Twenty-four years ago the Rwandan genocide started. Friends turned on friends. Neighbors betrayed those closest to them. Even the church failed to protect and, at times, was complicit in committing murder or allowing them to happen.
Over 800,000 people died in just over 100 days. 800,000 people! I have a hard time imagining that many people. That is more than the population of the town I grew up in! If you watch college football – it’s eight of the stadiums for the biggest teams filled to capacity.
How do you comprehend that? Are we supposed to?
I lived there back in 2008. It’s hard to believe it’s been a decade since I saw the 1000 hills, had the red dirt on my sandals and felt something I have yet to feel again.
The land is gorgeous. The people generous. There is a pain, but I don’t think you can escape that. I don’t think you get over the ache of losing your family at the hands of people you trusted. Rwanda is the size of Delaware. It is a very intimate country. People know each other. They know parents and lineages. You are not your own entity but tied to those who came before you. Which is maybe why what happened stings even more.
There is a poignant scene in Hotel Rwanda where the hotel manager is talking to a local reporter. On the TV screen are images of the genocide that is happening on the streets just outside the hotel compound.
The hotel manager says, “I am glad that you have shot this footage and that the world will see it. It is the only way we have a chance that people might intervene.”
The reporter asks, “And if no one intervenes, is it still a good thing to show?”
The hotel manager is aghast. “How can they not intervene when they witness such atrocities?”
The reporter replies, “ I think if people see this footage they’ll say, ‘oh my God that’s horrible,’ and then go on eating their dinners.”
There are still genocide today: Syria, Myanmar, Sudan, the DRC.
Gendercide happens daily in India, China and other places where girls are not valued as they should be. The UN estimates over 200,000 million girls are gone because of this practice.
Last week my friend wrote, “When you said, ‘never again,’ after the Holocaust, did you mean that for just for yourselves? Or us, too?”
So what do we do? How do we intervene on something happening so far away that overwhelms us (if we’re aware it’s happening at all)?
Get educated! Don’t rely on the news – look at agencies working in the region. Watch documentaries, read books! Get curious and use the internet for something positive.
- It’s a Girl talks about gendercide.
- Seeking Refuge is an excellent resource on the refugee crisis in the Middle East
- Preemptive Love is a great book too.
Get involved! See if there is a refugee resettlement program in your area (Lutheran Family Services usually does this). Does your church have anything? Could you start a program there? Host a screening of It’s a Girl. Hold a book group around Seeking Refuge. Coordinate a prayer vigil for those affected by genocide.
Get educated and use your voice for change! Stand up against rhetoric that is based on fear and hate.
Get connected with local advocacy groups and become aware of what bills are being passed on Capitol Hill that affect refugees.
It is easier to see the footage, admit our horror and then go about our lives. But we are called to care for and love our brothers and sister, regardless of where they are from or what country they are in. The Rwandan genocide ended because an internal force was able to push the perpetrators into the DRC (where genocide is still happening – but that’s another post). But we should not always wait for internal forces to drive out murder.
Beyond the politics, headlines, policy and atrocity are people. If we can focus on that and our shared humanity maybe we can do something for those living in situations ditions we cannot image.