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Winter 2009 | Volume 32, Number 1 | Features

The Gift of Rwanda

A Perspective on Reconciliation

By Kathy Takahashi

Rwandan Women
In 2008, 14 years after Hutu militia slaughtered approximately one million people, Rwandan elections have given women a 55 percent majority in the national legislature --the largest such majority in the world.

There’s a saying in Rwanda that goes something like this: “God spends his busy days away, but he comes home to Rwanda to sleep.”

I know many people wonder, where was God while Rwanda suffered one of the most efficient and brutal mass killings of all time? Where was he when approximately one million of his children were tortured, raped, and butchered during the genocide of 1994? And where has he been while Rwanda and its people have struggled to restore what was ravaged and destroyed?

In May 2008, I traveled to Rwanda with Rwanda Partners, a Seattle-based nonprofit organization devoted to the work of reconciliation and healing in this devastated nation. I listened to many stories during my time there — stories of unimaginable suffering, loss, and grief. One of the most gripping of those stories was told to me by Odette Murakatete.

A member of the Tutsi ethnic group in Rwanda, Odette was targeted for extermination by radical Hutus, who controlled the country’s government in 1994. In a horrific chapter in world history, Hutu militias killed Tutsi civilians and some moderate Hutus at the rate of up to 10,000 per day for a period of 100 days.

When she heard soldiers were coming for her, Odette left her children with her mother for safekeeping, and fled into the bush, where she hid until she was finally discovered, beaten, and left to die. She survived the lengthy ordeal only to learn of her family’s tragic fate. Her children’s killers cut them to pieces while forcing her mother to watch before she, too, perished. Her husband was murdered as well.

Odette knows suffering — and she knows Jesus. She became a Christian two years before the genocide, though she felt that God had abandoned her when such evil overtook her family and her country. But gradually, she told me, she came to understand that God had not left her, her family, or Rwanda. He had been there all along, sharing in their suffering and bearing their pain. If anyone understood the shame, humiliation, and agony Rwandans experienced, it was God’s own son, Jesus, who was tortured and crucified before an angry mob.

As Odette experienced the slow healing of her body, mind, and soul, she formed Wirira, a group of 56 widows, most of whom were the victims of brutal torture and rape. Through Odette, these women have come to know Jesus, too, and they are beginning to heal together. Some are now able to forgive those who hurt them and murdered their families. Some even appear to have real joy.

Today, as a staff member of Rwanda Partners, Odette travels to prisons throughout the country to talk with perpetrators of the violence about forgiveness and reconciliation. God is using this ordinary woman to do extraordinary things.

In the spring and early summer of 1994, while Odette feared for her life, I was a senior at Seattle Pacific University preparing to graduate and to serve as a missionary to Japan. Those years in Japan resulted in my marriage to a Japanese pastor and a life devoted to sharing Christ with Japanese people living in America. So what in the world did going to Rwanda have to do with my life and ministry? This was a question I continually asked myself, yet I was inexplicably and undeniably called to go.

I finally identified what drew me to Rwanda. It wasn’t a morbid curiosity about the pain its people have endured, or even primarily a desire to minister to Rwandan women. It was my own need to see people who are moving through profound pain into the life to which God has called them. I hoped that they would minister to me.

The wounds I’ve experienced in a difficult relationship with my mother are not the same kinds of wounds as Odette’s, but they have been debilitating for me. The distance between me and my mother has kept me from knowing, really knowing, God’s love for me, and I have been unable to move beyond this place of spiritual emptiness. I needed to see the women of Wirira, look into their eyes, touch their scars, and hear their stories. I wanted God to begin a healing work in my own life.

Many of the stories I heard touched places so raw in me that it felt like I was literally bearing their pain. And in that pain-bearing, I understood for perhaps the first time in my life the depth of Christ’s love, not only for the people of Rwanda, but also for me. Jesus shares in my suffering, and I believe he can take my wounds and transform them into something beautiful.

It was essential for me to encounter the God of love in order for healing to begin in my relationship with my mother. This is now paving the way to real reconciliation — which seems to me is the ongoing working out of forgiveness with a person you’ve hurt or who has hurt you. Reconciliation is available to anyone who opens her or his heart to God’s promise to “make all things new.”

What did Rwanda have to do with my life and ministry? I believe God led me there to show me his power to redeem even the most horrific situation, and to remind me that we are called to the work of reconciliation. I pray that I will always keep this experience in front of me — so that the gift of Rwanda will continue to present itself in new ways.

Kathy Kestle Takahashi ’94 is active in the Bellevue, Washington, Hosanna Kirisuto Kyoukai Church, where her husband, Kyota Takahashi, is pastor. After graduating from Seattle Pacific University, she served as a missionary to Japan and later worked at SPU for seven years in the offices of Undergraduate Admissions and University Communications. Takahashi is a member of the board of Rwanda Partners.

Exclusive: Related Response Video

Kathy Kestle Takahashi '94 talks about her time in Rwanda.

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