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The following article appeared in Missionalia, the journal of the Southern African Missiological Society.

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Missiological reflections of an observer1

by J.J. (Dons) Kritzinger2

Rwanda in April 1994! Who can forget the terrible scenes of thousands of corpses floating down the Akagera river to lake Victoria? An eye witness wrote:

First came the corpses of the men and elder boys, killed trying to defend their sisters and mothers. Then came the women and girls, flushed out from their hiding places and slaughter ed. Last came the babies" (Frontline Fellowship 1994).

Almost a million people lost their lives within a few days. Millions more were uprooted and fled for their lives.

But Rwanda was known as a "Christian" country! It had strong churches. Where were the Christians? Couldn't they stop the carnage? What really happened? I began to ask questions, but failed to find answers. Who can ever understand a human tragedy of such magnitude? But I came to realise that these questions are to be addressed to us all, the Christians of every country. Maybe Rwanda3 isn't that unique after all! I think this painful story confronts us with a number of missiological issues we cannot evade.


Rwanda is a lovely mountainous country in the "heart" of Africa: some 1 000 km from the east coast, and 2 000 km from the Atlantic, to the south of Uganda, with Zaire to the west, Tanzania to the east, and Burundi as its southern neighbour. It is a small country, but – with its good climate and fertile soil – attracted the densest population in Africa, in the order of 330 people per square km (Daniels 1992, Fegley 1993). More than 90% of the population is involved in rural agriculture. The population (some 8,7 million) grew at one of the highest rates in the world (3,9% a year). The intense agriculture and population pressure has played havoc with the environment, soil erosion is rife, and only about 3% of the original forest remains. This spells economic disaster. According to the "Human Development Rating," Rwanda was ranked 133 of the 160 countries listed in 1992 (Africa 1992).

The population of both Rwanda and Burundi are mainly Hutus (in Rwanda about 88% and in Burundi 83%), with the Tutsis a strong minority (10% and 15% respectively). The rest of the population consists of expatriates and about 1% (25 000) of Twa Pygmies, probably the original inhabitants4.


Until 1962 the Tutsis were the overlords over the majority Hutus. Their mwamis (kings) had the control over all of the land, through a hierarchy of headmen (Fegley 1993). The ubuhake system arranged the relations: the Hutu could make use of the land and the cattle, but had to render all kinds of service to the king and his people (the uburetwa system). It was a "friendly" system, because the whole population shared the same language and culture. There even seems to have been an "ethnic mobility:" those Hutus who became cattle herders and owners were seen as Tutsis (Fegley 1993, Lume 1994:30, De Waal 1994), because the Hutus were agriculturalists.

The Berlin Conference of 1885, which carved up Africa and divided it between the European colonial powers, decided to grant the area "Ruanda-Urundi" to Germany, even though the first German official would only enter this area in 1907! The Belgians took over from the Germans in 1916, during World War I. They administered this area up to 1962, when the two countries became independent as two separate entities, since developments in the period immediately before independence caused tensions between the countries. Since then their political histories were different, despite all the similarities. What they do have in common is the ever recurring conflicts between the Hutus and Tutsis5.

In Burundi it was decided to retain the mwami as head of state, with a prime minister as political chief. In 1966 the Tutsi prime minister, General Michel Micombero, declared the country a Republic, ousted the mwami, and became president. He continued a policy of Tutsi hegemony. When the Hutus rose up in 1971 the uprising was crushed, with some 100 000 casualties. The pressure continued, however, and by 1992 the Hutus even comprised the majority in the cabinet. This resulted in a Tutsi rebellion, which, although unsuccessful, caused a great deal of bitterness among the Hutus.

In Rwanda, on the other hand, the Hutus, with the sympathy of the Belgians, became assertive from early on. By 1959 the ubuhake was phased out, and the Hutus were effectively in control.6 In 1962 the population voted in the Hutu Gregoire Kayibanda as President, which put an end to Tutsi rule. Unfortunately the historic discrimination was then only reversed. From 1959 to 1964 the Tutsis rebelled against the Hutus, which resulted in thousands of deaths, and the flight of hundreds of thousands of Tutsis to neigbouring countries. By 1965 Uganda housed no less than 400 000 Tutsis. There they awaited the right time to re-establish their supremacy. At the same time the bloody purge resulted in international pressure on the government of Kayibanda, and soured the relations with Burundi, where the Tutsis were still in power.

