Acts of forgiveness in aftermath of genocide

Published 2:45 am Saturday, April 13, 2019

Twenty-five years ago this week, most Americans were glued to their televisions watching the O.J. Simpson murder trial; all the while a brutal event was occurring on the other side of the world at the same time – the genocide in Rwanda.

Militant Hutu tribesmen violently attacked their neighbors, the Tutsi, with whom they had lived peacefully.  The Hutu committed horrific atrocities against men, women and children, brutally murdering them with machetes and guns.  The survivors not only lost their families, but also lost their homes and hope.  By the time the 100-day killing spree had ended, nearly one million Tutsis were slain – one out of eight Rwandans.

I remember hearing about this genocide in 1994, but watching the movie “Hotel Rwanda” several years later opened my eyes to the unimaginable evil that occurred.  The movie tells the inspiring story of a Hutu man married to a Tutsi woman and how he saved hundreds of lives.  It’s not easy to watch, though it’s not as graphic as it could have been.

Interestingly enough, former President Clinton was once asked why our country did not step in to stop the killing in Rwanda.  He replied that the decision not to act was one of his greatest regrets as president.  “We couldn’t have saved all of them,” he said. “[But] we could have saved as many as 300,000 lives.”

President Clinton went on to describe the Rwandans as the most astonishing people for their ability to forgive. A book, titled As We Forgive, inspired an award-winning documentary based on personal interviews, as well as research on the acts of atrocities and acts of forgiveness.  The author, Claire Larson, asked, “Can a country known for radical brutality become a country known for an even more radical forgiveness?”

Some 70,000 perpetrators who confessed their crimes of genocide in this small African country have served prison time for their evil deeds.  However, in recent years, the government has begun releasing them and they are returning to live among their victims.

Larson writes, “With radical forgiveness, many survivors are embracing the very perpetrators who committed atrocities against them and their families.  Hands that once swung machetes in violence now smooth mud bricks in peace as they build homes for their victims.”

For example, the Hutu extremists killed Rosaria’s sister and two children.  One of those men  heard the Gospel while in prison, repented and participated in a reconciliation program begun by Prison Fellowship Rwanda.  He asked Rosaria’s forgiveness and after a series of painful meetings, she forgave him and released herself from her own hatred.

Chuck Colson, founder of Prison Fellowship, once commented that “of all human actions, forgiveness is perhaps the most powerful mirror of Christ’s love.”  My daughter has had the opportunity to meet a Rwandan survivor and hear her speak of losing her entire family.  This survivor forgave the man who killed her entire family, “I felt that Jesus said, “This is what I told you.  They don’t know what they do.’”  The Rwandan’s incredible acts of forgiveness reflect the act of forgiveness Jesus displayed on a cruel Cross when he cried, “Father, forgive them” (Luke 23:34). 

Jan White is an national award-winning religion columnist. She can be reached at