As a member of the Global Reconciliation Network and a co-convener of Issue Group on Racial and Tribal Reconciliation at the Lausanne 2004 Forum for World Evangelization in Thailand, I and the staff of African Leadership and Reconciliation Ministries, Inc. (ALARM) continue to make reconciliation a vital and integral part in the fulfillment of the Great Commission.
Through a ministry of leadership development and biblical reconciliation in eight countries in East and Central Africa, we believe that without the work of reconciliation in countries like Rwanda, Burundi, Congo, northern Uganda and Sudan, it is impossible to reach out to scattered people troubled by violence, hatred, retaliation and tribal wars. This is why the organization sees reconciliation as an element that cannot be divorced from evangelism and discipleship. In countries that have experienced genocide and where the Church is widely blamed for its participation in genocide by commission and omission, the organization brought together church leaders from both Hutus and Tutsi tribes for a public confession and a commitment to remember genocide with hope (not with hate). There was also a renewed commitment to fight genocide ideology through biblical teaching and practical actions.
Combating Genocide Through Forgiveness and Healing
On 24-25 April 2007, ALARM Rwanda—in conjunction with the Rwandan government Ministry of Youth, Culture and Sports—conducted a retreat for sixty-two church legal representatives at the Kigali Serena Hotel. The purpose of the conference was to discuss the role of the Church in remembering the genocide and fighting its ideology.
The 1994 genocide resulted in the death of close to one million Tutsis and moderate Hutus. Many church and community leaders were killed. ALARM was born to fill the leadership gap. Over the past ten years, ALARM and other organizations have been working to raise up leaders and encourage reconciliation in Rwanda and other nations that were affected. This event was especially significant because it was the first occasion in which church leaders together acknowledged the failure of the Church in preventing genocide through its teachings.
Many churches are disrespected today because they failed to intervene and in many cases even to condemn the genocide. Although more than a decade has passed since the tragedy, the Church as a whole has not come together to agree on a unified approach to reconcile and resolve the problems that resulted from it. In this sense, the groups responsible for the genocide were much more strategic than the Church has been in the aftermath.
During his address at the April conference, ALARM Rwandan country director, Rev. André Mfitumukiza, said, “The Church has not been responsible enough in building and healing this nation. As church leaders, we are ashamed and guilty when many critics come to us through various speeches. However, we want to take up full responsibility for our failure and change our image as we work toward a better society.”1
As a step toward further reconciliation, Rev. Mfitumukiza identified himself as a Hutu and challenged all Hutus in the audience to come forward, kneel and apologize for the role their tribe had in the genocide. In return, Tutsi church leaders forgave the Hutus present and likewise asked forgiveness for the way they had generalized and criminalized all Hutus. This event was applauded nationally as an important event in bringing hope, healing and reconciliation to the country.
ALARM Rwanda would like to acknowledge the financial contribution from World Relief Rwanda, which allowed many more leaders to attend. The church leaders promised to meet together again to continue discussing these problems. ALARM will coordinate a follow-up conference in partnership with CARSA (Christian Action for Reconciliation and Social Assistance) and EVM (Esther’s Vision Ministries), who played major roles in the success of this historic event.
Reconciliation and Genocide Prisoners
Not only has ALARM been leading the Church of Rwanda in the process of healing and reconciliation, the organization has also trained genocide prisoners who were released by presidential pardon. From 25-27 September 2006, ALARM Rwanda conducted a workshop for fifty-three recently released genocide prisoners from all the provinces of Rwanda.
The workshop took place at the ALARM’s Centre for Leadership and Forgiveness in Kigali. While these prisoners were released because they acknowledged their involvement in the genocide, they had not confessed their sins and did not know what it meant to be forgiven, the cost of forgiveness and how to receive it. Most prisoners expressed their sorrow for what they did. They also committed to seeking forgiveness from the relatives of those they had murdered.
Five prisoners gave their lives to Christ as they understood that the ultimate reconciliation is between humanity and God. Through brokenness and hopelessness of genocide in Rwanda, God is bringing hope and restoration through the message of forgiveness and reconciliation. Christ must remain the foundation of any form of reconciliation. The Church has no other gospel message apart from that of pleading and imploring people to be reconciled to God and to each other (2 Corinthians 5:17-20).