In September 2014, I traveled to Rwanda to facilitate peace-building training for security forces in Kigali, the nation’s capital, and to facilitate servant leadership training for our host, the nonprofit organization African Leadership and Reconciliation Ministries (ALARM). The trip was coordinated by ALARM through Southern Methodist University and included students from the Conflict Management and Dispute Resolution graduate program, Betty Gilmore, the program director and Joey Cope, the director of the Conflict Management and Dispute Resolution graduate program at Abilene Christian University.
ALARM is an African-led and African-based organization that focuses on equipping leaders with the skills and knowledge needed to truly transform their communities. With the help of friends and partners, ALARM has trained 9 thousand leaders across east and central Africa in biblical theology, conflict resolution, forgiveness, mediation, leadership skills and reconciliation. ALARM’s programs are designed for grass roots church and community leaders, women, youth, government officials, teachers, military professionals and Christian professionals (lawyers, police and chaplains). Many of the countries the organization serves have had years of war, tribal conflict, genocide and political turmoil. ALARM’s philosophy is that the transformation and development of Africa rests in the hands of Africans who have been effectively equipped to lead, bring about peace and maintain stability, and therefore the organization focuses on equipping Africans through training, to transform communities through servant leadership and forgiveness and reconciliation training.
In her initial communication with our main point of contact in Rwanda, Nkusi Benjamin (Ben), Betty inquired on the specific training needed. Ben informed her that the security personnel was in need of the following: personal leadership and self-awareness, dealing with personal conflict, dealing with trauma and compassion fatigue and building trust in the community. For months, our team worked diligently to prepare curriculum that would address their unique needs, and would (we hoped) be culturally relevant. Not one of us had ever been to Rwanda or anywhere else in Africa. While I think each of our team member’s held specific concerns, my greatest concern was whether or not we would successfully navigate a culture that none of us had ever experienced.
As we boarded the plane for our 27-hour journey to Rwanda, not one of us knew what to expect. We simply put our faith in God and our trust in one another and hoped for the best. Nothing could have prepared me for what was to come.
In 1994, the Rwandan Genocide, a genocidal mass slaughter of Tutsi and moderate Hutu by members of the Hutu majority, resulted in the violent and devastating loss of life of an estimated 500,000–1,000,000 Rwandans, constituting as much as 20 percent of the country’s total population and 70 percent of the Tutsi then living in Rwanda. The human impact of this loss of life is beyond description. Not one person in the country of Rwanda was left unchanged by the violence. All people in Rwanda bare scars — physical, emotional and spiritual — from the genocide. Men, women, children and babies were murdered in the most violent manners imaginable. If ever there was a justification for revenge, divisiveness and punishment, this would be that justification. But that is not what we found.
What we found is God. Everywhere I looked I saw and felt God’s presence.
Rwandans Are One People
In the aftermath of the genocide, Rwandans have rejected the imposed identities of Hutu, Tutsi and Twa. Instead, they focus on unity … We are all Rwandans. Peace and reconciliation programs are offered to individuals who were perpetrators of the genocide. That is not to say that people are not held accountable for their actions, but they are not defined as the sum of their worst actions. They are offered opportunities for atonement through official government programs and through numerous opportunities provided by religious and nonprofit leaders. Rwandans desire true and sustainable peace, and collectively they know that must include those who were wounded and those who caused the wounds. Rwandans believe in unity and with unity there must be peace.
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” —Matthew 5:9
Rwandans Believe in Forgiveness
Words matter to me. “Forgiveness” is a word I never could adequately define until I experienced God in Rwanda. And I now understand forgiveness to be the releasing of another’s guilt and returning that person to innocence. Forgiveness is the willingness to love the human who harmed you and the willingness to understand that he is separate from his actions. A Course in Miracles teaches that forgiveness is not real unless it brings a healing to your brother and yourself. Rwandans are healing one another and their shared nation through forgiveness.
Rwandans Sing and Dance
Never in all my life have I walked into a business meeting to be greeted by nearly 100 men and women singing and dancing with joy in their hearts. Yet, that is exactly how we were greeted each morning and each time we gathered after lunch and often at the close of our training. Rwandans sing and dance … all the time. They hold hands. They embrace one another. They are affectionate and kind to one another. They are tuned in to each other. They are filled with God’s beauty and grace. I was continuously reminded of Psalm 100, a psalm for giving grateful praise.
Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth.
Worship the Lord with gladness;
Come before him with joyful songs.
Know that the Lord is God.
It is He who made us, and we are His;
We are His people, the sheep of his pasture.
Enter his gates with thanksgiving and His courts with praise;
Give thanks to Him and praise His name.
For the Lord is good and His love endures forever;
His faithfulness continues for all generations.
We went to Rwanda to teach peace, but Rwandans showed us what peace really means.
Yes, God lives in Rwanda. What a blessing to have experienced Him there.
Robyn Short has ghostwritten numerous books and is the founder of GoodMedia Press. She is a student of A Course in Miracles, a self-study system of spiritual psychotherapy. Robyn is a passionate believer in peace and social justice. She holds a Bachelors of Science in Psychology from Auburn University, a Masters of Liberal Arts from Southern Methodist University and a Masters in Conflict Management and Dispute Resolution from Southern Methodist University. Robyn is the author of Prayers for Peace, and Peace People, co-authored with Nanon Williams. Robyn is available for book signings and to speak on topics of peacebuilding and nonviolence, especially as it relates to these core issues. Contact Robyn by email.