Kay Warren, co-founder of Saddleback Church, encouraged Rwandan women to forgive and reconcile this past weekend ahead of the 14th National Week of Mourning for the 1994 Rwandan Genocide.
Hundreds of women heard Warren, the wife of American Pastor Rick Warren, state that forgiveness is the first step in a genuine process of reconciliation. She used the Bible passage from Matthew 18 about the unmerciful servant to show that humans are able to forgive because they have been forgiven.
"I believe in this story that Jesus is calling us to forgiveness, saying, 'It is time to let it go,'" she said Saturday, according to a released statement.
"It is time for us to understand this concept, that nothing we do to each other is as awful as what we have done to God," Warren said. "We need to take our bitterness and the things that have wounded us to Jesus and nail them to His Cross."
Forgiveness is a poignant issue in Rwanda, a country still struggling to reconcile after the 1994 genocide that killed nearly 1 million people in 100 days. The genocide, the worst in the 1990s, was primarily the action of Hutu extremists against Rwanda's Tutsi minority and moderate Hutus.
"My prayer for every woman in this place is that you would feel and experience forgiveness from God, and that out of grateful hearts for His mercy toward us, we would all find ways to release others who have been wounded," said Warren.
Prior to Warren's address, an American researcher visiting Rwanda gave her testimony about the good that can come out of painful experiences.
Susan Hills, a researcher with the Center for Disease Control in Atlanta, said her 10-year-old son was hit and killed by a car during a family biking trip. She thought she would never recover, but God turned her sorrow into joy.
Hills explained that in response to her son's death, she and her husband adopted eight orphaned children, and challenged other women to do likewise.
"You have 822,000 orphans in your country, which is one out of every three children," Hills said. "God wants to make disciples of all nations, and the only way to do that is to include the orphans."
Another woman, Chantel, shared about the horrific suffering she endured during the genocide and the liberation she later experienced in forgiveness.
Her entire family, except her and her sister, was shot and burned. She was then taken captive by a soldier and a watchman who repeatedly raped her. She eventually contracted a sexually transmitted disease.
Chantel then recalled how her desire for revenge was so strong that she gave false testimony in court against one of her neighbors, lying that he had killed another person on their block. But when she could no longer live with the guilt of lying, she turned back to faith.
"I could see how Satan used the Hutus for evil, but also he used Tutsis in revenge," she said. "I asked God what He wanted, and began to change. As I prayed, I felt a peace in my heart that enabled me to tell the truth in a follow-up trial and begin to pray for the salvation of that man and his children."
She said she eventually was able to forgive the person who killed and burned her parents. Chantel met the man responsible for her family's murder in the genocide prison.
"As I stared into the face of that person, I had to check my heart, and when I found I only had love for him it scared me," she said. "But my heart is now filled with joy, and that is much better than living with pain."
The Warrens have been in Rwanda for more than a week for the launch event of Rwanda's first national "40 Days of Purpose" campaign. They were also visiting to check up on P.E.A.C.E. plan projects such as the HIV/AIDS Healthcare Initiative Project and to meet with business, church, and government leaders.
The active couple is departing for Nairobi, Kenya, on Monday to meet with leaders to discuss the country's situation after the violent uprising that followed its December presidential election.