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Rwandan genocide victim learns to forgive, befriends man who cut off her hand

Rwandan genocide victim learns to forgive, befriends man who cut off her hand

Emmanuel Ndayisaba poses by the lemon tree he planted at the house of Alice Mukarurinda in Nyamata, Rwanda on Feb. 18, 2019. The plant signifies the forgiveness he received for attacking Mukarurinda and her family on April 29, 1994, during the Rwanda genocide. | THE CHRISTIAN POST / SAMUEL SMITH

'I came to realize that I had done wrong'

Emmanuel, 47, told the reporters outside of Alice’s home in Nyamata that it was his own faith in Christ that inspired him to ask for forgiveness.

"I knew what I had done, so I took time because I was also a Christian, I took time to think about what I had done and I came to realize that I had done wrong so I said that I have to go and ask for forgiveness," Emmanuel, an Adventist, said through a translator.

"I asked for forgiveness from the bottom of my heart. Committing the sin is easy. Asking for forgiveness is always hard. But for me, I had taken that step and I have been forgiven. I really [appreciate] the people who have forgiven me."

Emmanuel said that he initially thought that he killed Alice. He knew who she was because they studied in school together.

Imprisoned in 1997, Emmanuel reflected on his need to repent and seek forgiveness.  

In 2003, he was released from jail. That is when he found out Alice was still alive. Along with Alice and her family, Emmanuel said that he asked five families in total for forgiveness. There were some other families he wanted to ask for forgiveness but they are no longer living in Rwanda.

Emmanuel said he feared what it would be like to go to the victims and ask for their forgiveness but he was able to overcome that fear.

Today, Alice and Emmanuel are friends and on occasion visit each other's houses. Additionally, their kids enjoy spending time with each other.

"We want people to know that although there was genocide in Rwanda, the people have come to reconcile and unite together," Emmanuel said. "[We] want to share with other people so they can also [take the initiative] to ask for forgiveness."

As a symbol of forgiveness, Emmanuel and Alice have planted trees on each other’s properties. On Alice’s property, Emmanuel planted a lemon tree.

“This tree is a fruit tree and it will bear fruit so Alice and her family can come and get fruit from here,” Emmanuel said. “This recognizes that [I] asked for forgiveness and it is a symbol so they will never forget [me].”

Alice said that Emmanuel was not the only one who came to her and asked for forgiveness. Although the pain still exists in Alice's heart, she knew that healing starts with forgiveness.

One Rwanda

According to Alice, there is no more Hutu-Tutsi division.

"I want people to know that as of today, there are no Hutus or Tutsis here. We are all united and reconciled. I want people to know that ... we are all Rwandans. Above all of it, there is God. If you don’t believe in God, then it will be difficult for you to forgive or to ask for forgiveness. Today, [I am] not supposed to be alive. But God kept [me] alive and kept [me] here so that [I] can tell the story to others and know that it would change their heart.”

World Vision International, an evangelical charity, led a development program in Nyamata that came to an end in 2017. During that time, Alice was a major participant in those efforts.

World Vision has maintained a presence in Rwanda for the past 25 years since the start of the genocide. While other humanitarian agencies also responded to the humanitarian crisis, World Vision is one of the few international NGOs that have remained in the country. In fact, it is the largest humanitarian organization working in Rwanda.

With over 300 staff in Rwanda, the organization is active in 24 out of the 30 districts in the country and has supported over 1.2 million people, including two of Alice’s children. This support was done through more than two dozen area development programs including the one in Nyamata.

“I really appreciate the work of World Vision,” Alice said.

Part of World Vision’s focus in the years immediately following the genocide was to work with other organizations, the government and numerous churches to foster reconciliation between the two groups. Additionally, the government and the people of Rwanda made it their responsibility to start over and create a new Rwanda. Today, World Vision's focus has shifted to improving the health, education and livelihood of people in Rwanda.

Rwanda, a small landlocked nation of 12 million people, has become a shining example of how a country infested with hatred and division during a “time of death” can transform into a united country living peacefully in just 25 years.

As the 25th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide is just over a month away, it represents a time of celebration for the reconciliation that has occurred, according to World Vision Rwanda Program Director Ananias Sentozi.

“Generally, we don’t feel that [division] anymore,” he said. “That doesn’t mean that there are not people who still have that anger, that bitterness. They are still digesting the wounds, the losses they inherited in the genocide against Tutsi. But that is at the individual levels. But as a nation, there is nowhere you can trace any sense of division in Rwanda.”

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