Book review by Nick Mattiske, Crosslight.

At the time of the Rwandan genocide, it was said that there were no more devils in Hell because they were all in Rwanda. In 1994, almost one million people were killed by the systematic interethnic violence. When the massacre stopped, refugees returned to Rwanda, fuelling reprisals and disputes over land. This unimaginable catastrophe created a mental health crisis, with few citizens unaffected.

But Rwanda also experienced a time of healing. Group counselling sessions encouraged people to tell the truth, face emotions and look beyond long-entrenched hatreds.

Eventually the unthinkable happened: a widow cooked food for her husband’s killer in jail, a mother grieving her murdered son welcomed the murderer into her family, a victim who had been wounded and left for dead became the groomsman at his attacker’s wedding.

John Steward’s book is filled with stories of individuals traumatised but then transformed by reconciliation. If the relentless nature of these tales becomes an emotional barrage, one can sympathise with some of those running the sessions, who heard them first-hand.

Not all Rwandans were open. Some refused to forgive; some rejected family members who committed crimes. But the reconciliation process, unprecedented in its widespread effectiveness, is a testament to the way forgiveness frees both victims and perpetrators from the past.

Steward points out that the book is more than simply ‘voyeurism’ of Rwanda’s good and bad. Rwanda’s trauma, recovery and bright present put our own petty grievances into perspective. But, additionally, all of us at times need to recognise the need for forgiving or asking for forgiveness.

The experience of Rwanda shows how injustices, left to simmer, can explode into insanity. But it also shows how bravely embracing reconciliation can heal the deepest of wounds.



Born in Adelaide, South Australia Grew up in Java, Indonesia Educated high school and agriculture in Adelaide Theological education in Brisbane Overseas experience in Asia and Africa, North America and Europe

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