Posted by: Kenn Hermann | May 11, 2006

Bearing Witness to the Horrors of the Genocide in Rwanda

This past week I was privileged to hear Paul Rusesabagina speak at Kent State University. He was the hotel manager who, through cunning, cajoling, flattery, payoffs, and an open bar, protected more than 1200 men, women, and children from certain death during the genocide in Rwanda in spring 1994. His experience is the basis of the recent movie “Hotel Rwanda” and his new book, An Ordinary Man. After listening to his gripping account, it is clear that Rusesabagina is no ‘ordinary’ man.

Rather than rehearsing the historical background, let me point you to several good sources to broaden and deepen your understanding of the deep and entangled roots of this tragedy. An historical perspective is essential:

  • PBS “Frontline” commemorated the 10-year anniversary of the genocide with “Ghosts of Rwanda.” The site includes numerous interviews with key individuals. Don’t miss the interview with another prominent hero, Carl Wilkens, a Seventh Day Adventist pastor, who protected orphans throughout the ordeal.
  • Philip Gourevitch, We Regret to Inform You that Tomorrow We Will Be Killed with Our Families
  • Samantha Power, A Problem from Hell
  • Jean Hatzfeld, Machet Season
  • Romeo Dallaire, Shake Hands with the Devil (Dallaire was the Canadian general in charge of the U.N. peacekeeping mission. He lacked authority, troops, and armaments to stem the slaughter. His moral anguish in the face of his helplessness still haunts him.)
  • Rosamond Carr is an English woman who spent her entire life in Rwanda. I had students in my global history class read her autobiography, A Land of a Thousand Hills: My Life in Rwanda. She survived the genocide and is now back, more committed than ever, to caring for the many orphans left in the wake of the slaughter.

Perhaps the most haunting reality for Christians in the face of this tragedy is the fact that Rwanda boasted the highest percentage of Christians of any African nation. A majority are Catholic, but there is a strong minority of evangelical Protestants. One of the best articles on the role of Christianity in preparing the soil for the genocide and the complicity of Christians in the slaughter is J. J. Kritzinger, “THE RWANDAN TRAGEDY AS PUBLIC INDICTMENT AGAINST CHRISTIAN MISSION,” published by the Southern African Missiological Society. (One Seventh Day Adventist pastor was convicted of crimes against humanity in 2003 for luring thousands of Tutsis to his church for refuge, only to turn them over to Hutu militia who murdered them. Other Christians, scattered across denominations, are alleged to have participated.) I am still struggling to sort out my thoughts and feelings, as both Christian and historian, about how ‘my’ people, the Church committed to Jesus Christ, have been so deeply ensnared in the ‘slaughter of innocents’ throughout its history. How do I tell that story? What is the backbone of that narrative?

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