April 7 was the 25th anniversary of the beginning of the Rwandan genocide, a three-month span from April to July 1994 during which an estimated 1 million people were killed.
The genocide, traced to long-standing ethnic tensions and precipitated by the shooting down of a plane carrying the Rwandan president, pitted neighbor against neighbor and family member against family member.
As violence engulfed the country, people seeking sanctuary in churches were trapped. Killers threw grenades into the buildings, then used machetes and clubs to kill the survivors.
In one case, a church full of people seeking refuge was bulldozed while the people were locked inside. Children were murdered in front of their parents. Tens of thousands of people were tortured, mutilated and raped, and many were intentionally infected with HIV/AIDS by those known to carry the virus.
How does a nation heal from such an ordeal? How do its citizens forgive and move on?
In the years since the genocide, the nation of Rwanda has made remarkable strides toward healing and rebuilding. The capital city of Kigali has been completely rebuilt and the country’s infrastructure largely restored. The government has invested in providing education and reconciliation training.
But according to Bishop Seburikoko of the Lutheran Mission in Africa—Synod of Thousand Hills (LMA-STH), something was missing. His pastors, still struggling with the genocide themselves, were feeling ill-equipped to help their parishioners with the trauma years later.
Seburikoko asked The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS) for help, and the Rev. Shauen Trump, LCMS area director for Eastern and Southern Africa, invited Ambassadors of Reconciliation (AoR), an LCMS Recognized Service Organization, to step in.
In March, AoR Senior Ambassador Ted Kober and President Dwight Schettler traveled to Rwanda to provide a multi-day training on reconciliation to Rwandan pastors and laypeople. Kober and Schettler were assisted by two LCMS missionaries: the Rev. Dr. Mark Rabe, coordinator of Theological Education for the East Africa Region, who was also instrumental in planning and coordinating the event; and Director of Christian Education Megan Mantey, instructor of Christian Education and Counseling at Lutheran Theological Seminary in Jinja, Uganda.
The LCMS provided over half of the required funding for the training, which focused on helping participants:
- Remember whose they are in Christ.
- Learn how to proclaim God’s forgiveness using the Bible.
- Learn how to apply the Ten Commandments.
- Know how to forgive as God has forgiven.
- Learn that forgiveness does not necessarily remove earthly consequences.
- Understand the importance of listening and asking questions.
At the conclusion of the training, Seburikoko said, “We experienced love and the hand of God, touching our wounds, pains and past bad memories … [proclaiming] forgiveness to us, and therefore new life and ministry in the finished work of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
To read more of this story, see aorhope.org/rwanda-report.
Posted May 9, 2019