It is 20 years since the genocide in Rwanda when an estimated 800,000 people were slaughtered in 100 days. Born in a refugee camp in Burundi, Emmanuel Murangira went on to become a successful businessman. But the genocide in Rwanda changed the course of his life. Today, he serves the church in Rwanda as the Tearfund representative in the region. At the New Horizon conference in Northern Ireland, Emmanuel shared his journey from horror to hope.
The problems in Rwanda did not begin in 1994. The conflict goes back many years - a long history of separation and inequality. When violence first erupted in 1959, my parents left Rwanda and I was born in a refugee camp in Burundi. Immediately afterwards, my father was arrested as a political activist. My mother ran away to Tanzania when I was just a week old. She strapped me on her back and travelled 80km on foot.
The people who live around Lake Victoria experience the same Hutu and Tutsi conflict as Rwanda, so my parents sent me to school in Kenya to avoid discrimination. But in Kenya, I was labelled a refugee. It felt humiliating; as if I had a contagious disease.
I came to hate all Hutus, believing that they were responsible for everything that had gone wrong in my life. I felt angry and bitter.
In 1994, my extended family was in Rwanda (uncles, aunties, cousins and grandparents). While the genocide was happening, people telephoned us with news. But it is impossible to imagine what it was like. The human mind is not made to conjure such horrific images. In total, 102 of my relatives were killed.
Kigali was liberated on July 4 and I arrived there four days later. It was a scene from hell. Bodies were strewn everywhere - lying in the street being devoured by dogs. If the militia did not kill you, you could be mauled by dogs that had become accustomed to eating human flesh.
I knew my relatives were dead, so my hatred increased. Searching for survivors, eventually I heard about a three-year-old girl - the only one to survive from a family of eight.
I found Rachel, adopted her and took her back to Nairobi. She did not speak until she was six years old. The horror had frozen her mind. Eventually, we returned to Rwanda and I began to learn the truth of what had happened to her. She still carried those images in her head.
When she was 12, they began to try the perpetrators of genocide. Rachel had to attend court. The man who was giving evidence was the man who had rescued her. He had picked her out of the bodies and taken her to an orphanage. But she also recognised him as one of those who had participated in killing her parents.
When Rachel came back from the trial, she was totally shaken. After church on the Sunday she told me, “I think I need to forgive that man who killed my mother because if I don’t forgive, I will think about him forever and I don’t want that.”
I was angry and confused but she was adamant and I couldn’t stop her. It wasn’t a crime for her to forgive! The next morning in my devotions, I was reading Matthew 6: 14 - 15 and it says, “Forgive one another because if you don’t forgive one another your Father in heaven won’t forgive you.”
I began to debate with myself. This was not something I wanted to do. All along I had believed that God could condone my unforgiveness because He knew what I had suffered. I felt I had a right to be angry and He knew why. But the Bible was telling me something different.
In my heart I realised, if Rachel who is 12 years old can forgive, who am I not to forgive? Until that point, I had been thinking about revenge. I would be lying if I told you that killing did not cross my mind.
The encounter I had with Christ as I read those verses in Matthew 6 was the defining moment in my life. Forgiveness brings healing. As I forgave, I was completely healed of my hatred.
This was when I finally began to belong to my country. As a refugee, I wanted a country, but when I arrived in Rwanda, I didn’t have that sense of belonging. After I forgave, I discovered the value of having a country that I could call my own. God transformed my life.
This was just beginning. I started thinking, “How do I work with others to reconcile our communities?” I work with the church to help people engage in dialogue.
Forgiving is not an easy thing. But who said God wants us to do the easy things? The Bible tells us that what is impossible with men is possible with God. I have seen it. I have lived it. I have experienced it.
For the last six years, I have worked with Tearfund, investing in reconciliation in Rwanda. Forgiveness does not mean doing away with justice. But we understand that unless we are actively working for reconciliation, it won’t happen. We don’t do this because it is easy but because it is the essence of our being as Christians.
Some church leaders participated in the genocide but others lost their lives defending members of their congregation. Later on, the church had to reconcile people, otherwise church lost its meaning.
I don’t have a magic bullet. God starts with reconciling us to Himself. But the church needs to fulfil its biblical mandate to reconcile people - whether it is in Rwanda or Northern Ireland or Southern Sudan. If the church fails to do that, it has failed in its mission.
Christians in Northern Ireland can support Tearfund UK’s ongoing work in Rwanda through www.tearfund.co.uk.
Breaking the cycle of conflict in Southern Sudan
South Sudan has been devastated by decades of civil war. Despite gaining independence in 2011, inter-ethnic warfare continues.
The latest conflict erupted in 2013 between forces loyal to President Silva Kirr, from the Dinka ethnic group and former Deputy President Riek Machar from the Lou Nuer. As a result, 1.5 million people fled their homes, 386,000 sought refuge in neighbouring countries and many lost their lives.
The UN has declared the situation a level three humanitarian crisis (the highest level), with seven million facing hunger or even starvation. As famine looms, Tearfund Ireland is providing emergency latrines and sanitation facilities and running six feeding centres to address the urgent needs of malnourished mothers, pregnant women and young children. One mother and her five children arrived at the feeding centre in Motot, having walked more than 100km to escape fierce fighting.
Children in South Sudan not only face hunger and uncertainty but grow up in a continual cycle of violence and hatred between tribes. Tearfund seeks to implement peace-building initiatives that focus on breaking the cycle of inter-ethnic violence, giving the next generation of South Sudanese a chance at a peaceful and hopeful future.
To support Tearfund’s work in South Sudan, people can donate to our emergency appeal at www.tearfund.ie/donate or to find out more or receive prayer updates and resources, please contact the office on 01 8783200 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photos: Laton Thompson, Tearfund / David Gibson