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Rwandan genocide: 10 years later, fewer have hope

KIGALI, Rwanda (BP)–It happened 10 years ago, but the images still haunt the tiny African country of Rwanda: mutilated bodies strewn across church altars, mass graves filled with thousands of bodies, human skulls stacked on top of each other.

April marks the 10th anniversary of the Rwanda genocide, one of the worst atrocities of the 20th century. The assassination of an ethnic Hutu leader unleashed a torrent of rage against the ruling Tutsi minority. About 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus were killed by Hutu militias in a bloodbath that continued for 100 days before a Tutsi-dominated rebel army seized control.

When the massacres started, tens of thousands fled to churches for sanctuary. But they found little protection there. Many sanctuaries were turned into slaughterhouses.

It was no surprise, then, that soon after the genocides Rwandans left the church in a mass exodus.

“When you have pastors and church members hacking up other church members and pastors, you can understand their apprehensiveness and distrust,” said Rusty Pugh, the International Mission Board’s strategy facilitator for Rwanda. “There were so many killed in the churches that most people don’t want anything to do with God. They feel like He wasn’t there when they needed Him most.”


The flight from the churches was a major reversal for a country where the great East African Revival began in the 1930s. Operation World statistics in 1993, before the genocides, showed Rwanda as more than 80 percent “Christian.” Now, while the same number is still the official statistic, Christian workers in Rwanda believe the true figure is closer to 25 percent.

That “Christians” could participate in genocide reveals serious flaws in their understanding of their faith. Syncretism — applying a veneer of Christianity over traditional religion — is a serious problem with which missionaries and national church leaders wrestle. Church members who don’t understand genuine conversion and authentic discipleship are easy prey for ethnic hatred.

Missionary Joe Monroe* saw the shift away from the church firsthand. He and his family left Rwanda on the last convoy in 1994. When they were able to return to Rwanda, it became obvious that something different had to be done to reach the lost.

“There is still potential for violence here — tribal divisions are still high,” the 24-year veteran said. “The only way for true revival to occur is to be changed from within — and we know that can only happen through Jesus Christ.”

Inviting people to discover this peace is difficult when most have bad memories of church and “Christians.” So Monroe and a few believers began meeting in neighborhood home groups. Groups of 10 to 12 people share their hopes, dreams and struggles. They try to develop a sense of trust — something lost 10 years ago.

They also learn that saying you are a Christian and being a Christian are two different things.


“In the home assemblies, we try to equip people with having Jesus’ attitude of servanthood, how to treat people and how to love all people,” Monroe said. “I feel like we are on the verge of something significant here.”

There is a glimmer of hope in this country still steeped in darkness and hatred.

“You can see the hope, but it’s small. I see the Rwandan believers making small steps,” Pugh said. “The work is hard and slow, but you do see some successes.”

Monroe is convinced the only way to get true revival and healing in Rwanda is through local believers — Hutus and Tutsis — working together in bringing their country to Christ.
*Name changed for security reasons.
Make a difference in Rwanda with your prayers. Pray for:
1. True revival. The seed of revival in 1938 began in Rwanda and spread to other countries. Pray that God will do this again and that it is characterized by a deep desire to please God.
2. New Christian workers in Rwanda. Pray for their adjustments and language learning. It has been years since new Christian workers have entered the country, and now many are answering God’s call to work in Rwanda.
3. Home groups. Pray for a local believer, Afrodicee, who is leading some of the home groups. Pray that others will be called out to lead and host these small groups.
(BP) photos posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo titles: ORPHANAGE, MAKESHIFT HOMES, TENT CITY, VOLUNTEERS, OVERLOADED and GOOD NEWS.