We still don’t know who shot down the plane, but we do know that the death toll was between 500,000 and one million people. We aren’t talking about a disaster movie; unfortunately, this is a true story.

The people weren’t on the plane, obviously, they were on the ground. And — also obviously — that many people on the ground couldn’t have been crushed by one plane.

No, these people were crushed by fear and hatred of “the other.”

Lest We Forget Rwanda

It was nineteen years ago today that Rwandan president Juvenal Habyarimana’s plane fell from the skies, the target of either a Tutsi military organization (the president was a Hutu) or Hutu extremists who wanted to prompt a mass “revenge” killing of Tutsi people.

My guess is it was the latter, because within hours of the plane crash, the slaughter began, led by Hutu extremists in the army and the police force. For several years, the president had been whipping up anti-Tutsi sentiment, hoping to build his power base among his Hutu people. Hundreds of Tutsis had already been massacred by the time the civil war officially began nineteen years ago tomorrow.

English: President Juvénal Habyarimana of RWAN...

President Juvenal Habyarimana

Whichever side shot down the plane, Hutu extremists took advantage of the assassination, and the all-out slaughter of Tutsis and moderate Hutus was on. The resulting ethnic genocide was the worst since World War II.

The day after the plane crash, April 7, 1994, ten Belgian peacekeepers were murdered, which led to the withdrawal of U.N. forces from Rwanda and the ultimate death of 75% of the Tutsi people living in Rwanda, many hacked to death by their neighbors after radio stations urged the Hutu majority to kill all the Tutsis.

President Bill Clinton called his failure to do anything to stop the genocide “the biggest regret” of his presidency.

If you have never seen the movie Hotel Rwanda, please watch it. For the world’s sake.

Let’s not forget.

Compassion Fatigue

We hear about compassion fatigue – it’s often talked about in reference to professional caregivers or to those who are caring for loved ones. But it’s true on a global scale as well. Too true. Our human psyches weren’t meant to be subjected to atrocities, day after day, year after year. We tune it out. We numb ourselves.

Your memory banks are probably full of the echoes of TV and radio reports about various genocides, your brains pulsating with color pictures of slaughters “somewhere else.”

But there is no “somewhere else,” folks. Sometimes the slaughters are carried out with assault weapons in our neighborhood schools. Sometimes they come in the shape of airplanes plowing into skyscrapers. And sometimes they come at the hands of a broken military veteran who witnessed human carnage and was himself massacred by the psychological aftermath.

We can’t afford to let compassion fatigue win out. We must – we must – remember these atrocities and the victims, living and dead and damaged. We can’t stop the cycle if we ignore it.

But what can we do, just a bunch of Americans on our couches, hunched over our computers? Read on….

Hope amidst the Hate

I am a member of Bloggers for Peace, a group of idealistic bloggers who pledge to write about peace at least once a month. Thinking that if we send enough hope for peace into the cosmos, surely it will return to the earth.

Last month, I told you about a friend of mine who works with mothers in the Niger Delta promoting peace.

With this post, I want to tell you about several other amazing friends of mine. A few years back, a couple of us went to Africa together. We met a man from Rwanda, Steven, who had been a Christian missionary knocking on doors and handing out leaflets. When he realized that many of the doors he knocked on were answered by orphans who had no adults in the house, he decided he could probably do something more useful than hand them a Bible tract. So he took a few kids into his home. Then a few more, then…

Youth

Some of Steven’s Crew

Pastor Steven

Pastor Steven

Well, you won’t believe what one person can do. And the thing is, he’s not just one person anymore. A few of my friends on that African trip went to meet Steven’s orphans in Rwanda, while I went to the slums of Nairobi to work alongside widows with HIV.

My friends Lori and Kelly were so taken with Steven and his growing family of refugees that they started a new organization called African Road to help support the kids. They are working to provide housing for orphans, micro-enterprise business assistance for mothers, and education for young people.

Please visit their website to hear this remarkable story of hope. This is what can happen when we see ourselves in “the other” – when instead of looking for differences between us, we look for the heart of God in each person.

Kudos to Lori and Kelly! And thank you, readers, for sticking with me till the end of yet-another-genocide story. Perhaps you will consider making a donation to African Road here in honor of this regrettable anniversary.

May the anniversary of the start of the Rwandan civil war remind us that it does not have to be this way.

Please join me in praying for peace. Every day.

Peace to you.

Related Articles:

http://bloggers4peace.wordpress.com/2013/02/11/kozo-cheri-asks-that-you/

Bloggers for Peace — I urge you to join us!

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