General-Major Juvenal Habyarimana ceased power in 1973, when he ousted Kayibanda. He didn't succeed in luring back the exiled Tutsis. Furthermore, the growing corruption in his government estranged other Hutu groups from him. When a group of Tutsis (the Rwanda Patriotic Front), after 30 years of preparation, entered the country from Uganda in 1990, Habyarimana was in deep trouble. He had to fight on two fronts, as well as against the international community, which insisted on reforms. In August 1993 he did enter into an agreement with the Tutsis, but neither the Hutu extremists (the "Coalition for the Defence of the Republic"), which fomented hate, nor the Tutsi invaders, who wanted nothing but total victory, were interested in peace:

For the Tutsi the strategy was perpetuation of the war until all territory had been conquered. In their view they were subverting what Gutiérrez calls 'an order of injustice.' They were combating institutional violence in the 'dominant sectors' controlled by the old regime.... For the Hutu it was self-defence against this political force determined to dominate and tear down the structures of established authority. Their logic was that of Hiroshima. To do such damage to civilian populations that the other side would give up their determination to dominate and stop their offensive. In Rwanda the pursuit for power, for avowedly just purposes, occasioned war: The pursuit of self-defence within that war occasioned genocide: Justification of war by both sides led down a slippery slope to an earthly hell" (Rawson in Cassidy 1995:14).

All hell broke loose with the death of Pres Habyarimana on the 6th of April 1994, when his aircraft crashed (probably shot down). While the Tutsi invaders fought an outright war, the Hutu extremists started to kill civilians. Hate was incited by a well organised media campaign (Lume 1994). The interahamwe ("those who attacked as one"), a kind of Third Force of uprooted youth, went on the rampage in an orgy of killing:

Marauding bands of Hutu men armed with whistles, machetes and machine guns prowl the streets hunting for Tutsis. When they spot some suspect, the whistles are blown and the murderous mobs converge on the victim (Lume 1994).

The organisers of the genocide saw to it that the maximum number of people became involved. Mass hysteria, spurred on by propaganda against all Tutsis, broke out. Tutsis were snuffed out and killed. As the ethnic groups lived in totally integrated communities, intimate knowledge was necessary in order to identify the "enemies." The process was described as an "intimate murder campaign."7 More than half a million people (800 000 according to De Waal 1994) were executed, and even more fled the country (Schoneche 1994). Three groups were targeted: the Tutsi community; all moderates (politicians, priests, journalists, human rights activists); and all independent thinkers (Gatwa 1995:5). Many others just got in the way of the interahamwe.

In the meantime the Tutsi rebels rolled on towards the capital city of Kigali. Because of the Hutu atrocities the RPF received sympathy and help from other countries. Their impending victory, however, spurred a renewed flood of Hutu refugees who expected reprisals. The arrival of more than a million refugees at Goma in Zaire during July 1994 was "the largest and swiftest exodus we have ever witnessed", said the United Nations High Commission for Refugees. A further 1,5 million were internally displaced. Some 3 of the 8 million Rwandese presently live in refugee camps in the bordering countries of Zaire, Tanzania, Burundi and Uganda (Gatwa 1995:5).

The Tutsi rebels indeed took over the government, but appointed Pasteur Bizimungu, a moderate Hutu, as President. The question was whether they would just reverse the atrocities. Bizimungu was adamant: the people had suffered enough; the government wanted reconciliation, but with justice. However, since that time the trouble in the surrounding refugee camps have halted any progress towards this. For many the war is not over. Extremist Hutus incite the refugees for their own ends. They want to return and restore Hutu hegemony. In the meantime the outside world is at a loss. They are afraid of committing the same mistakes as in the past. Many see Rwanda as just another piece of evidence that Africa is a useless case.


Rwanda is generally regarded as one of the most "Christian" countries in Africa and the world, one of the real "successes" of Christian missions in Africa! Statistically speaking some 80% to 90% of the population regard themselves as Christians. An absolute majority are Roman Catholics, and a strong minority Protestants. Much of this Christianity is of a strong evangelical persuasion (Daniels 1992; Johnstone 1993:472).

Christian missions started in 1900. By 1920 the Roman Catholics already had five indigenous priests, and by 1952 there were 100 priests and the first Rwandan bishop. During the 1930s more than 1 000 people were being baptised each week (Barrett 1992). By the 1940s 90% of the headmen were Catholics, so that the king officially declared Rwanda a Christian kingdom in 1946 (Gatwa 1995:5).

