From the Worldwide Faith News archives


Date 05 May 1996 07:32:50


                      OF DESPERATION, HOPE 
                     by Jerry L. Van Marter 
LOUISVILLE, Ky.--Imagine showing up for church one Sunday and 
finding your sanctuary, church lawn and parking lot jammed with 
2,000 homeless people.  There is no electricity, no water, 500 
separate campfires blazing for heat and cooking, and 300 holes dug 
for makeshift toilets. 
     Such is the scene depicted by Howard Cameron and Dawn Johnson, 
Presbyterian volunteers who have just returned from three months 
in the Rwandan refugee camp in Bukavu, Zaire, where more than a 
million people who have fled Rwanda's civil war eke out survival 
in below-subsistence conditions. 
     Cameron, a Floridian and retired former missionary to Africa, 
was in the camp as a volunteer for the Presbyterian Church 
(U.S.A.).  Johnson, a member of Blue Ash Presbyterian Church in 
Cincinnati, is an international development and soil conservation 
specialist who was in Bukavu on behalf of the Mennonite (Church) 
Central Committee.  They spoke with the Presbyterian News Service 
Jan. 9 while in Louisville for debriefing by Presbyterian World 
     Few of the one million refugees at Bukavu have any desire to 
remain in the camp, said Johnson, who worked mainly with women and 
children while there.  Safety is the issue.  "All who I talked to 
want to return to Rwanda, but they need to sense that it is safe 
to take their children back without getting shot at," she said. 
     The world has been shocked by the reports of the carnage in 
Rwanda, where rival Hutu and Tutsi tribespeople rose up against 
each other in an unprecedented slaughter last spring.  Johnson 
described the rampage as "a feeding frenzy" in which hundreds of 
thousands adopted the attitude that "I have to strike before 
someone strikes me." 
     Cameron attributed the massacre to "unrestrained human nature.  
We are shocked because this is outside our realm of experience," 
he explained.  "We have social restraints, but in Rwanda all the 
restraints we count on in this country collapsed." 
     Johnson concurred, though pointing out that "we saw a taste 
of what went on in Rwanda after the Rodney King verdict was 
announced in Los Angeles." 
     Both volunteers agreed that the church is key to the 
reconstruction of Rwanda and that Rwandans (80 percent of whom are 
Christian) themselves believe only God can cure their country's 
ills.  "People told me all the time, `God is going to have to 
change a lot of hearts,'" Johnson said. 
     "At some point the desire for reconciliation is going to have 
to be stronger than the desire for vengeance...and even justice," 
said Cameron.  "The answer is in the Bible: the passage from 
Galatians about neither Jew nor Greek, neither slave nor free, but 
a whole new tribe," he said. 
     Johnson and Cameron also agreed that Rwandan church leaders 
will have to take the lead if there is to be reconciliation in the 
country.  "The Rwanda church has to take a stand and take the risk, 
even though there is so much anger and so much grief," Cameron 
said.  "If, in the midst of all this, they can get through and 
create a new Rwanda, they will have shown the whole world the power 
of the gospel." 
     What can U.S. Presbyterians (and other Christians) do?  "The 
most important thing we can all do is commit this situation to God 
and pray that the hearts of the Rwandan government leaders will be 
changed," Cameron replied. 
     That and urge the U.S. government to keep up its financial 
support of the relief work being done by the United Nations, 
Johnson added.  "A lot of countries, including the U.S., are way 
behind in their support payments and so the U.N. is running out of 
money," she said.   
     Concerned Americans should write to their congresspersons and 
say, "We know there's political problems with the U.N., but help 
them in this because they really are trying in an impossible 
situation," Johnson concluded. 
     "Yeah, and stop drinking Cokes for a month," Cameron added, 
"and give the money to the Presbyterian Church's Rwanda Relief 
account, because we've got the mechanisms to help there as well." 
     The account, "Rwanda Crisis and Response," is Presbyterian 
World Service #9-2000112.  Presbyterians may contribute through 
their local congregations. 
                            # # # 

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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