Forgiveness is the Final Form of Love

By Todd A. Smith

          Imagine if you witnessed someone you knew murder your entire family.  The tragedy of witnessing something this horrific was beginning to subside, until the murderer is released early and sent back to the same community in which you lived.  Would you be able to forgive someone who completely destroyed your life permanently?

            That is a question that many survivors of the Rwandan genocide in 1994 had to answer when Rwandan President Paul Kagame released 50,000 Hutu inmates, convicted of killing one million Tutsi civilians in less than 100 days from early April to mid July 1994.  The inmates’ re-assimilation into a new Rwanda is captured beautifully in the documentary “As We Forgive,” produced and directed by Laura Waters Hinson.

            Although minorities in Rwanda, the Tutsis were initially the landowners and the Hutus worked the land, which caused a socioeconomic divide, not ethnic.  However, the Belgians would use the Tutsi minority to oppress the Hutu majority, which caused them to seek revenge when they gained power.

            The documentary is a terrific portrayal of the power of forgiveness, as survivors of the Rwandan genocide are encouraged to participate in a program, which allows the perpetrators to seek the mercy from their victims in an attempt to build a more unified Rwanda.

            The film focuses on five people, with very different perspectives of the Rwandan genocide.

            Rosaria is one of the Tutsi survivors who, pregnant at the time, was sliced with a machete and beaten in the chest with a gun.  Of all of the members of her family, she and her unborn daughter were the only ones to survive the Rwandan genocide, witnessing the death of her sister and her children.

            Saveri, a 40-year-old Hutu, who killed seven Tutsi civilians during the Rwandan genocide, is the confessed killer of Rosaria’s family members.  Saveri, who said he was forced to kill or face retribution from his fellow Hutus, is still haunted by the nightmare he caused for Rosaria’s family.  He does not believe that God will ever forgive him for his atrocities.

            However, by participating in reconciliation workshops, hosted by the local Anglican Church, Saveri builds houses for Tutsi survivors including Rosaria in an attempt to gain their forgiveness.

            Chantale is 36-years-old and was married with a child before the Rwandan genocide.  She watched the murder of her husband by John, a close friend of her husband.  Chantale and her brother are the only survivors in their family of 30 people.

            Of all of the Tutsi survivors, Chantale finds it most difficult to forgive, because before the uprising John was a close family friend, who regularly drank beer with her husband.  She is initially hesitant to show any mercy for the Hutu killers and is unable to attend church because the congregation is almost completely Hutu, after the murders of all the Tutsi members.

            Despite the reluctance of the adults to reconcile their difference, the film also features a student named Joy who was a child during the Rwandan genocide.  The Tutsi teenager is class president at Son Rise School and represents the new Rwanda, with less ethnic tension and more unified pride.

            Despite the savagery of the Rwandan genocide, “As We Forgive” is a beautiful reminder of how strong the human spirit is, and how powerful forgiveness can be in healing a family, community or country.

            Reinhold Nlebuhr once stated, “Forgiveness is the final form of love.”  And with the love that is now being shown between groups who were initially enemies, Rwanda may finally be able to move on from the most horrific chapter in the country’s history.

Smith is publisher of Regal Black Men’s Magazine.

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