Reconciliation begins through the local church.
The Belgians viewed the Tutsi minority as superior, and favored them for leadership positions. This favoritism created ongoing and deeper tensions between Hutu and Tutsi. From April through June 1994, the U.N. estimates that 800,000 Rwandans were brutally slaughtered by fellow citizens in a state-led genocide targeting the Tutsi ethnic group.
Nearly 75% of the Tutsi population was killed.
The Lord revealed to me… “I want to use you, but first I want to heal you.”
— Pastor Stephen
1994 was a year of great turmoil for the Rwandan people. Between 800,000 and 1 million Tutsi were brutally murdered by the Hutus in one of the worst genocides in our world’s history. These two ethnic groups fought each other for years, but tensions reached a boiling point after a Hutu extremist group allegedly shot down a plane over Kigali in April 1994. The allegation was never confirmed. After committing horrific and violent crimes against the Tutsi for over 100 days, the Hutu extremists were defeated by the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF). The resulting devastation left the nation crippled and broken. The genocide was over, but it would take years to heal from the atrocities.
Pastor Stephen, a Tutsi, survived the genocide, but over 150 family members were killed. He is one of only six people remaining. “My family was killed for no reason…it’s unfathomable,” Stephen recalls. When the genocide was over, in the midst of his grief, Pastor Stephen took some time away to reflect on all that had happened to him. When it seemed that life could not get any darker, when Stephen was struggling in his lowest moments, Jesus came to him in a distinct vision. “God has forgiven me of so much, how could I not forgive as well?” Renewed with feelings of forgiveness and determined to make peace with former enemies, Pastor Stephen knew that Jesus wanted him to preach in the Rwandan prisons. It was in one of these prisons where Stephen met Matias, who was serving time for his genocide crimes. Matias, a Hutu, killed much of Stephen’s family. “We had spears, machetes, and guns,” Matias remembers. “We hunted the Tutsi down.”
“Pastor Stephen preached the Word and taught us how to repent and be forgiven,” Matias says. Pastor Stephen told Matias, “I forgive you.” Touched by this incredible act of mercy and kindness, Matias was able to come to terms with what he had done to Pastor Stephen’s family. He let go of the deep feelings of bitterness and confessed his sins. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, Pastor Stephen and Matias became close friends.
Reconciliation is possible, even in Rwanda. ICM is helping to establish forgiveness and unity through the church which is giving the Rwandan people a brighter future. Generations to come will have the opportunity to know God and His love thanks to ICM’s work helping to equip churches and Hope Centers across the country.