The Lutheran missions started in 1907, the Baptists in 1920, and the Anglicans in 1922. Apart from these largest Protestant groups there are also many other groups. Unfortunately, there is very little unity among the Christians (Gatwa 1995:5). Each group competed with the other for power, influence... and souls.

Well known in Christian circles is the so-called East African Revival. It started in the 1930s within the Anglican Church at Gahini (see Church 1981), but spread to other churches and neighbouring countries. The Roman Catholics were also deeply influenced by it. This movement hasn't quite died out, although church life has clearly lost some of its vigour.8 Scheer, a long time missionary in Rwanda, writes (1995:324):

On Sundays in Rwanda we used to see well-dressed neighbors walking to church on every road. Yet, last year these same neighbors slaughtered each other. I don't assume that all those walking to church were all walking in the steps of Christ, the Lord. But the committed minority of the church was significant, 5 percent of the population, and the influence of the church was strong in the lives of another 75 percent of the people. Why was there no moderation, no dampening – just hatred and fear, farming tools becoming weapons, neighbors cutting down each other as enemies?

These are the kind of questions which prompted the writing of this paper.

With the church representing such an overwhelming percentage of the population it is not surprising that they also suffered many casualties during the genocide of April 1994. About 106 Catholic priests and 250 religious sisters (including the archbishop and two bishops) lost their lives (McCullum 1995:7; REC News Exchange, August 1994). Proportionally the same happened to the Protestant churches. Most of the surviving leadership fled the country. Churches and church yards served as handy venues for slaughter. Cassidy (1995:69) describes his visit to Ntarama, where the church building was left as it was:

The whole thing was unspeakable as we looked into the church, saw the dreadful stenching remains, the clothes decaying and rotting, pieces of limbs here and there, skulls, either on the floor or on the altar, and other all gathered together on a shaded platform just outside the church...

The questions about these atrocities multiply, but even more important are those about the future: what can be the role of the church now and in the future in a country which went through such an ordeal?


A missiological discussion of the Rwandan tragedy will inevitably include a critical analysis of the churches' role in the country's history, because the Rwandan tragedy indeed throws a dark shadow over the accomplishments of mission and church in that country: "Scorn and pain – that is how many thinking, feeling Rwandans now view our churches in Rwanda. Do we have answers, or just excuses?" (Scheer 1995:328). I take this critical look for no other reason than to facilitate the painful process of self-criticism. We – whoever "we" may be – should investigate a number of key missiological issues, in order to critique our own role in society.

The gospel and ethnicity: reconciliation

A first reading of the Rwandan tragedy seems to underline that tribalism is one of Africa's greatest problems. Most observers tend to see the conflict in Rwanda as one between the Hutus and Tutsis, and to a large extent this is true. When Cardinal Etchegaray of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace visited Rwanda on behalf of the Pope, he asked the assembled church leaders: "Are you saying that the blood of tribalism is deeper than the waters of baptism"? One leader answered: "Yes it is" (Martin 1995:1). Father Mbuy, when discussing the "Rwandan Nightmare", says (1995:50):

... what is even more frightening is the realization that this may not be the worst yet, if we do not face the problem of ethnicity, tribalism and sectionalism openly. The Rwandan case may just be Act One of a long, repulsive melodrama. Perhaps we are sitting on time bombs and dormant volcanoes!

He (Mbuy) is of the opinion that we should take seriously the danger of what he calls "tribal idolatry." He finds in Africa a number of traits which could easily develop into ethnic absolutism.

Others feel strongly that the ethnic issue is overrated. Kolini (1995:12) says that "the problem of Rwanda is more political and economic than tribal. The common man from both ethnic groups always suffered and is still suffering... There was no war between tribes, but between groups or classes or individuals." In fact, some Rwandan theologians place the guilt squarely on the shoulders of those missionaries, historians and anthropologists who "created" the ethnic differences. Before the colonial era the Hutu and Tutsi communities lived in harmony, they spoke the same language, shared one culture and religion, and there was an interchange between the tribes. The Hutu were predominantly agriculturalists, and the Tutsi were cattle farmers, but they complemented each other. However, the race conscious Europeans saw differences, which they eventually traced to a Hamitic origin for the Tutsi and a Bantu origin for the Hutu. The colonial rulers even introduced a system of ethnic identity for every individual (Gatwa 1995:7). It was therefore the colonialist and missionary literature and anthropological studies of the early twentieth century which can be held responsible for the beginning of the ethnic tensions (Gatwa 1995:5), which was not there in earlier times9.

