Healing Through Forgiveness in Africa

By Amelia Hamilton Published on August 16, 2015

In the Rwandan genocide of 1994, more than 800,000 people were killed in 100 days. Revenge killings took the family of Dr. Celestin Musekura, who then turned tragedy into an opportunity to create positive change. To that end, he created African Leadership and Reconciliation Ministries (ALARM).

ALARM has three main initiatives: developing servant leaders in East Africa, reconciling relationshipsand transforming communities. All of these are done through Christ, as reflected in their mission statement: “ALARM believes that God’s initiative of reconciliation through Christ is designed to transform believers into agents of reconciliation.”

7 years ago, ALARM brought together a group of lawyers in eastern Congo and, as Leah Boyd, Director of Justice Initiatives explained, they spent a couple of days asking, “What does the Bible say about justice? About caring for the poor and the vulnerable, about caring for orphans? About things like bribery and corruption?” And so, at the end of their time together, they felt called to help. Boyd said that the group felt “This is important, it’s not just our professional obligation, but also a faith obligation. God is calling us to do this.” One thing they decided to do was to take on the rape crisis in the Congo.

Just a decade ago, rape was a crime committed almost solely by rebels or government troops in the Congo. Now, Boyd says, 50% of rapes are committed by civilians, 30% by government troops, and 20% by rebels.  “It’s just because of the culture of impunity that has developed over the last 20 years,” she said, as bribery and threats protect many rapists from repercussions. Going into remote areas to help where there are allegations of mass rape, they begin with education, teaching women that rape is against the law and that there are resources available to help them. Education also means removing the stigma of rape, as many women are rejected by their husbands after being assaulted. 

According to Boyd, 60% of the world’s rapes happen within 300 miles of Goma, so it is the perfect place to effect change. In one nearby village, the female police chief attended ALARM training and decided to take action in her community. She said, according to Boyd, “‘I want you to come in and train some of our police officers,’ so, we did, and she was looking around at her community where everybody from the outside says ‘there’s no rule of law. You can go and do whatever you want as long as you’ve got guns or you’ve got money, you can do whatever you want,’ and she says, looking at the rapes and the assaults, ‘no more. not on my watch.’ So, she takes some of her police officers and they go out in her little area and they start arresting people who have been accused of rape and sexual assault. So, in her little precinct, the rates of rape and sexual assault has dropped dramatically, because one woman has stood up and said ‘no more. not on my watch.’ And so, we would love to replicate that in more and more areas, but it takes people like her, who are willing to stand up and start to do something on a very grassroots level.”

How do people find the strength to do what needs to be done? Boyd explains that it is faith. “When we talk to people about how their faith relates to these things, it is very galvanizing, and it just gives them that extra incentive to dig in and persevere in the face of, sometimes, very discouraging circumstances, that they can persevere to continue to struggle, to improve the human rights situation in their communities.”

So much of the healing necessary in these communities comes from forgiving as Christ has charged us to forgive. “If we don’t deal with forgiveness,” Musekura said, “then there’s no future for anyone, because what will we end up having is justice which is really not justice at all, which would be revenge.” He went on to say that “unforgiveness creates more problems where, in the context of justice — I mean, justice is not really justice. Justice in the area is really revenge, then you have a cycle — injustice and revenge and so forth. So, we have to provide a way out.” 

Forgiveness provides a way out from continued victimization. “On the level of individuals, we have learned that unforgiveness actually continues to make the victims double victims,” Musekura said. “They don’t live their lives, they continue to be handicapped by the rage, anger, the bitterness, and the, you know, the resentment.”

This is a key to healing. “For Christians, we don’t have a choice,” Musekura said, “what people have done to us, against us, we are exalted and we are commanded to forgive them. It’s not a suggestion for us, it’s not something that we do when we feel to do it, we are told that it is the only way to honor God when we are able to give up the anger, we are able to forgive those who oppressed us, and we are able to actually, unconditionally give up the right to punish them, give up the right to be right. God forgave us and, without that forgiveness, then we would despise our own forgiveness.”

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