Rwanda's resurrection of faith
Pews were packed Sunday with Easter worshipers, many of whom had left after the church's role in the 1994 genocide.
She waited all week to cry. Finally, in the midst of the Easter service at Kigali's new Zion Temple, as 3,000 worshipers stand around her, singing, swaying, arms upstretched, voices shaking the floor of the airplane hangar sanctuary, Agathe Rumanyika found a safe place to mourn the father, mother, and sister she lost a decade ago this week.Skip to next paragraph
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Ten Easters ago, she was celebrating the Resurrection at St. Michel, one of the Rwandan capital's biggest Catholic churches. The following week, the killing began. Ms. Rumanyika, her husband, and their young children first hid with friends, then borrowed a car and sped for the Congo border - evading death, she says, only by a series of miracles. As they fled and prayed, hundreds of thousands of members of Rwanda's Hutu ethnic majority were hacking to death nearly a million of their minority Tutsi and moderate Hutu countrymen on the orders of an extremist Hutu government.
Nearly all of the Rwandan genocide's large-scale massacres took place in churches, sometimes with the complicity of church leaders. When their betrayal became known, many in this heavily Christian country lost their faith.
Now, a decade on, many Rwandans say they have experienced a resurrection of faith. Hundreds of new charismatic churches are springing up, conversions to Islam are on the rise, and many are even finding ways to make their peace with the churches that failed to offer them sanctuary a decade ago.
"We did not give up on God," Rumanyika says. "Today more people are getting closer to God, because they are asking themselves, 'Why did we survive? We are not righteous; we did not deserve it.' So we become even stronger with God."
Ali Uwimana agrees. A mildly observant Roman Catholic before 1994, he, like Rumanyika, was disgusted with the behavior of church leaders during the genocide. Many of Mr. Uwimana's relatives died in their parish church in Kibungo, 40 miles from the capital.
"The churches became graves," he says. "The Catholic church has no power now because of what they did in the war. You can't know God and yet kill people in the house of God."
So with the help of his Muslim boss, the father of three converted to Islam. Though Islam is growing in popularity throughout Africa, many Rwandans say they joined the faith because they were impressed, as Uwimana was, with the way the country's Muslim community comported itself during the genocide, offering sanctuary to Tutsi and Hutu alike. Today some 500 bright teal mosques dot the countryside, nearly twice the number found here a decade ago.
At the same time, many smaller Christian denominations, unable to gain a foothold in pregenocidal Rwanda, are thriving today. Jehovah's Witnesses, Seventh Day Adventists, Churches of the Nazarene, Assemblies of God, Zion Temples, and scores of smaller storefront churches are flooded with members. Many of these churches came to Rwanda when waves of Tutsi exiles - who had been living in Burundi, Congo, and Tanzania since a violent 1959 uprising brought a hostile Hutu dictatorship to power - returned after the genocide.