Coming to Rwanda was one of the most difficult decisions I've ever made.
On the one hand, I wanted to be part of the groundbreaking evangelistic meetings that are expected to result in a record 100,000 baptisms on Sabbath, May 28, On the other, I had no love for the country that for so long had only caused pain to my family.
The repercussions of the 1994 genocide are very real to survivors and their children long afterward. My family lost many relatives and friends, and the loss remains painful even today. I could not wrap my mind around the horror of the genocide. In my attempt to cope, I concluded that God had forsaken this beautiful land. I felt anger toward those who committed those crimes and resentment toward my own heritage.
All my plans for the month of May fell through except the evangelism trip to Rwanda from my home in Canada. Feeling like Jonah on his way to Nineveh, I set out to bring the much-needed gospel to the meeting site where I had been assigned to preach every evening.
In my heart I tolerated the people, but the love of God was not there. I didn't have a passion for their souls or a desire for their salvation. After all, I didn’t think that they deserved salvation after the atrocities that had been committed.
My first sermon was on a Friday night. As I was setting up my equipment, my perfectly functional laptop and projector refused to start. Anxiously I flipped through my Bible, hoping to find a passage to expound on and preach. It was then that the lights went out.
Standing there in front of hundreds of expectant people, all that could come to mind was the love of God and His ability to cleanse us from all sin. As I continued to speak, my heart was stirred and for once I truly longed for them to understand God’s love.
That night in my bed, I was amazed at the sense of peace flowing through me. I felt surprised to discover that a love had begun to grow in my heart for the people at my meeting site, even for those of the group that had hunted down my people. I bowed on my knees and begged God to change my heart. I pleaded with Him to allow me to see the people as He saw them and to give me the ability to radiate His love to all.
On Saturday night as I was packing up, an older gentleman came up to me. He was visibly nervous. I motioned for him to sit, but instead he knelt.
“Forgive me, preacher, forgive me,” he said.
Confused, I explained to him that I did not know him and there was no need for forgiveness.
With agony in his voice, he replied: “No, forgive me because 22 years ago it was people like you who I killed. You say God can forgive me. But can you forgive me?”
I’ve never felt so many emotions at once. Overwhelmed, I knelt in front of him. Anger, sadness, deep pain, and then a strong and divine love filled my heart. I longed for him to experience the joy of salvation, despite the heinous crimes of his past. I longed for him to know that 2,000 years before he had sinned, Christ had been crucified on Calvary that he might have a chance on judgement day.
I reached out and held his hands in mine. With all sincerity, I told him that I forgave him, not because I was a good person, but because I had also been forgiven by Christ.
We both cried tears of joy at this newfound peace.
Coming to Rwanda, I was bitter. I had no desire to see those precious souls in heaven. Leaving Rwanda, God has taught me His love: a love that surpasses all human understanding, a love that heals all brokenness, and a love that reaches out even to the worst of sinners.
I have learned that I am not called to tolerate people but rather to love them, forgive, and be kind. My meeting site has taught me so much about the love of God. I’ve realized that truly it is through service that we ourselves are saved.