The main problem is that the Rwandese began to accept this ethnic lie (De Waal 1994). It has done immeasurable harm, says André Karamaga, the newly elected president of the Presbyterian Church. It is dangerous to continue accepting these racial theories, which have over the years shown its "criminal" results (Karamaga 1995:74; see also Gatwa 1995:18)10.

Lie or no lie, what has since conspired cannot be wished away. Through incessant clashes a collective memory of racial hatred was soon accumulated. Not only the interahamwe mobs of April 1994, but also the Nazi-like cleansing of 1972 in Burundi, when the Tutsis killed thousands of Hutus after their unsuccessful coup, are well remembered. Furthermore, the conduct of the RPF rebels in the occupied zones (since 1990) shows the same hatred. It seems as if, for all practical purposes, the ordinary people have learnt to see every act in an ethnic light. The Hutu swore that they would never again be decimated by the Tutsi. The latter, in turn, realised that they had no chance of survival unless they could wield political and military power11.

What about the celebrated East African revival? Didn't it alleviate the racial hatred? Gatwa (1995:6) answers:

To some extent, the revival has broken the horrifying wall of racial separation which was growing between the missionaries and the Tutsi ruling class on the one side and the Hutus peasants on the other... In the years of ethnic violence (1959-61, 1972-73), the majority of the converts defended the lives of the threatened, gave them asylum, helped them escape, kept safe their properties. Even in 1994 where the process of genocide was so seriously organised, motivated and achieved, many individuals and groups sacrificed their lives to safeguard innocents. In Muhima, Kigali and Rugarika groups of converts have refused to separate while praying and have been killed together...

It seems as if the revival had a marked effect on personal relations: most Hutu Christians fellowshipped warmly with Tutsi brothers and sisters. But – and that was the real problem – they were afraid of the Tutsis as people. On the other hand, it seems as if most Tutsi Christians shared the basic premise of the rebel cause: Hutus were not as capable as Tutsis to govern the country (Scheer 1995:326). The Christians were in the last instance divided on ethnic lines into a "us" and "them."

Gatwa (1995:5) confesses the reality: "We Rwandans must understand that if discernment had been accompanied by courage and determination, we could have stopped the demonic plan before it became too late." The problem there (and everywhere, also in South Africa12) was that the slide into ethnic conflict was seen too late. The church didn't sound the warning in time. The church was not really effective in dealing with the problem in its own ranks. The situation was allowed to develop to its extreme before the prophets found their words (or the words were heard).

Reconciliation in Rwanda is clearly a priority issue. The leaders emphasise, however, that this reconciliation cannot be sought without a simultaneous quest for justice13. What is the role of the church in this new phase? The church is by nature supposed to be the agent of a "ministry of reconciliation." But this should start within the church. The church should first regain its credibility. Then it will have to promote and help create a new national identity "that refuses to accept that Hutu and Tutsi are mutually antagonistic" (De Waal 1994:6). Mbuy offers practical advice: work towards a proper education of the people's conscience; resurrect a kind of Pan-Africanism, in opposition to tribalism; give attention to the next generation; and make use of the Rwandan tragedy as an eye-opener... (Mbuy 1995:56-59).

It is important to note that the Rwandan churches, with the special help of the wider African church, have immediately started to address these issues. But much credibility was lost, and the progress is difficult.

The gospel and revival: the spiritual foundations

There is ample evidence that the revival had a beneficial influence in many circles. That is why we should ask the question: why couldn't this spiritual revival make a difference in the recent past?

The beginning of the revival can be traced to a deep relationship between a white man and a black man who found each other in their common brokenness before the Lord (see Church 1981). The one significant saying in the early days of the renewal movement was: "the ground is level at the foot of the cross." Right from the beginning the revival influenced ethnic relations by preaching and living out the vision of Jesus Christ crucified for all (Bowen 1995:15). Two of the most impressive features of the revival were (a) the multiracial, multitribal teams of witnesses which lived and travelled together – a "fellowship of the unlike," and (b) the open fellowship meetings which were marked by mutual confession of sin, bible study, prayer, testimony and mutual encouragement (Bowen 1995:16). The movement definitely touched indivi duals in all churches, but seemingly did not reach society as a whole, because it broke cultural taboos (Kolini 1995:13). However:

As ethnic conflicts arose in East Africa at the time of independence it was often the revival brethren who had discovered a new identity "in Christ" who stood firm... It is the sober judgment of Max Warren's study on revival that in Kenya "it was the men and women of the Revival Fellowship who saved the Church" (Bowen 1995:16).

