The focus of my work is about our ability to live in harmony, with diversity.
Luke 11:1-4 is called the LORD’S PRAYER and is one of the most direct and straightforward of all the responses Jesus made to the questions of his disciples: teach us to pray. In Luke this consists of four phrases.
1. Father, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come
To hallow – Abe Lincoln equated the word with two others: dedicate and consecrate. He added overtones of devotion and high resolve. Lincoln was speaking in relation to land being reserved for the dead.
Jesus was speaking of honoring the Creator of the living universe. This King of all creation is as close and connected and caring to us and provides us with attention and care in the best-case scenario of what is meant by the term Father.
And so we say today . . .
2. Give us each day our daily bread
Jesus alludes to our dependency on the products of the soil, the sea and air. “Daily” implies recognition that stewardship of the earth must reflect the complexity and sensitivity of nature. Nature only produces well when it is tended well – and no-one is more thoughtful and sensitive about this than the farming community, who know the consequences and challenges of ignoring proper care. This meeting of physical need is a part of our role in fulfilling the wish: “Your kingdom come” and so we say today . . .
3. And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone in debt to us
Now that is a shocking and audacious claim: forgive us God because we honour and practice the value and sacred nature of forgiving. In the Hebrew Bible the initiative to pardon is God’s; only God forgives. That is why Alexander Pope declared “To err is human, to forgive divine.” All the community before the time of Christ can do is: cover and carry the wrong done by another.
If we can’t forgive the one who caused the hurt then,
sooner or later, we will fall into the temptation to hurt another.
Yet we remain prisoner to the unheeded pain within.
Here Jesus demands a radical alternative: we get a hint of how challenging this idea can feel when some of the earliest New Testament manuscripts twice show textual omissions about forgiveness: the woman taken in adultery to whom Jesus said “neither do I condemn you . . .”; and the other is Jesus words on the cross: “Father forgive them . . .”
It had not been explicit before; so this is a quantum leap. “As we forgive” is now assumed. Bring on the kingdom in your life; to forgive the offender is more challenging than just to cover or carry their hurtful act. This need of the human spirit is another part of our role in fulfilling the wish: “Your kingdom come.”
Which leads us to part four:
4. And do not let us fall into temptation/testing
Jesus has put out a challenge about forgiveness. What are his followers thinking? “Ouch, but that is so hard.”
This is the test of what I call “The danger of indefinite retention.” We frequently fail to understand this: every hurtful offence that is unforgiven means emotional detention within, energy that affects our person because we fail to forgive and it causes us to suffer – or even lash out and hurt others.
When we hurt others, if our target is the perpetrator we call it “revenge.” But if the energy impacts others instead, we call that “violence.” This often hurts the people who are close to us.
If we can’t forgive the one who caused the hurt then, sooner or later, we will fall into the temptation to hurt another. Yet we remain prisoner to the unheeded pain within. This malady is rife in our world.
And so we say “Do not let us fall into the temptation of failing to forgive.”
Unforgiveness ruins relationships, breaks families, divides communities and leads to tension, isolation, suicide, even to genocide – and many things in between.
I had never understood forgiveness before I went to Rwanda.
The order to “do nothing but listen and learn” gave me the chance to discover that every Rwandan was carrying the pain of grief and loss. Such feelings block forgiveness. Then I noticed how the churches persistently preached “you must forgive, forgive and forget”; but the speakers had no idea that those words were just increasing the heartache of those listening. I searched for African ways of recovery after painful events and found three approaches that are described in chapters 1, 3, and 4 in my book From Genocide to Generosity.
I soon realized I could do nothing in a complex and sophisticated culture to help people process their pain. Only Rwandans could do the work of re-building people. Several young adults joined me and began their recovery and I mentored them to work with others. We “rolled with the punches,” and prayed: “God what do we do now? What comes next?” What unfolded is in the book.
My team observed how hard it is to put forgiveness into practice; we came to see that forgiveness is a journey. One of the team spoke at the weekly staff gathering in Kigali. I could see heads shaking in disbelief. Then waves of surprise swept around the room.
Later Nsabiyera filled me in with the story of Mama Deborah whose boy was kidnapped and murdered in a random act of revenge. Nsabiyera attended the funeral next day and a long discussion followed: “Can Rwandans ever forgive such atrocities?”
Eventually mama Deborah met the soldier who confessed “I am the one who killed your son. Please hand me in to the authorities.” He had killed to avenge the death of his parents in the genocide, but had not been able to sleep after that. After a long struggle mama Deborah offered him forgiveness. Then she adopted the soldier to replace the son he had killed!
This was such an incentive to persevere. You’ll read the story in Part 4 of the book. One person who attended a study guide group in my home state of Victoria wrote this after reading it: For sure this is the saddest, and yet the most enlightened, book I have ever read.
"For sure this is the saddest, and yet the most enlightened, book I have ever read."
In Part 1 I tell Josephine’s sad story. At a grief workshop, participants wrote a letter of farewell to someone who died unexpectedly. Josephine frantically wrote line after line, then said: “I wrote fifty lines of goodbye: my brother, my sister, my uncle, my aunty, my niece, my friend . . .”
What happened after that is on page 23.
These two women helped me see that we must express our pain and loss in an appropriate way. Mama Deborah, a Hutu needed to grieve; Josephine a Tutsi had the same need. Grieving is the healing feeling (John Bradshaw).
But what about men? Well yes, men can talk too. They have to forget the stiff upper lip, put their pride in their pocket and open their hearts to tell their struggles. This requires courage and honesty because “you cannot heal what you cannot feel” (John Bradshaw); and it needs listeners who will not ridicule what they hear.
My book also tells stories of Rwandan men:
One day I sat in a Rwandan prison with an interpreter and an inebriated, armed guard. Across the table was Bembereza, who had held onto his story for months. He was in prison for a minor offence. Nobody knew that he killed a good man.
One day he plucked up the courage to confess – at a Sunday event including visitors. He did not realize that the daughter of the man he killed was there. As Bembereza took the microphone and made his confession, the orphan ran across the courtyard screaming “Thank God, now I can find out what happened to my father.”
Bembereza and Delphine after she forgave him
His family disowned Bembereza for telling the truth, and he was disdained by his fellow prisoners; but he regained his dignity. We stopped the interview when the guard started to finger his gun. You can read more on page 113.
Page 131 tells how Saverina forgave one youth who helped kill her children. The young man, Karinda, found it hard to confess. He could not get the words out as they walked 7 km to church, and returned in silence. Later he came and confessed; she forgave him. His action for justice is to go every week to do the tasks around the home that Saverina’s sons would have done.
Then twenty-four lads from his gang apologized to Saverina for their roles in devastating her family and property.
What does this book offer us?
The media floods us with a range of World Class sporting events in which we have no chance to participate!
There is no world competition for dealing with trauma, finding forgiveness, hope and even reconciliation. But if there were, Rwanda would certainly be on the podium.
I suggest that you think about studying how the Rwandans became world leaders for change, overcame their trauma, found new hope and a reason to live.
We could follow their example of change once we understand what has worked for Rwandans. We can let them be our teachers. That’s the best reason to get a copy of your own of From Genocide to Generosity.