In Rwanda, pink means prisoner
On the eighth floor of the hospital, pink means: It’s a girl!
At the florist, pink means: I like you but not enough to commit.
On aisle nine at the grocery store, pink means Pepto, and in the men’s clothing store, pink means: Yes, I am secure enough in my manhood to wear this.
Rwanda, the land of a thousand hills, is a small country nestled in east Africa. Though it is home to gorillas, volcanoes, rainforests and some of the best coffee in the world, this is not what makes the country famous. In 1994, Rwanda was also home to one of the largest genocides in modern history, caused when the Hutu tribe sought to eliminate the Tutsi tribe. More than 800,000 people were massacred in a matter of months. The stories are horrific, and the scars of the genocide are still visible in everyday life 13 years later.
The lush green landscape is occasionally interrupted by large groups of men dressed in pink prison uniforms, many of them guilty of genocide crimes. Behind them is a man in khaki with a gun. No handcuffs. No high fences with barbed-
wire coils at the top. The men in pink work in the fields and can also be seen roaming the streets on occasion.
One of these windy roads dotted with pink ends at Murambi, a memorial to the genocide. The tour guide is an older man named Emmanuel, tall and worn. During the genocide, his wife and five children were slaughtered before his eyes; then he was shot. Emmanuel managed to make it to the top of a hill after he escaped, and watched in the coming weeks as the Hutus continued to massacre his people. He was one of four survivors from Murambi. He is the only one left today. Sixty thousand were killed.
Day after day, Emmanuel tells his story as he walks through the empty grounds of what was once a school. When he unlocks the first door, the light filters into the room, illuminating tables covered in oddly preserved bodies of the victims. There are probably a hundred people in the first room. The memorial is made up of 24 rooms. Twenty-four rooms filled with hundreds of these aging corpses.
He says he can never leave this place, because he knows that his wife and children are in that schoolroom turned mausoleum. Emmanuel has no family, and is shunned by the community for telling the truth about what happened at Murambi. When asked if he had found forgiveness, he replied, “I am ready to forgive, but no one is asking for it.”
The Path to Forgiveness
Ernest is also a genocide survivor. When the genocide swept through his village, he watched as most of his family was killed—everyone except his mother and sister. He later mentioned that his mother is still injured, and that she is HIV positive because of the genocide. This leaves little room for confusion about the brutality she must have faced.
Ernest fled to Burundi, where he joined a militia with the sole purpose of revenge. He was 15 years old at the time. There he met a soldier who began to support him by paying his school fees and providing for him financially. Ernest went all the way through secondary school with the aid of this soldier. He decided that the strength to survive must be coming from God, and he became a Christian. He left the militia and began to pray for the ability to forgive.
Over time, he began to forgive the Hutu tribe for what they had done to his family. Now he runs an organization that supports orphans, many of them Hutus. He teaches the women about the Gospel, dressmaking and basic business skills to help them become self-sufficient. The center pays the school fees of 83 children and provides trauma counseling to genocide survivors.
He explained that there are two kinds of forgiveness for him. The first is to be able to forgive the Hutus for what they had done, to be able to pass them on the street, to regard them with love instead of hatred and to help their children go to school.
The second kind of forgiveness is perhaps more complicated. Ernest is often called upon to testify against people in the community and tell the horrific stories of what he witnessed at the weekly trials held for genocide crimes. Every week, he is forced to relive the tragedy, often from the witness stand. He says the second type of forgiveness is to merely tell the facts of what he saw and not to seek revenge in the courts. It is so easy to accuse instead of to report, but he feels that his role as a Christian is to let God decide the fate of these people.
Ernest’s story is one of both tragedy and hope. When asked what enabled him to forgive, he quoted the Lord’s prayer: “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”
Both Ernest and Emmanuel experienced indescribable tragedy, but the outcome could not be more different. It is a reminder of the power of the unconditional love of Christ, the healing brought by forgiveness and the destruction caused by its absence. Though they are forced to relive the tragedy in memory almost daily, as they choose to forgive, regardless of circumstance, Christ begins a healing process which allows them to move past the hurts to a life characterized by love.