Why didn't the revival show the same transforming power during the conflicts of the last three decades?

The first part of the answer is that the revival had become institutionalised and nominal. The fires of revival had died down (Bowen 1995:16). "Rwandan spiritual development rarely progressed much past the initial point of conversion. The saved were called to be saved Sunday after Sunday..." (Scheer 1995:326). The emphasis was on conversion. The repentance that was called for was often limited to the pattern of "no alcohol, no adultery and pay your tithe! There has been a lack in Pauline terms of preaching "the whole counsel of God." Testimonies received more emphasis than solid biblical teaching. An anti-intellectualism among the missionaries resulted in the church leaders not being given the theological training and tools to deal with the complexities of gospel and cultural issues. This was not only the case in the revival. Bishop Nsengiyumva of the Roman Catholic Church humbly acknowledged: "..we have sacramentalized... not evangelized them..." (Bowen 1995:16).

The second problem was the lack of relevance for everyday life. It was partly the result of the theological background of the missionaries, who tended to emphasise evangelism to the exclusion of any engagement with the public life of the nation, or a critique of the socio-political context (Bowen 1995:16, Bowen 1996:35). They spoke about "the deeper life" and worked and prayed for revival. They were also greatly influenced by the pietist tradition. This, coupled with a fundamentalist view of the Scriptures, led to either withdrawal from the public life of the nation, or a naive and uncritical support of whoever was in power (Bowen 1995:17). The revival therefore didn't put its stamp on public life. The "converts" were not readied for the rigours of life "out there." They were shaken to their foundations by the bloody events. We read in the REC News Bulletin:

A year after the massacres in Rwanda... several pastors are in prison, accused of crimes against humanity, while others remain in exile... Pastors from the pre-war church who remain in the country have difficulty preaching... "If they preach forgiveness and reconciliation, they are accused of siding with those in exile." Many of them ignore the subject...

A spiritual revival alone is not enough. It must work its way through to the daily life of the people. And it should be carried into every sphere of life.

The gospel and renewal of life: ethics

The events of April 1994 and the following months (but also the years of fighting which went before) made a public mockery of those who believe in the ultimate goodness of human beings. What happened here signified

a complete collapse of social order, of the ordinary ways of doing business and building relationships; all that was culturally sacred was violated; all that was customary became alien... The complex tissue which made up Rwandan society has been ripped across warp and woof... (Rawson 1995:321).

In Rwanda the pursuit for power, for avowedly just purposes, occasioned war: The pursuit of self-defence within that war occasioned genocide: Justification of war by both sides led down a slippery slope to an earthly hell" (Rawson in Cassidy 1995:14).

It goes without saying that the behaviour of the people went against everything that the Christian church – to which so many of both the victims and the murderers belonged – stands for and preaches. We are struggling to understand what happened to these "Christians."14 But it also went against every conceivable element of the traditional African worldview. In the traditional culture and religion the most important obligation of people is the maintenance of the cosmic harmony through the right relations to people, the environment and God. To the traditional mind these kind of atrocities is akin to suicide (Karamaga 1995:76-77). These people violated every relational principle.

Yet, when a relief worker visited them, he found no remorse but the insistent plaint, "What have we done that they chase us out of our own country?" How do you achieve reconciliation when there is on one side no repentance and on the other no forgiveness? (Rawson 1995:323).

So what did really happen here? Where were the human qualities so highly valued in Africa?

We may try to answer the question by indicating the lack of teaching in the churches. The missionary legacy of no social engagement, the revival legacy of a limited doctrine of sin, the church legacy of schism and dependence (Martin 1995:2) may all be mentioned. Indeed, "the viruses of racism, ethnicity and violence were not condemned and addressed" (Gatwa 1995:7).

But the haunting possibility is that something went drastically wrong with the christianisation of the Rwandan people. A badly understood (Western?) Christianity broke down the norms of the traditional religion and culture, without establishing new accepted norms (Karamaga 1995:76). Things just fell apart.

Gospel and culture: communication

These previous questions introduce the issue of how deeply the gospel has penetrated the culture of the people. Here, in a most dramatic way, the Christian mission is confronted with the question of its "success." In this spotlight the missionary will not get away with glib answers about numerical growth, or spiritual experiences, or even resort to blaming the power of Satan. The real question is: is the gospel the answer? And if it is: why didn't it avert the tragedy? Was it simply not understood and accepted in its real life-changing character?

We have come close to an acknowledgement that, when put to the ulti mate test, the gospel – as preached and accepted – did more harm than good in the Rwandan crucible. Is it true? Do we have to accede this?

