From the Worldwide Faith News archives www.wfn.org
RWANDAN CHURCH FACES DAUNTING REBUILDING TASK
04 May 1996 20:51:52
95308 RWANDAN CHURCH FACES DAUNTING REBUILDING TASK
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
"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,
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 PCUSA.NEWS@pcusa.org Web page: http://www.pcusa.org
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