Restoring relationships in a context of violence
At the heart of the gospel message is the concept of repaired relationships, as God reconciles man to himself through Christ.
As Christians, we are required to forgive and to be forgiven. But how much more difficult is reconciliation for those who are victims of war, genocide or sectarian conflict?
Former General Secretary of GBU Rwanda, Antoine Rutayisire, and Northern Irish Presbyterian, the Reverend Steve Stockman, spoke to us about the ongoing part they play in reconciliation at a national level, and whether it’s possible to learn everyday lessons in reconciliation from such tragic events.
Reconciliation is a heart matter
“Reconciliation is not a popular topic” said Antoine, who served as a commissioner and vice-chairman on the National Unity and Reconciliation Commission, and is now senior pastor of St Peter’s Anglican Church in Kigali and principal of Kigali Anglican Theological College in Rwanda.
“How do you tell a murderer to stand in public and confess he is a bad man who has killed many people?”
Antoine’s home country of Rwanda — previously colonised by Germany and then taken over by the Belgians during World War 1 as part of a League of Nations ‘mandate’ — saw its various cycles of violence culminate in tragic circumstances. Over the space of 100 days in 1994, one million people were massacred as the mass slaughter of Tutsi by the Hutu government took place.
When tragedy becomes personal
In 1963, Antoine lost his father to violence, and grew up at a time when the country was going through the first wave of massacres against the Tutsis. Then 10 years later, he and hundreds of other pupils were kept away from school as further violence threatened to spill over.
In 1983, his promising position as lecturer at one of Rwanda’s universities came to an end when he was sent to work instead at a rural secondary school, just because he was a Tutsi.
“That added another branch to my hatred” he said. “I grew up full of anger and hatred against the people who had committed crimes against me and my family.”
Christ’s transforming power
Antoine was keen to point out that his passion to help different people groups through the process of reconciliation stemmed from his realization that if Christ reconciles us to him, we must practice this same attitude, starting with our own hearts.
“It was during this time, when I was fuming with anger and hatred for what had happened, that Jesus came into my life and I was challenged about my heart situation” he said.
“I confessed my hatred, forgave people, and then started preaching reconciliation. Reconciliation is not a popular topic when you are wounded” he said. “How do you tell a murderer to stand in public and confess he is a bad man who has killed many people? And how do you dare tell someone who lost his or her whole family that they should forgive such crimes? It is not an easy topic and you are often accused of being on this or that side.”
Encouraging reconciliation on campus
One practical way that university students in Bogotá, Colombia, are speaking reconciliation into the lives of those around them is through an interactive wall.
The sculpture — created by students of UCU Colombia — encourages people to reflect on the ‘walls’ of separation in society. Students are emphasizing how Jesus dying on the cross breaks down the wall of separation between God and humanity.
Fostering healthy relationships and changing mindsets in Northern Ireland
The Rev Steve Stockman, from Fitzroy Presbyterian Church in Belfast, has worked with Father Martin Magill from the Catholic Church in helping to foster healthy relations, and heal deep divisions between Catholics and Protestants in different areas of Belfast. Like the situation in Rwanda, he says that reconciliation can often be extremely hard, as decades of negative mindsets pass from one generation to the next.
A background of trouble
Northern Ireland saw much violence in the late 1960s and in the decades that followed, continuing until the implementation of the Good Friday Agreement of 1998.
The conflict had an ethnic dimension to it, with the constitutional status of Northern Ireland under threat. Unionists considered themselves British whilst Irish nationalists sought to be part of an independent united Ireland.
Leading reconciliation efforts
Steve was challenged to begin a work of reconciliation in 2009, seeing the need for the Church to play a key role in unifying different communities across Belfast and the rest of the country.
He relayed the story of how one of his former interns had never met his own father, as he was killed in a bombing before his birth.
Steve applauded the strength of those who have been personally affected by the troubles, and yet are able to reconcile themselves to “their enemies”.
“How do you deal with the pain of something like that? Or the reconciliation element of it when it’s something which has killed your own family members?” he said. “The ones pushing ahead with the peace-making are the ones who suffered the most here.
“For everyone, the past — whatever has occurred — is always present in terms of reconciliation. My prayer is that people everywhere — students too — will meet Jesus, and know the power of the cross to heal and reconcile themselves to one another. The power of forgiveness can be huge.”
- As the world seeks to recover from devastating global conflicts, how are you seeking to reconcile yourself with those around you?
- Does the background to reconciliation in Rwanda and Northern Ireland challenge you particularly?
Share your thoughts and ideas in the comments below.