I saw this photo essay published by the New York Times this morning and have looked at it a few times since. It’s deeply heartbreaking and hopeful. It’s incomplete.
The photos follow the survivors of genocide in Rwanda — both those who were victims and perpetrators. A Catholic organization in Rwanda has been counseling perpetrators and encouraging them to seek forgiveness from those hurt by their actions.
A few things that stick out to me:
- Forgiveness is a gift. No one deserves it. These men who committed such acts of violence know that. But they throw themselves at the mercy of those whose lives are forever altered because of their deeds.
- Forgiveness isn’t fake. It’s a choice. Several women in these photos lost spouses or children. Forgiveness to them comes at a high cost, and there’s no benefit in pretending to forgive anyone.
- Forgiveness calls the offense by its name. Epiphanie Mukamusoni, a woman whose child was killed, said, “I was pleased by the way he testified to the crime instead of keeping it in hiding, because it hurts if someone keeps hiding a crime he committed against you. Before, when I had not yet granted him pardon, he could not come close to me. I treated him like my enemy. But now, I would rather treat him like my own child.”
- Forgiveness doesn’t always bring reconciliation. In some of these pictures, you can see the distance between the subjects.
- Forgiveness always points to Jesus. As I read the stories again, my heart is broken to see so little mention of Jesus (just one reference to God), because forgiveness is impossible without Him. Every act of forgiveness is meant to make visible God’s forgiveness of us, who are no better than those whose hands commit violence.
Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality,nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. (1 Corinthians 6:9b-11)