The two men greet each other warmly and talk animatedly together as they walk down the road. A simple scene of friendship but, for the people looking on, it’s also a powerful illustration of forgiveness.
Damien and Leonard are from opposing sides of Rwanda’s horrific genocide. When Damien and his family fled for refuge to a Catholic church it was Leonard, along with others, who surrounded the church with the aim of killing everyone inside. Damien and some of his brothers escaped but his younger brother was killed by Leonard.
How do two men with this kind of history not only learn to live with one another but become good friends?
Need for forgiveness
The story of Damien and Leonard’s friendship starts with another victim of the nation’s violence – Christophe Mbonyingabo. Christophe was born in exile in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). His father and two brothers died as a result of the ongoing violence and his heart was filled with hatred. But then he encountered Jesus and learned the power of forgiveness.
‘When they see us walking together, they think that it is possible to have peace in Rwanda.’
Damien – Share a Cow participant
As he looked around his community, Christophe saw that forgiveness was desperately needed if the people of Rwanda were ever going to move on from the pain of the past. This led him to start Christian Action for Reconciliation and Social Assistance (CARSA) – a programme that brings together survivors and offenders from the genocide in pursuit of forgiveness.
Damien and Leonard attended a CARSA workshop. Before the workshop they hated each other. ‘It would have been better to flee the country than to meet him eye to eye,’ says Damien. But during the workshop Leonard asked for forgiveness and Damien gave it – a genuine and powerful transaction, but only the beginning.
Journey with a cow
Christophe explains the very unique way his organisation has developed to bring lasting transformation to communities. ‘We provide a cow, which is shared by 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.
‘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.’
Although it was very difficult at first Damien and Leonard agreed to share a cow. Damien’s family were fearful every time Leonard came to the home to help care for the cow. But over time the two men proved their sincere desire for reconciliation and a deep friendship grew.
Peace is possible
Damien recognises the source of their friendship: ‘There is a God who can take someone from the darkness and give him the strength to ask for forgiveness, and that God is the same God who gives power to forgive.’
The friends are an example to their community, giving hope that there is a way for people to move forward from the horrors of the past. ‘When they see us walking together, they always think that it is possible to have peace in Rwanda,’ says Damien.
Christophe Mbonyingabo is part of Tearfund’s Inspired Individuals programme, which 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. More of his story is told in Dismantling Division.
- Praise God for Damien and Leonard’s friendship and the impact it is having in their community.
- Pray for Christophe and the ongoing work of CARSA – for their workshops and the Cow for peace initiative to continue bearing much fruit.
- Pray for individuals and families living in Rwanda and still working through the pain of the nation’s history and pray that the power of forgiveness would bring freedom.