Rwanda Day 3

Bible Study

In Bible study, we talked today about Genesis 37:25-36. This is the second part of the narrative in which Joseph’s brothers sell him. In the Rwandan genocide, many church leaders remained quiet and some even revealed the locations of their Tutsi congregants to those seeking to murder them. This morning, we reflected on how Joseph’s brothers literally sold him and considered if the Rwandan church leaders sold out the Rwandan people for greed and control. 

This is a much deeper question than it sounds like on the surface. “Sold out” implies some sort of purposefulness or forethought. We see in Joseph’s story that the brothers made Joseph “other” in their own minds, even referring to him as “Your son” to Jacob, rather than “Our brother”. Sometimes we are OK with seeing others as God’s children, but we distance ourselves from being their sisters or brothers. It is this distancing that makes it easier to sell our brothers and sisters to another, even if it’s not “selling them out” with some sort of purpose. 

We also considered if people are primarily good and we call out the bad ones as the exception or if people are primarily bad and we call out the good ones as the exception. Being a good group of Presbyterians, we seemed to favor the ideas that we are bad, but redeemable and can call out the good ones who are closer to God.

A few miscellaneous points that I found interesting include: the name “Ishmael” means “God heard me.” And it is the Ishmaelites who buy Joseph. God heard Joseph and saved him from the well. Joseph’s brothers were super destructive. They tore and blood-soaked Joseph’s coat. They tore the family apart. They killed a goat for no reason than to use the blood (that goat could have been dinner, what a waste!). Rueben even tore his clothing in mourning and despair. Joseph is identified by his coat, just like many genocide victims in Rwanda were identified, and continue to be identified as their bodies are found. 

Just after Bible Study, we experienced our first real Rwandan rainy season rain of the trip. It was delightful.

Dr. Elisee Musemakweli

Dr. Elisee is the former president of the Presbyterian Church of Rwanda. He is now the Vice Chancellor of the Protestant Institute of Arts and Social Sciences (PIASS). He shared with us about the situation in the church in Rwanda in the aftermath of the genocide. 

The primary effects of 1994 on Rwanda were: a broken and divided society, traumatized people, rape victims (many of whom had HIV/AIDS as a result), mutilated people, orphans and widows (most of whom were homeless), orphans raising younger siblings, plundered goods, and a devastated infrastructure. 

The genocide created a spiritual crisis. Many people accused the church of abandonment at a time of great need. Others discredited the church. New denominations that weren’t there when it happened began to move in. Everyone’s faith was shaken and put to the test. 

  • Where was God when this happened?
  • How could God be so indifferent, especially to the vulnerable?
  • What kind of God abandons people to this sort of violence?
  • The very idea of “God with us” was questioned.
  • God was seen as looking down on the violence from above without intervening.
  • There were clergy who had conspired in the killings, thereby damaging the level of trust anyone had for ministers.

The three primary reactions were a complete rejection of the church. Clearly, the argument goes, the church’s teachings on justice and compassion had meant nothing. Furthermore, had God cared about justice, God could have stopped the violence. The charismatic reaction was to determine there was nothing good in this world, but that the world is not our home. This view was very heaven-focused. Finally, the moderate Christians placed all blame on the people involved and none on God. They cited the narrative of Cain and Abel in Genesis. Cain kills his brother out of jealousy and spite, but God makes it clear that Cain is the one that did it, not God. 

In 1994:

Rwandans killed Rwandans.

Christians killed Christians.

Elisee argued that those committing genocide even killed God because you have to kill off God from yourself before killing people.

The EPR issued a formal repentance in 1996, just two years after the genocide. Rwanda, and its churches, needed a new identity. They made a list of urgent, midterm, and long term needs to fill. Urgent needs included shelter, education, and restoration of the seminary. Mid-longer term needs were things like conflict management training for pastors, socio-economic projects, and peace and reconciliation education in schools. 

Unfathomable Forgiveness

This afternoon, we went to visit with a group called “the Light Group”. This is a community of survivors and perpetrators working together for forgiveness and reconciliation. Their compassion and courage was incredible. Hearing stories of forgiveness and what led them to do what they have done before, during, and after the genocide was a holy moment of learning. I cannot begin to do it justice here and now in this blog post, but I hope that my video after the trip will come close. 

After dinner, we celebrated our new friend Lydia’s birthday with cake and singing before reflecting together on our day, then parting ways for bedtime. Tomorrow morning, we will depart Kigali and head to Butare.