Twenty Years Ago

May 2, 2014 | Steve Fredlund

A couple weeks ago the world recognized the twentieth anniversary of the start of the Rwandan genocide, when roughly 800,000 men, women, and children were brutally slaughtered. Having traveled to Rwanda three times in the past five years, I am acquainted with the pain of this dark chapter in history. I have also experienced the tangible hope and reconciliation that has emerged. It is impossible to understand the impact East Central Minnesota has made in Rwanda through Our Response without understanding the historical context for our partnership.

The Kigali Memorial Center

The Kigali Memorial Center

Cement slabs cover mass graves

Cement slabs cover mass graves

Members of the 2013 Trip Team share reflections at the Memorial Center

Members of the 2013 Trip Team share reflections at the Memorial Center

First, I would like to share a wonderful, multi-media look at Rwanda with this link that will help you understand what took place during the genocide and what has happened since.

Secondly, I have also asked one of our recent trip team members, Shannon Kirkeide, to share her reflections about the genocide, Rwandan reconciliation, and how we approach unity ourselves in East Central Minnesota.

Shannon with her sponsored child.

Shannon in Kivuruga with her sponsored child.

 From Shannon

It is painful and difficult for us to fathom the reality that occurred in Rwanda 20 years ago this month.  We shake our heads in disbelief, our guts wrenching at the thought of neighbors killing neighbors, women raped, babies and children murdered, and a country that could allow hate of their own people to transform their hearts.

So we avert our eyes, thankful that “here” no such thing is possible. Or is it?

Hutu vs. Tutsi. Nazi vs. Jew. Slave owner vs. slave. U.S. citizen vs. illegal immigrant. Rich vs. poor. Straight vs. GLBT. It all starts with a separation, an idea that somehow we are not connected as one humanity, each of us a spark of God/Allah/Mother Earth/Yahweh—depending on your point of view— that together is one entity.


Shannon Kierkeide on a walk

But how does Rwanda move on? How do you live next to the person that killed your father or your daughter? How do you forgive the unforgivable?

I don’t have the answer, but I saw it in the eyes of the Rwandans I met. They each have their own story of what they experienced two decades ago, who they lost, what they witnessed. Somehow they dig deep into their hearts and find hope in the hopeless, light in the depths of darkness, and peace in whatever level of forgiveness they can lend to those that wounded them so deeply.

May we all have an ounce of their courage and strength, may we open our eyes to acknowledge each of us is one divine spark of one humanity, and may we always be free to celebrate our uniqueness as individuals and our connectedness as a people.

Kirkeides with the family of their sponsored children