For this week's Story of Reconciliation, SURRENDER friend Martin Watson shared with us some recollections of the time he spent with Pastor Antoine, a commissioner on the Rwandan National Commission for Reconciliation set up after the genocide in 1994. 'He's one of the most amazing men I've ever met', said Martin. Antoine is also the current Rwandan Team Leader of African Enterprise, an organisation that is committed to bringing healing, reconciliation, strength and renewal back to the devastated Rwandan church and nation.
"The highlight of our time in Rwanda was an evening with Antoine Rutayisire, the only commissioner who has served continuously on the nation's Reconciliation Commission since it began. Over dinner, he filled out our knowledge of the horrific 1994 genocide - where nearly a million Tutsis were slaughtered in one hundred days, mainly by machetes - with a summary of Rwandan history leading up to it.
I asked him if he could tell us some stories of reconciliation - he has an unpublished manuscript outlining many of them. 'They are all the same', Antoine admitted. 'A perpetrator is convicted by Jesus and can no longer live with his conscience and so decides to confess his crime to the remaining family members. On the other side, those family members have also been convicted by Jesus, in spite of the absolute evil done to them, in that they can't continue to live in bitterness any longer. They decide they have to forgive. Consequently, the parties come together and there is confession and forgiveness.'
To be playing such a role, I imagined that Antoine too must have a story of his own. He believes his town's mayor had his father murdered when Antoine was five years old (in an earlier persecution by Hutus) and has had to contend with serious bitterness and hatred himself.
As a young man, Antoine completed a Masters in Literary Criticism. He decided he would read the Bible three times and apply his knowledge of literary criticism to it. If it didn't measure up, he would ignore Christianity. If it did, he would give himself to God. The Bible did hold up to his scrutiny and Antoine went on to study to be a pastor.
After doing this he realised that his community needed to hear the Gospel, so he would preach to them - but he was determined to never let them into his heart. Jesus' teaching on forgiveness kept eating at him, until he finally preached a sermon where he admitted what he had been thinking, and publicly repented.
That evening was, for us, a great privilege - simply being able to listen, ask questions and spend the time with Antoine. I found myself thinking, I am looking up at a giant of a man. When we asked how many children he had, he couldn't answer - he and his wife had taken in so many orphans over the last few years. With the help of women and men like Antoine, and the grace and power of God, it is clear that Rwanda is a nation that is now literally rising from the ashes; it is like a resurrection."
Martin Watson is the Director of Cornerstone Community's Swan Hill Campus