It is now over a year since I wrote the following words after two separate and profoundly challenging visits to Rwanda. My questions remain the same especially in an era of political and religious discourse that is more polarizing than ever. The UK is already experiencing the 'Day After' syndrome of a momentous victory/defeat and it is not an easy place to be. It is a warning, I hope, that whatever battle we are engaged in, Christians and others must always keep half on what happens on the 'Day After'.
The last time I was in Kigali was also during the Kwibuka or Commemoration season. During that time, I was asked to undertake probably the most moving and challenging acts in my nearly twenty years of pastoral ministry. I was taken to a Presbyterian hospital some distance out of the city in the company of the President of the Presbyterian Church of Rwanda. It was the site where many terrified people had sought shelter from the advancing genocidaires, hoping that a church compound would be both sanctified and sanctuary. Instead, with the collusion of the Church leadership, the people were marched over rough terrain to the river, butchered and dumped in the water. Some of the bodies were only discovered far downstream in Lake Victoria, Uganda, others never surfaced.
During this 20th commemoration, alongside the speeches, the testimonies and the singing, a coffin was brought forward containing the recently discovered remains of sixteen victims of the genocide. With family members present, I was asked to participate in the burial, to lay a wreath and to offer prayers. I knew I was in the presence of victims, but there was every likelihood that at least some of the perpetrators were also there. What words are adequate in such a place of utter betrayal and dehumanisation?
I don't remember what I uttered - I hope that, at the very least, I did no harm. The memory does continue to challenge me about what pastoral ministry is all about and especially about the ministry of reconciliation that has been put in the hands of the Church. The worst atrocity on the continent of Africa in the 20th century was committed in its most Christian country. 85% of Rwandans before the genocide claimed Christian faith and yet faith could not stop it. Twenty-two years on and the Christian community is still struggling to find a language and theology of reconciliation that both deals with the trauma and makes sense of the failure of faith. I have to ask myself whether this struggle to engage with the ministry of reconciliation is one limited to Rwanda. Do we, as Christians, really understand what justice, forgiveness and reconciliation mean? And are we certain that, if it were tested as the Rwandans', our faith would be able to stand against such evil?