Between the months of April and July, 1994, a span of only 100 days, Rwanda experienced the brutal genocide of an estimated 800,000 of its Tutsi people at the hands of their Hutu neighbors. In the wake of that tragedy, and during last 25 years, the Rwandan government instituted Gacaca (community courts), created communities of co-abiding Hutu and Tutsi neighbors, and outlawed the discussion of different ethnicities. Amongst all of this, whole communities struggle with what it means to forgive, living next to people who killed their parents, siblings, relatives and neighbors. Killers living next to families of their victims, learning what it is to live in repentance.
Post genocide Rwanda, with an overwhelmed legal system, turned to Gacaca, or community courts. Reduced sentences, and even release from prison, was offered to to those who'd murdered if they apologized to the community directly affected by their harm. Some individuals found some closure in knowing who killed their loved ones, enabling their hearts to open to reconciliation. Some survivors live next to perpetrators that still continue smaller hate crimes, leaving the fear of a repeated genocide. This is living out forgiveness.
If you remember the definition of forgiveness from last week, you’ll recall that forgiveness doesn’t equal Kumbaya or forgetfulness. Forgiveness is the gut-wrenching, earth shattering, soul shaking work of leaving the consequences of horrible atrocities in God’s hands. This is the Tutsi survivors’ daily wrestle. For some the apologies are genuine, and the deepness of guilt and sorrow are offered to the victims. For others, a confession was merely a “get out of jail free card,” leaving the victims’ families with a bitter fear of their neighbor.
Isn’t this the complexity of forgiveness? Living with a daily reality, an ominous darkness, lurking just out of reach, gripping at your heart as you put one foot in front of another in the effort to move on. Forgiveness is not rosy. Forgiveness is a battle against the annihilation of the soul, and only God can win it. Only he is strong enough to take victim and perpetrator, both, into his arms. Only he can bring redemption to those who should never have to look upon the other again.
There is a beautiful story, a tragic fairy-tale of sorts, though I believe the term “fairy-tale” grotesquely trivializes the shattering work of forgiveness. The children of Tutsi victims and Hutu perpetrators fall in love. As two families reckon with the past, and wrestle with the tentacles of harm reaching into the present, beautiful faces of grandchildren display an unimaginable redemption and hope for the future.
Forgiveness is struggle. Forgiveness is pain. Forgiveness is living with the lack of resolution. Forgiveness is seeing redemption that should never exist. Forgiveness is hope of a better future.