After the Genocide
How does a country heal from one of the worst mass slaughters the world has ever seen? For Methode, surviving the Rwandan genocide’s one hundred days of horror was less painful than its aftermath. The news of his family member's brutal deaths filled him with a burning desire for revenge. Yet, incredibly, God took this broken young man and brought him to a place of forgiveness. WARNING: graphic content.
06 Apr, 2017
His aunt stands on the edge of the swamp, trying to convince Methode to throw himself in.
“Your father gave you to me to protect,” she says quietly. “I cannot die and leave you alone.”
Methode’s breath comes fast and hard. His leg throbs in time with his heartbeat, his calf covered in blood. Behind him is violence and machetes and pain. Before him is a drainage canal, so choked with dead bodies the water is tinged red.
“At least we will die by drowning instead of being killed by the killers.” Her belongings hit the water with a splash before she throws herself in after them. She disappears beneath the murky water. Behind him, there’s a shout. The mob has seen him. He closes his eyes and jumps. He is six years old and trying to drown himself.
How does a country heal from one of the worst mass slaughters the world has ever seen? For Methode, surviving the Rwandan genocide’s one hundred days of horror was less painful than its aftermath.
“Life after the genocide was not easy. It was an even harder life than what we lived through [during] the genocide,” he says. “That was when I knew that my father was shot, and I knew that my mum was hit by a machete and she died in the hills.” His mother was cut down with her baby on her back. Of his family of eight, only Methode and his two older sisters survived.
After the genocide, he had nowhere to go. His aunt’s house was a charred ruin. He had nothing but the clothes he wore and the belongings he carried. The government housed him and his aunt in a special genocide survivor’s village. As the dead were buried and politicians made promises of peace, he was expected to resume normal life.
It seemed impossible. Everything had changed. He’d walk down the street and half expect to see his parents’ smiling faces. At school he didn’t speak. Talking meant questions and he didn’t have any answers. He lashed out violently at other children when they asked what had happened to him. At night he woke, heart racing from terrifying nightmares.
Methode knew only one way to get justice for what the genocide had stolen from him.
“I wanted to be a soldier to [get] revenge for my family. I had written down their [killers’] names, and I planned to be a soldier to kill them when I grew up.”
Callixte Gahunga is the Director of RW-323, Kayenzi Child Development Centre. He first met Methode when the boy was registered into the Child Sponsorship Program. He remembers a deeply traumatised seven year old who still bore terrible machete wounds on his legs.
“When you would see him, you would also understand he had no hope for the future,” says Callixte.
As part of the program, children like Methode were given counselling and extra support. During the sessions they drew pictures of their experiences to start the healing process.
“The pictures the children would draw would show killers, they would show trucks of people, they would show guns, they would show sad situations,” says Callixte. “Some would draw themselves running from sad situations, but they do not have anywhere to run to.”
It was painful for both children and staff. “They would cry a lot and just break down,” he says. “[But] when they are experiencing that, they are being relieved of what they went through in the genocide.”
Methode agrees. “Drawing helped me get release from what I was feeling.”
Afterwards, staff prayed with them and shared the Word of God. But Methode struggled to reconcile God with the horror he’d lived through. “It was very hard for me to accept that God existed and that He was good,” he says.
“I tried to pray and go to church, but I still could not understand what could have caused such hatred among people. Whenever I lacked anything, like shoes and food, I used to remember how hardworking my father and mother were and it was unbearable. I felt like I could not reconcile with the people who caused me to live the way I did.”
While Methode’s physical injuries healed, his emotional scars ran deep. But God was faithful. At the Compassion centre, he found a place of laughter and acceptance. Gradually, he had a life-changing realisation. “Through the regular project activities like singing, games, praying together and reading the Bible, I started to realise I could get peace from God.” In his prayers, he asked God to take away the heaviness in his heart.
“I kept taking in that message at a very slow pace and in the end I accepted that God loved me and that He is enough for me,” he says. “I started to see things that proved to me God was good and today I fully understand that He is a good God with a good plan for me.”
Once silent in class, he began to talk and laugh again. “My sister asked me to teach her how to pray because she wanted what happened to me. She and my aunt are now born again.”
During this time, his sponsor was a constant encouragement. “He is like a parent to me, because everything I went through, we went thought that together,” says Methode. “I thank my sponsor for loving me when I felt I was not worth loving.”
Today Methode is 28 years old, a successful businessman in Rwanda’s thriving tourism industry. The angry young boy is gone, replaced by a thoughtful, intelligent man with integrity. He still carries scars from the trauma of his past, but has come face to face with those responsible for his family’s deaths and forgiven them. He has even hired Hutu tribesmen, his former enemies, as employees.
“God convinced me that I would not be any different if I took revenge,” he says. “Even if I am from a bad history, I am not a slave to my past.”
Please pray for children and their families who are affected by conflict around the world. Pray that God will bring stability and peace to their regions. Pray also that God will bring healing in the wake of trauma; that He will plant forgiveness and reconciliation in people’s hearts.
Words by Zoe Noakes; Interviews and Photos by Ryan Johnson