Images of Hope

Images of Hope

Rwanda. For many it is a country whose name is synonymous with one of the most horrific and brutal genocides of modern history. It is certainly not a country whose name brings to mind images of hope. Yet after a recent Learning Tour with Mennonite Central Committee focused on MCC’s peace and development work in the country, hope is the word that now comes to mind for me. 

I confess that before I joined with 14 other Albertans on this MCC Learning Tour I knew very little about Rwanda beyond what I had absorbed through media reports back in the 1990s. In the 100-day period beginning April 7, 1994, Hutu extremists launched a killing campaign during which over 800,000 men, women, and children were brutally murdered. Most of these victims were among the Tutsi minority, while some were moderate Hutus. Over 2 million Tutsis fled Rwanda, with many continuing to live in various countries. This week commemoration events are taking place around the world as people remember what happened 30 years ago. 

Learning Tours are aptly named. There are so many things I learned during our two week trip, including more about this dark chapter in Rwandan’s history:

--the division of “Tutsi” and “Hutu” was largely fluid within one overarching cultural framework, until they became fixed and racialized by colonial powers

--the genocide itself was not spontaneous, but planned. Extremists within the Hutu-led government amassed weapons for distribution among the Hutu population. Radical radio hosts used racist ideology and propaganda to incite hatred toward Tutsis.  Neighbours were pitted against neighbours as hundreds of thousands engaged in the killing and violence. 

--the role of the Christian church was complex, but there were many ways the church was complicit in what happened, and there were church leaders who actively promoted acts of genocide. 

This backdrop stands in stark contrast to the Rwanda of today. The memory of the genocide provides the motivation for the building of a better Rwanda of peace and unity. It is a beautiful, safe country eager to move forward from its past. Since the genocide the divisions of Tutsi and Hutu have been replaced with a focus on “one Rwanda”. There is a common saying that there is no peace if people do not have enough to eat, and the message from the government on down is to build a unity that works to provide for the common good. 


Today the Rwandan government and local churches work with partners to provide avenues for peace and development work. During the tour we saw MCC projects including the following:

--Conservation Agriculture, where subsistence farmers are taught sustainable farming practices that improve their crops while building up soils and the long-term productivity of their land. 

--Peace clubs and mediation teaching, where peaceful conflict resolution is taught to resolve disputes for children and adults.

--Savings and Loan groups, which brings people together without access to banking not only to save for homes and other larger expenses but to build community with others.

--Training centres for vocations such as baking, hair styling, and auto repair. 

The role of the local churches of Rwanda and their partnership with MCC, an “arm” of the Mennonite church in Canada, inspires me to consider how we as the church are part of building hope around the world. It makes me wonder how we as the church may participate more fully in the hope emerging in places like Rwanda. How might we address areas of conflict and brutality that continue to arise in so many places? How might we learn from what led to what happened in Rwanda 30 years ago? And how might we as the church create avenues of peace within our own communities and context?

Photo: The graduation ceremony for people trained in the Conservation Agriculture program. It is from the website of Peace and Development Network of Rwanda, with whom MCC partners.