Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Living Church of Jesus Christ

by Ryan Twaddle
On Sunday, we continued our understanding of the genocide by walking through two church memorials. There are many church memorials throughout the country because many mass killings took place in churches. People had taken refuge in churches for many past genocides, so they assumed they would be safe in the churches they had sought refuge in before, but that was not so. The priests and church officials turned the people over to the killers turning the sanctuaries into mass graves. After the genocide, Catholicism in Rwanda went 95% to 55%.  

The first church we went to was Ntarama. We were welcomed by our guide who spoke to us in English, so Serge stayed behind and did not go through the memorial. This memorial consisted of three phases: the church, the surrounding buildings, and the garden. Upon entering the church, I noticed a stench that would be present throughout the memorials. I wondered how it must have smelt in Rwanda as the bodies rotted in the churches and on the side of the roads. The stench was primarily coming from the racks of skulls ad bones from the bodies found in the church. The clothes that were worn by the people were hung on the walls covering the massive holes that were blown in the walls by grenades. At the front of the church were several coffins: on the right were seven or eight and five on the left. When the killers were done killing, they started to hide bodies. They dug holes and buried people in them. The eight coffins were from people who were found since the genocide, and the five were from this year. Could you imagine playing in your backyard and finding bodies of people who were killed seventeen years ago?

The next phase was three surrounding buildings. One was the sacristy where people were praying and hiding, but were quickly killed by grenades that blasted straight through the wall killing them. The next two buildings were the hardest to walk through. The first was a mud house with a hole in the side. The killers had ran up to the house and thrown several grenades inside. But, that was not good enough, they ran inside the house and started hacking and clubbing the survivors. But, they still were not sure they had brutally murdered them all, so they threw flaming mattresses inside to suffocate and burn the remains. Our guide explained in intense detail a step to step plan of how these people were killed: he never flinched or wavered. Did he lose someone in this memorial? The third building was the Sunday School room. I remember going to Sunday School where we would laugh, play games, and learn about God. The Rwandan children did the same in their classroom in Ntarama, but the place of joy and safety for many children turned into a tragic end. The killers would take the babies by the feet and swing them like a bat, smashing their 1 month or 3 year old skulls into the wall, and splattering blood everywhere. The stain of the murders is still visible on the wall as a four foot by 3 foot darkened stain dripping to the floor. Where was God protecting his children? When I think of God's children, I imagine Jesus with his arms wide open and children  running towards him, not babies being smashed into a wall where, "the brains from the babies were visible and rotting when people came to Ntarama", said our guide. Our group became smaller as we went through the memorial and emotions over came our team. We all joined together in the third phase, the garden. This garden was constructed near the buildings in remembrance of the people who had lost their lives, but the sorrow did not leave us. In the distant, we saw a hill and on the hill was nothing. It used to be covered in homes, but it had been cleared to show that the killing had wiped out the entire hill. In the garden there was a wall with 130 names on it: 130 names out of 5,000. Entire families were killed, so no survivors can testify to where the family members had died, so the majority of the 4,870 will remain nameless.

The second church was Nyamata. This church was the place of 10,000 killings. There were so many people that not all of them would fit into the church, so the ones outside were the first to be killed. Then, the killers climbed onto the roof and shot aimlessly into the tin hoping to kill the people inside. As this was happening, grenades were used to blow open the door and then kill as many people inside as possible. The next step was to ensure all the people inside had died, so the survivors were clubbed or chopped with machetes. The inside of the church had pews and a baptismal font, just like ours. Can you imagine cramming into the church, around the baptismal font and in the pews? I view our church as a place of safety and seeing this made think of our congregation cramming into the sanctuary. The people in the church are now replaced with row upon row of dust covered shirts and pants. To further show the damage of the genocide, a white room was constructed below the church. In this room was a glass case containing skulls that all showed damage from being hurt by another. On the outside of the church, two mass graves were built. As we walked into one mass grave, we saw shelfs that contained row after row of skulls. Below the skulls, were arm and leg bones, and below that were more skulls and the pattern continued for hundreds of people.

At the Kigali Memorial last week, I had just seen pictures of people who were killed. At this point in our journey, I now place faces to the images and skulls I see. I image the skulls belonging to one of the many people that I have met during the last week, especially Eugene. If you have not heard about Eugene, he was the person I decided to talk to for our conversation "assignment" and he has become a friend of the entire team. As I walked through the memorials, I started to wonder, "If Eugene is seventeen, where was he during the genocide?", "How did he survive?", "Why does he never talk to me about his parents?", and "Did his parents survive?" Walking through the two church memorials has added to my image of the genocide, but sitting in church has shown me that Rwanda has changed.

Jen K. told us that everyone in Rwanda was effected by the genocide. As we sat in church, we sang and danced around. Every Rwandan moves differently and every way they move is acceptable. They turn up the volume, so that God and everyone in Kigali can hear them. But, what strikes me as remarkable is the fact that as I shook hands in that church I could have been shaking victims' or killers' hands. On Sunday, a choir sings in the front of everyone. In the choir, standing next to each other are two girls: one girl's father, killed the other girl's family. Even though the one girl lost her family, she has forgiven the other girl and they sing praises to God. We experienced the death and horror of a genocide along with the peace and forgiveness after death all in one day.                          
The team worships at Eglise Vivante de Jesus Christ


  1. It is so difficult to comprehend what you are seeing and learning about the genocide. I am not sure anyone has the answers you must all be seeking. The forgiveness and reconciliation amongst the people of Rwanda must provide a way forward for us all. God bless you for sharing this with us. (Carlo)

  2. From a few thousand miles away...tears in my eyes. Great writing Ryan.

  3. Know that you continue to be in our prayers every day. You bring the understanding of true forgiveness home to us with your words. Love to all of you! May you feel God's love and strength. Kathy

  4. And just think---this happened to hundreds more thousands there in Rwanda. I can not even imagine what all of you have witnessed as this horrific reality lay before you. It begs the question how can there be such intensive hatred among human beings living in the same communities.

    You have so vividly portrayed it for us and for that we are appreciative.


  5. Having gone to a concentration camp in Austria, I can sort of understand the pain that you feel in these places, however, I am amazed at how forgiving the people are. How much God has turned their fear and hate into love. It is truely amazing.


  6. How much sorrow you have seen. Walking amongst the remains of the genocide - Ryan's vivid writing of the brutal actions of one against another - and then being a witness to the power of God's forgiveness. Would I be strong enough in my faith to accept it? Mom/Grandma in VA