In February I spent eight days in Rwanda with some friends from my theological college, St Mellitus, one of our lecturers and some representatives from the amazing charity Tearfund. The aim of our trip was to learn about reconciliation and community transformation, and to take back what we had learned to our own churches.
We travelled around the country and met some incredibly inspiring groups and individuals. We learnt about how churches working together had been able to build and transform communities through very practical projects. Many of the projects that we saw and heard about involved groups that had been formed in order that they could share their resources, work together, and help to support one another in any way that was necessary. As soon as they were able, these groups then started to work for the benefit of the communities around them.
In 1994 conflicts in Rwanda escalated in an horrific fashion and led to a genocide that resulted in nearly one million people being killed in under a month. We had the privilege of visiting memorial sites and meeting both survivors and perpetrators of genocide. We heard mind blowing testimonies of forgiveness and reconciliation from people who had been on extremely difficult journeys of spiritual and emotional healing. We heard not only of the challenge of living by the words of Jesus on the cross: ‘Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing’ but also of the profound sense of peace that this brings.
We were personally told over and over again, by the villagers that we met, by church leaders, by members of Tearfund and by the Archbishop of Rwanda, Onesphore Rwaje, that the message we should take home is that forgiveness, healing and reconciliation are possible, even in the most difficult circumstances.
Catherine Cleghorn, Ordinand