By Jenniffer Mann
On the 17 May 2011, BBC News reported that, “Between April and June 1994, an estimated 800,000 Rwandans were killed in the space of 100 days. Most of the dead were Tutsis – and most of those who perpetrated the violence were Hutus. Even for a country with such a turbulent history as Rwanda, the scale and speed of the slaughter, left its people reeling. The genocide was sparked by the death of the Rwandan President Juvenal Habyarimana, a Hutu, when his plane was shot down above Kigali airport on 6 April 1994.”
Rwanda was reportedly in ruin following these events. Dead bodies were everywhere, leaving countless widows and orphans, obliterated houses littered every hill. Every Rwandan was affected, regardless of ethnicity. Loss, was palpable. The stories of survivors are heart rendering to hear. One such story comes from Consolee Nishimwe, who recounts:
“The announcements over the radio were becoming increasingly alarming; it was really scary to hear how Tutsis were being killed in some areas of Rwanda. We were told we would be killed. It became risky staying at home as people were being killed in their own homes and in the streets. So my family and I, as many other Tutsi families, were forced to run away from home and hide. I still remember how scared my parents were, but as children, my siblings and I thought the mayhem would stop soon but that was not the case. We spent three months hiding in many different places and during this period many of my family members were murdered — including my father, my three brothers, my grandparents, my uncles, and many friends. My father was the first person to be killed, followed by my brothers. So my mother, my sisters and I kept hiding without knowing whether we were going to survive or not. I also remember hearing the people who took my father talking about how happy they were to have killed him. It was one of the worst times in my life. I wished they had killed me too.”
Consolee goes on to say that she was deeply wounded and still has nightmares. Her story, is one of many. For many Rwandans morning the loss of loved ones, the question, “where was God?” hung in the air with the bitterest after taste but Marcel Uwineza writes, “It is clear now that God never left us! We left God; we realize this ever more deeply as we search for the truth and our faith is deepened.”
But how do you reach that realisation and heal after such tragedy?
Many people do not consider that Jesus, God’s son, also experienced deep trauma. In the first few years of His life, Jesus’ parents had to move to Egypt because the ruler at the time was ordering the baby boys to be killed. Undoubtedly, just like the Tutsi, their sense of safety was endangered. As Jesus lived out His calling, His cousin John, who prepared the way for Him, was beheaded. Jesus was also unjustly accused of crimes that He knew would lead to His death. His community rejected Him and saved the life of a ruthless criminal instead.
Just like those in the Rwandan genocide, there was no dignity in His death, he did not have the benefit of being surrounded by loved ones with comforting words, compassionate embraces. His death was the cruellest, most degrading and loneliest experience.
Isaiah 53:3 reads:
He is despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. And we hid, as it were, our faces from Him; He was despised, and we did not esteem Him.
Jesus was both fully divine and fully human, so He felt extreme emotions just like us and was no stranger to being heartbroken. In the midst of your trauma, be that the Rwandan Genocide, the death of your loved one, your divorce, your abusive situation, your break-up, you should know that Jesus has never left you. In fact He tells us in Matthew 28:20, “And surely I will be with you always, to the very end of the age.” Many of us will process our hurt in isolation, not realising that we have moved away from Jesus in doing so, yet it is pivotal to our healing experience, that we learn how to process our experiences alongside Christ and His Truth.
In our next article, we will consider what processing our experiences alongside Jesus looks like and explore the road to recovery following trauma. For now, I leave you with words taken from the Old Testament book of Isaiah 41:10 that have personally brought me great comfort and serve as a reminder that I am never alone.
Fear not, for I am with you; Be not dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, Yes, I will help you, I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.Isaiah 41:10
Dear Jesus, I feel alone in my pain but I understand that you have felt my pain too. Please bring me to a place of acceptance so I can feel the peace that surpasses all understanding.