I was 20 years old. I had a very brave and beautiful Christian fiancée, who followed me to ‘the ends of the earth’. Today she is my wife and has given me two wonderful children. We are still brave, Christian, and a wonderful family, but today my heart grieves for families that I left behind in Rwanda. I don’t know if they could start a family, or even if they are still alive. I certainly know of several that no longer are.
It is never nice to commemorate this kind of anniversary. Lots of names are piling up in my mind. Dassany was the central story of a Mission Quarterly report many years ago, telling the story of his conversion. He died dramatically in Kigali. Ranjan Kulasekere was a missionary, originally from Sri Lanka, he was murdered on the stairs in front of his house, the same spot where we had shared endearing moments.
Then there was Efrem, our tireless translator into Kenyarwanda and Swahili. Years later I knew he got married and started a new home. Alfonsine, the cook, widowed during the war, and witness of the horrible death of her own children, right in front of her. Mass graves on the roadside, lifeless gazes, people dragging their feet together with what little, if anything of their life was left.
This morning my mind was blocked due to a flood of terrible images coming out of the oblivion drawer, simply triggered by reading the news. The heist of a 15-year-old soldier, pushing the barrel of his machine gun against my face, my angry reaction to that scared teenager (my Lord, I think now… and I rather do not think about it anymore).
The fearful shouting of one of our translators when I lost track of the road and ran the car into what he said was a minefield, carefully stepping back on our own tracks. The 11-year-old child to whom we gave a ride from Mugonero, heading to Kigali, who dropped a grenade from his pocket because of a pothole on the road. Five hours to drive just 90 km.
Our team was unique, Dolores Gascón (nurse), Miguel Gracia (paediatrician), Pablo Gracia (logistics and laboratory supervisor), Susana De Madariaga (nursing assistant) and myself (logistics and communications). We worked in situations that test fortitude, that build, brand and model character for life, and make decisions that will shape the future of many.
Where is God’s image in this nonsense, in this madness soaked in pain? Although it may seem unbelievable, it is there, hidden, waiting. For I also remember the beautiful smiles of children running and waving by my car window, despite their eyes already showing the signs of having witnessed something that nobody should ever see in their entire life. Children shouting with joy for life, suddenly smuggling themselves quickly to the first hiding place, just because one of us pulled his hand from the pocket to pull out… a gun? They know nothing but a camera suddenly can be perceived as a threat.
I also remember Kigali marketplace the first week. Empty. Serious. Frugal. Scarce in food and people. I recall also the same marketplace two months later. Bustling, crowded, alive. One scream echoed across the street, giving me goosebumps. I turned my head, and after two seconds, I heard a loud cry of joy. Two ladies had re-encountered each other in front of the post office. Both were alive!
Returning to the ADRA headquarters in Kigali, another joy: Monique, a secretary, had just heard that one of her five children, a 12-year-old, was still alive in Goma. She didn’t care anymore about borders or distances.
Life makes its way through the midst of disgrace. The image of God emerged. The stories told during morning worships at the dispensary were shocking. Tests of faith. People who were faithful to God, to their wives and families, despite the price of their entire family’s lives. Others who survived at the highest price, that of their own souls, agreeing to kill blood of their blood to save their own life.
Bible verses took on new meaning, “Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you life as your victor’s crown” (Rev. 2:10 NIV), “while we wait for the blessed hope – the appearing of the glory of our great God and Saviour, Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:13 NIV), among many others. Hymns such as ‘When the roll is called up yonder’ and ‘Shall we gather at the river’ became our most sung favourites.
Blossoms follow fire. After the genocide, even during it, new babies were born. Life bloomed once again. Twenty years have now passed. I cannot, must not, do not, want to forget. We must avoid the repetition of history.
Those days made my childhood dreams come true, to become a ‘missionary’. But you never really know what is to come. I kept a diary over those months. Today I realized that the diary has not been opened since. It has sat closed for 20 years. It is somewhere at home but the things recorded in it have never been forgotten.
Stanic, a Bosnian friend of mine, messaged me in Madrid today with an interesting question: “Pedro, what is your conclusion about all that happened?” My answer: “All this pushed me to definitely study theology and become a pastor.” Stanic lives in a country with its own dramatic story, yet launched a second question at me: “Is there any chance to understand all that mess?”
The truth is no. Evil has no explanation, and it cannot be understood. My answer is simple: “The world will never, ever change. Only the Second Coming of Jesus Christ will do it, and the Gospel has to be preached in order to reach that point. That was my point, and ever since I have been in a constant search for more efficient ways of sharing the Gospel, leading me to where I am now, mass media preaching.”
Another tough question followed: “So you don’t actually believe in social impact? I mean, in all these ideas of reaching communities through different ways?”
My answer reflects the personal drama of any Christian who is living their life in the best way: “I do, but not as a solution. It is a worthwhile must, but meanwhile we pursue our main duty, finishing the massive preaching of the Gospel to the entire world.” I finished with a few words: “There are… and will be changes… just keep pushing.”
For Rwanda, 20 years is nothing… but is also too much. And for me? The years fly by with a longing for the soon return of Jesus to this world. That gives me renewed energy for my task: communicating the good news.