First stop: the airport…but not to fly away. While Uganda has lots of ATMs in which to retrieve money, Rwanda doesn’t. One of the only places she knew of where to use an ATM was the airport. While Rwanda is way ahead of Uganda in some ways (must I tell you again how incredible the road system is there!?), they are behind in other ways. We got our money and headed to Bourbon Café, this infamous coffee shop in Kigali. It’s the only coffee shop that I’ve heard of in Africa where you can get coffee to go. Sure, if I asked here in Kampala, they would stick it in a small Styrofoam cup with a plastic lid that doesn’t have a drink tab (and would take at least 20 min…but that part is everywhere in Africa) but clearly, not the same. We had lunch there and felt somehow like we were in America with the typical coffee shop décor.
After lunch, we called Charles again. Once we figured out that the genocide museum wasn’t open, we decided to go to Nyamata church, a place of massacre during the genocide. I didn’t realize that we would be going so far out of Kigali. Charles headed towards the countryside and all of those lush green hills. I couldn’t stop staring out the window as we passed shacks, running children and that stunning scenery.
We arrived at the church and walked up, unsure of what to expect. Even writing about this, my heart is just aching at what I heard and saw. I will try to do it justice.
On April 7, 1994, the genocide in Rwanda began. An Italian nun started to protect Tutsi’s at the Catholic church in the rural town of Nyamata. It was discovered that she was protecting Tutsi’s and, as she was about to enter her home one night, she was murdered. With the attention her murder received, the protected Tutsi’s at the church were discovered. At that time, there were 10,000 men, women and children packed in behind the iron gates of the church. Some killers came to “rid the land of the cockroaches”. Some of the Tutsi men came to fight them off. Once the killers realized that there was such opposition, they called in the army.
Wait, did you read that right? Did I just say that the government was involved in the genocide? Yes. Yes, I did. Please put yourself in the shoes of these people. If you felt your life was at risk, what would you do? Who would you call? In America, you call the police. You can trust them. They have your safety in mind. What if it were the police that were trying to kill you? What would you do? Maybe call a close friend? What if that close friend wanted to kill you too? Is there a sense of helplessness that’s invading your mind right now? It did mine when I processed through that at the church. These people had no one fighting for them and nowhere to go. They went to the place where they thought they would be safe: a church.
While the killers only had access to such weapons as hammers and machetes, the army had powerful weapons and grenades. Grenades were thrown in killing some, injuring more. The iron bars of the church were chopped off…and the torturous massacre began.
When I think of mass killing, I think of a quick death that kills many. I think of people being shot in mass groups. It was not so for those at the church. Armed with machetes, the men entered the church. They killed some but their goal was to instill fear. I’ve been unsure of what to share since these stories are horrific. I want to share their stories not to be grotesque but praying that your heart will break for people that may be thousands of miles away from you, but are still people. They are humans, just like you and me...and they are no less human and no less important than you or me. So, here are some of the stories of such God-created and loved humans...
There was a pregnant Hutu woman who was married to a Tutsi man. When asked why she married a “cockroach”, she answered that she was in love with him. They then gave her two options: kill him or you will both be killed. Sobbing, she informed them that she could not kill the man she loved. They then told her that they wanted to see what a Tutsi baby looked like and preceded to drag her to the front of the church towards the altar. They laid her on the altar, cut her stomach open and took the baby out. After seeing what they wanted, they killed the baby. She was then killed along with her husband. The above picture is the altar in which she was tortured and killed on.
In the process of their killings, they cut one man’s head off. After this, they threw his head to a group of Tutsi’s, forcing them play soccer with the dead man’s head as the “ball”.
Killing 10,000 people by machete and hammers is exhausting work. Their first blow would not be lethal. They would often cut off the arms and feet first so that the person could not escape. They were slowly hacking the people to death. With the men tiring in their killing, they recruited the help of their wives to kill the women and children. The children had been cordoned off in an area of the church to keep them safe. There was no safe place in this church. The women would pick up the children by their legs and swing their heads towards the brick wall. If a male killer wanted to test the sharpness of his machete, fearing it would have become dull with all the killing, they would bring a child for him to cut their head off. The above picture shows the section where the children had been kept. I touched the walls tearing over the weapon they had become.
