Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that I’m preparing for Africa. Perhaps it’s a deep desire to understand the hearts of the people there. Perhaps it comes from working in an organization trying to end hunger. For whatever reason, I seem to have immersed myself in stories of African conflicts lately.
Two of the most recent movies I’ve seen are Hotel Rwanda and Catch a Fire. Both of them are based on true stories about the brutality of conflict in different parts of Africa. Both are about man’s inhumanity to man. Both are dark and depressing, yet thankfully in both, there is a redemptive character – someone who rises above the carnage to demonstrate love, grace, compassion, and incredible courage.
Last week, a journalist visited our office. He’d spent a month in Sudan, trying to follow our food shipment into Darfur, one of the most brutal places on earth these days. He had stories of corruption, fear, carnage, and despair. In the end, the food had to be diverted to another region of Sudan because the passage to Darfur was just too dangerous. According to the World Food Programme, people in Darfur have only enough food to last them until the middle of January. Who will provide for them when it runs out and the rebels don’t allow any more trucks to pass?
Nestar is a young woman who is spending a year working as an intern in our office. Nestar grew up in Uganda, where the ironically named Lord’s Resistance Army has been terrorizing people for most of Nestar’s life. She was displaced from her home at a very young age and has never been able to return to her village. The first week in Canada, Nestar’s host family took her camping. She said she lay in the tent in complete terror, not sleeping a wink all night. To her, sleeping unprotected in the bush was the equivalent of offering herself up to the rebels.
The book I can barely put down these days is called Left to Tell. It’s the incredible story of Immaculée Ilabagiza, a young woman who survived the genocide in Rwanda by hiding for three months in a tiny bathroom with seven other women. The bathroom was so small they couldn’t all sit on the floor at the same time. During her months in the bathroom, Immaculée’s mother, father, and two brothers were brutally slaughtered by the Hutu warriors. One day, while in the bathroom, she heard the killers murder a woman on the street in front of the house. The woman's child was left crying beside her body. All day the baby cried. At night, the crying ended, and then they heard the dogs come to tear the flesh from the bones.
I wish I had a conclusion to this post. I don’t. I don’t know where to go with all of this ugliness and hatred. Some days, it leaves me with such heaviness I can’t shake the melancholy. It’s hardly the way to start the Christmas season, but nonetheless I feel that I have to carry the stories of the people I’ve heard and find some way to honour them.
There may be no conclusion, because so much evil and brutality is still going on in many places in the world. There’s so little I can do about it. Even in Ethiopia, where I’ll be in a few weeks, there are always risks of uprising because of unstable political systems, injustice, and poverty. It’s not something that makes me afraid to go there, but it sits so heavy on my heart sometimes. How can people be so brutal to each other? What evil gets into their bones and drives them to kill?
With all of this weighing down my heart, I find myself clinging to my belief in redemption and hope. If there is evil in the world, than there is also good. There are people willing to risk their lives to save other people. There are people standing up to injustice and saying “no more”. There are people living out the call of Micah 6:8 to “love justice, do mercy, and walk humbly with our god.”
When the heaviness hits me, I turn to the things that breathe peace and hope into my soul. Sometimes it’s the Bible, sometimes it’s a quiet meditative walk, and many times it’s music. This week, it’s been the words of Martyn Joseph.
Yet still this will not be
Though all around is rage
The story getting darker
With each turning of the page
Yet still this will not last
This kingdom of the fool
Will be humbled and made low
When the broken hearted rule
There’s a journey that’s now calling
Towards the ocean’s heart
It’s an offering of mercy
Where we play the selfless part…
We’ll leave our treasure by the roadside
And our trinkets in the dirt
Giving back life and ruby riches
To the ruined and the hurt
In this context of hurt and ruin, I find myself with a few choices. I can rail against a God who lets it all happen and doesn’t rescue his children from torture and despair. I can abandon any belief that there really IS a God who could let this happen. Or I can choose to believe that God weeps weary tears as he watches his children tear each other apart, begging us to find a better way. I haven’t always made the same choice, but today I choose to the third.
Set aside all the trappings of Christmas, and I think that is what is at the heart of it. It’s God’s way of whispering to us “choose humility, choose peace, and choose hope.” The humble birth in a stable is a beacon pointing us to a better way – where power is turned upside down and the greatest way is the way of the child. Even among death and destruction, there is redemption and hope.
I conclude with Immaculée’s final words in Left to Tell. “The love of a single heart can make a world of difference. I believe that we can heal Rwanda – and our world – by healing one heart at a time.”
May you find peace this Christmas, and may you seek peace for those who have none.