Saturday, February 23, 2013

A message for America

“The weapon I had in my heart was love.”

People like Atanas and Samuel should not have to exist, but the fact that they do gives me hope, even among the bones and graves. They were Hutu, but when the orders came to take up machetes against the Tutsi these two men refused, even surrounded by neighbors, friends, brothers, who they knew might kill them at any minute for their refusal. Samuel told us “By then you were not thinking about your own life. You were between life and death, and knew you would die as soon as you were caught.”

Samuel told a story that will stay with me always. He overheard two women walked by his house talking about a Tutsi woman who was going into labor by the side of the road. He went out to find the woman, and found her and a 3 year old child, beaten and naked by the side of the road. The woman had spent hours in agony begging passerbys for help, but the most anyone had done was to bring her a little water. Samuel ran back and told his wife to bring clothes for the woman and her child, and then went to get a midwife. The midwife's husband refused to allow her to 'look at the legs of a Tutsi', and though Samuel cried and begged, they refused to help. So he went to the house of a doctor, who, though very ill, agreed to come and help the woman. Samuel had to half-carry the doctor through the rain to the Tutsi woman, who had by this time lost her baby, and was too weak and sick to deliver the placenta. The doctor helped to her to finish the delivery, and Samuel and his wife carried the woman and her child back to their home and hid them in the roof. She was still desperately ill from the delivery, and would have been killed if she went to a hospital. So Samuel taught himself to administer penicillin, and gradually nursed her back to health. Both she and her three year old child are still alive today. He saved 21 others by digging a trench for them to hide in in his banana field. I was honored just to shake his hand.

They asked us to bring the truth about the genocide back to America. They wanted us, and you, to understand that this genocide was not the ethnic tension of backwards Africans, but a carefully created evil that could happen anywhere. He said “I can assure you, you can change people and they will be how you want.” They told us that to end war “you must let go of your life as the first objective. In all means, you must fight for peace.”

I do not think that we all have to let go of our lives for peace. But I do think that we all have something to learn for Samuel, who chose not to turn away from suffering. I think most evil in the world comes not from aggression, but from apathy. From people who see suffering, and see no way to change it, and so pretend it is not there. I ask you not to give away your life as Samuel did, but to consider if your life encourages suffering by inaction. What companies might you tacitly support that create suffering among their workers so you can have things for a little less money? Can you ease some of the pain in your own town through supporting shelters or soup kitchens with time or money? We cannot be perfect, but we can remember how blessed we are. We cannot all be heroes like Samuel, but we can honor people like him by sharing some of that blessing.

Samuel and Terrance were not the only amazing people I met while in Butare this week! Our group took a picture with this women's organization of genocide widows, and the wives of genocidal working together for reconciliation and development.

The meeting was a school, and we arrived right at recess, and so were greeted by a mob of children who alternatively clung to us and fled in herds, screaming delighted in terror at the bizarre Muzungus. 


  1. It is an honor to share the planet with Samuel, who clearly understands the story of the good Samaritan more deeply and personally than I expect I ever will.

    Did the men who did not kill have an analysis about WHY they did not when their friends/family & broader society did? What experiences made the love in their hearts withstand the waves of brainwashing hate? How can we grow more Samuels and Atanas? This is not a rhetorical question, but a practical one!

    I would also like to hear more about the process of reconciliation between the Hutu & Tutsi women, who might have so much to fear, distrust, and even hate in each other.

    Thanks, as always, for sharing your experiences!

  2. Dag Hammarskjöld, former United Nations Secretary General, said, “In our era, the road to holiness necessarily passes through the world of action.”

    God of love, help us see those times when you call us to action. Amen.

  3. We read the Temptation of Christ for Big Kid Worship today, so I am busy thinking about temptation, and who or what functions as Satan in our lives -- ie, who/what tempts us to turn from the path of love. This quote from today's Sojourner's on the history of Satan seems timely.

    "Theologian Frederick Buechner says that evils exists because, in being allowed to choose whether or not to love God and one another, we also have the choice whether on not to live out our most evil impulses. In this way, Satan lingers in our choices rather than in the shadows, and in the mirror rather than the depths of hell."