God in the Public Domain

Life Giver, Protector or Indifferent Sleeper during the Rwandan Tragedies?

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God has been very much present in public domain in the life of Rwandans. Every successful enterprise would lead Rwandans to pay tribute to God. At the end of every other failed try the Rwandan would say, ‘ahasigaye ni ah’Imana’ — I have done what I could, the rest belongs to God. His overwhelming presence was expressed in many ways including by theophoric names. This God celebrated by the triumphant ‘Christian kingdom’ came under fire attacks during the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi, many of them being slaughtered in churches and public buildings. Had God, the life Giver and the protector, become a cynical destroyer, an executioner, or simply a sleeper who didn’t care for his creatures? Irrespective to these unanswered questions, the post 1994 genocide Rwandan religious era was imbued with another form of triumphalism, in which God was called, celebrated, and inaugurated as the One who showed the way to new charismatic movements to bring about a spiritual revolution in the country, whilst traditional Christianity remained ambivalent towards the moral guidance they were expected to provide. Yet many survivors continue to tell of their deception about such a ‘silent and cynical’ God, or at the best they wonder if their fate was sealed with His consent and that of His heralds on earth. This paper takes the view that religious competition and triumphalism of the clergy over crowds that continue to fill in areas of worship, amplified the feeling that God is still a very marketable good in Rwanda. And yet he never ran away from the victims of the tragedies.

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Journal of Contemporary Christianities in Context

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On Monday 11 April 1994, within only five days after the beginning of the genocide against the Tutsi, pastor Athanase Rwamuhizi of the Presbyterian Church of Rwanda, in the remote parish of Kugituntu [today District of Karongi, Western Province of Rwanda], was killed as he stood by about 300 Tutsi refugees. When the massacres started, the refugees arrived in his parish many from the neighboring prefecture of Gikongoro in the Muko commune [today district of Nyamagabe]. They were given asylum in the building of the parish, a redbrick church he had built with the locals upon arriving in that impoverished area. At the beginning of the tragedy, Rwamuhizi was attending a pastoral retreat with his fellow Presbyterian pastors in Kirinda, some 50 km from his home parish. When he heard that refugees were massively gathering in his parish, he decided to join them. On the next Sunday, 10 April 1994, he was visited by the president of the Church, Rev Michel Twagirayesu, who arrived from the pastoral retreat in Kirinda. As he prepared to return to Kirinda, Rev Twagirayesu offered Rwamuhizi to accompany him. He refused saying “unless something was done to protect the refugees he would not leave them alone”. The next day the killers attacked. Rwamuhizi, who firmly stood in his pastoral robe in the middle of the refugees, was cynically murdered with all the refugees. His body was recovered by the man who masterminded the killings in the region, mayor Muragizi of the Mwendo Commune, and handed over to the Presbyterian Church of Rwanda. It is believed that his wife and children, who succeeded to reach Kirinda, were never accounted for.

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Koulagna, 2013, 157-158.

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