It’s the children that make me want to sob. I can’t imagine looking at these young innocent faces and doing this to them.
Our guide at the church told us that people who had money were actually paying the killers to shoot them with a gun instead of a torturous death by machete. Can you imagine?
It took two days to kill so many. The ones that were still alive at the end of the first day were injured to the point where they would not be able to move. The killers returned the next day to finish off the rest.
There were seven people who survived the massacre at Nyamata church. One of these was our guide. My heart breaks for him. Every single day, he relives the worst day of his life. Every day, he returns to the place that he experienced hell on earth. Please pray for him. I’m not sure where he is at in the forgiveness process but I can’t imagine how it is for him.
Today, the benches of the church are filled with the clothes of those who died in the genocide. Some of the clothes are the ones that were on those who died in the church that day. Some are from others who died in the genocide elsewhere but their remaining loved ones have brought a piece of clothing to the church to remember them. It’s eerie. You walk around seeing shoes, hats, shirts, pants, jewelry, rosaries and more. Personal items of those who died for no reason.
Also at the church is a mass grave of 48,000 of those who died in the genocide. We walked through these underground graves filled with skulls with machete marks and many bones. For every skull, I thought of the person that it had belonged to. I almost broke down in sobs while standing there. Why did these people have to die? And in this way? It was all just so nonsensical. Only a few of the bodies in the mass graves have been identified. The rest are in a pile of bones; their personalities, talents and life wiped away from the earth. We will never know their smiles. We will never know what they loved to do or what they were good at. We will never know how they could have bettered the world we live in. I couldn’t take any pictures of the bones. Though they had died in the most disrespectful way, I wanted to at least give them that respect in their grave.
The ride back to Kigali was filled with a somber silence. I stared out the windows again at the beautiful countryside wondering how it had been full of such tragedy. I watched the children running by and wondered how anyone could hurt them. I saw men and women going about their work wondering what they experienced and what nightmares they have at night. Were they survivors or killers?
There was another Rwandan, Stephen, who also led us around the church. He wasn’t at the church during the genocide but he survived the genocide and has lost all of his family besides his sister and grandmother because of it. As we walked around the church outside, he stated, “there are some things that I wish I could ask God someday like, “where were you during this time? Did you know this was going on?”.
Kacie and I talked later about how, in a really twisted way, the genocide was an act of God’s love. God hasn’t made us puppets but has given us a free will to make choices. God cares so much about giving us this free will that things like this happen. Reading “The Shack” was a big part of me being able to process this day. Allow me to insert an excerpt of the book to show you what I mean:
(Mack)“But, if I understand what you’re saying, the consequences of our selfishness are part of the process that brings but to the end of our delusions, and help us find you. Is that why you don’t stop every evil?...
(Papa/God) “If only it were that simple, Mackenzie. Nobody knows what horrors I have saved the world from ‘cuz people can’t see what never happened. All evil flows from independence, and independence is your choice. If I were to simply revoke all the choices of independence, the world as you know it would cease to exist and love would have no meaning. This world is not a playground where I keep all my children free from evil. Evil is the chaos of this age that you brought to me, but it will not have the final say. Now it touches everyone that I love, those who follow me and those who don’t. If I take away the consequences of people’s choices, I destroy the possibility of love. Love that is forced is no love at all.” (Young, 190, emphasis added)
Do you see what I mean?
The evil that was chosen on that fateful day in April is indescribable, unbelievable and heart wrenching. The stories are etched in my heart and mind and still make my stomach curl in disgust. In the next 100 days, one million people would be slaughtered in this way. Some by strangers. Some by husbands, wives, fathers, mothers, neighbors, pastors and more. I’m still processing this. I can’t understand the “why” because there’s not an excusable answer that would suffice. I have a choice to either shake my fist and, like Stephen, ask God, “where were You!? Did You know what was going on and did nothing!?”.
Or, I can praise Him that His love extends to depths that I will never fully comprehend.
It is my choice.