RWANDA: The Land God Forgot?

Revival, genocide and hope


Meg Guillebaud

Monarch Books, 2002, 368 pp.   ISBN 1-85424-576-7


In the U.S. Monarch Books are available through Kregel in Grand Rapids.  I first saw the cover of this book on their web site.  It is a four-generation missionary history going back to 1925.  Through the eyes of British missionaries a story emerges that helps one understand the missionary question of the decade, How could a country “90% Christian” experience the tragic genocide of 1994?  The essence is that “an unresolved injustice in one generation will return to haunt the next.”  (293, quoting Roger Bowen, former general secretary of Mid-Africa Ministry)



“The Tutsi were proud and aristocratic, for the most part with fine features and very tall, with their hair cut so that it accentuated their height; the Hutu tended to be shorter, with flatter, more Negroid noses; and the Twa were pygmoid.  Although they were called tribes, they should rather have been divided on class lines, as cattle-herders, cultivators and hunters.  There was much intermarrying between the first two groups, though the Twa were despised by the others as ‘non-people.’  Any Hutu who became wealthy or who rendered a special service to the king could be ‘tutsified.’” “It was only at the time of the census ordered by the Belgians in 1933 that the tribes became fixed, with anyone who owned more than ten cows being regarded as Tutsi.” (33)


“Many Europeans, missionaries included, assumed that the Tutsi, with finer features, were superior to the Hutu.” (34)


In 1884, when the Conference of Berlin met to apportion African land among the European Powers, Rwanda and Burundi were allocated to Germany..., even though, as yet, no European had set foot in Rwanda.  The Germans finally entered the country in 1897 and found it administratively easier to rule through the king and his chiefs, and they insisted that the Hutu princedoms be incorporated into Tutsi rule.” (35)


In 1934 a call came to open up new stations in Burundi by CMS [now merged with Mid-Africa Ministry].  The slogan everywhere in Inter-Varsity Fellowship circles at that time was “Evangelize to a finish.”  Using this slogan they challenged new missionaries to come to the unevangelized areas of Rwanda and Burundi. (62) [So here is both an unreached peoples movement and a call to finish the task of more than 70 years ago. Dlm]


“In 1933 the Belgians had issued identity cards on which everyone had to state their tribe.  The old system of changing tribes had gone.  Even the poorest Tutsi felt superior to a Hutu.  The Tutsi were keen to gain a good education to prepare for the time they would rule in independence.  ...  No one ever dreamed that any but the Tutsi would be the rulers in independence.”  (138)


After the civil war of 1959, on July 1, 1962, the former country of Ruanda-Urundi became two independent countries: the Republic of Rwanda under its Hutu president,...and the Kingdom of Burundi with its Tutsi king, Mwambutsa. (150)


A second wave of revival came in 1969 to 1973.  (168)


The fighting of previous years had led to Rwanda becoming one of the poorest nations in the world.  In 1972 there was an attempted coup in Burundi, in which Hutus attempted to overthrow the Tutsi king.   In the process they slaughtered as many Tutsi as they could.  The army rounded up all the educated Hutu they could and massacred more than 80,000 of them.  Many thousands fled to Rwanda as refugees.  (182-83)


The president of Rwanda, feeling insecure, tried to unite the country in hatred against the Tutsi.  He organized vigilante committees to check whether the 9% Tutsi population exceeded their quota of 9% of the government jobs.  Many Tutsi were purged from the civil service, school and university, often with violence.  (183)


In the late ‘80s tensions were obvious.  The population was 8 times what it was in 1897, which led to enormous social pressures.  Traditionally a man divided his land among his children, so the fields were smaller.  Families were huge and people became land-hungry and more dependent on the weather.  Several bad harvests led to famine in the late 1980s.  The fall in the world marked for coffee and tin severely affected the economy. (205)


Rwandan (Tutsi) refugees in Uganda formed a small army and crossed the border in October of 1990, advancing about 60 kilometers south.  Within a month they were routed. (207)  The Rwandan government panicked and conducted a series of massacres of Tutsi, with local leaders instructing the peasants to kill all Tutsi in their area.” (208) 


Burundi elected a Hutu president and he was assassinated in October of 1993.  Hutu rage erupted and several hundred Tutsi were killed.  Then the Tutsi began revenge killing and was only calmed down when the Tutsi seized power in a military coup.  Some 50,000 people had been killed.  About 450,000 Hutu fled to camps or to Rwanda.


