Friday, April 23, 2010

As We Forgive: Stories of Reconciliation from Rwanda

By Catherine Clare Larson, 284 pages, Zondervan.

"And so they worked, former murderers and survivors, pressed together inside a small yard, breaking the hard, bitter outer shell away from the sustaining grain."

Larson's above words testify to the entire point of this book and the hoped-for result of forgiveness: It is to restore community and trust after violence has shattered those things. Forgiveness, she notes, is "fundamentally, a social action with social implications." As We Forgive teaches that such forgiveness is not easy, but can only come by acknowledging the truth. Rwanda's violence between the Hutus and Tutsis, which peaked after April, 1994, in the violence against Tutsis and Hutu moderates, is presented through the personal stories of both victims and killers.

Decades of division and rivalry, sponsored by the colonialist Belgians, led to political domination by the Tutsis, and violent outbursts following political unrest, such as when the Tutsi king died in 1959.

After the violence of 1994, victims and perpetrator would often run into each other as they went about their daily business. Thus the rebuilt communities were fragile, in danger of falling back into terrible violence.

Larson presents the mysterious force of evil and violence alongside the mysterious force of goodness and forgiveness, believing firmly that the latter will win out because it is stronger and can build something. However, that construction is long and arduous, and absolutely necessary because the extreme violence of Rwanda changed the hearts for many for the worse:

"After killing, Saveri was changed. 'Something happened to me,' he said. 'I was not the same. I was void of peace in my heart from that moment.'" The demonic forces unleashed by the violence had deep roots not only because of the personal implication of people such as Saveri, but because of the "psychological foundations for this violence which the Hutu government had taken great pains to build before the slaughter had even begun.

In addition to looking at how survivors learn to forgive, inspired by Christ, As We Forgive makes the extremely important point of reflecting on the psychological and spiritual harm suffered by the killers by their own acts. People like Saveri were themselves deeply broken, and in need of counseling and forgiveness.

Christian leaders have been doing much of the community rebuilding work in Rwanda, because trust and transparency can only be re-established through the transformative gift of forgiveness. As We Forgive portrays pastors who have gone to the prisons to talk with the killers, trying to bring Christ to them even as the prisoners, stuffed into overcrowded prisons, try to come to terms with their guilt.

Only when they confess and receive forgiveness from their victims can the killers move on from their own brokenness. The victims themselves also experience a new freedom when they confront and then forgive their family's killers. Monique experienced this freedom only after walking for hours into the district where her violator still lived, knocking on his door and announcing to him that she forgave him, before turning around and walking back home.

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