Sunday, December 27, 2009


WE WISH TO INFORM YOU THAT TOMORROW WE WILL BE KILLED WITH OUR FAMILIES is the title of a book by Philip Gourevitch, taken from a letter dated 4/15/94 written by seven pastors who sought refuge in the Mogunero Adventist mission compound. On 4/16/94, the seven pastors, their families, along with 3000 other men, women and children were killed in the church.

I was an adult in 1994, but had very little recollection of the events that occurred. In fact, if someone had said the word "genocide" to me, I would have immediately thought of the holocaust and left it at that. Genocide is defined as "the deliberate and systematic destruction of a racial, political or cultural group".

In order to put the Rwandan genocide into perspective, I'll give a couple of comparisons to the holocaust (and this is not to in any way diminish the atrocious nature of either event). Nearly 6 million Jews were killed in 20 countries throughout Europe and Asia over the course of 12 years. Nearly 1 million tutsi Rwandans were killed in a country about the size of Vermont in 100 days.

While the holocaust was an attempt at destroying an entire religious group, the Rwandan genocide was black christian africans killing black christian africans. Neighbors killing neighbors.

Since I've been here, I've read the book noted in the title of this post. Wondered over the lack of intervention from the international community, including the UN who stood by and watched as hundreds of thousands of people were tortured and murdered (not that I didn't already consider the UN to be a joke). Wondered over the Clinton administration that sat by and supported the lack of international intervention, and refused to even acknowledge that what was going on was genocide. And wondered over my own lack of interest or care in world events during that time.

Yesterday, we drove out to another church, 30 or 40 miles outside of Kigali where thousands more tutsis were killed in a single day. There are no photos as I could not bring myself to take any. While the bodies and bones had been removed from the sanctuary, the clothes that the victims wore remained, covering every pew by at least a foot. A large area at the back of the church which had no pews was covered with clothes two feet high - the area where the children where killed. We saw the different pillars of the church. The pillars where the people were placed to have their arms and legs chopped off by machete. The special pillar that was used to kill only children 4 years old and younger.

Holes made by bullets (from those tutsis who had enough cash in their pocket to pay to be killed by bullet instead of machete) and grenades remained in the ceiling, as well as dark blood stains - nearly 16 years old.

The basement was set up with glass cases containing bones from several victims. Some of the skulls were in perfect condition. Others contained bullet holes or cracks from a deadly blow of a machete. Many, many leg bones were laid out severed in half.

Again - these were christians killing christians in a christian church located in a christian nation.... in my lifetime.

Who were greater criminals - the nazis or the hutus? Who were more innocent victims - the jews are the tutsis?

I've met many Rwandans since I've been here. It is considered rude to question them about the genocide (there are far more people here who turned their back on the murders than there are survivors), and rarely has anyone mentioned it, except in vague references to either "before 1994" or "after".

I have enjoyed my time here with my family, and lush beautiful hills. But I've been forever affected by what I've learned and seen in the 10 days that I've been here.


  1. I can't wait to talk to you when you get back! I've read the title you mentioned, and a few more: The Key to My Neighbor's House by Elizabeth Neuffer and A Problem from Hell by Samantha Power. I own both and very highly recommend them--I'd be glad to loan them to you if you'd like. Hello to Heidi, Evan, and family!
    Jenny Lewis

  2. Thanks for sharing this, Heather. I watched "Hotel Rwanda" a few months ago and cried my eyes out. What a terrible bit of history. And, like you, I didn't know much about it before (nor do I know any more than that account now). So many things happen in the world that we are not informed of, and do not think of from our privileged perch in the first world. I don't know what to make of it, either.