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Return to the Killing Fields
Faith Shaw returns to Rwanda and finds peace reconciliation amongst the tragedy of Rwanda
By Dan Wooding
SAN JOSE, CA (August 18, 2000) -- Faith Shaw was born in Rwanda, a country that between 1959-64 saw more than 500,000 people killed and a similar number or more fled the country. She was horrified when in April of 1994, a further 800,000 were killed and 1,000,000 fled to the neighboring countries.
Having moved to Northern California with her British husband, Roger, who now works for a leading computer company in Silicon Valley, Faith did not know when she would next get a chance to revisit her troubled birthplace. But she did, and she says she will never be the same person again. Faith joined a team for Mission 2000 to Rwanda from the Menlo Park Presbyterian Church.
"Some in that church were deeply touched to pray for Rwanda and her people," she explained. "They had started praying and then started to plan a visit to Rwanda to encourage the Christian leaders in Rwanda with their ministry of Reconciliation.
"Like everywhere else, Rwandans need to be reconciled to God through the only way possible, His Son Jesus Christ," she went on. "He is after all, the only One who has paid the price for our fallen nature. The second part of the reconciliation is with our brothers and sisters, neighbors and everyone with whom we share this world. "This is particularly hard for Rwandans because of their history. There have been two genocides in which extremists organized the killing of one of the ethnic groups and anyone else who opposed them. These extremist groups were formed and supported by the government. "The people who died were killed by their fellow Rwandans. They spoke the same language as their victims. In several cases it was their neighbors or worse still their relatives by marriage, who committed these crimes. Others were killed because they opposed the killers or were suspected of helping those being killed."
Faith became a Christian while studying at the Makerere University in Kampala, Uganda, during the terrible "Uganda Holocaust" of Idi Amin, when some 500,000 Ugandans died. She accepted Christ through the ministry of Bishop Festo Kivengere, and she then moved to Bradford, England for further studies where she met her husband Roger.
Speaking of the mission to Rwanda, she said, "Six years have passed and people continue to do what they have to do in order to survive. But with what legacy of death and destruction of trust between the people?" she said. "We wonder and ask, 'How can they live together as one community when they have killed members of each other's families?' I do not think anyone can be forgiving and peaceful under such circumstances, unless they know the Lord Jesus. Even knowing him, true forgiveness is only possible when we are prepared to fully surrender our hatred to Him.
Antoine Rutayisire, who heads the non-denominational African Enterprise Ministry in Rwanda, was one of the hosts for Faith and the Menlo Park missionaries. Antoine is committed to helping Rwandans of any ethnic background to be reconciled firstly to God through Jesus Christ, and then to their neighbors. "He himself has been through a lot because he belongs to the tribe that was being massacred and his father was killed in front of him at a young age," she said. "He was not able to flee the country so he stayed in Rwanda in the period between the two genocides. He witnessed much hatred and strife that culminated in the second major killing in 1994.
"He came to know the Lord in 1983, but struggled with bitterness and hatred for those who killed his people. The good news is that the Lord enabled him to forgive and is helping him to help others to do the same. Needless to say, he is the most qualified brother I have ever heard preaching reconciliation. This is the same Christian leader who came to talk at Menlo Park, and he is the one we went to support. Faith said that on the surface in Rwanda, there is progress because the new government is encouraging the people to see themselves as Rwandans rather than tribal friends or foes.
"The needs of Rwanda are many as anyone can imagine, but the crucial element is for individuals in Rwanda to have their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. We all know that the roots of bitterness, distrust and hatred are deep because of the breakdown of essential relationships that form the stability of the community.
"Like most other Africans, Rwandans are taught to respect their leaders and do whatever they are told. Unfortunately, this was badly abused by many young ignorant youths who followed the call of their community leaders through the medium of propaganda radio. Thousands of people lost their lives to frenzied gangs of killers.
"Some neighbors turned on each other and some mixed families were torn apart. Churches were used successfully as places of refuge in the first genocide. In 1994 however, the killers encouraged their victims into the churches to make the job of mass killing easier." Faith says that she and the team of Americans visited the evidence of these mass killings.
"It was still standing as it had been on that frightful day," she said. "The killers came, bulldozed huge holes in the church building, threw grenades into the church, then used any means to finish off the people. This particular church has been preserved as a memorial of the 1994 genocide, lest people forget, for there are those who still deny the stark reality. It is estimated that 5,000 people perished in this one place. We also visited another church and its grounds which has also been left as genocide memorial." She added, "In visiting these memorials you are face to face with the horror of evil, that we as human beings are capable of. I felt violated just looking inside that church, but my heart was wrenching because it was my people who did these atrocities. Faced with the complete ugliness of sin, there are only two choices you can make. You either run away as far as you can and pretend that it is not there, or else you kneel to a higher power and beg Him to help in stopping this evil from ever happening again. There is nowhere else to turn except to God, through His Son Jesus Christ. He is the only one who is able to change the peoples' hearts and make them new creatures, His sons and daughters."
She said, "On a positive note, the good news is that the Lord is changing the hearts of people in Rwanda through the work of the Holy Sprit." She went on, "The Lord is using leaders like Antoine Rutayisire who has been liberated from bitterness and ethnic hatred, to reach others who are struggling with it.
"Our team was privileged to play a small part in the ministry of African Enterprise. They are looking after 2,500 orphans and 800 widows. We helped build two homes while we were there, one for a widow and one for a child-headed family of five." Now back in the United States, Faith says that she would like Christians around the world to pray for the continued reconciliation of her people in Rwanda.
For she knows from first hand experience that "Prayer changes things."