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Friday, April 1, 2011

Remembering Rwanda

The Rwandan flag tells a story of its own.

This flag, adopted in 2001 is a symbol of hope after the darkest period in Rwandan history.  The blue band represents happiness and peace, the yellow band symbolizes economic development, and the green band symbolizes the hope of prosperity. The sun represents enlightenment.  It is indeed a joy-filled flag, a symbol of the resiliency of the Rwandan people and the hope for a brighter future that burns brightly today. 
But from 1962-2001 the flag looked like this:
 The colors green, yellow, and red represented peace; the nation's hope for future development; and the people.  In 2001, Rwanda changed their flag as the previous flag had had become associated with the brutality of the Rwandan Genocide.  How sad that a flag that was once born out of a desire to promote peace and development was changed because under it, people were brutally murdered for no good reason at all.
Last night we had our first film of the mini-film festival with films from Africa that we are hosting this weekend.  Given that the Rwandan genocide of 1994 occurred close to this date 17 years ago, we felt it would be fitting and appropriate to feature a documentary on the genocide and share in a memorial service afterward.  The film we chose was called 'Keepers of Memory' and was an excellent way to remember this dark and difficult time in history.  You can get this film on Amazon.com if you so desire.
Rwanda is a beautiful place but the scars of the genocide are deep and vast.  The collective psyche of a nation that has been wounded in this manner is deeply affected.  The grief that accompanies the loss of family and friends who were killed along with the guilt one feels in having survived leaves deep fissures in the way in which people can feel good about who they are and where they come from.  Even so, the Rwandan people fight on, seeking to recreate a life of peace and wholeness.  Many are scattered across the globe now as well, having fled due to persecution and oppression.  Many of these folks find their church home at Immanuel International.  After the film, one member of our church shared from his own experience.  He had fled Rwanda in 1990, seeking asylum in Sweden as a political refugee.  When the war began to turn to genocide, he watched with horror as his country imploded.  His sister and her family were still living in Rwanda and he maintained phone contact with her until sadly, she was killed along with her entire family.  He spoke of the great loss that he felt, the utter lack of hope that overcame him, his doubts in how God could be alive in the midst of such difficulty.  But he also spoke of the healing that comes when you begin to see God's love and compassion even in the midst of such horrors.  God gently wooed him back to a place of hope and he is now a strong and vibrant member of our church community.  A few Rwandan members of our church sang some songs in their native language.  Doug led prayers for those who had died and for those who remain, also imploring God to help us love peace and to pursue that above all other pathways in trying to resolve conflict.  Near the end, he invited all members of the Rwandan community to come forward and join him in singing We Shall Overcome.  To see my husband surrounded by members of the Rwandan community living in Stockholm, singing this great hymn of hope, knowing what the Rwandans had been through was very moving for me.  That they would allow us to journey so close to their stories, that they are still a people of hope and belief and faithfulness, that they want to keep being a force for good and not for evil in our world is a humbling and generous blessing.  The song rang out beautifully as all gathered joined in and lifted up the hope that comes from believing that through Christ's message of redemption and transformation, people's lives can be changed and redeemed. 
One line from the film lingers with me...No one should be killed just because of who they are.  It reminds me of how much oppression has occurred in our world simply because one group of people de-humanized another and found it appropriate to seek to extinguish them.  Our friend who shared in the evening made the most amazing observation however.  He said that those who de-humanize others actually become the ones who are dehumanized.  I believe that one cannot kill others in cold blood and remain fully human.  That is why we need to see one another as God does...each creature created in the image of God and as such, precious and valuable on this earth.
My role in the evening was to deliver the blessing at the close.  I begged Doug to not have me do this as I knew by the end of the evening my emotions would be raw and tears likely.  He said it was OK to be emotional about these things and so with tears streaming down my face, surrounded by the beautiful Rwandan people, I gave the following blessing that is found in the Covenant Hymnal:
The way is long, let us go together
The way is difficult, let us help each other
The way is joyful, let us share it
The way is Christ's for Christ is the way, let us follow
The way is open before us, let us go.
And as we go out into the world in peace, let us go with courage, let us hold onto what is good, let us not return evil for evil, let us help the suffering, honor all, love and serve the Lord rejoicing in the power of the Holy Spirit.
May it be so as we seek to live in harmony and community in our small corners of the world.
I am blessed to have been a part of this evening.  May we never forget the horrors of the past, and may our remembering contribute to not repeating them again.