), Catherine Claire Larson tells two sides to the story of the 1990′s Rwandan genocide. On the one hand, she documents the horrific scenes of mass murder. On the other hand, she describes the moving accounts of forgiveness that have taken place between victims and their abusers.
Larson begins her book by laying out a chronology of events. Readers who are unfamiliar with the history of the genocide in Rwanda will find the historical context helpful for understanding the individual stories that follow.
In short, the seeds of the genocide were planted in the bitterness between the Hutu and the Tutsi regimes. In the mid-1990′s, Hutus began a systematic slaughter of Tutsis. Over 800,000 Rwandans were killed in 100 days. The most chilling fact about this genocide is that, in most cases, neighbors were killing neighbors. The Hutus were not roaming the countryside killing strangers with machetes. These were people slaughtering people they knew.
But As We Forgive does not concentrate primarily upon the atrocities that took place during the genocide. Instead, Larson focuses upon the incredible acts of forgiveness that have since followed.
Within the past several years, more than 100,000 of the killers have been released back into society. One may wonder: How have the victims coped with these new societal developments? These are people who lost parents and siblings and children. They are people who even today bear the physical scars of violence or the emotional scars of rape. How have the Rwandans been able to co-exist with the very people who caused them such pain?
Christianity provides the answer. Larson tells the stories of several victims and perpetrators, and offers a few additional insights into the nature of Christian forgiveness.
As you read these powerful stories, you quickly come to realize that forgiveness does not come easy. The Rwandan victims do not minimize the sin by ignoring it or sweeping its consequences under the rug.
Larson is unflinching in her portrayal of evil. The line of evil runs through both victim and killer. It is not as simple as “bad” versus “good.” One woman recounts how she was rescued by a man who kept her safe from the threat of death for a period of time, even as he occasionally raped her.
Larson believes that when we look at a murderer, we look at ourselves. The victims need to offer forgiveness, but even they need forgiveness from God.
The struggle to forgive is palpable at times. One woman cries out to God to forgive her for failing to forgive:
“Oh, God, forgive me for dwelling so much on the past, for pushing others away and feeling lonely, when I didn’t have to feel that way. And most of all forgive me for not thinking of you, or what you have given me today. Help me, God; to start living and to start being truly thankful for the ways you are working in my life.” (84)
Moments later, Larson provides the key to the entire book:
The more she had come to understand the significance of the Bible’s teachings on Jesus Christ’s death, the more forgiveness seemed possible. She learned how Christ had been executed in a horrible manner, more horrible than some of the things she had seen in the war. And she learned how he willingly died to pay the penalty for her wrongdoing and for anyone else who would give up their bad ways and look to him. If Christ could forgive her, if he could forgive the people who tortured him, then Joy knew she could forgive too. (86)
One might think As We Forgive would be a depressing book. It is not. It is deeply inspiring. The accounts of forgiveness help us move past the petty grievances we hold towards others.
There is also an inspiring account of a group of students who refused to divide into Hutus and Tutsis. “All of us are Rwandans here,” they declared, and paid for their boldness with their lives.
My only quibble with this book is its quick dismissal of the idea of retributive justice in favor of a type of restorative justice. I am not sure that these two types of justice are incompatible. Of course, there is not enough room in this kind of book to develop some of these concepts, which makes me wonder why they were alluded to in the first place.
As We Forgive succeeds in telling a powerful story. We read of pastors and church leaders returning to Rwanda to encourage forgiveness, even as they suffer great personal cost for their decisions. We read of people sacrificing their own desires for the good of others. We read of people so engulfed in their own guilt and despair for the past sins that the offer of forgiveness becomes a liberating act of sheer grace.
These stories are Christianity-in-action. Highly recommended.
written by Trevin Wax © 2009 Kingdom People blog