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Restoring Claude: a Rwanda story about building peace

Claude’s encouraging story of restoration, rebuilding and practical transformation after the genocide in Rwanda.

Written by Tarryn Pegna | 06 Feb 2020

Claude in Rwanda smiles broadly. With the encouragement and practical support of a self-help group set up through Tearfund's local church partner, Claude's life has been transformed. Now he works alongside the family of people he went to prison for killing during the horrific genocide that happened in Rwanda in April 1994. It's a story of radical forgiveness and restoration. Credit: Tearfund

When we’re talking about poverty, transformation and empowerment, is it simply full bellies where before there was hunger? Or is there more?

Claude lives in Rwanda. Inspired, supported and encouraged by Tearfund’s local church partner through a self-help group – a programme where people work together to build their faith and grow their resources – he’s gone from unable to afford food and education for his children, to a respected man with his own home. His family has plenty to eat and there is enough money to send his seven children to school.

It’s a wonderful story of practical transformation. People need food and shelter. Children need access to learning. Parents need ways to provide.

But there’s so much more than cash and clothes to truly seeing transformation in people’s lives. We were created in and for relationships – with the Father and with those around us.

Freedom to the captives

Claude was in prison.

For 12 years, in a Rwandan jail, he paid the price for his involvement in the 1994 Genocide Against the Tutsi. His government, in the interests of restoration, began to offer people like him an opportunity to be pardoned and return to their communities. Claude confessed to what he had done, apologised sincerely and was released.

It didn’t fix things. The bars and locks were gone, but he wasn’t free.

‘It was very difficult,’ says Claude, ‘because in me, I thought I had no right to go and stand in front of the person whose family member I had killed… When I was released from prison, yes, I was free because I was at home, but really, in my mind, I was still in prison.’

Claude’s wife bore the brunt of his guilt and unhappiness. He mistreated her and drank heavily, using up the family’s food money. People from our local church partner became aware of his situation and invited him to come to a meeting.

So Claude went. He says it was as though the message he heard was written for him.

The pastor was sharing from Luke 4:18.

‘The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free… ’
Luke 4:18

‘Freedom for the prisoners!’ That message, Claude says, is still in his heart and in his mind. It cannot leave him. ‘It was when I heard the declaration of Jesus that I was free of prison – that's when I felt in my mind really free… People could see that I was not the same!’

Redeeming  love

‘I was so afraid of them,’ Claude says of the people he wronged. He would avoid them and they avoided him. He says: ‘I could also see how the world didn't want to confront me. They didn't want to meet me.’

To be forgiven for the things he had done, by the loved ones of those he had done them to, and to be restored in his community, seemed a mountain of shame and brokenness too high to climb. It required an unfathomable amount of grace.

‘But when I was touched by the transformative word of God, I started approaching them humbly.’ In the unconditional, undeserved love of Jesus, Claude found courage to approach the people he needed forgiveness from.

And, as Claude came to them humbly, that same love gave them grace to forgive him.

‘Now we are living peacefully. We are together in the word of God.’ They even work together in the self-help groups. He says, ’I support them and they support me… We are one.’

‘I am living in harmony with the people whose family members I killed. ’
Claude, Rwanda

The change in Claude has brought reconciliation in his community and his home. He treats his wife well and has become an active member of the church and the self-help groups run by our partner. He used to be an enemy in the community, he says, but now he is a friend. 

Raising hope

‘I have been transformed by that scripture,’ says Claude. ‘And after being transformed, I also started helping the people I knew who had the same problems as mine so they can also get free. I've approached people who had a problem with domestic violence… And I approach the people still in prison. I say “Please, accept your sins, ask for forgiveness… Share! Share with the people what you have done and that can help [you] to live in harmony.”’

As Claude received his freedom, he is now excited to share the good news that it brings. And as relationships have been restored, now also his family is fed, his physical needs are met, and he leads prayers in his church. He has been given a new place in his community. Not cast out. Through the grace that he met in the love of the saviour, his life has been changed. Healing is happening not only in him, but all around him.

His world looks truly different.

Please pray

Heavenly Father, 
Thank you for the unconditional, undeserved love and grace you offer to every human. Thank you for the restoration that is possible because of this. Thank you for the hope and healing that Claude and his community have found in you. Please help us to follow Jesus’ example in how we treat each other. 

Written by

Written by  Tarryn Pegna

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