It seems as if we are all challenged by this tragedy to revisit the cultural process of the communication of the gospel of Jesus Christ. To what extent did we (the bearers of the good news, white and black) succeed in communicating the living Christ? What would the judgment of a tragedy comparable to that in Rwanda be on our efforts?15 It is urgent to think about this, because we do not know the future. The same kind of holocaust may come our way.

Karamaga (1995:76) relates the story of the missionary Ernest Johannsen's first visit to Mwami Musinga. He tried to gain entrance into the area in order to teach the people about God. That was not necessary, the king retorted: "We already know Imana. Rather teach us German." In the further discussion the king communicated his amazement at the arrogance of the white man in implying that he knew God better, while his people are killing each other in Europe! This "heathen" judged a religion by its effects in terms of ethical norms. Did the Christians of Rwanda yet again fail their Lord?

Gospel and politics: power or service

Rwanda also provides us with a textbook example of the topic "church and politics." As background we may again turn to the US Ambassador:

The conflict in Rwanda is in large part political – competition for control of the kingdom... a long history of authoritarian government, built on 400 years of divine monarchy and 60 years of colonial rule. Who ruled at the center got to determine who got land, who got privileges, who was where on the social ladder of dominance and subservience... (Rawson 1995:320).

The mission, entering the field in the shadow of the colonisers, was part and parcel of the radical changes this new political era brought to the indigenous population. The missionaries represented the powerful religious arm of the colonisers. And yet, they had the naive policy of not becoming involved in politics, but to concentrate on evangelism16!

Today we understand the absolutely ridiculous nature of such a policy. A policy of non-involvement per definition has the effect of perpetuating and strengthening the political status quo. That is why the wonderful effect of the revival was confined to personal relations, but never changed the inherited subordinate position of the Hutus under the Tutsis.

This policy did change, however. The next stage in mission theology came about when the churches came to the conclusion that they had to do something about the injustice and oppression of the majority by the ruling minority. The church (or significant parts of it) became "the voice of the voiceless", and took the side of the majority of their members, the Hutus. They pitted their (moral and international) power against that of the ruling class. In the end it led to reforms, and eventually a majority government. In the process they made enemies, because, as Scheer (1995:326) says, "loyalties in Rwandan culture were personal, not ideological... Parties were more like gangs. They divided the church."

But the church reaped some (short term) benefits. More correctly, the church leaders were rewarded. They developed a close relationship to the Hutu rulers.

> Leaders in the church used the close relationship to enhance their own power within the church hierarchy... (Rawson 1995:322).

In Rwanda a young man who wants to 'climb', to get ahead, will go to Bible school. Pastors have prestige and influence. They gain access to foreign money and government officials... (Scheer 1995:325).

In effect the church sold itself to government. The benefits silenced them. Their critical political role was over, because they had become part of the establishment: "Staying on the good side of the local mayor became as impor tant as staying on the good side of God (sometimes more so). As the Rwandans put it, you don't throw stones at the milk bottle" (Scheer 1995:326). The escalating ethnic hatred and the declining morals were not prophetically denounced. The church became part and parcel of an immoral regime.

The church arrived at the next stage. They remembered the old policy of not becoming involved in politics. They saw the divisions their political in volvement caused. They also began to see the negative side of power politics. They came to the conclusion: "politics is too dirty for Christian hands", and they withdrew from playing a public role (all the while enjoying the privileges of their close relationships with the powerful)17.

The first (unfortunate) result of this policy was that, when the tension built up, and everyone knew that a great conflagration was imminent, the church was impotent. When hell broke loose, the church leaders were nowhere to be seen. Hundreds of them did lose their lives, but the situation was so totally out of hand, that nothing could bring sanity back into the situation. When the country needed spiritual leadership as never before, the church was not involved and largely discredited.

The second result of the church's policies is that the new (rebel) govern ment disregards them. They remember well that the church took sides against them. They don't listen to the church. In fact, the people as such are also bitterly disappointed. Their perception is that the church only looks after its own interests. The surviving church has to be built up from the ground.

It is necessary for the church everywhere to realise that politics is a power game. For the church to become involved in this power game is not only risky, but goes against its calling as a servant. The church always has to walk the tightrope between involvement and retaining the freedom of its calling. It is an enduring problem that the church tends either to withdraw, or become involved unconditionally.18 For both these alternatives there are supporting theological systems, but I myself tend towards a "third way" of involvement at a critical distance, a critical solidarity, a fierce independence.

