‘For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility.’Ephesians 2:14 (NIV)
Twenty three years on from the Rwandan genocide, meet the man who believes that God is using the people of Rwanda to teach the church – and the world – about reconciliation.
The moment that Christophe Mbonyingabo came face to face with the gospel in his local church, he faced a challenge; following Christ meant turning his back on ethnic divisions and hatred. It was a hard decision to make…
Christophe’s life had been shaped by ethnic violence. He was from a family of Tutsis from Rwanda. However because of violent tensions between the Hutu and Tutsi peoples, his family had fled to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in 1959. Christophe was born there in exile.
The violence spills over
The ethnic tensions erupted with the Rwandan genocide of 1994, when an estimated 800,000 Tutsis were massacred by Hutus. After the genocide around 2 million of the Hutus fled from Rwanda into the eastern DRC fearing reprisals.
‘The refugees started going into villages in East of Congo taking cattle and killing people,’ explains Christophe. ‘I returned to Rwanda by myself, followed later by my family.’
Seeing what the Hutus had done to his people in Rwanda, and were now doing in the DRC filled his heart with hatred. ‘I said to myself, as a minority, we Tutsis can't continue suffering; we have to find ways to protect ourselves.’ Christophe joined a Tutsi militia and returned again to the DRC – now the heart of the conflict – to fight.
During this time of upheaval, Christophe lost his father and two brothers to the ongoing violence. ‘Now, my two young brothers, my dad, all killed, in this kind of situation. So, then in 1999, I got out of the army but did not know what to do.’
One of his neighbours saw how Christophe was suffering and invited him to a conference in his local church. ‘That's when I actually met the Lord Jesus; that was a turning point in my life.’
However it led Christophe to ask many more questions: ‘I was asking myself and God hard questions like; if you made us in your image, why do we suffer in this way? Why is all this hatred going on?’
And very quickly, he saw something else that troubled him even more; ‘I start discovering that even in the Churches, there were still these divisions.’ He saw divisions between Hutus and Tutsis along with other racial groups too. One denomination or church would favour one group and another would favour a different group.
He had found what he thought was the answer to the terrible divisions, through Christ. Here though, were the same barriers and unspoken resentments replicated within Christ’s body, the church.
Tearing down the dividing wall
'That's when God start speaking to me through the Bible,’ he explains. ‘I felt God say to me “That's why I gave my son. I did it to reconcile people, to break this wall of animosity and division.” God had given the church a mission to be ambassadors of Him, for reconciliation and I could see most of God’s church weren’t responding to his call.’
Christophe, however did respond; he returned to Rwanda, where he founded Christian Action for Reconciliation and Social Assistance (CARSA) in 2002. The aim of CARSA is to bring together survivors and offenders from the genocide. They have often been living side by side in the same villages, but not reconciled after the terrible events. ‘Our teams offer trauma healing and reconciliation between survivors of the genocide, between offenders and their families,’ explains Christophe, recalling a recent example of their work;
'For 22 years, one survivor had never greeted or spoken to his neighbour who had been involved in the killings of his family. They were both living in fear, bitterness and hatred. After our workshop, which they both attended, they were able to forgive each other and start a new life.’
CARSA also offers peace education through high schools, setting up special Peace Clubs, for the next generation; the children whose parents had been involved in the violence. Christophe says it is crucial to offer healing both to the generation that experienced the massacre and their children too, who were often dealing with the shame and anger of what happened.
‘I felt God say to me “That's why I gave my son. I did it to reconcile people, to break this wall of animosity and division.”'Christophe Mbonyingabo
‘We believe that unhealed trauma tends to be passed on from one generation to another. So the question is, how do we break this intergenerational transmission of trauma and hatred?’
CARSA also encourages perpetrators and victims to take part in another, very practical, programme; Cow for Peace.
‘We provide one cow, which is shared by these two people, a perpetrator and a victim. They take care of the cow together, and this becomes a bridge that allows them to meet on a regular basis and continue their journey of forgiveness.’ Christophe admits that this journey can be tough for everyone involved. ‘But the community sees how former enemies now are working and visiting one another and that has a powerful effect – they see what’s possible.
’When the cow has a calf, victim and perpetrator share the milk. And when the calf has grown, the survivor gives this calf to the offender as a sign of true forgiveness.'
Message to the world
Christophe is working through the church in Rwanda and DRC. And he wants to see the churches in both countries modelling the gospel message of forgiveness. ‘The mission of the church is to become ambassadors of Christ. To reconcile people, to reconcile communities, to reconcile couples. Not with words but in a very practical way.’
And he believes his stories of Hutus and Tutsis working, learning and worshipping together – after everything that has happened – is an important message from God to the church all over the world.
‘God is doing amazing things in Rwanda. And it’s a way of showing the church everywhere, saying “this is how it’s done – if this can happen in Rwanda after the genocide, then it can happen in your nation too!”’
Christophe Mbonyingabo is an Inspired Individual. The Inspired Individuals programme exists to identify, develop and connect new leaders who are aspiring to live like Jesus and whose dreams have the potential to transform some of the most needy places and people in our world.
Pray for Christophe and CARSA:
- Pray for the team of CARSA to stay strong in the ministry despite the many challenges they face.
- Pray for forgiveness and inner healing to continue taking place within communities in Rwanda.
- Pray for more opportunities for other nations to learn from the Rwandan story.