Monday, April 6, 2009

Another Somber Anniversary. . . .

Two months ago I flipped my desk calendar ahead until I was looking at April, 2009. I made a couple of notations so that in the midst of the normal busyness of the month I wouldn't forget a couple of important dates. As I blogged last week, this past Sunday night marked 15 years since Kurt Cobain - the mouthpiece for a generation - took his own life. I also wrote a note to myself in the square labeled "April 20." That's when it will be ten years since Columbine, an event so etched into modern American history that most of us don't think of the Columbine flower, but the massacre that occurred at the Colorado school named for that flower.

Then, late last week, my reading opened my eyes to another sad anniversary of horrible, horrible events that commenced 15 years ago tonight. Let me back up a minute. Next month I'm joining a group of close friends for a trip to a place I've never been before. . . Africa. I heard a lot about Africa from the missionaries who stayed with our family from time to time when I was a young boy. In my childish mind it was a primitive place on the other side of the world. To be honest, I was rarely fascinated by the missionaries stories about the spread of the Gospel to this world I found hard to imagine. A young boy, I was more interested in the native costumes, carvings, and primitive looking knives that our missionary friends showed us and even at times left with our family. Those early impressions and stereotypes are hard to shake. But in preparation for our trip to visit Compassion International child care projects in Kenya and Rawanda, I've embarked on a conscious journey to break through long-held impressions to a more realistic understanding of what I'll be seeing.

Last week, that journey took me through some books on the genocide in Rawanda, something I'm embarassed to say I knew very little about. I began with Philip Gourevitch's We Wish To Inform You That Tommorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families, a book that offers a gut-wrenching history of the Rawandan genocide and its political/racial roots. The only word I can use to explain what I read is "horrifying." Then, I turned to Immaculee Ilibagiza's Left to Tell: Discovering God Amidst the Rawandan Holocaust. Ilibagiza tells the story of the Rawandan genocide as she experienced it. "Horrifying" doesn't even come close to describing what I read.

As I began reading Ilibagiza's second book, Led By Faith: Rising From the Ashes of the Rwandan Genocide, my mind was filled with questions. . . . questions for which I don't expect to get answers anytime soon. How can the human heart be so dark? How can a human being survive what Ilibagiza experienced? How come I heard (or chose to hear) little on nothing about this when it was happening? How could this have happened and how could the world have turned its collective head?

Fifteen years ago tonight, the Rawandan genocide of 1994 began. Within 100 days over a million people had been murdered, most of them hacked to death limb by limb with machetes. And the world that for less than fifty years had been chanting the mantra "never again," stood by and let it happen. For over 90 days, Ilibagiza hid in a three-foot by four-foot bathroom. . . not alone, but with 5 other human beings. After several weeks, two more joined them. During that time, she sought God's face and divine protection. Her story is equally horrifying and amazing.

And so tonight I'm thinking about what happened fifteen years ago, the lessons about God and humanity that can be learned, and what it's going to be like to step on ground still soaked with human blood. I wonder what I will feel, and hope that I will not be so jaded to feel nothing but numbness. I want to learn something about myself and the God who has called me to be His own. I want the ignorance and prejudice of my childhood to be blasted into oblivion. I want to gain perspective. I want to know why our news networks offer non-stop coverage of a high profile suicide, a campus massacre, the murderous rampage of a Binghamton refugee, the killing of three Pittsburgh policemen. . . . all horrible things. . . . but then we pay little or no attention to the destruction of 1 million people over the course of three months.

6 comments:

Ginny Olson said...

Thanks for the reminder Walt. And I'll pray for you the same prayer a Kenyan pastor prayed for me... "I pray that Africa gets in your blood."

Anonymous said...

I read Gourevitch's book as a Junior in college as part of a humanities class. That proved to be the single most sobering book I had ever read and sought to open my eyes for the first time to the great injustice that still continues in our world today on a macro level. As the only Christian in my class it was an amazing opportunity to talk about some of the deep things of God with my peers who couldn't understand how a loving God could let something like this happen.
A few years later I had the opportunity to hear Gary Haugen speak at an event and detail his trip to Rewanda as first responders from the United States. His task was to collect evidence and uncover the mass graves in the region putting pieces of this brutality together. His book, "The Good News About Injustice" is a wonderful read for anyone who may want to dive deeper into a biblical view of justice. Thanks for sharing this post today and reminding us all of the evil in our world and our responsibility to fight for justice in the Name of Jesus.
Joel Owen

David said...

I have often wondered how my perspective on life is different after having grown up in Africa. The concept of a larger world keeps coming to the forefront. It isn't that I have any less pity or heartbreak for painful happenings in the US (I hope and pray!), but when Rwanda has experienced this... and Northern Uganda has even more recently experienced such extreme violence against children (made famous by the "Invisible Children" documentary - which unfortunately did not also point out the Ugandan government's role in the ongoing violence)... not to mention half a dozen other places around the world... it's a reminder to me that life in the US is so amazingly safe and sheltered - and so many people have absolutely no idea what's going on in the rest of the world.

I'll be praying for you on your journey - that God would use it in a powerful way in your life (prepare to be rocked!) and that through this experience in your life, God might touch the lives of many more...

Darius said...

Along with the ones you've listed, two great books to read regarding the genocide are Machete Season and Life Laid Bare (their American titles), both written by Jean Hatzfeld. The former consists of interviews with the killers, and the latter of interviews with the survivors. Amazing read!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this Walt! I have read "Left to Tell"...I actually read it while I was in Cambodia this past December. My heart aches for these people who have been through such deep loss, such unreal pain! This past week we had a gentleman who was a refugee from Somalia living with us. He had been in a camp in Kenya for the past 15 years...having to flee for his life when civil war began again in Somalia years ago. His mother and brother died in the civil war and he has no idea where the rest of this family ended up. Such deep sadness. I was teaching him how to use a stove (something he'd never seen before) and listening to his stories of living by candlelight and having foor cards that got punched after his ration was giving to him...and I listened to his observances of America ("you don't use your legs...only cars...it is not good." ) :) And, then I think -- that he is just one man out of millions from one camp out of thousands living that life. I walk through slums in Cambodia, and play with children who have been rescued from trafficking...ect...it is just so real! I will pray for you as you travel to Africa! I will pray that it is as life-changing for you as my trips to Cambodia have been for me! The joy of it all is reading God's word and realizing how much his heart aches and loves these people -- the poorest of the poor, the stranger, to alien in this world. Thanks! My new Mantra -- With new knowledge comes new responsibility! I will pray that you will know what to do with the new knowledge you will gain on your trip! Much love, Michelle

Philippians 3:12 said...

we don't hear, because there's no money, no political gain in it. truly ... a shame. there are a great many things we don't hear about from our news media. they say that history is written by the winners - so it is. but we need to know, to remember. we need to care. whether bringing relief to the Sudan is profitable or not, we need to combat the worst side of humanity with the best. i hope you are affected, brother - i hope you are sensitive and vulnerable to the 'ghosts' of the past. meditate on this voyage for years to come. ponder your experience in your heart.