Gospel and development: responsibility

Is the Rwandan problem political, or rather economic? Some – in reaction to those who blame everything on tribalism – emphasise the increasing poverty among especially the Hutu peasants, primarily at the hands of Tutsi overlords, as the real force behind the clashes.

Not only the competition for dwindling resources, but the unequal distribution of wealth brought about growing discontent. This inequality had its origin in previous centuries, but was continued and exacerbated in the colonial times, because the traditional system of control was retained, without adequate insight in its implications.

The economic impact of the mission activities should not be under estimated. Not only did the missionaries question old values, but they – together with the German and Belgian administrations – introduced many new economic ventures such as cash cropping. But, added to that, the colonial era brought the country into the larger context of the European economy. Actually, the country became a dependent part of a system too far away and too difficult to gain access to. This dependence, coupled with an ongoing population boom only accentuated economic and environmental problems, chief of which has been severe soil erosion.

Since independence all of these difficulties have been magnified. But other issues have also surfaced.... the neglect of much needed agricultural policies and the country's desperate health situation... The decline of the mining sector... Any of the serious issues could easily cause economic dysfunction and social decline for generations..." (Fegley 1993:xxxii).

Recently the International Monetary Fund (IMF), as condition for the rolling over of loans, insisted on a Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP) for Rwanda. This resulted in the loss of many job opportunities. The fact is that the kind of economic deterioration that was experienced in the country bred social pathologies. Youth are restless and prone to mischief of all sorts. Couple this with an extremely high population growth, pressure for land, and poverty became something of a time bomb ... which eventually exploded.

This is an area of utmost importance. If ever there was a country in need of an "RDP,"19 it is Rwanda. The question to us would be: what is necessary to combat this poverty? And: does the church have a role to play?

Gospel and land: the ecology

The American ambassador Rawson remarked (1995:321-322):

Rwanda was the most heavily populated rural country in the world, after Bangladesh. With rapid population growth, it had used up all arable land... Nutritional levels were plummeting... Many of these young folks gravitated to the city and became the shock troups of political movements... Valuable coffee and tea plots went untended for two seasons.

The once rich fauna and flora of the country, the fertile soil which attracted people to this area in the first place, were systematically destroyed. It is high time that we humans realise that we are part of the environment. One species cannot be allowed to destroy their own and their fellow creatures' environment like that. Nature has its own way to sort out its problems. I ask this question with great trepidation, but nevertheless pose it for us to think about: do we perhaps witness in the recent Rwandan experience nature's way to put an unwanted species in its place, to get rid of an intruding group who couldn't behave themselves?

Did the church in the past preach responsible environmental living? In a situation like Rwanda the environmental degradation and population pressure is clearly one of the important elements for future peace in the country. Elsewhere it may not be as explicit. But will the church take up the challenge? How much time is left?


The reason I broached this painful subject is the frightening reminder that our situation in South Africa has the potential of a Rwandan tragedy: the "Herrenvolk" ideology is endemic; the power struggle between the majority and frightened minorities already causes a lot of bloodshed; the heritage of an economy that rendered some rich and others increasingly poor cannot be wished away; far-reaching destruction of the family and other social institutions is a fact of life...

The Rwandan church is in disarray. More than a hundred Catholic priests are dead; only five of the eleven bishops of the Rwandan Anglican church was left in the country (REC News Exchange, July 1995), several pastors are in prison (accused of crimes against humanity), while others remain in exile, fearing to face charges if they return (REC News Exchange, September 1995). Under new leaders a new way of being a relevant church will have to grow out of the ashes. But even deeper than the structural question is the spiritual one where Christians struggle to understand why God allowed society to disintegrate as it did. Why didn't He save his followers?.

Many believers were murdered even as they prayed for deliverance. An Anglican pastor reported that the armed militiamen taunted the Christians that God did not rescue them..." (REC News Exchange, September 1995).

The question is not only what can be done, and what is expected of the church, but: where is God in all this?

The Rwandan church – but the Christian community all over the world – is put in the dock. What kind of a religion is this whose followers commit such atrocities.20 The church does not only have to answer these questions, but also has to regain (or gain for the first time) credibility by what she is going to do in the present and future.21

May the Lord have mercy upon us all!

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1 This article is based on a paper read at the annual Congress of the Southern African Missiological Society (SAMS) in Pretoria, January 1996. I emphasise that I am an "observer." This paper is based not on personal acquaintance with Rwanda, but is prompted by the feelings and thoughts arising from the Rwandan tragedy.

