Peace in Rwanda is something of a miracle after the 1994 genocide. Now, the people are greater together with each other, World Vision, and God's love.
Read how Rwanda's story of peace and reconciliation gives us hope for the people of Syria in crisis today.
Gazing over the infamous pool at the Hotel Des Mille Collines’ patio restaurant in Rwanda in September 2013, I reflected on the drama that had unfolded there.
It was April 1994. One man, Paul Rusesabagina, had sheltered 1,200 people in the hotel, protecting them from certain death until the war ended 100 days later.
Twenty years later, the atmosphere was serene as we enjoyed a leisurely lunch, the bright blue pool water swimming before our eyes in the warm African sun.
My reverie evaporated as a CNN report boomed from the television at the hotel bar. A chemical attack had taken more lives in Syria. Millions of people had already fled. Infrastructure was shattered.
As the blue waters of the pool shimmered, I wondered: Had Syria become today’s version of Rwanda in 1994?
There are immense differences between the two conflicts to be sure, especially in their origin, but there are also similarities: human rights abuses, refugees fleeing on a large scale, world apathy.
Today, as the conflict in Syria has spawned the worst humanitarian crisis in the world, perhaps there’s a more fitting question for people of hope: Once the conflict has passed, could Syria become the new Rwanda—a place of restoration and reconciliation?
I went to another restaurant to find out.
Jay Bourbor runs a marvelous eatery in my neighborhood, Tacoma’s Mediterranean Gyro Grill. Jay is from Syria. He left the country in 1992, but stays in touch with family members there. He says peace is possible, but it has to come from people.
“I think if you leave it up to people, there will be forgiveness,” he says.
However, he says, people must be free to forgive. “In Syria, you’ve got so many outside forces,” he says. “It’s so tough. Everybody is doing what’s best for them, not what’s best for the people.”
Before the fighting began five years ago, Syria was a place of peace. “We never hated each other,” says Jay.
For Jay, a Christian, friendships had no religious boundaries. “We lived peacefully, whether you were Jewish or Catholic or Muslim, all different nationalities and religions,” he says. “This is a moderate country, a well-educated country. People speak three languages, from teachers to taxi drivers.”
Due to pressure from outside forces, says Jay, Syria lost its way. Now millions of Syrians are living in hopeless conditions outside the country, waiting for the moment they can go back home.
“They would love to turn the page and start a new page,” he says. “We don’t want to be in war for another 10 or 15 years.”
Reconciliation is possible, says Jay, but as in Rwanda, it will take time and hard work.
“It’s going to take them awhile,” he says. “People have lost their moms and dads. Loved ones were killed in front of them. They’ve seen bodies in the streets.”
Those memories will be impossible to erase. But healing can happen.
It happened in Rwanda.
It happened with Emmanuel and Juliette. Even though Emmanuel killed Juliette’s husband and two children, she was able to forgive him after going through peace and reconciliation training.
It happened with Andrew and Callixte. After Callixte was part of a group that killed Andrew’s wife’s entire family, Andrew turned him in to the authorities. Callixte was imprisoned. And yet, after going through training in peace and reconciliation, the two men were able to become as close as brothers.
But healing didn’t happen in a vacuum. Healing had to be prescribed.
World Vision’s Josephine Munyeli, who has worked in Rwanda’s peace and reconciliation programs for two decades, says healing comes at a cost.
“You have to feel the pain and reconnect to the pain because forgiveness is costly. It costs our emotions,” she says.
“The process of forgiveness involves expressing how you feel and saying, ‘Now I want peace in my heart; please forgive me.’ I don’t want to keep connected to the bad memories of when you did evil to me. I don’t want to be a prisoner of my pain,” she says. “When the memories come, I don’t want to be devastated by them. I want to be able to sleep.”
Josephine says healing, peace, and reconciliation ultimately come from the cross.
"When you talk about healing, about peace and reconciliation, who can do that other than Christ?” she asks.
Jay agrees. Healing must come from above.
“Faith needs to serve as a role model,” says Jay. “The leaders need to unite.”
Uniting the faith community, says Jay, can bring peace.
But, says this master chef, there’s another ingredient: prayer.
“I pray for peace, to live in peace,” he says, “for Syria to go back to where it used to be. It was one of the safest countries. People were very loving and cared for each other. We want peace for our kids. That’s what’s going to rebuild Syria.”
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