Many in Rwanda interpreted this as Tutsi determination to be in power at any cost.  It strengthened their resolve to remove all Tutsi forever.  The radio, which most people relied upon for information, increased vitriolic hate broadcasts.  The option of “kill first or you will be killed” was proclaimed daily and worked on the fears of the largely uneducated Hutu peasantry.  (215)


On April 4, 1994, two missiles were fired, downing the plane carrying the presidents of Burundi and Rwanda.  (216)  This triggered mass genocide in Rwanda, spurred on by mobs of soldiers who forced people to kill their neighbors.  Faith under Fire by Antoine Rutayisire is a collection of stories that describe how a number of Christians transcended tribalism during the genocide.  (224)


[Two agonizing stories (p. 12) are stuck in my mind.  A woman with a baby on her back and a child in hand was stopped by a soldier.  The soldier told her to kill her Tutsi neighbor.  When she refused the soldier killed her baby by hitting him with his rifle.  He told her again to kill her neighbor or he would kill her other child.  She did so to spare her child.  Another man was told to kill his Tutsi wife.  He refused.  They told him if he didn’t kill his wife, they would kill them both and their children would be orphans.  She begged him to kill her.  He did and escaped with the children, but couldn’t live with himself. Dlm]


“I know that, as a Christian, I am expected to forgive my enemies, but how do I forgive those who killed my wife and family?  They are not repentant at all.”  (239)


“Somehow the country needed to address the roots of hatred which had led to these waves of killing over the years, each feeding on the bitterness left by the last.” (239)


“It was only at the cross that the burden of anger and hatred and bitterness could be dealt with.” (239)


“Nobody in Rwanda escaped direct physical or psychic damage.” (240)


Two books which helped make sense of the sequence of events leading up to the genocide: (241)

·        Rwanda: Death, Despair, Defiance by African Rights

·        The Rwanda Crisis: History of a Genocide by Gerard Prunier.


“Sadly, many church leaders, while not actively involved in the killing, did nothing to prevent it or even to condemn it.” (244)


“A Tutsi man spoke of how his wife and family had been killed.  ‘I have forgiven, he said, ‘but then something happens, and I miss her all over again.  The anger comes back and I have to forgive all over again.  I can only do it by the help of the Holy Spirit.’” (253)


The bishop said his greatest need was for Bible teachers.  “Unless their spiritual needs are met, there is no point meeting the physical needs of the people.” (257)


According to the 1991 census 90% of Rwandans called themselves Christian –

·        62% Roman Catholic

·        18% Protestant

·        8% Adventist

The remainder were Muslim or traditional African religions, “but as one Roman Catholic priest said, ‘We baptized many people but we did not disciple them as Christians.’  Another, in the Burundi context said, ‘We have sacramentalized the Barundi, we have not evangelized them’” (284)


David Ndaruhutse of African Revival Ministries estimated only about 8% of Rfwandans were true, Bible-believing, Spirit-filled Christians – “and he added that they did not get involved in the killing.” (284)


“Many church leaders were living sinful lives, the teaching in the churches was often shallow and, as a result, Christians were not being discipled.” (285)  [I wonder of how many places in the world this could accurately be said!  Dlm]


“Another reason for the lack of dynamism within the church was the practice of syncretism.”  “Their lives were dominated by fear of abazimu, or spirits of all who died.” (286)


“In Rwanda the lesson had not been learned that an unresolved injustice in one generation will return to haunt the next.”  (293, quoting Roger Bowen, general secretary of Mid-Africa Ministry at the time of the genocide)


“But forgiveness is costly.  Forgiving people must give up the right to get even, a right that is not easy to relinquish. ... Wrong that is forgiven is still wrong done and must be punished.  Mercy does not abrogate justice; it transcends it.” (294, quoting Gerald Sittser)


“Sadly, in many cases, the Rwandan church had preached, and still does preach, a gospel of conversion with no emphasis on discipleship and training in the holiness of a Spirit-filled life....” (303)


“It is hard for us in the West who have largely lost our concept of the spiritual world to understand the fear that rules the lives of most Rwandans.” (306)


“It is true that the early missionaries concentrated on evangelism.  But to say that they did not tackle social issues is not true.  They started hospitals and schools as a means of improving the health and economic state of the people.”  (325)