From the Worldwide Faith News archives


Date 04 May 1996 20:51:52


                          by Alexa Smith 
LOUISVILLE,Ky.--How a community heals its victims and prosecutes those who 
committed atrocities, while at the same time keeping its tortured ethnic 
and economic past from subverting the whole process, is the problem now 
facing Rwanda and its slowly reconstituting churches. 
     While bones of the dead dry in the sunshine on makeshift platforms 
outside church doors, survivors of Rwanda's civil bloodbath are trying to 
figure out how to go on in a world where living has become more mysterious 
and more frightening than dying. 
     "Most of the women inside Rwanda [that] survived genocide have been 
raped...and there are babies from those rapes," said the Rev. Andre 
Karamaga, newly elected interim president of the Presbyterian Church in 
Rwanda.  "They've seen people kill their brothers, their husbands, been 
raped and made pregnant. Or, if they're not pregnant, they suspect they may 
have been infected with AIDS. 
     "People are bleeding inside," said Karamaga, critical of those outside 
Rwanda who move quickly to talk of reconciliation when there is so much 
unresolved fear, hurt and anger, and when basic survival needs of so many 
displaced people inside Rwanda are not being met. "These widows [who have 
been living in temporary communal shelters] need roofs. They need houses. 
     "In America, people like to talk reconciliation. Absurdities," 
Karamaga told the Presbyterian News Service. For in Rwanda nowadays people 
are just beginning to reconcile themselves to news that someone missing has 
been found, that someone loved is alive. Such news is more surprising than 
hearing that yet another family member or friend is dead. 
     U.S. churches are opting to care for the most obviously vulnerable, 
such as widows and orphans.  At the same time, they press for justice while 
admitting that achieving it is no simple matter.  The political climate is 
too highly charged and fear filled, with accusations  easier to make than 
to prove. 
     "People are not ready to say, 'I did something wrong. I'm sorry,'" 
said Ruth Brown, a Presbyterian mission worker who spent three months in 
Rwanda acquiring government permits for Church World Service relief 
workers. She said blaming extends to the international community for its 
failure to intervene in the early 1990s, when Rwanda's coalition-style 
government began collapsing.  
     "I don't know whether people are brainwashed or just hurt so badly. 
They've lost so much. The only thing on their minds is justice," Brown 
     Justice for those who committed atrocities and then fled the 
country--some of whom are rumored to be plotting more violence from the 
relative security of refugee camps in Zaire and Tanzania--is what Karamaga 
wants. And he is stunned that, even though United Nations tribunals have 
been ordered to prosecute accused killers, little money has been allocated 
to get trials under way and "nobody"  has been arrested yet. 
     His fear is that some who have immersed themselves so thoroughly in 
violence may be beyond rehabilitation. 
     "It's absolutely necessary to separate the criminals from those 
ordinary refugees," said Karamaga, who feels betrayed by the willingness of 
the international community--and its churches--to feed and clothe those in 
refugee camps outside Rwanda who may be criminals, when he sees the 
overwhelming number of victims of violence inside Rwanda struggling for 
some semblance of normality. 
     Willis Logan, director of the Africa Office of the National Council of 
Churches, is empathic to that point of view but takes a more nuanced 
stance.  "There are definitely people in the camps plotting whatever...but 
how do we isolate them?" he asked, particularly when others are too fearful 
to tell who may be hoarding weapons or planning an assault. "Do we withhold 
food because a few people are plotting? Do we withhold medical care because 
we might be aiding somebody who committed atrocities? 
     "There are a lot of refugees [in camps] who had nothing to do with the 
atrocities," said Logan.  There are people, he admitted, who in all 
likelihood committed crimes in Rwanda and who will probably never be caught 
because the numbers are so great and the climate so fearful. 
      "There is now an eye-for-an-eye [mentality]," said Presbyterian World 
Service associate Susan Ryan. "Major perpetrators do have to be brought to 
justice, but at some point you have to get past a retribution mentality and 
really begin to build," Ryan told the Presbyterian News Service, 
acknowledging the difficulty of the task when paramilitary units--suspected 
to be running arms through France--openly meet in Goma's refugee camps to 
plot their return to power. 
     The international community cannot reconcile long-standing ethnic 
grievances that have supported discrimination against the majority of 
people in Rwanda. Only Rwandans can overcome their own reluctance to deal 
with their painful past in the middle of an even more tragic present, 
onlookers say. 
     And rebuilding is complicated by an already overpopulated country with 
way too little land to support its burgeoning population--and with few 
options for work outside the agrarian sector. 
     "The churches in Rwanda have a tremendous task outlined for 
them...preaching the gospel basically," Logan told the Presbyterian News 
Service.  He understands the role of North America Christians as 
supportive, both inside and outside the country. By that Logan means 
sending groups to help reduce feelings of isolation by Rwandans by letting 
them know people beyond their own borders are grieved and concerned by 
atrocities committed there. 
     Karamaga said it is a slow process for survivors to absorb the damage 
done to their lives and to begin to integrate it and move forward. 
     He said the format of worship has changed in Presbyterian churches 
within Rwanda to help facilitate grieving and recovery from trauma by 
allowing time for individuals to tell what happened to them and their 
families. "We are living with death in order to go through a process of 
healing. We are trying to face the facts as a reality that has happened.... 
     "To face death? We're not as afraid of that because we have seen life 
is very cheap and we have learned to live with death. We saw death 
face-to-face," Karamaga said. "The question now is, Why am I alive when 
others were killed?" 

For more information contact Presbyterian News Service
  Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), Louisville, KY 40202
  phone 502-569-5504            fax 502-569-8073  
  E-mail   Web page: 


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