2 Prof Kritzinger teaches Missiology at the Faculty of Theology of the University of Pretoria and is Director of the Institute for Missiological and Ecumenical Research (IMER).

3 Most of the issues that I am going to raise are important also for other countries, not only in Africa, but everywhere. Secondly, Rwanda should actually not be viewed in isolation from Burundi, with which it has so much in common. Its history is intricately linked with that of Burundi, which, at the time of writing, is on the verge of exploding for much the same reasons as did Rwanda. For practical reasons I am however going to focus on Rwanda.

4 I return later to the ethnic theme. It is clearly one of the main issues of the Rwandan crucible.

5 We will have to give attention to this tension. What is behind it? Is the problem ethnicity pure and simple, or is there more to it?

6 In this process the church played an important role. We will also return to this aspect.

7 Neigbours killed each other. Family and friends turned others out. A UNICEF study revealed that half of Rwanda's children witnessed the killing of children by other children; more than half had to stand by while family members were killed; more than 80% had to flee for their lives (Ecumenical News International).

8 We will return also to this important aspect later on.

9 Overdulve (1995:6) agrees that the problem is not ethnic, but he shows how the process of the growing hegemony of the Nyiginya-Tutsi brought chronic poverty and oppression to the Hutu. It was especially through the uburetwa system of forced service to the overlord that this was accomplished. In the referendum of 25 September 1961 the population effectively voted for an end to this system, since they didn't want the continuation of a Tutsi monarchy (idid:15).

10 One example of the power of racial theories to colour a tradition is given by Desouter (1995:58- 64). He studied the traditional Ryangombe ritual, based on the mythical story of a certain Ryangombe, which played an important role in the understanding and celebration of the unity of the Rwandan population. The king was honoured as standing above the tribal differences separating the people. However, the colonial government and the mission opposed the ritual. By 1957 the ritual was developed into an ethnically oriented Bahutu Manifesto, written by a group of Christian intellectuals, supported by the Catholic Church. In it the submission of the Hutu to the (Tutsi) king was criticised. With the death of mwami Mutara Rudahigwa in 1959, it led to rebellion against the monarchy. It soon developed into a clash between Hutu and Tutsi young people and the flight of hundreds of thousands of Tutsis from the country.

11 The RPF's popular name was the Inkotanyi, which means "those who will never give up." Their battle cry was: "For Kigeri we will conquer or die, but never surrender!" Kigeri V was the last Mwami, who was voted out in the referendum of 1961 (Overdulve 1995:23).

12 The application of this material to the escalation of ethnic politics in South Africa is very clear. Not only can it be applied to the apartheid years, but also to present realities.

13 Overdulve correctly warns against preaching a "cheap" reconciliation which doesn't incluse the biblical injunction for justice (1995:32ff).

14 When Archbishop Tutu visited Rwanda he, however, (rightly) refused to condemn the Christians. How can we? Have we been tested in such a furnace (Cassidy 1995)?

15 In a sense the South African crisis under apartheid already answered this question to a large extent. In one way or another most of us, not only the defenders, but also the victims, failed the God of love.

16 Overdulve (1995:12) provides an interesting historical perspective when he refers to the debate between Karl Röhl and Ernst Johanssen, two of the first Bethel missionaries. Johanssen, who represented the narrow evangelical viewpoint, became the role model for subsequent missionaries.

17 It is interesting that a church usually develops such a "withdrawal policy" when "their" party is in power!

18 From bitter experience in South Africa we know that the Rwandan case is not unique in terms of the political role of the churches.

19 This is a reference to the South African government's "Reconstruction and Development Programme."

20 Those with anything of a memory would remember that this Rwandan tragedy is just one of a long list of anti-human events committed in "Christian" countries.

21 A long list of challenges can be given. Cassidy (1995:71) quotes Major Dr Théogene Rudasingwa, General Secretary of the Rwanda Patriotic Front's list: the political challenge of a broad-based government; the challenge of dealing with the legacy of genocide through a process which is just, but will lead to real reconciliation (What to do where maybe more than a million people killed a million others? Someone calculated that if all the accused in Rwanda were processed by British law it would take 40 years and, by American law, 140 to 200 years); the challenge of the refugees (Some 1,3 million mostly Tutsis refugees have returned to Rwanda, but a new batch of 1,5 or 2 million refugees left the country); the challenge of the economy; the challenge of security; and so forth. The ironic thing was that he didn't spontaneously give a role to the Church in this scenario!

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