Just over a year ago, I traveled with the Acton Institute to Rwanda in preparation for a new project on poverty. Although we were there primarily talking to entrepreneurs about wealth and poverty, it was impossible not to have questions about the 1994 genocide. In less than 100 days, nearly one million people were murdered and tens of thousands were responsible for these deaths. Flying into the country with that knowledge, a mere 14 years later, I didn’t know what to expect. I was anxious and unsettled, the same sort of tension that I felt while visiting Tim’s body at the funeral home. The weight of death stood in stark contrast to such a vibrant culture.
Genocide destroyed Rwanda — socially, economically, and politically. After some measure of stability was restored, the new leaders needed to find a way to further return order and rebuild the infrastructure that was lost. Punishing the murderers and enacting justice was immediately a problem. How do you uphold justice when the guilty are too many to count? The small, landlocked country didn’t have the prison space to lock up all of the killers. With an overwhelming backlog of court cases and little hope of full reparation, Rwanda’s leaders tried something revolutionary. Incarceration and execution were set aside in favor of reconciliation. Beginning in 2003, over 50,000 killers who acknowledged their part in the genocide were released and reintegrated back into society. The doors were opened for genocidaires to live side by side with the surviving members of families they had destroyed.
Advent should help us to face the ugliest elements of our lives, reminded of the shortness of our time to fill the valleys and make low the hills. The Gospel of Gaudette Sunday contains a stark note of caution regarding the One, "...Whose fan is in his hand, and he will purge his floor, and will gather the wheat into his barn; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire." Few things can focus the need for repentance like examining those in extreme situations:
Filmmaker Laura Waters Hinson jumps headlong into the tension between the justified victim and the repentant killer. Her hour-long documentary, As We Forgive, tells the personal stories of two women struggling to forgive the men who took their families from them. Hinson also shares the testimonies of the men, wracked with grief and remorse, as they do their best to find forgiveness and rebuild trust. With the help of Rwandan mediation groups, the victims and killers meet face to face in an
attempt to reconcile.
There is nothing forced about the forgiveness process Hinson exposes in As We Forgive. She simply uses the camera as a window through which the audience watches it unfold. The story follows Rosaria, who has already forgiven the man who killed her family. Her journey in the film is one of re-building trust. I liked Rosaria immediately and was amazed by the peace and gentleness that flowed from her, despite the incredible hardships. But not so with another woman, Chantal, who has no desire to meet the man who wronged her. The pain she suffered is tangible and forgiveness is nothing compared to the justice she feels she deserves. Hers is a story of deep grief and a desire to withhold forgiveness.
I will never forget the personal stories I heard from the survivors of the genocide during my visit. The stories of the killers, however, were not told nor did I ask to hear them. Hinson, on the other hand, has the insight to recognize the importance of the guilty men’s accounts. Both men describe the darkness that overcame them and how the weight of their actions has affected their lives. Their burden of guilt is heavy and, although terrified to meet and interact with Rosaria and Chantal, both men do whatever they can to redeem themselves.
Anyone else have trouble forgiving those in the family who squeeze the toothpaste from the top of the tube?
Check out the whole post - I think it's a timely subject. While you're doing that, I'll head out to check Home Depot and see if they rent bulldozers. I've got to ramp-up my leveling project.
Next mystagogue project - avoiding the "righteous anger" crutch. [Oh, how I love that one :( ]
UPDATE - I notice that the author of this post is a new contributor to the Acton Institute blog. She's got an interesting video of her own on Rwanda and poverty. Check this out: