Witnesses to genocide
David and Prue Boyd lived with their family in Zaire (now renamed Democratic Republic of Congo) in 1986-96. They worked as mission partners with the Anglican Diocese of Bukavu in theological education and other areas. David now works for the Church Missionary Society - Tasmania and here tells of his time in Rwanda.
During the Rwandan genocide crisis in April-June 1994, we were living in the eastern Congolese border town of Bukavu, right next to Rwanda. In the previous four years, the situation in Rwanda had deteriorated as civil war between Tutsi exiles seeking to get back into their country and the Hutu-dominated government took its toll.
On April 6, as the plane carrying the presidents of Rwanda and Burundi (Rwanda's small southern neighbour with exactly the same ethnic rivalries) returned from peace talks where compromise had been agreed, it was shot down over Kigali, Rwanda's capital.
And so the planned massacres by the trained Hutu militias and parts of the Rwandan military were purposely triggered, lasting for just on three months and leaving nearly one million Tutsis and moderate Hutus dead. Most of it was done with machetes, face to face. Bodies floated in the lake and river which separate Rwanda and Congo, but the border was sealed ‘hermetically' by the local governor to stop Tutsis escaping.
We grieved as we heard of the disappearance or murder of the families of some of our friends in Bukavu. We would wake at night as, across the border, selected victims were taken from the soccer stadium where they had been herded without food, water or shelter, and shot.
A great black cloud of evil seemed to have descended on central Africa.
All semblance of ordinary human decency and civilisation disappeared as the army and militias did their work. Others - including some Anglican church leaders and bishops - simply looked the other way, ignored pleas for help, or actively encouraged and aided the murderers.
We felt isolated in Bukavu, knowing from BBC and Guardian Weekly reports what was going on, but at odds with those around us who supported their Hutu cousins in their efforts to ‘defend' themselves.
The actions of the UN and the US and French governments particularly upset and disgusted us. The UN talked and talked, but was prevented from using the word ‘genocide' by the US government, so there was no necessity to act. The French actively helped their allies in the Hutu regime, knowing what they had been involved in.
As the Tutsi army began to win the war and took over more and more of the country, massive streams of refugees flowed east into Tanzania, then west into Congo. They were panicked into getting out by their military and civilian leaders, believing that they would be massacred by the incoming Tutsis.
In Bukavu, several hundred thousand refugees lived on every tiny space possible, including traffic islands and nature strips. Amidst the chaos, we worked with our colleagues to help those on Anglican land, using money provided from Australia. It was several months before the UN was able to organise camps for them outside the town.
I have reflected for a long time on the genocide and the subsequent upheavals in Congo, which have caused up to five or six million additional deaths and stupendous suffering.
My first reaction was to be angry with God for allowing such a terrible thing to happen. Then I slowly came to the realisation that what we had witnessed was exactly what one would expect when God is rejected and humans discard all of the normal constraints which stop them from hurting and killing others.
God was more grieved about what occurred than we were.
As we approach Easter - and another anniversary of the start of the genocide - we can reflect on the enormous love of God in sending Jesus to be the bearer of all that separates us from him, making possible a renewed relationship. We only gained a small insight into the turmoil and grief that human rebellion and rejection of God causes, but its power will live on, for us (who were only at the edge) and for millions of others.
Eventually, God will bring to an end all the evil which destroys human relationships with himself, other humans and the creation. The resurrection of Jesus is the guarantee of it.
That is the only source of true and lasting hope.
Addendum: CMS has just commenced another chapter: Tim and Catherine Walker from Victoria have just gone to Rwanda as mission partners, to do medical work and primary teaching. And our own son Simon is about to spend several weeks there with his wife Emma, doing his final year elective for Medicine.